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The U.S. Department of Justice is directly investigating Donald Trump's actions as part of a criminal probe into the January 6 attack on the Capitol, news welcomed by lawmakers and watchdogs who have accused the DOJ of dragging its feet despite having a strong case for prosecuting the former president.

The Washington Post reported late Tuesday that "prosecutors who are questioning witnesses before a grand jury—including two top aides to Vice President Mike Pence—have asked in recent days about conversations with Trump, his lawyers, and others in his inner circle who sought to substitute Trump allies for certified electors from some states Joe Biden won."

"The prosecutors have asked hours of detailed questions about meetings Trump led in December 2020 and January 2021; his pressure campaign on Pence to overturn the election; and what instructions Trump gave his lawyers and advisers about fake electors and sending electors back to the states," the Post continued, citing unnamed people familiar with the matter. "Some of the questions focused directly on the extent of Trump's involvement in the fake-elector effort led by his outside lawyers, including John Eastman and Rudy Giuliani."

The Post also reported that the Justice Department has seized the "phone records of key officials and aides in the Trump administration, including his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows."

Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, responded that "this is big news."

"While DOJ's investigation into the fake-elector scheme has been known for some time," Mariotti noted, "this reporting indicates that DOJ is investigating the scheme to pressure Pence to set aside electoral votes, including Trump’s involvement in that scheme."

Headed by Attorney General Merrick Garland, the DOJ has been investigating the January 6, 2021 attack for months, and so far it has charged more than 840 people over their roles in the violent effort to subvert the certification of President Joe Biden's 2020 election victory.

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Prior to the House January 6 committee's hearings—which offered new evidence of Trump's central role in the Capitol attack and made the case that the mob assault was part of a coordinated coup attempt—the Justice Department had restricted internal discussions of the former president's responsibility, according to the New York Times.

That approach drew increasingly vocal frustration from legal experts and members of Congress who argued that failure to hold Trump accountable would embolden the far-right in its campaign to seize the levers of power nationwide.

"I was the first member of Congress to demand Trump's prosecution," Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said Tuesday. "If we fail to criminally prosecute Trump, we will march this country inexorably down the path of fascism."

"Accountability for Trump," he added, "is an existential requirement for our democracy."

In an NBC interview that aired hours ahead of the Post's revelations, Garland insisted that the Justice Department intends to "hold everyone, anyone, who was criminally responsible for the events surrounding Jan 6, for any attempt to interfere with the lawful transfer of power from one administration to another, accountable."

Asked whether Trump declaring his 2024 presidential run would have any impact on the DOJ's approach to its January 6 probe, Garland repeated himself.

We will hold accountable anyone who was criminally responsible for attempting to interfere with the transfer—legitimate, lawful transfer—of power from one administration to the next," said the attorney general.

Crossposted from Common Dreams