It was one of the vital dramatic moments in a presentation stuffed with them: Just before President Donald J. Trump went onstage near the White House last yr and urged his supporters to “fight like hell” and march on the Capitol, an aide testified on Tuesday, he was told that a few of them were armed.
It was also a potentially consequential moment for any prosecution of Mr. Trump, legal experts said. Knowing that his crowd of supporters had the means to be violent when he exhorted them to march to the Capitol — and declared that he desired to go along with them — could nudge Mr. Trump closer to facing criminal charges, legal experts said.
“This really moved the ball significantly, despite the fact that there continues to be an extended option to go,” said Renato Mariotti, a legal analyst and former federal prosecutor in Illinois.
The extent to which the Justice Department’s expanding criminal inquiry is concentrated on Mr. Trump stays unclear. However the revelations within the testimony to the House select committee by Cassidy Hutchinson, a former White House aide, each provided recent evidence about Mr. Trump’s activities before the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol and chipped away at any potential defense that he was merely expressing well-founded views about election fraud.
“There’s still a whole lot of uncertainty in regards to the query of criminal intent with regards to a president, but what just happened modified my bottom line,” said Alan Rozenshtein, a former Justice Department official who teaches on the University of Minnesota Law School. “I even have gone from Trump is lower than more likely to be charged to he’s greater than more likely to be charged.”
A spokesman for Attorney General Merrick B. Garland declined to comment on Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony — although one in every of Mr. Garland’s predecessors did weigh in.
“The department is clearly looking into all this, and this hearing definitely gave investigators so much to chew on,” said William P. Barr, who resigned as attorney general under Mr. Trump after saying publicly weeks after Election Day that there was no evidence of fraud widespread enough to have modified the race’s final result.
During her testimony to the panel, Ms. Hutchinson recounted a conversation she had on Jan. 3, 2021, with Pat Cipollone, the highest lawyer within the White House. Ms. Hutchinson described how Mr. Cipollone worriedly pulled her aside that day after learning that Mr. Trump was considering marching together with his supporters to the Capitol after his speech near the White House on Jan. 6 — a choice, he suggested, that might have major consequences.
“We’re going to get charged with every crime possible,” Mr. Cipollone said, by Ms. Hutchinson’s account.
One among the crimes Mr. Cipollone was concerned about, Ms. Hutchinson recounted, was the identical one the committee had accused Mr. Trump of committing in a court filing this spring: the obstruction of a congressional proceeding — namely, the certification of the Electoral College vote contained in the Capitol on Jan. 6.
A federal judge in a civil suit related to the House committee’s work also concluded this yr that Mr. Trump and one in every of his legal advisers, John Eastman, almost definitely had committed felonies, including obstructing the work of Congress and conspiring to defraud the US, through their efforts to dam certification of the Electoral College results.
In keeping with Ms. Hutchinson, one other potential crime that nervous Mr. Cipollone was incitement to riot. That offense, while simpler in theory than obstruction, requires prosecutors to achieve a high threshold of evidence and prove that a defendant’s words presented a direct threat of lawlessness or danger.
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Some legal scholars said Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony made one of the best case so far that Mr. Trump had in actual fact incited the group.
“Until this point, we had not seen proof that he knew in regards to the violence,” said Daniel Goldman, a former federal prosecutor who served because the lead counsel during Mr. Trump’s first impeachment. “The testimony made very clear he was not only entirely aware of the threat, but wanted armed people to march to the Capitol. He was even willing to guide them.”
This winter, a federal judge in Washington, ruling that a gaggle of civil lawsuits claiming that Mr. Trump was chargeable for the violence on Jan. 6 could go to trial, also suggested that the previous president had incited the group that heard his speech.
In his ruling, Judge Amit P. Mehta found that after months of making an “air of distrust and anger” by relentlessly claiming that the election had been stolen, Mr. Trump must have known that his supporters would take his speech not merely as words, but as “a call to motion.”
Judge Mehta also ruled that Mr. Trump could reasonably be held accountable for having aided and abetted those that assaulted cops in the course of the Capitol attack.
After 18 months, the Justice Department’s investigation of the Capitol attack has resulted in greater than 840 criminal cases being filed against rioters on charges starting from misdemeanor trespass to seditious conspiracy.
In recent days, the inquiry has accelerated with a flurry of search warrants and subpoenas going out, implicating a few of Mr. Trump’s top allies in key swing states and at the least two lawyers, Jeffrey Clark and Mr. Eastman, who worked on separate but related plans to stave off his defeat within the 2020 election.
Still, it stays unknown if prosecutors are looking directly at Mr. Trump’s own involvement in subverting the election or inspiring the mob that wreaked havoc on the Capitol.
Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings
While the House committee has all the time reserved the precise to recommend that Mr. Trump be charged, it was revealed this month that the panel and the Justice Department have been at odds over the transcripts of interviews with witnesses like Ms. Hutchinson, with top department officials complaining that by withholding as many as 1,000 transcripts the committee was hampering the work of creating criminal cases.
One other matter that continues to be unknown is whether or not Ms. Hutchinson has spoken with federal prosecutors about what she saw and heard contained in the White House on Jan. 6 and the times leading as much as it.
The Justice Department has already charged greater than 220 rioters with the obstruction count, which requires proving that a defendant knowingly and corruptly interfered with the work of Congress.
Some legal scholars have suggested that Mr. Trump could defend himself against the charge by arguing that he didn’t intend to disrupt the work of Congress through any of his schemes, but reasonably was acting in good faith to deal with what he sincerely believed was fraud within the election.
But even those experts who once gave credence to this defense felt that the brand new accounts revealed on Tuesday chipped away at the chance that Mr. Trump could claim willful blindness.
All month, the House committee has been laying out an in depth argument for why Mr. Trump must be charged with crimes at a series of public hearings. The presentations have depicted Mr. Trump as being personally involved in multiple efforts to strong-arm state lawmakers, Justice Department officials and even Mike Pence, his own vp, into machinations that might have kept him within the White House.
Those machinations included a plot to create false slates of electors declaring that Mr. Trump had won the election in states that were actually won by Joseph R. Biden Jr., and a subsequent effort to influence Mr. Pence to make use of the phony slates on Jan. 6 to subvert the traditional workings of the Electoral College and single-handedly declare Mr. Trump to be the victor.
What Tuesday’s hearing added was a cinematic account of Mr. Trump’s connection to the violence on the Capitol.
“This can be a dramatic last piece that enriches the story,” said Daniel C. Richman, a law professor at Columbia University. “Nevertheless it’s not clear that it changes the elemental query of criminal liability.”