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Jan. 6 panel's evidence suggests Trump broke laws trying to overturn the election

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

A 221-page court filing lays claim that there is evidence that former President Donald Trump broke the law in a move to overturn the 2020 election. This is thought to be an explosive, revelatory moment for the Democratic-led House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. And it's giving us a look into where this investigation is possibly heading. Joining us now is a member of that committee, Democratic congressman from California Adam Schiff. Congressman, welcome.

ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you. It's good to be with you.

MARTINEZ: Oh. Some of this new information centers on a man named John Eastman, a lawyer who shared a memo that attempted to tell how then-Vice President Mike Pence could reject Joe Biden's win as he presided over the counting of the electoral votes. Why is this necessary? Why is he necessary to the committee right now?

SCHIFF: Well, he has very relevant evidence. He was part of this effort to overturn the election by providing these bogus legal arguments to the president that he could use to urge the vice president to ignore his constitutional duties and responsibilities, and simply throw out the Electoral College votes of states that he didn't like the results of. And more than that, Eastman was involved at that rally in preparation for the 6th. And he's a key witness. But he is attempting to hide behind, you know, a series of privileges and asserts - we think falsely - that he had an attorney-client relationship with the president, which prevents the committee from getting documents.

MARTINEZ: Now, of course, this is not a criminal probe. That's outside of your committee's jurisdiction. It'll be up to the Department of Justice to take any next steps. But do you think this court filing, if the judge sides with you, ramps up the pressure on Merrick Garland to maybe give a closer look to the claims that the former president did, indeed, commit a crime?

SCHIFF: Well, we believe, first of all, that he didn't have an attorney-client relationship with Donald Trump and that even if he had one, he waived it by publicly discussing the contents of their strategy. But most significantly - and the judge inquired about this - we believe the crime-fraud exception applies because there are any number of criminal statutes involved here. It's a crime to obstruct, corruptly obstruct, an official proceeding. We think that's what happened in these efforts to stop the joint session from certifying the results of the election. It's a crime to conspire to defraud the people of the United States. And there's also common law fraud implicated here. And so you're right, this is not a criminal proceeding. But nonetheless, it's significant. The judge asked us to brief this issue of whether the crime-fraud exception applies. We believe there's a good faith basis to conclude that it does.

MARTINEZ: So you think Merrick Garland will, then, give it a closer look?

SCHIFF: You know, it doesn't have a formal impact on the Justice Department. And frankly, the Justice Department needs to be investigating any credible issues of criminality on the part of the former president or anyone else, for that matter, equally under the law. So the Justice Department, in my view, shouldn't be waiting for court filings by the committee, shouldn't be waiting for our final report. The Justice Department should be investigating any potential criminal activity just as it would with any other American.

MARTINEZ: If the judge, though, rules against the committee on this, Congressman, does this maybe signal that, perhaps, no crime was committed by the former president and make this direction for the investigation a moot point?

SCHIFF: No. I mean, this is a narrow question of whether the crime-fraud exception applies to these particular communications. And the judge will review, in-camera, that is - will review privately what these communications have to say with an eye to whether they are evidence of a crime or fraud. That doesn't mean that there isn't another body of evidence, having nothing to do with these communications, that the Justice Department may conclude is evidence of crime. So no, it doesn't have that effect. But, you know, it certainly would be significant if the judge concludes that these communications alone are evidence of a crime or fraud.

MARTINEZ: That is Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff from California. Congressman, thank you very much.

SCHIFF: You bet. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.