Special counsel Jack Smith’s criminal indictment appeared to be more than two and half years in the making, but the American public heard many of the key details of the case outlined in a series of hearings last year – as a well as an 800-page report – run by the House Select Committee that investigated the January 6 riot.
There are stark similarities between Smith’s narrative of how former President Donald Trump – aided by his co-conspirators – allegedly orchestrated a plot to remain in power after losing the 2020 election, and the evidence underpinning a nearly identical conclusion presented by the House January 6 committee months ago.
As striking as it is, the four-count indictment handed up by the grand jury against Trump on Tuesday hews closely to the roadmap outline by the January 6 committee in its final report, which was released at the end of last year.
Three of the four counts included in the special counsel’s indictment mirror charges that were recommended by the House committee.
The committee also specifically recommended prosecution of Trump himself and one of the former president’s now unindicted co-conspirators – attorney John Eastman – who still could face legal peril as the special counsel probe continues.
Also name-checked in the referral section of the congressional panel’s final report are also included in Smith’s indictment as unindicted co-conspirators: Rudy Giuliani, former DOJ official Jeffrey Clark and attorney Kenneth Chesebro.
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“The fake elector plan emerged from a series of legal memoranda written by an outside legal advisor to the Trump Campaign: Kenneth Chesebro,” the committee’s final report states.
“President Trump in the days immediately before January 6th, Chesebro – an attorney based in Boston and New York recruited to assist the Trump Campaign as a volunteer legal advisor – was central to the creation of the plan,” the report states. “Memos by Chesebro on November 18th, December 9th, and December 13th, as discussed below, laid the plan’s foundation.”
Formed in summer 2021 after Senate Republicans blocked efforts to form an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6, 2021, attack, the nine-member committee featured seven Democrats and two Republicans – then-Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. Cheney became the panel’s vice chair, working alongside Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi who led the committee.
The panel held a series of high profile public hearings during summer 2022 – including several that were held in primetime – to outline many of the same issues referenced in Smith’s indictment.
Clark, an environmental lawyer at the Justice Department in 2021, was featured in one of the committee’s hearings that sought to describe the role of the Justice Department in the former president’s election schemes. One of the more memorable takeaways from the hearings were three former DOJ officials who described a contentious Oval Office meeting where Trump considered installing Clark as attorney general so he could use the powers of the Justice Department to overturn the 2020 election.
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Federal prosecutors and congressional investigators both pointed to Trump’s role in the effort to put forward fake slates of electors, his attempt to pressure former Vice President Mike Pence to block certification of Joe Biden’s win and intentional use of baseless claims about voter fraud to undermine faith in the electoral system as signs of a coordinated conspiracy to upend democracy.
Even in the immediate aftermath of the January 6, 2021, attack at the US Capitol, former prosecutors and other legal experts floated the laws used to charge Trump on Tuesday as sources of potential exposure for the former president.
Still, the overlap between the special counsel’s indictment and the committee’s referrals to the departments – and whom lawmakers saw as conspirators in Trump’s plots – is notable.
It shows that the two investigations – which each had different goals and tools – could collect evidence around Trump’s post-election evidence and land roughly to the same conclusions.
Trump allies may seek to use the similarities to push the narrative that Smith’s probe is politically charged. But the overlap also suggests that Smith’s team will be presenting in court a case that has legal foundation endorsed by the seasoned attorneys recruited by the House committee for the congressional probe.
The similarities could give comfort to the since-discontinued committee’s Republican members – neither of whom are still in Congress. Cheney, who came from one of the most politically powerful families in Wyoming, lost a high profile GOP primary for her US House seat. Kinzinger decided against seeking another term, following redistricting in his state and as his party’s Republican base grew closer to Trump and left little room for dissent.