Georgia prosecutors probing Donald Trump’s effort to subvert the 2020 election got an early boost in the spring of 2022. It came from another set of investigators who were way ahead of them: the House Jan. 6 select committee.
Committee staff quietly met with lawyers and agents working for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis in mid-April 2022, just as she prepared to convene a special grand jury investigation. In the previously unreported meeting, the Jan. 6 committee aides let the district attorney’s team review — but not keep — a limited set of evidence they had gathered.
Over the next few months, committee staff also had a series of phone calls with Willis’ team. They answered the prosecutors’ questions and shared insight on matters like Trump’s false electors gambit and his efforts to pressure Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Both of those ploys ultimately featured prominently in the criminal charges that Willis brought against Trump and his allies last summer.
The contacts between the committee and Willis’ team also helped prosecutors prepare for interviews with key witnesses.
The content of the meetings and calls was described by two former committee officials familiar with the outreach, who were granted anonymity to speak candidly about the contacts. The timing was corroborated by exhibits attached to new court filings in Willis’ ongoing prosecution of Trump and 14 co-defendants for their efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
The committee aided Willis’ nascent probe even as it rebuffed the Justice Department’s requests for material in the separate federal criminal probe of Trump’s election subversion. At the time, one reason the committee was more inclined to cooperate with the Fulton County team than with the federal prosecutors was that federal prosecutors might have been required to disclose the evidence in ongoing criminal cases related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
When congressional Republicans recently pressed Willis to disclose her team’s contacts with the Jan. 6 committee, she refused, calling their inquiry an affront to “well-established principles of federalism and separation of powers.”
“You cannot — and will not — be provided access to any non-public information about this,” she wrote to the House Judiciary Committee last month in a letter obtained by POLITICO.
Jan. 6 committee chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) had previously described “staff-level contacts” between his panel and Fulton County prosecutors. In early April 2022 — nearly two weeks before the panel’s staff met with Willis’ team — Thompson told reporters he wasn’t aware of how extensive those contacts were. And on Wednesday, Thompson told POLITICO that he did not know about the in-person visit that spring.
Willis’ office did not respond to requests for comment. A former Jan. 6 committee aide said in a statement: “As the January 6th Committee’s final report transparently stated, the Committee shared information — all of which is now public — with prosecutors conducting concurrent, independent investigations.”
The scope of the committee’s assistance to the district attorney is sure to be scrutinized as Willis’ prosecution moves forward. It shows that the panel’s work helped jumpstart a criminal case that would ultimately imperil Trump.
The Jan. 6 committee, formed by the Democratic-led House in 2021, spent 18 months investigating Trump’s efforts to subvert the 2020 election, amassing hundreds of witness interviews that have since become crucial evidence in Trump’s numerous criminal entanglements. It disbanded at the end of 2022, releasing a lengthy report and publicly revealing the bulk of its evidence.
It’s not uncommon for congressional committees to pass on evidence of potential crimes to prosecutors. In 2019, for instance, the House Intelligence Committee acceded to a request from special counsel Robert Mueller to transmit the interview transcript of Trump ally Roger Stone, which ultimately formed the basis for criminal charges against the longtime Trump confidant.
Former Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) said that when she was a congressional aide in the 1990s, she worked on Bill Clinton-related investigations that often outpaced the FBI.
“We just got further faster than they did, just like the Jan. 6 committee did,” Comstock recalled.
But the nature of the cooperation between Willis and the Jan. 6 panel is unusual, according to Sol Wisenberg, a former prosecutor who worked on Ken Starr’s Clinton probe — another matter that overlapped with congressional investigations.
“To me, that’s a highly unusual level of specific cooperation,” Wisenberg said. “They’re using what’s supposed to be a congressional investigation in aid of a prosecution.”
On Dec. 17, 2021, Willis wrote a letter to Thompson asking his team for help with her Trump probe and suggesting they meet in person. Four months later, members of her team traveled to Washington and met with committee staff.
Nathan Wade, an attorney contracted to work on Willis’ investigation, documented the meeting in an invoice he filed to the district attorney’s office.
“Team meeting; Conf w/Jan 6; Research legal issues to prep interv,” reads one line item on his invoice for work from April 18 to April 21, 2022.
