Two top aides to former Vice President Mike Pence testified last week to a federal grand jury in Washington investigating the events surrounding the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the highest-ranking officials of the Trump administration so far known to have cooperated with the Justice Department’s widening inquiry into the events leading up to the assault.
The appearances before the grand jury of the men — Marc Short, who was Mr. Pence’s chief of staff, and Greg Jacob, who was his counsel — were the latest indication that the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into the events surrounding and preceding the riot is intensifying after weeks of growing questions about the urgency the department has put on examining former President Donald J. Trump’s potential criminal liability.
The testimony of the two Pence aides marked the first time it has become publicly known that figures with firsthand knowledge of what took place inside the White House in the tumultuous days before the attack have cooperated with federal prosecutors.
Both Mr. Short and Mr. Jacob played important roles in describing to a House select committee conducting a parallel investigation of the Capitol attack how Mr. Trump, working with allies like the lawyer John Eastman, mounted a campaign to pressure Mr. Pence into disrupting the normal counting of Electoral College votes on Jan. 6, 2021, as part of an effort to keep Mr. Trump in office.
Mr. Short’s testimony was confirmed by two people familiar with it, as was Mr. Jacob’s.
The Justice Department has at times appeared to be lagging behind the House select committee, which has spoken to more than 1,000 witnesses, including some from inside the Trump White House. Much of that testimony has been highlighted at a series of public hearings over the past two months.
It remains unclear precisely what Mr. Short and Mr. Jacob told the grand jury or what questions prosecutors may have asked them. But both previously gave recorded and transcribed interviews to the House committee, and Mr. Jacob served as a live witness at one of the panel’s public hearings that focused on the effort to strong-arm Mr. Pence.
Mr. Short and Mr. Jacob were present in the Oval Office for a meeting on Jan. 4, 2021, at which Mr. Trump had Mr. Eastman try to persuade Mr. Pence that he could delay or block congressional certification of Mr. Trump’s Electoral College defeat.
Mr. Eastman’s plan relied on Mr. Pence being willing to accept, as he presided over a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, that there were disputes over the validity of electors whose votes for Joseph R. Biden Jr. had already been certified by the states — a baseless assertion that had been promoted by a number of Trump allies in the previous weeks as a last-ditch way to help keep Mr. Trump in office.
Mr. Pence ultimately rejected Mr. Trump’s pressure on him to go along. But the so-called fake electors proposal has been one of the primary lines of inquiry to have become public in the Justice Department’s sprawling investigation.
Mr. Short also provided the House committee with testimony that highlighted the sense of threat that built from Mr. Trump’s efforts to derail the congressional proceedings on Jan. 6.
Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings
He told the House committee how he had informed Mr. Pence’s lead Secret Service agent on Jan. 5, 2021, that Mr. Trump was about to publicly turn on Mr. Pence over his refusal to go along with the electors plan, potentially placing a target on his former boss’s back. On Jan. 6, some members of the mob of Trump supporters that attacked the Capitol chanted “Hang Mike Pence!” Mr. Trump reacted approvingly to the chants, effectively saying that Mr. Pence deserved it, according to testimony collected by the House committee.
Until now, the only other pro-Trump figure — aside from rioters who were at the Capitol — known to have testified in front of a federal grand jury investigating Jan. 6 was the prominent “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander. Mr. Alexander, acting on a subpoena from prosecutors, answered questions in front of the grand jury for about three hours in late June.
Prosecutors have also issued grand jury subpoenas to several people connected to the scheme to create false slates of electors saying that Mr. Trump won the 2020 election in swing states that were actually won by Mr. Biden. Those who have received the subpoenas have largely been state lawmakers or Republican officials, many of whom put their names on documents attesting to the fact that they were electors for Mr. Trump.
The subpoenas, some of which have been obtained by The New York Times, show that prosecutors are interested in collecting information on a group of pro-Trump lawyers who helped to devise and carry out the plan.
Among the lawyers named in the subpoenas are Rudolph W. Giuliani, who helped oversee Mr. Trump’s challenges to the election, and Mr. Eastman, an outside lawyer who drafted several memos encouraging Mr. Trump to use the fake electors as part of the campaign to pressure Mr. Pence to throw him the election.
Last month, federal agents stopped Mr. Eastman outside a restaurant in New Mexico and seized his cellphone. That same day, agents also seized electronic devices from another lawyer involved in the fake elector scheme, Jeffrey Clark. Mr. Clark, a former Justice Department official, helped draft a letter to state officials in Georgia falsely stating that the department had evidence of election fraud in the state.
If the grand jury testimony of Mr. Short and Mr. Jacob echoed their interviews with the House committee, it suggests that prosecutors have likely homed in how Mr. Trump and his allies sought to pressure Mr. Pence into ignoring or refusing to accept some slates of electors as he oversaw the final certification of the election.
The effort to pressure Mr. Pence into derailing certification of the Electoral College results was the chief focus of one of the House committee’s hearings in June.
The panel provided evidence at the hearing that Mr. Trump went along with the scheme despite having been told it was illegal. At the hearing, the committee played videotaped testimony in which Mr. Jacob said that Mr. Eastman had admitted in front of Mr. Trump at the Jan. 4 meeting — two days before the riot — that his plan to have Mr. Pence obstruct the electoral certification violated the Electoral Count Act.
Mr. Jacob testified to the committee that Mr. Pence knew early on that the plan was unlawful. Mr. Pence’s first reaction upon hearing of it, Mr. Jacob said, was that there was “no way” this was “justifiable.”
The pressure campaign against Mr. Pence by Mr. Trump and Mr. Eastman also played a central role in a court decision this spring by a federal judge in California who said that Mr. Trump and Mr. Eastman had most likely committed federal crimes such as obstruction of a congressional proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
In the decision, which emerged from Mr. Eastman’s attempts to the stop the House panel from gaining access to his emails, the judge, David O. Carter, noted that Mr. Trump had facilitated two meetings in the days before Jan. 6 that were “explicitly tied to persuading Vice President Pence to disrupt the joint session of Congress.”
At the first meeting, on Jan. 4, Mr. Trump and Mr. Eastman invited Mr. Pence, Mr. Short and Mr. Jacob to the Oval Office. There, Judge Carter wrote, Mr. Eastman “presented his plan to Vice President Pence, focusing on either rejecting electors or delaying the count.”
That meeting was followed by another, Judge Carter wrote, on Jan. 5, during which Mr. Eastman sought again to persuade Mr. Jacob to go along with the scheme.
“Dr. Eastman and President Trump launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history,” Judge Carter wrote.