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Inside the Jan. 6 committee’s effort to trace every dollar raised and spent based on Trump’s false election claims

The panel’s ‘green team’ is scrutinizing whether the Trump campaign, its affiliated super PACs, the RNC and protest rally organizers knowingly used false claims to dupe donors

The House Jan. 6 committee's chairman, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), far right, joins other committee members in D.C. on July 1. From left are Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Elaine Luria (D-Va.), Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) and Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.). (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

The House Jan. 6 committee has waged high-profile legal battles with Donald Trump and his closest allies as it tries to uncover every detail of what happened that day and determine what culpability the former president may have for the violent attack on the Capitol.

But it has also been focused on another part of its inquiry that panel members said is of equal importance to the success of the investigation — tracing every dollar that was raised and spent on false claims that the election was stolen.

Committee investigators have interviewed low-level Trump campaign aides who wrote fundraising pitches, grilled Trump advisers about who may have personally profited from the post-election cash haul and even dialed up the owners of a portable-toilet company to find out who paid them to put toilets on the Ellipse the day of the insurrection.

The questioning is part of an effort by the committee’s “green team” to scrutinize whether the Trump campaign, its affiliated super PACs, the Republican National Committee and protest organizers knowingly used false claims that the election was stolen to dupe donors and raise large sums of cash, according to people involved in the probe and witnesses who have appeared before the committee who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the panel’s work.

The House select committee investigating the attempted insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6 faces an uphill battle with former Trump administration officials. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

“People were swindled financially and psychologically,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), a member of the select committee. “People’s convictions were cynically exploited for Trump’s gain.”

Committee members and aides said the goal of scrutinizing and documenting the money flow is twofold. The primary objective is to determine whether email solicitations spreading false claims of election fraud served as a powerful source of misinformation, prompting the need to make proposals for strengthening campaign finance laws. The committee will also consider if any laws were broken and refer those to the Justice Department, which would then decide whether to pursue any prosecutions. The committee’s staff argue that the events of the day cannot be fully explained without explaining the months leading up to them.

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Specifically, the panel has focused on whether violations of federal wire fraud laws occurred when individuals raised funds by promoting the idea that the election was stolen while knowing the claims were false.

Officials with the committee said the day’s events cannot be viewed in a vacuum — and argued that the fundraising and political appeals that happened in the months leading up to Jan. 6, 2021, are a reason the pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol.

“These people knew the claims they were making about the election were false but still sent emails anyways because it was an effective way to raise money,” a person familiar with the investigation said.

The green team is led by Amanda Wick, a former federal prosecutor and official at the Treasury and Justice departments, and involves a number of select committee aides who have experience in analyzing bank records, Federal Election Commission data, understanding cryptocurrency and piecing together receipts of financial crimes, such as fraud.

Investigators in recent months have increased their focus on the vast digital fundraising efforts around overturning the election, trying to pinpoint if the Trump campaign and allied Republicans were engaged in a coordinated effort to raise money on fraudulent and misleading appeals, according to people involved in the probe.

A number of individuals from the Trump campaign, the RNC and digital firms involved with post-election fundraising practices have been cooperating with the green team. The committee recently asked questions of Gary Coby, the Trump campaign’s top digital fundraising guru, and has interviewed both campaign and RNC staff, according to multiple people familiar with the matter. They have also questioned Brad Parscale, the former Trump campaign manager, and interviewed people who worked for him.

Parscale declined to comment. Coby did not respond to an email seeking comment.

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In the months after Trump’s election loss, the Trump campaign, the RNC, Trump Make America Great Again Committee and Save America PAC raised more than $200 million through a joint fundraising committee. The Trump operation sent hundreds of fundraising emails each month pushing the idea that Trump won the election and solicited contributions to an “Election Defense Fund” to litigate Biden’s victory in court — even though that money was largely unspent.

“The RNC had nothing to do with the violence that occurred at the Capitol and has repeatedly condemned it. In fact, we were a target of violence that day and had a bomb placed outside of RNC headquarters, which put our staff in immediate danger and is something the committee has yet to investigate. Nancy Pelosi’s committee has weaponized Congress’ investigatory power, lacks legitimacy, has exceeded its scope, and disregards checks and balances,” RNC Spokeswoman Danielle Alvarez said in a statement referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

A RNC official said the group was fundraising to support “election integrity” challenges and continue to do so.

Taylor Budowich, who serves as Trump’s spokesman, criticized the panel’s focus on fundraising.

“This Committee continues to illegally weaponize the powers of government to threaten, intimidate, and infringe on the rights of those who support President Trump,” he said in a statement on behalf of the Save America PAC. “It is a disgrace and clear this committee has completely abandoned the lie that this committee was formed to investigate January 6.”

One person who was recently questioned for much of a day by the committee said they had examined hundreds of email fundraising pitches about the election and asked detailed questions about who wrote the pitches, who approved them, and whether the people who wrote and approved the pitches believed the election was actually stolen or saw the argument as simply a good way to raise money.

The committee also asked questions about whether pitches that the election were stolen had higher giving rates than other fundraising pitches, and whether there were ever plans to spend the money on trying to overturn the election, according to this person. Much of the money went to a super PAC benefiting Trump, which has more than $120 million.

The fine print in some of the fundraising appeals designated 75 percent of each contribution to the Save America leadership PAC and the remaining funds would be shared with the party committee to pay down operating expenses. This meant the vast majority of money given by small-dollar donors went toward financing Trump’s leadership PAC instead of an “official election defense fund.”

