The Justice Department's criminal investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, rioting at the U.S. Capitol, now includes questions for witnesses about the communications of people close to then-President Donald Trump and his reelection campaign, CBS News has confirmed.
That news, first reported by The Washington Post, was confirmed to CBS News by a U.S. government official familiar with the investigation and a source with knowledge of what's been presented by the Justice Department to a grand jury.
It is not evident that Trump himself is a target of the investigation, only that prosecutors are asking questions related to him and his aides.
One part of the investigation concerns the efforts to swap out electors won by President Biden in several battleground states for fake electors who supported Trump. Another is examining the actions surrounding Jan. 6, when thousands of Trump supporters, many armed, overran the Capitol on the day that Congress was to count the electoral ballots and affirm Mr. Biden's victory in the 2020.
According to a source close to the grand jury witnesses, among the topics of interest to federal prosecutors are Trump's discussions with law professor John Eastman, who came up with the plan to try to involve Vice President Mike Pence in the attempt to keep Trump in power, and the pressure exerted on Pence, who presided over the counting of electoral ballots on Jan. 6.
The news follows multiple actions by law enforcement targeting those alleged to be connected to Trump's attempts to stay in power — including the seizure of Eastman's phone and the recent raid of the Virginia home of former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark. Marc Short, Pence's former chief of staff, testified before a Washington, D.C., grand jury last week under subpoena as part of the investigation, a person familiar with the probe confirmed to CBS News.
The report by the Post about the Justice Department's investigation was published Tuesday, hours after the former president's return to Washington, D.C., for the first time since he had left at the end of his presidency, in late Jan. 2021.
"I always say I ran the second time and did much better," Trump said at an event at the America First Policy Institute. "And you know what, that's going to be a story for a long time. What a disgrace it was. But you know what, we may have to do it again."
The Jan. 6 select committee has examined these matters separately in a series of eight public hearings. Among the information that has emerged is testimony by GOP Arizona House speaker Rusty Bowers about a plan undertaken by Trump and his allies to replace the Arizona Biden electors with phony Trump electors. Bowers refused to take part in the plot, despite the pressure exerted on him by Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
The committee has also uncovered an attempt to deliver fake Wisconsin electoral ballots to Pence on Jan. 6. Pence, urged by Trump and his allies to reject ballots from battleground states won by Mr. Biden, also refused to take part in the scheme.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has only spoken broadly about the investigation, reiterating in an interview on "NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt" Tuesday that the Justice Department has been "moving urgently to learn everything we can about this period, and to bring to justice everybody who was criminally responsible for interfering with the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another."
He gave no indication that Trump, a former president, would receive any special consideration, given that status, as well as the possibility he might run again.
"We pursue justice without fear or favor," Garland replied. "We intend to hold everyone, anyone who was criminally responsible for the events surrounding Jan. 6, for any attempt to interfere with the lawful transfer of power from one administration to another, accountable, that's what we do. We don't pay any attention to other issues with respect to that."