Prosecutors Said to Have Asked About Trump’s Role in Jan. 6 Riot
For months, the Justice Department has provided little public indication of whether, or how seriously, it is investigating the role played by former President Donald J. Trump in the violent attack on the Capitol last Jan. 6.
But on Tuesday, for the first time, evidence emerged in court papers that prosecutors have posed questions to at least one Jan. 6 defendant that were “focused on establishing an organized conspiracy” involving Mr. Trump and his allies to “disrupt” the work of Congress.
The papers were filed by a defense lawyer in the case of Brandon Straka, a former hair stylist who founded a group called the Walk Away Foundation, which seeks to persuade Democratic voters to leave the party.
On the day before the Capitol was stormed, Mr. Straka spoke at a pro-Trump rally in Washington with prominent right-wing figures like the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Mr. Straka was also at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
In October, he pleaded guilty to charges of disorderly conduct, admitting, among other things, that he had urged a crowd outside the building to wrest a riot shield away from a police officer.
Last week, prosecutors filed a sentencing memo in his case, recommending that he serve four months of home detention. The memo noted that Mr. Straka had met with prosecutors earlier this month as part of his plea agreement and had been “cooperative” in answering their questions.
It remains unclear exactly what those questions were, but Mr. Straka’s lawyer, Bilal Essayli, offered a broad description in his client’s own sentencing memo, which was filed on Tuesday. In the memo, Mr. Essayli said that during Mr. Straka’s interview with prosecutors, “the government was focused on establishing an organized conspiracy between defendant, President Donald J. Trump, and allies of the former president to disrupt the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6.”
Mr. Straka “answered all questions truthfully and denied the existence of any such plot,” Mr. Essayli’s memo said.
Mr. Essayli did not respond to phone calls seeking comment about the interview. William Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, which is prosecuting the cases related to Jan. 6, also declined to comment.
In the past year, prosecutors have charged more than 700 people in connection with the storming of the Capitol, including members of far-right extremist groups like the Oath Keepers militia, whose leader was accused of sedition last week with 10 of his subordinates.
Key Figures in the Jan. 6 Inquiry
The House investigation. A select committee is scrutinizing the causes of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, which occurred as Congress met to formalize Joe Biden’s election victory amid various efforts to overturn the results. Here are some key figures in the inquiry:
Donald Trump. The former president’s movement and communications on Jan. 6 appear to be a focus of the inquiry. But Mr. Trump has attempted to shield his records, invoking executive privilege. The dispute is making its way through the courts.
Kevin McCarthy. The panel has requested an interview with the House Republican leader about his contact with Mr. Trump during the riot. The California representative, who could become speaker of the House after the midterms in November, has refused to cooperate.
Rudolph Giuliani. The panel has subpoenaed Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and three members of the legal team — Jenna Ellis, Sidney Powell and Boris Epshteyn — who pursued conspiracy-filled lawsuits that made claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election.
Mike Pence. The former vice president could be a key witness as the committee focuses on Mr. Trump’s responsibility for the riot and considers criminal referrals, but Mr. Pence reportedly has not decided whether to cooperate.
Mark Meadows. Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, who initially provided the panel with a trove of documents that showed the extent of his role in the efforts to overturn the election, is now refusing to cooperate. The House voted to recommend holding Mr. Meadows in criminal contempt of Congress.
Scott Perry and Jim Jordan. The Republican representatives of Pennsylvania and Ohio are among a group of G.O.P. congressmen who were deeply involved in efforts to overturn the election. Both Mr. Perry and Mr. Jordan have refused to cooperate with the panel.
Fox News anchors. Texts between Sean Hannity and Trump officials in the days surrounding the riot illustrate the host’s unusually elevated role as an outside adviser. Mr. Hannity, along with Laura Ingraham and Brian Kilmeade, also texted Mr. Meadows as the riot unfolded.
Big Tech firms. The panel has criticized Alphabet, Meta, Reddit and Twitter for allowing extremism to spread on their platforms and saying they have failed to cooperate adequately with the inquiry. The committee has issued subpoenas to all four companies.
Steve Bannon. The former Trump aide has been charged with contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena, claiming protection under executive privilege even though he was an outside adviser. His trial is scheduled for next summer.
Michael Flynn. Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser attended an Oval Office meeting on Dec. 18 in which participants discussed seizing voting machines and invoking certain national security emergency powers. Mr. Flynn has filed a lawsuit to block the panel’s subpoenas.
Phil Waldron. The retired Army colonel has been under scrutiny since a 38-page PowerPoint document he circulated on Capitol Hill was turned over to the panel by Mr. Meadows. The document contained extreme plans to overturn the election.
Jeffrey Clark. The little-known Justice Department official repeatedly pushed his colleagues to help Mr. Trump undo his loss. The panel has recommended that Mr. Clark be held in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate.
John Eastman. The lawyer has been the subject of intense scrutiny since writing a memo that laid out how Mr. Trump could stay in power. Mr. Eastman was present at a meeting of Trump allies at the Willard Hotel that has become a prime focus of the panel.
Still, there has been enormous public interest in whether investigators will ultimately reach beyond those who took part in the melee on Jan. 6 and seek to build a case against Mr. Trump and the circle of his allies who helped inspire the violence that day with baseless claims of election fraud.
On the first anniversary of the attack, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said he was committed “to holding all Jan. 6 perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law.” But he did not name Mr. Trump, and there has been little public indication of any effort by the department to seek information from or about any of his close aides or allies.
The description of the interviews in Mr. Straka’s memo, however brief, echoed comments made by some members of the House select committee investigating the events of Jan. 6, who have questioned whether Mr. Trump broke the law by obstructing Congress’s duty to oversee the peaceful transition of power to Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, the vice chairwoman of the House committee, has been particularly pointed in suggesting that Mr. Trump, by failing to stop the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6, may have violated federal law. The law Ms. Cheney was referring to — obstruction of an official proceeding before Congress — has been challenged repeatedly by defense lawyers with Jan. 6 cases, but five separate federal judges have recently ruled that it was viable.