Prosecutors from the office of special counsel Jack Smith questioned former White House adviser William Russell about then-President Donald Trump’s state of mind during and after the 2020 election period, a source familiar with the matter told NBC News.
Russell, who was with Trump for part of the day on Jan. 6, 2021, testified for hours Thursday before the federal grand jury that decided to indict the former president for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
The source said Russell’s questions focused on Trump’s state of mind surrounding the 2020 election and Jan. 6. Prosecutors did not focus on the planning of the Ellipse event on January 6 or on Russell’s own actions at the White House, the source said.
Russell served as Trump’s personal assistant and director of travel beginning in early 2020.
A source familiar with his White House work told NBC News that he often engaged in informal conversations with Trump and key staff, including Mark Meadows, who served as chief of staff, in the West Wing and Oval Office.
In his capacity as travel director, he would also travel with Trump on Air Force One.
Trump had turned to Russell as part of a smaller group of White House staff as the administration’s time in the White House came to an end, and Russell moved with that smaller circle to Florida to continue his work for Trump as a personal assistant after he left office, the sources said.
A former campaign adviser said Russell was «like a body man.» “Hand out Sharpies. He takes a picture of the president on someone’s cell phone,» the person said.
It’s unclear if Trump ever told Russell, or in front of him, that he knew he had lost the 2020 presidential election. That could be a crucial point for prosecutors investigating whether Trump acted with corrupt intent when he tried to overturn the election result.
During a separate court appearance Thursday, a Washington federal court judge pressed Russell’s lawyer, Stanley Woodward, about why he was late for sentencing another of his clients. Woodward said he had to stay in the grand jury room because his client was being asked questions involving executive privilege.
Russell’s proximity to the president before and after the election has led to multiple subpoenaed appearances before Smith’s grand juries investigating his efforts to interfere with the peaceful transfer of power and his alleged mishandling of classified documents, another source said.
He had previously been questioned about fundraising efforts in the election inquiry, the source said.
The questioning came shortly after Trump revealed that he had received a letter from Smith’s team informing him that he was the target of their criminal investigation into the January 6 riots and attempts to interfere with the legal transfer of power.
The letter mentioned three specific federal statutes related to disenfranchisement, conspiracy to defraud the US and witness tampering, said two attorneys with direct knowledge of the document.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing, calling the Smith investigation «election interference.»