New clues emerge about the money that might have helped fund the Jan. 6 insurrection
Eight months into the investigation of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the financial story is one of the most closely held parts of the probe. But the House select committee has shared some clues through its subpoenas and court filings.
The latest peek into questions around the money that might have helped fuel the attack is the Republican National Committee suing to thwart a subpoena from the committee.
The filing reveals that the Democratic-led panel quietly subpoenaed an RNC vendor, San Francisco-based Salesforce, last month.
After the suit became public, the committee quickly defended the effort, saying it was looking into a new push led by former President Trump asking for donations after he lost his 2020 bid for re-election.
"Ever since Watergate, one of the central adages in... congressional investigations of presidential wrongdoing has been follow the money," said Norm Eisen, a former House lawyer in Trump's first impeachment case. "The 1/6 committee investigation has been sweeping in all of its dimensions, and this is no exception."
The committee's Feb. 23 subpoena of Salesforce emphasized its interest in the company's hosting of Trump emails asking for new donations that included false claims of election fraud.
It's part of a central question the panel hopes to answer: Did Trump find new ways to keep the money coming in after his loss by shifting from a presidential campaign to a "Stop the Steal" effort?
"I think the level of grift that was involved with the Trump campaign and people close to the former president, how the January Six efforts were for many of them, this is what they were doing to make money," said California Democratic Rep. Pete Aguilar, a member of the Jan. 6 panel. "We are looking into that."
The committee's investigators are broken down into highly skilled teams with core areas of focus, including one that's on the money.
Aguilar says each team has been making "significant progress," with regular presentations to the full committee on its findings. Each has been charged with devising a strategy for depositions and hearings.
"The committee has not tipped its hand of everything they have," Eisen said. "They dedicated significant resources to the money trails. And I'm certain that in the hearings and in the final report, there's going to be much more evidence revealed."
This spring, the committee hopes to hold its first hearings illustrating the findings so far and issue an interim report by the summer with a final report this fall.
Questions of crimes committed
While it investigates, the panel is also documenting possible crimes.
Although it has no criminal jurisdiction, the committee can issue criminal referrals to the Justice Department, as it has done in cases of some witnesses who have refused to cooperate.
Last week, the committee detailed possible crimes Trump might have committed related to Jan. 6 in a recent court filing involving attorney John Eastman, who was advising Trump's Stop the Steal efforts.
Eastman is also fighting another subpoena in which the panel raised potential crimes that could tie into the financial probe as well: a conspiracy to defraud and common law fraud.
Eisen argues following the money is one of the classic ways of establishing the parameters of a broad conspiracy.
"These are questions, they're allegations, they're not yet determined," Eisen notes. However, some examples of these questions are "were false representations made in order to fleece people of their funds? Was it wire fraud? Was it money laundering?"
The Eastman court filing could become a part of a much larger path forward if the committee potentially issues criminal referrals against Trump by the conclusion of its probe.
But it's a complex matter.
Among the challenges: the committee will have to prove intent behind the efforts. And such a criminal referral could be laced with political landmines, putting pressure on the Justice Department's independent and impartial role.
Panel members have conceded there are pros and cons.
"Certainly, I think a referral from Congress gets the attention of the Department of Justice," said California Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff, another committee member and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who was the lead House manager in Trump's first impeachment. "At the same time, the Congress has to be careful not to play into any narrative that a prosecution — if the Justice Department were to bring one — is politically motivated in any way."
That political concern, Schiff argues, can be addressed through the panel's methodical approach to the probe, which while not criminal in nature. That can be accomplished by focusing on finding all the facts and remaining objective along the way, Schiff said.
More Jan. 6 money trails
In the coming days, the committee could unearth another rash of financial details with information from a newly subpoenaed witness.
Kimberly Guilfoyle, Donald Trump Jr.'s fiancée, is due to turn over documents to the panel today and testify next week. Last year, ProPublica reported Guilfoyle bragged in text messages that she helped raise $3 million for the Jan. 6 rally at the Ellipse, where she was one of the speakers.
It's a reminder that more than a year later, it's still not clear how much money was funneled to the Jan. 6 rally or events that preceded it, and who got paid along the way.
The panel has also shared in letters to certain subpoenaed witnesses that it's trying to track down appearance fees for that rally — that is, whether any of the speakers collected payment that day.
"If funds were raised for the Jan. 6 event by an organized group, then there might be an opportunity for us to know who it was and what was paid," Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, who chairs the House select committee.
The committee has also quietly sought banking records, including in the case of Taylor Budowich, a Trump spokesman who sued to keep his financial institution from complying with a subpoena.
"There's no doubt that there is a very big moneymaking operation component to this story," said Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin, another committee member who was the lead manager of the House team in Trump's second impeachment.
Anna Massoglia, an editorial and investigations manager for the nonpartisan, nonprofit group OpenSecrets, is also trying to track the money trail.
Massoglia says a combination of dark money groups, nonprofits and super PACs funded the rally before the attack, but not necessarily the insurrection. She says the committee will be key to filling in the many of the blanks that remain.
"There's those unknowns of the groups on social media that didn't have as much of an official role," she said. "But there is a lot of unknown about even these groups that are listed. There's a lot of money that is still unaccounted for."
OpenSecrets has identified at least nine groups that may have contributed to funding the rally, including Stop the Steal, Women for American First, Tea Party Patriots and Turning Point Action. Massoglia says tax returns due later this year could also shed more light on those who may have funneled or made money connected to that day.
OpenSecrets has also identified these groups with financial ties to the so-called "March to Save America":
Raskin says the financial story behind the attack remains a critical chapter to the overall story the committee hopes to tell the public later this year.
"There are powerful indications that have surfaced and every day that passes we get more testimony shedding light on what exactly was taking place," Raskin said. "We should not discount the financial motive and imperative in the events leading up to Jan. 6." Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.