By MICHAEL BALSAMO, ERIC TUCKER and NOMAAN MERCHANT
WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal agents searched a former top Justice Department official’s home and seized records from key Republicans in at least four states linked to Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, in what were clear signs that authorities are ramping up their investigation of associates of the former president.
Authorities on Wednesday searched the Virginia home of Jeffrey Clark, who was known at the Justice Department to champion Trump’s false claims of election fraud. Agents in recent days also served subpoenas on the Republican Party chairmen of Nevada and Georgia, two states that went for President Joe Biden and where Trump allies created slates of “alternate electors” intended to subvert the vote. And Republicans in two other states — Michigan and Pennsylvania — disclosed they had been interviewed by the FBI.
The Justice Department appears to be escalating its probe of pro-Trump efforts to overturn the 2020 election, which culminated in the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection. The disclosures of law enforcement activity came as the U.S. House committee investigating the riot said it had new evidence of Trump’s efforts and his knowledge that he had no legal basis to try to overturn the election.
The committee’s Thursday hearing focused on Trump’s desire to install Clark atop the Justice Department in his administration’s last days. The reason for the search of Clark’s Virginia home was not immediately clear and it was not known what information agents were searching for. The person who confirmed the search was not authorized to discuss it by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Both the committee and federal authorities are probing the use of replacements for duly chosen electors in seven battleground states that voted for Biden. Trump and his allies furiously pressured authorities in those states to replace Biden’s electors with ones for him on specious or nonexistent allegations that his victory was stolen.
There are growing revelations about the false slates of electors. The committee this week disclosed text messages that showed an aide to U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican and Trump ally, tried to hand-deliver the fake elector votes to an aide for former Vice President Mike Pence. The texts show Pence’s aide refused to accept the votes. Johnson told a Wisconsin conservative talk radio host on Thursday that the fake elector slates came from the office of Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania.
Among those who have received subpoenas, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation, was Georgia Republican Party chairman David Shafer.
Nevada GOP Chair Michael McDonald turned over his phone to federal agents Wednesday when they approached him outside his car in Las Vegas and presented a warrant, according to another person familiar with the matter.
In Pennsylvania, FBI agents interviewed the chairman of the Allegheny County Republican Party at his home Thursday and gave him a subpoena for communications between him, Trump electors in the state and members of Trump’s campaign and legal team, the party official, Sam DeMarco, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
And in Michigan, Michele Lundgren told the Detroit News that someone from the FBI served her with a subpoena Thursday and that another Trump elector was served on Wednesday. Lundgren, 72, said her discussion with the agent was “long” and “pleasant” and that she let one of the agents go through her phone and computer.
“They kept asking me questions and asking me questions, and I kept telling them answers,” she said.
Clark’s home was searched by federal agents shortly before a committee hearing in which he was the focus. Three other former Justice Department officials testified about an extraordinary Jan. 3, 2021, Oval Office meeting at which Trump contemplated naming Clark — who led the department’s civil division — as acting attorney general in place of Jeffrey Rosen, who resisted Trump’s efforts to involve the agency.
Trump relented only when other senior Justice Department officials warned Trump that they would resign if he followed through with his plan to replace Rosen with Clark.
A lawyer for Clark did not return an email and phone message seeking comment.
Russ Vought, president of the Center for Renewing America, which Clark recently joined as a senior fellow, tweeted that federal officers forced Clark “into the streets” while he was wearing pajamas and “took his electronic devices.”
“All because Jeff saw fit to investigate voter fraud,” Vought continued. “This is not America, folks. The weaponization of govt must end. Let me be very clear. We stand by Jeff and so must all patriots in this country.”
The House committee and the Justice Department have worked separately but had some public friction. The committee originally rejected Justice Department requests for access to its transcripts, which include interviews with Trump family members, top officials, and key supporters. Key deputies to Attorney General Merrick Garland renewed their request last week in a letter to the committee.
“It is now readily apparent that the interviews the Select Committee conducted are not just potentially relevant to our overall criminal investigations, but are likely relevant to specific prosecutions that have already commenced,” they wrote.
Associated Press writers Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin, Sara Burnett in Chicago, Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Michelle L. Price in New York contributed to this report.