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Jan. 6 panel says it has evidence Trump broke the law in effort to overturn election

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The House Committee investigating January 6 says it has evidence that President Trump broke the law and was part of an effort to obstruct Congress from certifying the 2020 election results. The details show communications between a top Trump ally and then-Vice President Pence's top advisers in the days leading up to the attack and even during the insurrection. NPR's Deirdre Walsh joins us from Capitol Hill to talk about what this means for the probe. Hey, Deirdre.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: This news comes from a court filing, which was kind of a legal bombshell. Tell us more about what it means.

WALSH: Right. I mean, the January 6 committee does not have the legal authority to bring any charges. It can make a criminal referral to the Justice Department. That's why this is important. I talked to Liz Cheney. She's the top Republican on the committee, and she stressed they have not made that determination yet on whether they're going to make that referral. She said this filing is really about making the case about why they should get some emails from a key witness. His name is John Eastman. Eastman wrote a memo that was pushing a strategy for then-Vice President Pence to reject the electoral counts from certain states. And so far, Eastman has only given the committee limited information. But just the amount of detail and snippets of testimony from other witnesses, like Pence's former chief of staff, Marc Short, Trump's top political aide, Jason Miller, just shows that this is a real strong signal to the Justice Department from the committee they could be laying the groundwork for a criminal referral.

SHAPIRO: What new information did we learn from the filing?

WALSH: Just a lot of details about what was happening behind the scenes in the days leading up to the 6 and during the siege. There's evidence that the committee says it illustrates this coordinated effort by the former president and his allies to obstruct the official proceeding. You know, this is what Congress does, according to the Constitution, and they said that this is a conspiracy, potentially, to defraud the American people. There are emails between Eastman and Vice President Pence's counsel, Greg Jacobs. Jacobs blames Eastman, saying - and I can't read all the words for this because this is public radio - thanks to your expletive, we are now under siege. I mean, this is midday on January 6. Jacobs is also saying it was, quote, "irresponsible" for Eastman to push an academic theory that he said had, quote, no viable - "no legal viability."

And, you know, just - he's trying to get him even hours after the attack to consider, quote, "one minor violation." He's trying to get Pence to not follow the Electoral Count Act, and he wanted Pence to adjourn the session of the Capitol so that state legislatures could do vote audits. We should say - and Eastman knew that this was a violation of the law. We should also say that we know there was no fraud in these electoral counts.

SHAPIRO: What are members of the committee who are doing the investigation saying about this?

WALSH: I talked to several members today, and they stressed that this is just about getting more information and completing their probe. But they're also saying that all of these new details that we're seeing for the first time today are really just a tip of the iceberg of what they have. Here's Virginia Democrat Elaine Luria. She's a member of the panel.

ELAINE LURIA: I mean, the information that was shared in that filing is just a tiny piece of information that the committee has been able to gather over the months of work.

WALSH: The committee has talked - has held more than 600 depositions and interviews. And she's - you know, Luria says this is a signal to others who haven't cooperated. They already have a lot of information.

SHAPIRO: So what's next? With hundreds of witnesses being interviewed behind closed doors, when will we see public hearings or a report?

WALSH: Well, just today the committee subpoenaed another witness, Kimberly Guilfoyle. She's the fiancee of Donald Trump Jr. She was in the Oval Office on January 6. The chairman of the committee says the goal is to have public hearings in April. And they want to put out a report this summer.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Thanks a lot.

WALSH: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.