Trump in criminal conspiracy to defraud the U.S., says House panel
Select Committee Chairman Benny G. Thompson talks with a Capitol policeman.

LOS ANGELES—In the clearest indication yet of where its probe is heading, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, invasion and insurrection at the U.S. Capitol told a federal court that then-Oval Office occupant Donald Trump engaged in “a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States” to overturn his 2020 presidential election loss.

The statement came in a 41-page deposition, and more than 180 pages of additional evidence, the panel submitted to U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, countering the demand there by Trump adviser John Eastman, an L.A. lawyer, to withhold evidence from the probers.

Eastman, concocter of a long post-election memo to Trump about how then-Vice President Mike Pence could throw out electoral votes from six closely contested swing states, plus New Mexico, claimed lawyer-client privilege in trying to squash the panel’s demand.

The committee countered with reasons to reject Eastman’s gambit. One was Eastman was advising Trump on political machinations, not legal issues. Another was even if Eastman could successfully cite his status as Trump’s attorney, U.S. law contains a “criminal fraud” exception to claims of attorney-client privilege.

Eastman already refused to answer questions in person. The evidence accompanying the deposition includes his verbatim q-and-a with House investigators and committee members Jamie Raskin, D-Md., Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Liz Cheney, R-Wyom. Except for verifying his name and professional background, Eastman took the Fifth Amendment—refusing to answer on the grounds he could incriminate himself—to every single question, even factual ones.

“Your client, President Trump, has said, ‘The mob takes the Fifth. If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?’ Do you agree with that?” Raskin, a constitutional law professor on leave, asked Eastman. “Fifth,” Eastman replied. Lofgren even quoted the Fifth Amendment’s text to Eastman and asked him to confirm it. “Fifth,” he answered.

The deposition and the committee’s statement in it create additional pressure on the Biden administration’s Justice Department to move quickly on whether to indict Trump and for what crimes. Progressives in both parties are citing the overwhelming evidence already public, including Trump’s own statements, as reasons to move fast.

There’s also a political time clock involved: The select committee’s mandate runs out at the end of this Congress, on Jan. 3, 2023. If Trump-dominated Republicans take over the House, flipping at least six seats to erase the current Democratic 222-211 lead (with two vacancies), they’ll shut the investigation down. The panel plans open hearings this year.

“The evidence supports an inference” Trump, Eastman and others in Trump’s orbit “entered into an agreement to defraud the United States by interfering with the election certification process, disseminating false information about election fraud, and pressuring state officials to alter state election results and federal officials to assist in that effort,” the panel’s deposition says.

Trump and Eastman “worked jointly to attempt to persuade the Vice President to use his position on Jan. 6, 2021, to reject certified electoral slates submitted by certain states and/or to delay the proceedings by sending the count back to the states.”

Eastman “first crafted a ‘plan’ to justify this course of action,” the deposition continues. Eastman and Trump “then met and spoke with” Pence and his staffers to push the “conspiracy to defraud the U.S.” by altering the electoral vote count. Pence, his chief of staff, and others on the V.P’s team refused and resisted. So did top Justice Department officials, including Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rose.

Before that, even some members of Trump’s inner circle, starting just days after the November 3 election, bluntly told Trump he had lost. He refused to believe them and went on both generating the conspiracy and publicly repeating the lies which led to the invasion, it says. Eastman helped.

“There is also evidence the conspiracy extended to the rioters engaged in acts of violence at the Capitol,” the deposition elaborates. “In a civil case” against Trump and his team by several House members, “Judge Amit Mehta in the District of Columbia specifically found it was plausible to believe” Trump “entered into a conspiracy with the rioters… ‘to disrupt the certification of the Electoral College vote through force, intimidation, or threats.

“Judge Mehta’s opinion demonstrates the breadth of conspiratorial conduct and further supports the existence of common law fraud.”

“The apparent objective of these efforts was to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and declare Donald Trump the winner. In this way, the conspiracy aimed to obstruct and interfere with the proper functioning of the United States government,” the deposition declares.

Meanwhile, proceedings against lower-level invaders continue. The trial of Texas Three Percenter leader Guy Reffitt, who texted his troops “WE TOOK THE CAPITAL!” as the invasion occurred, is scheduled to wrap up and go to the U.S. District Court jury in D.C. the week of March 7. He’s being tried on five felony charges.

Reffitt did not take the stand in his own defense. But, in an indication of how bitter tensions have become nationwide over the insurrection, prosecution witnesses included Reffitt’s teenage son and daughter. The son, 19, who testified he’s normally a Republican, had alerted the FBI about his father’s actions, and the elder Reffitt’s boasting about them, in person and on social media.

On March 4, another invader, Duke Wilson of Nampa, Idaho, was sentenced to 51 months in jail for assaulting a police officer and other offenses. Overall, more than 101 insurrectionists have pled guilty to misdemeanors and/or felonies, including 38 who’ve been sent to jail. The longest sentence went to one Floridian. He got five years for various felonies.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.