Prosecutors from special counsel Jack Smith’s office questioned former White House aide 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 some of the day on Jan. 6, 2021 — testified for hours Thursday before the federal grand jury deciding whether to indict the former president over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
The source said the questions to Russell were focused on Trump's state of mind around the 2020 election and Jan. 6. Prosecutors did not focus on the planning of the Ellipse event on Jan. 6 or Russell’s own actions at the White House, the source said.
Russell served as a personal aide and trip director for Trump beginning in early 2020.
A source familiar with his work at the White House told NBC News that he would often informally engage in 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 trip director, he would also ride 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 a close, and Russell moved with that smaller circle to Florida to continue his work for Trump in a personal aide capacity after he left office, the sources said.
A former campaign adviser said Russell was "like a body man." “He hands out Sharpies. He takes a photo for the president on someone’s cell phone,” the person said.
It is not clear if Trump ever stated to Russell, or in front of him, that he knew that 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 reverse the outcome of the election.
During a different court appearance Thursday, a Washington federal court judge pressed Russell's attorney, Stanley Woodward, about why he was late for a sentencing for another of his clients. Woodward said he'd had to remain in the grand jury room because his client was being asked questions that involved executive privilege.
Russell's proximity to the president before and after the election has 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'd previously been questioned about fundraising efforts in the election investigation, the source said.
The questioning came shortly after Trump revealed he'd received a letter from Smith's team informing he's a target of his criminal investigation into the Jan. 6 riots and efforts to interfere with the lawful transfer of power.
The letter mentioned three specific federal statutes related to deprivation of rights, conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and tampering with a witness, said two attorneys with direct knowledge of the document.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing, and has called Smith's investigation "election interference."