In taking the monumental step of charging a former president with attempting to steal an American election, Jack Smith, the Justice Department special counsel, relied on an extraordinary narrative, but one the country knew well.
For a year and a half, the special House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol introduced Americans to a sprawling cast of characters and laid out in painstaking detail the many ways in which former President Donald J. Trump tried to overturn the 2020 election. In doing so, it provided a road map of sorts for the 45-page indictment Mr. Smith released on Tuesday.
“In a lot of ways, the committee’s work provided this path,” said Soumya Dayananda, who served as a senior investigator for the House Jan. 6 panel. “The committee served as educating the country about what the former president did, and this is finally accountability. The congressional committee wasn’t going to be able to bring accountability; that was in the hands of the Department of Justice.”
Mr. Smith’s document — while far slimmer than the 845-page tome produced by the House investigative committee — contained a narrative that was nearly identical: An out-of-control president, refusing to leave office, was willing to lie and harm the country’s democracy in an attempt to stay in power.
With televised hearings drawing millions of viewers, the panel introduced the public to little-known lawyers who plotted with Mr. Trump to keep him in power, dramatic moments of conflict within the Oval Office and concepts like the “fake electors” scheme carried out across multiple states to try to reverse the election outcome. Its final report laid out specific criminal charges that a prosecutor could bring against the former president.
But Mr. Smith, with the prosecutorial heft of the Justice Department behind him, was able to unearth more evidence, including new details of Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign against Vice President Mike Pence to use his role certifying the election on Jan. 6, 2021, to overturn the results. At one point, according to the indictment, Mr. Trump told a balking Mr. Pence: “You’re too honest.”
His indictment detailed how, when warned by a White House lawyer that Mr. Trump’s plan to refuse to leave office would lead to “riots in every major city,” Jeffrey Clark, then a Justice Department official, retorted, “That’s why there’s an Insurrection Act.” And it described how Mr. Trump implied to a top general that he knew he had lost the election, saying he would leave certain problems “for the next guy.”
The Justice Department sought and received transcripts of the committee’s hundreds of interviews, but then advanced the investigation beyond what Congress had been able to accomplish. Its officials obtained at least a dozen more key interviews than Congress could, by winning court rulings to pierce through executive and attorney-client privileges that witnesses, including Mr. Pence, had previously invoked against testifying.
But ultimately, Mr. Smith brought charges that had been recommended by the committee, including conspiracy to defraud the United States, obstruction of an act of Congress and conspiracy to make a false statement. He added an accusation of deprivation of rights under the color of law.
“The Department of Justice’s indictment confirms the work of the committee,” said Thomas Joscelyn, another Jan. 6 committee staff member who wrote large portions of the panel’s final report.
Over 18 months of work, the Democratic-led House committee assembled evidence that Mr. Trump first lied about widespread election fraud, despite being told his claims were false; organized false slates of electors in states won by Joseph R. Biden Jr. as Mr. Trump pressured state officials, the Justice Department and Mr. Pence to overturn the election; and, finally, amassed a mob of his supporters to march on the Capitol, where they engaged in hours of bloody violence while Mr. Trump did nothing to call them off.
The indictment continuously repeats evidence revealed during the course of the congressional inquiry, including the attempts of Mr. Trump and lawyers working for him to pressure local election officials in Georgia, Arizona and other states.
The congressional panel also named several other Trump allies — including the lawyers Rudolph W. Giuliani, John Eastman, Kenneth Chesebro and Mr. Clark — as potential co-conspirators with Mr. Trump in actions the committee said warranted Justice Department investigation. Mr. Smith listed six unidentified co-conspirators who worked with Mr. Trump to try to overturn the election whose actions were identical to the lawyers named in the committee’s report.
As he read through the indictment on Tuesday, Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland and a member of the Jan. 6 panel, said he circled new bits of evidence in the document that stood out to him. But over and over, he saw a familiar narrative.
“Many of the crucial facts that surfaced during the Jan. 6 investigation reappear in this indictment,” Mr. Raskin said. “We told this story in time for these events not to be buried in ideology and deceit. It feels to me like a powerful vindication of the rule of law in America. And that’s what we were insisting on.”
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