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Justice Department asks January 6 committee for transcripts of witness testimony

<i>Drew Angerer/Getty Images</i><br/>The Justice Department has asked the committee investigating the January 6
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Drew Angerer/Getty Images
The Justice Department has asked the committee investigating the January 6

By Ryan Nobles, Evan Perez, Jamie Gangel and Annie Grayer, CNN

The Justice Department has asked the committee investigating the January 6, 2021, insurrection to hand over transcripts of the panel’s witness depositions as part of its investigation, a committee spokesman and another source familiar with the matter told CNN on Tuesday.

The committee has not agreed to the request, because Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Democratic congressman from Mississippi, told reporters that the depositions were the property of the committee.

“It’s our work product,” Thompson said Tuesday. “It’s the committee’s work product.”

Thompson said he was open to having DOJ officials come in and view the materials they requested, as the panel has allowed other government agencies and state officials to review documents, but he was against turning over all of the committee’s work unilaterally.

“If they want to come in and say, ‘we want to look at something,’ that’s fine. But my understanding is they want to have access to our work product. And we told them no, we’re not giving that to anybody,” Thompson said.

The committee’s chairman also said the Justice Department was not specific in its letter to the committee about which depositions it wanted access to.

“They wanted access to depositions,” Thompson said. “But my understanding is they didn’t tell us specifically what transcripts or anything like that.”

Another source said simply that there’s been no response from the committee since the letter requesting the transcripts was sent in late April.

The Justice Department wants the transcripts to help its investigation and bring in witnesses, according to the source familiar with the matter. The source did not specify which transcripts were being requested.

The Justice Department has declined to comment for this story.

The New York Times was the first to report the news of the Justice Department request.

The lack of cooperation on the transcripts surfaces some simmering frustration between the committee and the Justice Department.

One particular source of tension has been the contempt referral for Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows which, more than five months since it was sent over by the House, still has not been acted on by the Justice Department, another source familiar with the matter said. The committee has been frustrated by the lack of response, after the quick decision by the Justice Department to indict Steve Bannon within weeks of the committee sending the referral.

Committee members have been publicly critical of the lack of movement in those cases.

“This committee is doing its job,” committee member Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, said in a March meeting of the committee. “The Department of Justice needs to do theirs.”

The frustration reflects a reality that the Justice Department rarely shares information with the Hill in the middle of an ongoing investigation, especially one being probed by Congress as well.

Attorney General Merrick Garland has not commented publicly about the Meadows referral, saying in late April, “We don’t comment on ongoing referrals.”

The request for transcripts comes as the Justice Department faces continued questions as to how far it will go with its own investigation.

Earlier this year, federal investigators expanded the investigation to gather information about fundraising and organizing for the political rally held before Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, as well as efforts to subvert the Electoral College vote count, multiple sources told CNN in March. After focusing mostly on alleged rioters and extremist groups, that widened scope suggested federal investigators were also scrutinizing connections to political entities.

While the committee has not ruled out sharing information with the Department of Justice, they have gone to great lengths to make it clear that their investigation is running on a separate track and is independent of the work at DOJ.

“We’ve kept the firewall in terms of committee staff doing this work,” Thompson told CNN in December. “Basically, when they have come over asking for information, we’ve provided them the information. They have not given us any expectations. Other than thank you for providing the information.”

Thompson and other members have made it clear that the committee is not a criminal investigative body. It is their responsibility is to take any potentially criminal information they find and present it to the Justice Department and then allow prosecutors to decide if it is worthy of an indictment. But the form and fashion in how they share that information is at the committee’s discretion.

It is a process that has already played out in several criminal contempt of Congress referrals the committee has sent DOJ from witnesses that have ignored subpoena requests.

“That is strictly DOJ once we produce a report and the findings, and they review it, unless they have some questions about some aspect of it,” Thompson said.

Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, who is on the committee, told CNN that both the panel and the Justice Department can benefit from sharing information.

“The interviews in the possession of the committee are the property of the committee,” Raskin said.

Referring to the DOJ, he added, “And I imagine that the committee will want to see any relevant evidence used in any relevant legal context.”

This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.

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