January 6 committee focuses on Trump fundraising emails linked to fraud allegations
The House Jan. 6 committee made its clearest attempt yet during Monday’s hearing to establish the potential criminal liability of those in former President Trump’s inner circle.
Driving the news: Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California) and Amanda Wick, the committee’s chief investigative adviser, focused on what Trump campaign fundraising emails described as his “official election defense fund.” “.
- Those emails were at the heart of a Trump fundraising operation that raised around $250 million after the 2020 election, in part by promising the money would fund legal challenges and other efforts to cancel the elections.
- In reality, according to the committee, millions of dollars were funneled into vehicles like Save America — a leadership PAC set up by Trump after the election — and other political and advocacy groups with ties to top aides. of Trump.
What they say : “The select committee found that no such fund existed,” Wick revealed in a pre-recorded video, citing recorded depositions with two Trump campaign staffers.
- “Not only was there the ‘Big Lie,’ there was the Big Ripoff,” Lofgren said.
- “It’s clear that [Trump] intentionally deceived his donors, asked them to donate to a fund that did not exist and used the money raised for something other than what he said,” she added. comments after the hearing.
Why is this important: Legal experts say this investigative lead is a clear effort to show that the Trump campaign and its allies may have used fraudulent tactics to raise funds in the months following the 2020 election, when many senior officials privately knew that their allegations of voter fraud were false.
- “This is an allegation of textbook wire fraud”, Randall Eliasonformer federal prosecutor and professor of white-collar crime at George Washington University, said of Lofgren’s comments.
Between the lines: Lofgren did not categorically allege criminal activity during Monday’s hearing, saying “it’s up to someone else to decide whether it’s criminal or not.”
- But Attorney General Merrick Garland clarified shortly after that the Justice Department was closely monitoring the revelations from the hearings.
- “I watch and I will watch all the hearings”, Garland told reporters“And I can assure you that there are January 6 prosecutors monitoring all of the hearings.”
- The Department of Justice has in recent years intensified criminal prosecution political operatives who raise funds by knowingly making false promises about how that money will be spent.
Enlarge: Jan. 6 subpoenaed cases from Salesforce, which owns an email marketing company used by the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee. The RNC has filed a lawsuit to block disclosure of those records in a case that remains pending.
- The committee hopes this information will shed some light on the amount of money these types of “election defense” calls have generated and the internal processes for crafting them.
- In an emailed statement, an RNC spokesperson defended its post-election fundraising and spending, pointing to its involvement in legal challenges to the election results and Georgia’s senatorial runoff in early January.
- “In addition to the multi-million dollars spent on our legal efforts, the RNC has spent tens of millions in Georgia Senate races for more than 500 paid in-state staff as well as thousands of volunteers, all of whom have established more than 15 million voter contacts during the second round,” the spokesperson said.
Whether the committee’s findings are enough to spur DOJ interest is an open question.
- “There might be enough here to start a mail/wire fraud investigation, but there’s still a lot of bookkeeping to be done before we can charge, let alone convict, anyone,” Axios told Axios. campaign finance attorney Brett Kappel.
- Kappel pointed to the fine print in the fundraising solicitations at issue explaining that much of the money would go to Trump’s leadership PAC. Such language could help insulate the campaign from allegations that it made misrepresentations in its solicitations, he said.
Be smart: Even if the committee clearly establishes that the Trump campaign’s fundraising emails were knowingly false — and even if the DOJ sees enough of them to warrant prosecution — it’s highly unlikely that Trump himself is implicated.
- Trump likely had little or no influence over the precise language of his campaign fundraising appeals.
- But such an investigation could entrap former campaign staffers or vendors.