The invoice became public in a motion to dismiss filed on Monday night by an attorney for Mike Roman, a former 2020 Trump campaign aide and one of Trump’s co-defendants in the Fulton County case. In that motion, Roman’s lawyer Ashleigh Merchant alleged without proof that Willis and Wade have a romantic relationship and argued that his contract with her office poses a conflict of interest. Willis’ office has said they will respond to Merchant’s allegations in court filings.
The two former committee officials confirmed to POLITICO that Willis’ team met with committee staff in Washington in April 2022. Some of Willis’ top prosecutors attended, including Wade and Donald Wakeford, as well as investigators on her team.
The prosecutors had made headway, one former official said, but the panel had done more work than they had on some topics. They included attorney John Eastman’s strategy to overturn the election results, efforts by Trump and his allies to pressure Raffensperger, and the effort by GOP activists to submit false documents claiming to be the state’s legitimate presidential electors.
Eastman and three of the activists who posed as fake electors — as well as two local lawyers who advised them — were among the defendants who were eventually charged in the Fulton County case, which alleges a racketeering conspiracy to overturn the state’s election. Eastman, like Trump, has pleaded not guilty and disputed the charges.
By the time of the April 2022 meeting, the Jan. 6 committee had begun gearing up for public hearings, with members and top aides believing that they had wrapped their heads around the breadth of the evidence they would feature.
In the meeting, members of Willis’ team viewed some of the committee’s evidence on Georgia-specific matters, including Trump’s efforts to pressure local officials and the fake electors’ actions in the state.
Committee staff had more calls with the prosecutors over the following months, including discussions of their conversations with witnesses whom the prosecutors were planning to interview. The calls helped prosecutors prepare for those interviews. One witness they discussed was Pat Cipollone, Trump’s final White House counsel, who spoke with committee investigators just days before the meeting with Willis’ team. Cipollone reportedly sat for a formal interview with Willis about six months later.
Topics that the committee discussed with Willis’ team later featured prominently in her indictment. For example, the panel briefed Willis’ team on its investigation into the fake elector certificates that Trump allies sent to the National Archives, a key component of Trump’s bid to keep his effort to subvert the election alive through Jan. 6, 2021.
Committee staff felt comfortable helping Willis’ team in part because her probe was just starting to interview witnesses. At the time of the meeting, Willis’ prosecutors were convening a “special purpose grand jury” investigation, which would issue charging recommendations — but could not issue indictments itself. Since there were no defendants at the time, no one would be entitled to discovery that could have included information the committee shared with Willis.
The Jan. 6 committee had a markedly different relationship with federal prosecutors investigating Trump. The committee, worried the Justice Department would have to share sensitive material with Jan. 6 defendants, assured the Justice Department that it would eventually share its trove of evidence, but declined two increasingly pointed requests from prosecutors to start handing over information.
“My understanding is they want to have access to our work product. And we told them, no, we’re not giving that to anybody,” Thompson said of the Justice Department in May 2022.
At the time, committee members publicly criticized the Justice Department, saying the department had not significantly advanced its investigation into Trump and his allies. Special counsel Jack Smith had not yet been appointed — and would not be until November 2022, just as the committee was concluding its work. In December, the panel made the vast majority of its evidence and witness transcripts available to the Justice Department, just before releasing it to the public.
Republicans and defendants seek detail
In its final report, the Jan. 6 committee noted that it had provided evidence to Willis and to federal prosecutors about efforts by some witnesses to obstruct the lawmakers’ work. The committee also acknowledged that, by late 2022, both Willis and the newly appointed Smith may have surpassed the committee’s ability to obtain new details about what occurred in Trump’s orbit in the chaotic weeks before he left office.
Congressional Republicans have recently begun to press for more details about the contacts between Willis and the committee. Trump, too, has made those contacts an issue as he seeks new details to challenge the charges against him. He has made unsupported allegations that the Jan. 6 committee destroyed or hid evidence and has accused the panel of acting to damage him politically.
In a court filing on Monday, Trump attorney Steve Sadow wrote that Willis’ office “has steadfastly refused to answer yes or no” about whether Thompson or the committee ever responded to Willis’ December 2021 request for assistance.
And on Wednesday, Trump’s team supplemented its motion with a screenshot of Wade’s invoice, highlighting his Jan. 6 committee meetings.
Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.