The House select committee investigating the Capitol attack is examining whether Donald Trump oversaw a criminal conspiracy on 6 January that connected the White House’s scheme to stop Joe Biden’s certification with the insurrection, say two senior sources familiar with the matter.
The committee’s new focus on the potential for a conspiracy marks an aggressive escalation in its inquiry as it confronts evidence that suggests the former president potentially engaged in criminal conduct egregious enough to warrant a referral to the justice department.
House investigators are interested in whether Trump oversaw a criminal conspiracy after communications turned over by Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows and others suggested the White House coordinated efforts to stop Biden’s certification, the sources said.
The select committee has several thousand messages, among which include some that suggest the Trump White House briefed a number of House Republicans on its plan for then-vice president Mike Pence to abuse his ceremonial role and not certify Biden’s win, the sources said.
The fact that the select committee has messages suggesting the Trump White House directed Republican members of Congress to execute a scheme to stop Biden’s certification is significant as it could give rise to the panel considering referrals for potential crimes, the sources said.
Members and counsel on the select committee are examining in the first instance whether in seeking to stop the certification, Trump and his aides violated the federal law that prohibits obstruction of a congressional proceeding – the joint session on 6 January – the sources said.
The select committee believes, the sources said, that Trump may be culpable for an obstruction charge given he failed for hours to intervene to stop the violence at the Capitol perpetrated by his supporters in his name.
But the select committee is also looking at whether Trump oversaw an unlawful conspiracy that involved coordination between the “political elements” of the White House plan communicated to Republican lawmakers and extremist groups that stormed the Capitol, the sources said.
That would probably be the most serious charge for which the select committee might consider a referral, as it considers a range of other criminal conduct that has emerged in recent weeks from obstruction to potential wire fraud by the GOP.
The vice-chair of the select committee, the Republican congresswoman Liz Cheney, referenced the obstruction charge when she read from the criminal code before members voted unanimously last November to recommend Meadows in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify.
The Guardian previously reported that Trump personally directed lawyers and political operatives working from the Willard hotel in Washington DC to find ways to stop Biden’s certification from happening at all on 6 January just hours before the Capitol attack.
But House investigators are yet to find evidence tying Trump personally to the Capitol attack, the…