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Exclusive: Special counsel prosecutors question witnesses about chaotic Oval Office meeting after Trump lost the 2020 election

<i>Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images/FILE</i><br/>
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images/FILE

By Kaitlan Collins, Zachary Cohen, Paula Reid, Sara Murray and Katelyn Polantz, CNN

(CNN) — Special counsel Jack Smith’s team has signaled a continued interest in a chaotic Oval Office meeting that took place in the final days of the Trump administration, during which the former president considered some of the most desperate proposals to keep him in power over objections from his White House counsel.

Multiple sources told CNN that investigators have asked several witnesses before the grand jury and during interviews about the meeting, which happened about six weeks after Donald Trump lost the 2020 election. Some witnesses were asked about the meeting months ago, while several others have faced questions about it more recently, including Rudy Giuliani.

Last month, for two consecutive days, Giuliani sat down with investigators for a voluntary interview about a range of topics, including the tumultuous December 2020 meeting that he attended, sources said.

Prosecutors have specifically inquired about three outside Trump advisers who participated in the meeting: former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, one-time national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, sources said.

Byrne responded to CNN’s reporting on Twitter early Friday morning, tweeting, “Hi Jack Smith, I take all responsibility. Best of all, with my eidetic memory I can tell you amazing detail about it. ‘Parrot-like,’ say some. Call collect. I’m here to help.”

Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert Costello, declined to comment.

A lawyer for Powell declined to comment, as did a lawyer for Byrne. CNN has also reached out to an attorney for Flynn for comment.

Both Powell and Byrne previously spoke at length under oath about the meeting and other topics to the House committee that investigated the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. Flynn declined to answer questions in his committee interview, by asserting his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

The special counsel’s sustained interest in the chaotic episode comes as Smith’s team appears to be nearing charging decisions in the investigation into efforts to overturn the election results. Investigators are still gathering evidence, reaching out to several new witnesses in recent weeks and working to schedule interviews.

During the heated Oval Office meeting on December 18, 2020, outside advisers faced off with top West Wing attorneys over a plan to have the military seize voting machines in crucial states that Trump had lost. They also discussed naming Powell as special counsel to investigate supposed voter fraud, and Trump invoking martial law as part of his efforts to overturn the election.

Shouting and insults ensued; the night ended with Trump tweeting that a coming gathering in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021, to protest the election results “will be wild.”

Among the witnesses questioned by the special counsel’s team was former national security adviser Robert O’Brien, who told the January 6 House select committee that he was patched into the December 18 meeting by phone after it had already devolved into a screaming match between Flynn, Powell and White House lawyers, according to a transcript of O’Brien’s deposition that was released by the panel.

Details about subsequent secret grand jury testimony and closed-door interviews illustrate how the special counsel and his prosecutors are looking at the various ways Trump tried to overturn his electoral loss despite some of his top officials advising him against the ideas.

The consistent emphasis on the December 18 Oval Office meeting appears to overlap with the special counsel’s broader effort to home in on the actions of several Trump lawyers and allies during the period from December 14, 2020, to January 6, 2021.

The December 14 date is of particular interest to prosecutors, sources told CNN. On that day, slates of alternate Republican electors in seven battleground states signed certificates falsely asserting Trump had won. Also that day, members of the Electoral College met in all 50 states to officially cast their ballots, declaring Joe Biden the winner with 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232.

Investigators have focused on efforts to recruit the illegitimate electors, have them sign certificates falsely asserting Trump had won, and then use them as a pretense to pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence to delay certification of Biden’s Electoral College win on January 6.

At least one witness has told prosecutors in recent weeks that Trump allies asked Pence to question the legitimacy of Biden’s electors in those seven states based on unfounded claims about widespread voter fraud and kick the decision of certification back to the states themselves, one source said.

This story has been updated with additional information on Friday.

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Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

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