The Justice Department on Thursday revealed a deepening rift with the Jan. 6 House select committee, accusing the panel of a “failure” to share its 1,000 witness transcripts.
Department officials say those documents would aid the prosecution of people who breached the Capitol, including leaders of the Proud Boys.
“The Select Committee’s failure to grant the Department access to these transcripts complicates the Department’s ability to investigate and prosecute those who engaged in criminal conduct in relation to the January 6 attack on the Capitol,” the department wrote in a letter Wednesday, signed by Criminal Division chief Kenneth Polite Jr. and National Security Division head Matthew Olsen, as well as the U.S. attorney for D.C., Matthew Graves.
The Justice Department officials said it was “critical” that the panel provide prosecutors “copies of the transcripts of all its witness interviews.”
The letter was the latest reflection of escalating tensions between House investigators and Justice Department prosecutors in recent weeks. It marked the first time prosecutors directly and publicly accused the select committee of undermining efforts to impose criminal penalties on those responsible for the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
The House committee’s chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), said that his panel wants to help the Justice Department but that the higher priority for the members right now is to complete their hearings, which began last week and continued Thursday, with more sessions expected in the coming weeks. The committee also intends to prepare a report, he noted.
“We’re in the midst of conducting our hearing. … We have a report to do. So, we’re not going to stop what we’re doing to share information that we’ve gotten so far with the Department of Justice,” Thompson said. “We will eventually cooperate with them.”
In earlier comments, Thompson said some of the Justice Department’s requests went too far.
“My understanding is they want to have access to our work product. And we told them, no, we’re not giving that to anybody,” he said last month.
In a related development, prosecutors agreed Thursday to delay a scheduled August trial of the leadership of the Proud Boys, a pro-Trump militia group. Justice Department lawyers reiterated that they expect the House panel to make the witness interview transcripts public in early September, which could roil a trial if it is underway.
Five Proud Boy leaders are set to go before a jury on seditious conspiracy charges for their activities on Jan. 6. The proposed trial delay to December — backed by some defendants — would require the approval of the federal judge handling the case.
In addition to the transcript dispute, prosecutors are facing increasing complaints from defense attorneys that the Jan. 6 panel’s releasing selected details of its investigation — including in currently ongoing public hearings — is unfair to their clients. They are demanding access to all the records and have expressed concerns that they might all be abruptly made public right in the middle of a Proud Boys trial.
Indeed, the letter about the rift between the panel and the Justice Department emerged publicly Thursday after prosecutors filed it in the Proud Boys case.
The panel has interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses. Members have emphasized that their investigation is ongoing and will continue until the panel releases a final report later this year.
Members of the committee have also publicly criticized the Justice Department for what they’ve perceived as its slow action to pursue potential cases against former President Donald Trump and members of his inner circle. Those tensions grew recently when the department declined to prosecute former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows and close aide Dan Scavino for defying Jan. 6 select committee subpoenas.
Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.
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