WASHINGTON — The explosive testimony of a former Trump White House aide on Tuesday may have increased the likelihood of new prosecutions stemming from the attack on the Capitol, but it also bared lingering conflicts between the Justice Department and congressional investigators.
The federal prosecutors working on the case watched the aide’s appearance before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, riot and were just as astonished by her account of former President Donald J. Trump’s increasingly desperate bid to hold on to power as other viewers. The panel did not provide them with videos or transcripts of her taped interviews with committee members beforehand, according to several officials, leaving them feeling blindsided.
The testimony from the aide, Cassidy Hutchinson, who worked for Mr. Trump’s final chief of staff, Mark Meadows, came at a critical moment in parallel investigations that will soon converge, and possibly collide, as the committee wraps up a public inquiry geared for maximum political effect and the department intensifies a high-stakes investigation aimed at securing airtight convictions.
Her revelations ramped up calls that the committee summon a former White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, who could verify some of her disclosures and who repeatedly resisted efforts to subvert the election. Late Wednesday, the panel said it had subpoenaed Mr. Cipollone after he refused to publicly testify.
Committee members have repeatedly suggested that Attorney General Merrick B. Garland has not moved fast enough to follow up their investigative leads. But for reasons that are not entirely clear — classic Washington bureaucratic territorialism, the department’s unwillingness to share information or the desire to stage-manage a successful public forum — members have resisted turning over hundreds of transcripts until they are done with their work.
Senior Justice Department officials say that has slowed their investigation. Ms. Hutchinson’s name has not yet appeared on subpoenas and other court documents related to their investigation into the effort to overturn the 2020 election, and she did not seem to be a primary witness before the hearings.
The committee and its supporters say its independence has allowed it to create an investigative road map for the department’s subsequent inquiries, even if members remain divided over whether to make an official criminal referral to Mr. Garland.
“It’s fair to regard this series of most recent hearings as a slow-motion referral in plain view of conduct warranting, at minimum, criminal investigation and potential prosecution,” said David H. Laufman, a former federal prosecutor and senior Justice Department official. “They haven’t held back anything.”
At each of its hearings this month, the panel has presented evidence that members believe could be used to bolster a criminal investigation. The committee has provided new details about cases that could be built around a conspiracy to defraud the American people and Mr. Trump’s own donors, as well as plans to submit false slates of electors to the National Archives and obstruct an official proceeding of Congress.
At its hearing on Tuesday, the committee laid out how Mr. Trump had forewarning of violence, allowed a mob of his loyalists to attack the Capitol and, in fact, agreed with what they were doing.
A person familiar with the panel’s work said Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming and vice chairwoman of the committee, took a leading role overseeing the team investigating Mr. Trump’s inner circle and was instrumental in organizing the surprise hearing featuring Ms. Hutchinson.
Over the past month, the committee has aired hours of testimony — none more significant than Ms. Hutchinson’s narrative of Mr. Trump’s actions on the day of the attack — that legal experts believe bolstered a potential criminal case against Mr. Trump for inciting the mob or attempting to obstruct the special session of Congress.
That, in turn, has escalated the already intense pressure on Mr. Garland and his top aides. The now familiar meme — exhorting Mr. Garland to do his “job” by indicting Mr. Trump — began to emerge on social media even before Ms. Hutchinson left the hearing room.
“We need some action from the DOJ, and we need it now,” Representative Ruben Gallego, Democrat of Arizona, said in an interview. “We’re in a time crunch now. Every day these criminals walk free is one more day of them evading justice. As we get closer to the midterm elections, I fear not acting will only empower the complicit Republicans more if they take power.”
For their part, members of the committee have repeatedly and publicly called for Mr. Garland to do more, even as the panel has denied the Justice Department access to its transcripts. (A committee spokesman has said the panel is negotiating with the Justice Department and could turn over its transcripts as early as July when it finishes its public hearings.)
“I have yet to see any indication that the former president himself is under investigation,” Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and a member of the committee, said on “Meet The Press” on NBC recently, adding, “It’s not a difficult decision to investigate when there’s evidence before you.”
That followed a steady drumbeat of similar statements from members of the panel who have urged the Justice Department to investigate Mr. Trump and charge with contempt his allies who will not cooperate with the committee’s investigation.
Mr. Garland and his top advisers have repeatedly declined to comment on the details of their investigations, other than to say they will follow wherever the evidence leads them. His spokesman had no comment on Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony and what it meant for the Justice Department’s work.
In recent weeks, the panel has openly debated whether it should ratchet up additional pressure on the department by issuing a criminal referral at the end of its investigation.
After Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the committee’s chairman, indicated to reporters on Capitol Hill that the panel was unlikely to do so, other members, including Mr. Schiff and Ms. Cheney, quickly disputed that assertion.
“The January 6th Select Committee has not issued a conclusion regarding potential criminal referrals,” Ms. Cheney wrote on Twitter this month. “We will announce a decision on that at an appropriate time.”
The panel has also suggested Mr. Trump and unnamed people close to him were involved in inappropriately influencing witnesses.
Its members have suggested, for instance, that the former president may have swayed Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, when he refused to cooperate with the investigation.
On Tuesday, Ms. Cheney displayed what she said were two examples of unnamed Trump associates trying to influence witnesses. One witness was told to “protect” certain individuals to “stay in good graces in Trump World.” In the other instance, a witness was encouraged to remain “loyal.”
“Most people know that attempting to influence witnesses to testify untruthfully presents very serious concerns,” Ms. Cheney said. “We will be discussing these issues as a committee and carefully considering our next steps.”
According to Punchbowl News, Ms. Hutchinson received such a warning. A person familiar with the committee’s investigation confirmed that account. Her lawyer did not respond to a message seeking comment.
The allegations were reminiscent of other questions that have emerged about Mr. Trump and his allies’ use of intimidation to stop witnesses from implicating Mr. Trump.
During the Russia investigation, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, dangled a pardon to Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn.
Mr. Trump later pardoned Mr. Flynn after he stopped cooperating with investigators. Mr. Trump himself had similar overtures made to his personal lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen.
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