The Trump Election Meddling Probe, Explained – Rolling Stone

DOJ Jan 6 Explainer

The Department of Justice has already indicted former President Donald Trump on a myriad of charges related to his handling of classified documents after leaving the White House, but Special Counsel Jack Smith’s work is far from over. 

Among the torrent of headlines, Truth Social rants, and court rulings pertaining to the Mar-a-Lago investigation, it’s easy to forget that Smith was also tasked with overseeing a probe into the coordinated effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election. The Jan. 6 committee determined last year that Trump was at the center of that effort, and asked the Justice Department to charge him criminally. 

It’s been more than two years since the Jan 6. attack on the Capitol that capped the effort to overturn the election, and while there’s been congressional investigations, countless cases against rioters, and even a presidential impeachment, Smith’s investigation is the first to rigorously examine whether or not criminal conduct took place at the highest levels of government. So here’s what’s going on: 

What is the Justice Department investigating?

In the early days of the Biden administration, Attorney General Merrick Garland — then a nominee for his current position — vowed that the DOJ would conduct a thorough investigation into the events precipitating the riot on Jan. 6, as well as into who was ultimately responsible for efforts to interfere in the 2020 election. 

It took time for those efforts to come to full fruition. The Washington Post reported last month on how it took more than a year before federal prosecutors agreed to formally pursue an investigation into the Trump administration’s role in the chaos following the 2020 election. 

Despite the delay, under Garland the department launched several probes into potential election interference that fell short of directly involving the former president. Last November, the department consolidated their work into a single investigation overseen by independent Special Counsel Jack Smith, and no one was off limits. 

Garland tasked Smith with establishing if “any person or entity unlawfully interfered with the transfer of power following the 2020 presidential election or with the certification of electoral college vote held on or about Jan. 6 [2021].” Smith quickly empaneled a grand jury to oversee evidence related to the probe. 

Smith’s appointment came less than a week after Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency in 2024. As previously reported by Rolling Stone, Trump had made clear to his allies and advisers that his bid for re-election is at least partially an attempt to escape accountability for his potentially illegal conduct in and out of office. If Trump does indeed reclaim the White House, he’d be able to appoint an attorney general who would close the investigations and drop any charges.

What specifically is Special Counsel Jack Smith focusing on in the Jan. 6 investigation? 

Smith’s investigation revolves around Trump and his allies’ effort to meddle with the certification of Electoral College votes that took place on Jan. 6, primarily through a scheme of fake electors that would swing the certification in Trump’s favor.  

Smith has subpoenaed vast troves of materials from election officials in battleground states like Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan, and Wisconsin — some of whom allege the former president and his cronies attempted to pressure them into manipulating election results. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whom Trump personally attempted to bully into “finding” the votes to give him the state, was among the first witnesses called to testify. 

Trump’s behind-the-scenes words and actions in the aftermath of his election loss are also of interest to the department. Smith has issued subpoenas to a myriad of the former president’s advisers and staff, including former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, in an attempt to gain deeper insight into the former president’s motivations, and his role in the escalating violence on Jan. 6. 

CNN reported on Friday that Smith has been particularly interested in a meeting that took place in the Oval Office six weeks after Election Day. The meeting reportedly included Cipollone, Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidey Powell, as well as former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Attendees reportedly discussed several desperate ploys to keep Trump in power, including seizing voting machines and invoking martial law.

The investigation also probed Trump’s firing of Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Christopher Krebs, who publicly resisted the former president’s claims that the election had been fraudulent. 

Outside of Trump’s desperation to cling to power, Smith is eying financial gain as a potential motivator of Trump’s election lies. In April, The Washington Post reported that the probe had expanded to include allegations that Trump knowingly used false claims of election fraud to scam potential donors. 

Who has the Justice Department interviewed for the Jan. 6 investigation? 

So many people. From former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to Steve Bannon, to former Vice President Mike Pence, Smith’s investigation is casting a wide net over Trumpworld. 

The attorneys who worked with the former president to level legal challenges against Biden’s presidential victory have faced heavy scrutiny from the DOJ. According to The Wall Street Journal, Smith has requested testimony from Rudy Giuliani, election conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell, and attorney Jenna Ellis — all members of Trump’s post-election legal team. 

Giuliani reportedly gave more than eight hours of testimony to investigators, dishing on everything from Powell’s efforts to convince Trump to have the government seize voting machines, to pro-Trump attorney John Eastman’s efforts to orchestrate the fake electors scheme. 

Eastman’s efforts were foiled by another (reluctant) witness for the special counsel: Mike Pence. The former vice president, who refused to illegally overthrow the election on behalf of his boss on Jan. 6, initially resisted Smith’s subpoena. It took a judge’s ruling to compel Pence to testify, although he was granted an exemption from directly discussing the events of Jan. 6, before he agreed to sit with prosecutors. 

Aside from the major players, Smith is also looking to secure the cooperation of those who directly carried out the schemes to meddle with the election outcome. Last month, CNN reported that at least two fake electors had been granted immunity deals in exchange for testimony.

How has Trump responded to the Jan. 6 investigation? 

Trump has responded with the unbridled public ire we’ve come to expect from the former president, and some not-so-covert digging to try and establish how screwed he might be. 

Trump has publicly attacked Smith on Truth Social and at his public campaign events. Following his indictment and indictment in Smith’s Mar-a-Lago probe, Trump lost it on social media, calling the special counsel a “deranged ‘psycho’ that shouldn’t be involved in any case having to do with ‘Justice,’ other than to look at Biden as a criminal, which he is!” 

Behind the scenes, the former president has been attempting to ascertain who in his orbit had flipped on him. As previously reported by Rolling Stone, Trump has sent his attorneys on a fact-finding mission to collect information on what exactly Mark Meadows has been telling investigators. Privately, his team now uses a rat emoji as shorthand for Meadows. 

While Trump battles multiple indictments and stews over the investigations into his conduct, he is also loudly plotting his revenge. In June, the former president vowed that once he was reinstated into office, he would appoint a “real special prosecutor to go after the most corrupt president in the history of the United States of America, Joe Biden. And the entire Biden crime family.”

Will Trump be indicted again?

Trump’s stack of indictments could very well increase this summer, but someone else may beat Smith and the Justice Department to the punch. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who is running a separate investigation into election meddling in Georgia, is preparing to level her own indictments in August — and could very likely include the former president. In April, Willis sent a letter to local law enforcement advising that her summer indictment could “provoke a significant public reaction,” that would likely require “heightened security.”

There are not yet indicators that charges in relation to Smith’s election meddling investigation are imminent, but the special counsel has already proven he won’t pull his punches. Smith last month leveled 37 criminal counts against the former president related to his handling of classified documents.

The Mar-a-Lago documents case led to very clear signs that charges were incoming. Trump’s lawyers rushed to Washington, D.C., for last-minute negotiations, and Trump was served a letter notifying him that he was the subject of a criminal probe. He also, of course, posted about it on social media. Similar signals could predate an indictment in the election meddling probe.


Regardless, the former president remains committed to casting himself as a martyr.. On Friday, he bragged to a crowd in Iowa that he’s “the only person ever got indicted who became more popular.” 

“It’s all contrived, horrible stuff,” Trump said. “It’s all bullshit.” 

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