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The person who was recently questioned also said the committee was looking to match donors who contributed money to records of who was inside or arrested at the Capitol, and seeking to determine whether any of the arguments could have radicalized Trump supporters. The person said the committee also asked if any of the speakers at the rally received money to be there and they told investigators they didn’t know.

Another person who was questioned by the committee said investigators wanted to know who ordered the fundraising appeals based on Trump’s election lies — and whether Trump approved them. This person said Trump did not order direct fundraising appeals about the election being stolen but that campaign and RNC staff ramped them up because they were lucrative and that he was briefed on the numbers coming in.

“Most of the messaging on the fundraising appeals was just following Trump’s lead,” this person said. “They ask, ‘Where did the digital people get the information?’ But they were just getting it from the president’s public comments and Twitter feed.”

The committee has also focused on low-level digital writers of the ads, trying to understand how the language was drafted, according to two people familiar with the matter. They added that the low-level staffers involved with the fundraising operations have been most cooperative with the committee probe, including people who were actually charged with writing emails and drafting language they thought would raise the most money.

Urgent pleas to supporters sent with subject lines such as “Overwhelming Evidence of Voting Irregularities” in the lead up to Jan. 6 touted the work of Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and the Trump campaign legal team and amplified unsubstantiated allegations of election fraud.

“We have hundreds of affidavits from Americans all over the Country testifying under OATH to voting irregularities,” read one email archived by @TrumpEmail, a Twitter account that tracked Trump’s fundraising appeals since January 2018. “It’s reported that vans, trash cans, and boxes full of ballots for Biden were brought in to be counted during the early morning hours without Republican poll watchers.”

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Some Trump aides have objected to the committee’s inquiries about fundraising and requests for information.

“As we head into a GOP landslide in the Midterm Elections, every American should consider: does anyone possess Constitutional Rights in the face of a partisan committee?” said Budowich, who is suing the panel over its request for his bank records. Budowich offered the statement in his personal capacity.

Proving any crimes were committed by the Trump campaign, super PACs or any other affiliated groups could be difficult, according to legal experts, and it would be up to the Justice Department to decide whether any information provided by the committee was worth pursuing as part of a prosecution.

“Campaign finance laws don’t really regulate the truth or falsity of fundraising appeals but we have seen a number of prosecutions recently on wire fraud conspiracy charges for people who misled donors on how money would be used,” said Brendan Fischer, the federal reform program director at the Campaign Legal Center.

The committee’s approach has drawn criticism from some lawyers representing Trump aides and others who have been subpoenaed. Stanley Brand, who served as a former counsel to the House of Representatives, said the panel’s continued discussion of making wire fraud and other criminal referrals is “beyond the pale” for a congressional inquiry.

Brand, who was House counsel under Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill, said the Jan. 6 panel is “acting like a rogue congressional committee trying to conduct themselves like a law enforcement agency.” Brand, who is representing former Trump White House aide Dan Scavino, who was subpoenaed by the panel, said congressional committees make a criminal referral if they believe they have come across a violation of law. But the Jan 6. panel, he said, “appears to have as one of its announced purposes serving as a stalking horse for the Department of Justice.”

He argued any wire fraud case would be difficult to make.

“When you roll a possible fraud case in with the sponsorship of public rallies and demonstrations about an election, you face serious First Amendment implications,” he said. “The Justice Department doesn’t file wire fraud cases without a very strong predicate and from what I have seen in public reporting, they don’t have one.”

One select committee aide familiar with the money investigation said it is imperative that the committee provide an understanding of how all the different entities raised and used money to better understand what laws applied to the various fundraising efforts.

“There’s a difference between political speech and a campaign issuing language versus an organization like a 501(c) (4), and what do they say,” said a select committee aide, referring to the tax code shorthand for social welfare groups that are not required to disclose their donors. “Looking at different rules for the different entities and how different buckets of money are raised is really important.”

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The committee is also asking witnesses whether there was ever a plan to spend the money on election matters, or if it was simply a scheme to raise money with lies and dubious claims, two people with knowledge of the questioning said.

For instance, raising money to support an election defense fund — and then directing that money to other things, or not spending it — raises ethical and legal questions, according to legal experts and campaign finance groups.

Committee investigators are also pursuing some of the individual actors who raised vast sums through similar fundraising appeals, like Sidney Powell, according to people involved with the investigation.

Powell’s nonprofit, Defending the Republic, raised $14 million using baseless claims about the 2020 election. Federal prosecutors have already demanded the financial records of multiple fundraising organizations launched by the lawyer after the 2020 election as a party of a criminal investigation, The Washington Post reported last year.

House Jan. 6 committee subpoenas Giuliani, Sidney Powell

The green team’s commitment to “doggedly but politely” following the money, as a select committee aide phrased it, has also led the team down the cryptocurrency rabbit hole as some groups have pivoted from traditional financing. The team has been investigating and running down bitcoin payments that were made to virtual wallets belonging to some prominent right-wing figures and organizations before the Jan. 6 insurrection — an aspect of the investigation that could be key to preventing another violent domestic insurrection, according to the aide.

“You need to know both what’s happening [in cryptocurrency] and in the future of finance to understand what’s happening here and the future after January 6,” said the aide.

Committee investigators have also spent time probing the small details. They found a picture of portable toilets at the Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse, zoomed in to view the signage, and called the number of the company that was displayed on the door.

“They talked to them to try to figure out who paid them,” a person familiar with the investigation said.