Lawmakers investigating the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol last year are signaling they could send referrals to the Justice Department for prosecution of illegal tampering with witnesses who have testified to the panel.
Representative Liz Cheney, vice chairperson of the House of Representatives investigative panel, displayed Tuesday two messages from notes sent to hearing witnesses saying that former President Donald Trump was keeping a close eye on the hearings and was counting on continued loyalty. The senders of the notes weren't identified.
The panel is probing how the insurrection unfolded and Trump’s role in trying to upend his 2020 reelection defeat.
Cheney’s disclosure of the notes came after two hours of explosive testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson, the former top assistant to Mark Meadows, who was Trump’s last White House chief of staff.
Hutchinson described in detail how Trump became angry and volatile in the last weeks of his presidency as the reality of his loss to Democrat Joe Biden sank in and his own associates dismissed his repeated claims that he had been cheated out of reelection.
CNN quoted unidentified sources Thursday saying Hutchinson was one of the witnesses who had been contacted by someone attempting to influence her testimony.
In an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America” show Thursday, Cheney said the attempted influencing of witnesses is “very serious. It really goes to the heart of our legal system. And it's something the committee will certainly be reviewing."
She added, "It gives us a real insight into how people around the former president are operating, into the extent to which they believe that they can affect the testimony of witnesses before the committee. And it's something we take very seriously, and it's something that people should be aware of. It's a very serious issue, and I would imagine the Department of Justice would be very interested in, and would take that very seriously, as well."
At Tuesday’s hearing, Cheney did not say which of the committee’s witnesses had been contacted but displayed two text messages on a large television screen.
One said, “What they said to me is as long as I continue to be a team player, they know I’m on the team, I’m doing the right thing, I’m protecting who I need to protect, you know, I’ll continue to stay in good graces in Trump World.”
“And they have reminded me a couple of times that Trump does read transcripts and just to keep that in mind as I proceed through my depositions and interviews with the committee,” that witness continued.
In another example, a second witness said, “[A person] let me know you have your deposition tomorrow. He wants me to let you know that he’s thinking about you. He knows you’re loyal, and you’re going to do the right thing when you go in for your deposition.”
Representative Zoe Lofgren, another member of the investigative panel, told CNN, “It's a concern, and anyone who is trying to dissuade or tamper with witnesses should be on notice that that's a crime, and we are perfectly prepared to provide any evidence we have to the proper authorities."
A third committee member, Representative Jamie Raskin, said after the hearing, “It's a crime to tamper with witnesses. It’s a form of obstructing justice. The committee won't tolerate it. And we haven’t had a chance to fully investigate or fully discuss it, but it's something we want to look into.”