As they investigate former President Donald J. Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election, federal prosecutors are also investigating whether Trump and a number of political aides knew he had lost the election but were still collecting money from claims they had. combating widespread fraud in voting results, according to three people familiar with the matter.
Led by special counsel Jack Smith, prosecutors are trying to determine whether Trump and his aides violated federal wire fraud laws when they raised as much as $250 million through a political action committee saying they needed the money to fight election fraud. even though they have been told repeatedly that there is no evidence to support the claims of fraud.
Prosecutors are looking at the work of the committee's inner workings, Save America PAC, and the Trump campaign's attempts to prove its baseless case that Trump was duped into victory.
In recent months, prosecutors have issued several subpoenas in a broad bid to understand Save America, which was founded shortly after the election as Trump's primary fundraising entity. The initial round of subpoenas, which began before Trump declared his candidacy in the 2024 election and Smith was appointed by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in November, focused on various Republican officials and vendors who had received payments from Save America.
But recently, investigators became aware of the activities of a joint fundraising committee composed of staff members from the Trump 2020 campaign and the Republican National Committee, among others. Several subpoenas have requested documents from around election day 2020 to date.
Prosecutors have focused heavily on details of campaign finances, spending and fundraising, such as who approved email requests hurled to a list of possible small donors and what they know about the veracity of fraudulent claims, according to people familiar with their work. The three areas overlap, and can inform prosecutors' thinking about whether to proceed with charges in an investigation where witnesses are still being interviewed.
The possibility that the fundraising efforts may constitute a criminal scam was first raised last year by a House selection committee investigating Trump's attempts to retain power.
However, the Department of Justice, with its ability to bring criminal charges, has been able to encourage the wider cooperation of a number of witnesses. And prosecutors have developed more information than House committees did, after targeting communications between Trump's campaign aides and other Republican officials to determine whether the barrage of fundraising requests sent after the election were intentionally misleading, according to three people familiar with the affair.
Fundraising efforts are just one focus of Mr Smith's investigation into Mr Trump's efforts to reverse his defeat at the polls.
Prosecutors have also examined plans to compile alternative lists of pro-Trump voters from states won by Joseph R. Biden Jr., and broader push by Mr. Trump to block or delay congressional certification of Mr. Biden's Electoral College victory on January 6, 2021 , leading to the storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters.
On Thursday, former Vice President Mike Pence, a key witness to Trump's efforts, testified for hours before a grand jury that was gathering evidence in the investigation.
Prosecutors have seen a link between research commissioned by Trump's campaign in the immediate aftermath of the election to try to prove widespread fraud, the public statements he and his allies made at the time, fundraising efforts and the creation of Save America.
Washington Post previously reported about the campaign's efforts to fund research into fraudulent claims and the new round of subpoenas.
Trump's team might argue that the fundraising represents political speech with generally obscure solicitations, and that introducing it into criminal proceedings could raise First Amendment issues and create a slippery slope for future candidates. Political fundraising materials often engage in bombast or exaggeration.
Republicans might also argue that Democrats are lax in the claims they use in fundraising requests. And the Trump campaign may argue that they are actually using the funds to try to investigate fraud.
A Trump campaign adviser said the “deep state” stepped up its attacks on the former president as his poll numbers rose. “The ‘political police' have been pushing their manhunt ever since President Trump stepped off the escalator, and they have been proven wrong every time,” the adviser added.
Officials with the Republican National Committee declined to comment.
Immediately after the election, Trump's campaign advisers contacted Ken Block, owner of the Rhode Island-based firm Simpatico Software Systems, to get him to evaluate certain fraud allegations.
Mr. Block ended up researching various claims about possible fraud that Mr. Trump's aides brought him. He never produced a final report. But every time he investigates a claim, he said in an interview, he finds nothing.
Mr Block said he had denied “everything that entered and found no substantive fraud sufficient to invalidate the election results.” He said he was isolated from what happened in the campaign, as Trump railed against his aides about staying in office and continued to insist he had won the election that he was repeatedly told he had lost.
“I am very closed from all madness,” said Mr. Block, whose company was paid $735,000, records show. He received subpoenas for documents, but declined in interviews to discuss anything to do with the grand jury.
A few days after starting work with Mr. Block and Simpatico, Trump's campaign hired a second company, Berkeley Research Group. A federal grand jury has accepted evidence that Berkeley was hired on the advice of Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump, who oversees political operations.
The grand jury has fielded questions regarding whether Trump was briefed on Berkeley's findings showing there was no widespread fraud.
The company ultimately submitted a report showing no fraud would alter the election results, and was paid approximately $600,000 for its work. The firm was hired through a law firm that has long represented Mr Trump in his personal capacity, Kasowitz Benson Torres, although attorneys there were not involved in pursuing Mr Trump's election fraud claims, according to a person briefed on the matter.
A deputy advisor to Berkeley Research Group said the company had a “no comment” policy and declined to discuss the matter further.
During the January 6 House committee proceedings last year, several people close to Trump testified that they had told him that no amount of fraud was enough to change the result of the vote.
Within two weeks of the election, Trump's own campaign communications staff compiled an internal report debunking many aspects of the conspiracy theory that voting machines created by Dominion Voting Systems had been hacked and used to reverse Trump's votes. The report was written in the presence of pro-Trump lawyers like Sidney Powell and Rudolph W. Giuliani promoting the fake Dominion story at press conferences and on television.
As part of its investigation into Trump's post-election campaign fundraising, the January 6 panel subpoenaed records from Salesforce.com, a vendor that assisted the campaign and the Republican National Committee sending emails to potential donors. The RNC fought back, filed a lawsuit to overturn the subpoena, and the House committee eventually withdrew it.
In the latest subpoena, federal prosecutors have searched for documents related to Salesforce in addition to other vendors, according to a person briefed on the matter.