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The Jan. 6 criminal investigations got a hell of a lot more real this week.
Suddenly it seems like the feds are everywhere. Some 40 subpoenas were blasted out at top MAGA-world figures by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., which is reportedly seeking answers on practically every aspect of the insurrection.
The feds want to know about the so-called fake electors scheme, sure. But they’re also poking around to learn more about the planning of former President Donald Trump’s rally on the Ellipse, and even fundraising for Trump’s Save America political action committee.
In other words, the first whiff of autumn is in the air—and so is that faint, burnt-leaf smell of accountability.
The Department of Justice’s upshift into a higher gear comes after critics spent months lambasting Attorney General Merrick Garland for moving too slowly. That chatter now seems likely to subside.
Federal agents seized the cellphones of top Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn and campaign strategist Mike Roman. Subpoenas were served on former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and Trump’s former social media director Dan Scavino.
Mike Lindell, aka “the pillow guy,” did not escape the dragnet.
FBI agents pounced on the MyPillow CEO and prominent election conspiracy theorist in the drive-thru lane of a Minnesota Hardee’s and ordered him to turn over his phone. (Imagine, for a moment, that a genie let you travel back in time to warn your past self about our discordant future—but you could only transmit that one, bizarre sentence.)
Hardee’s capitalized on its trending moment with a pillow pun on Twitter: “Now that you know we exist... you should really try our pillowy biscuits.”
Lindell—never one to sit quietly, even under legal scrutiny—also made much of the incident, discussing every detail in frenetic media appearances and even posting his warrant on social media.
Judging from the document, Lindell’s run-in with the feds appears linked to an investigation that’s formally separate from the big Jan. 6 subpoena blast. Instead, it’s tied to the widening investigation of a breach of election voting systems in Colorado and the prosecution of former Colorado election official and regular BtV cast member Tina Peters.
Peters, you might recall, has been charged with state-level crimes and pleaded not guilty. She is specifically named in the seizure warrant for Lindell’s phone, which was approved by a federal grand jury in Colorado and posted online by Lindell.
What happens next, after all this frothy action? Some lawyers and former prosecutors say they expect the DOJ may tamp down overt investigative or prosecutorial activity during the run-up to November’s midterm elections. The recent spurt might have been an attempt to make headway before the DOJ’s so-called “60-day rule” sets in. Ditto, perhaps, for the FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club for sensitive secret government documents in August. After all, nothing focuses the mind like a deadline.
That reasoning also suggests that officials will be unlikely to announce criminal charges against Trump himself before the Nov. 8 elections.
By the same token, prosecutors won’t want to make big moves right before the next round of presidential campaign primaries officially begin, likely in very early 2024, either.
In other words, it’s plausible the next two months will be relatively quiet, from a strictly prosecutorial point of view. After that, if officials feel indictments are warranted, they’ll have an incentive not to sit on their hands too long.
Trump, for his part, was asked by radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt on Thursday whether picking up a criminal charge would stop him from running for president. Trump replied with his usual reserve: “It would not.”
Gettin’ the band back together
The Jan. 6 Congressional committee is talking about at least one more gig. The committee is eyeing Sept. 28 for one more hearing, but that date is not yet confirmed. The team received “significant” new information from the Secret Service, according to Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), including a lot of text messages from Jan. 5 and 6.
Thompson said this week that the committee is contemplating sharing more information with the Department of Justice, now that the DOJ is getting more serious about its investigations. But a committee spokesperson said the decision wouldn’t be made until October or November.
We don’t have a VICE News–branded crystal ball that could show the future of a second Trump term. But let’s pretend we do. Inside, you’d see something that looks a lot like the pages of a new memoir released by Geoffrey Berman, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Berman’s new book, Holding the Line, details his efforts to resist political pressure to prosecute more Democrats, including former Democratic presidential nominee and ex-Secretary of State John Kerry. Berman’s revelations prompted the Senate Judiciary Committee to launch an investigation.
Trump <3 Q
Just in case there was any lingering doubt about Trump’s return embrace of the Trump-worshiping QAnon conspiracy movement, the former president posted a picture of himself literally wearing a Q lapel pin on his Truth Social account.
David Gilbert has the story. The image was overlaid with QAnon slogans “The Storm is Coming” and “WWG1WGA.” In QAnon lore, the “storm” is the moment Trump reveals his master plan to take down his cowering enemies. And “WWG1WGA” is a phrase that refers to the group’s collective hive-mind vibe, meaning “Where We Go One, We Go All.”
All the president’s lawyers
I wrote about Trump’s lawyer problem this week. His attorneys have racked up an impressive range of legal trouble over the years, like Michael Cohen’s criminal conviction for financial crimes and the recent news that Rudy Giuliani is a target in the Fulton County DA’s investigation into the Trump team’s attempt to reverse Trump’s 2020 election defeat in Georgia.
All this drama now appears to be catching up with Trump, who seems to be having a hard time adding heavy hitters to his legal lineup. This is a problem for a guy facing this many investigations, because he’s going to need sober, competent representation. And the recent performance of his team in the Mar-a-Lago scandal, when outside lawyers have openly mocked their baffling arguments and substandard legal briefs, hasn’t exactly inspired confidence.
Box-a-Lago — Reporter Andrea Bernstein wrote about one of the big, unsolved questions of our time: WHY Trump tookmay have taken documents at Mar-a-Lago. “He knows the value of hoarding secret information and wielding it for his own ends.”
Virginia ham — Virginia’s Republican Attorney General announced the creation of an “Election Integrity Unit” to prosecute election law violations, despite the lack of credible evidence that such violations are a problem.
“The FBI seized Mike Lindell’s phone! Fight back by shopping RUDY at mypillow.com to support.” —Rudy Giuliani on Twitter
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