The Jan. 6 committee is about to have its last hearing. Here's what to expect
The House Select Committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 is holding what's likely to be its final public meeting on Monday, wrapping up its year-and-a-half-long inquiry.
The panel will vote on criminal referrals against former President Donald Trump on at least three charges: insurrection, obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress and conspiracy to defraud the United States, according to a source familiar with the committee's plans but not authorized to speak publicly. Insurrection is rarely prosecuted as a criminal charge. Referrals do not carry any legal weight or compel the Justice Department to act.
The committee could also release the full report of its investigation on Monday. The appendices and transcripts tied to the more than 1,000 witnesses interviewed could be released on Wednesday.
This comes after a series of public hearings, several of which were held in primetime, in which the committee made the case that Trump was the central player in a scheme to overturn the will of voters, prevent the peaceful transition of power, and remain in office.
"[Trump] tried to take away the voice of the American people in choosing their president and replace the will of the voters with his will to remain in power," Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in an October hearing. "He is the one person at the center of the story of what happened on Jan. 6."
Here's what you need to know:
What: The nine member committee, which includes seven Democrats and two Republicans, is expected to discuss its final report during Monday's meeting. The lawmakers will vote on criminal referrals of key players who plotted to keep Trump in office. The panel is expected to consider criminal referrals for less than a dozen individuals. Each member will offer presentations highlighting the specific areas the panel worked on over the course of the investigation.
When: 1p.m ET
Why does this matter?: This is the culmination of a lengthy investigation into the attack on Jan. 6. The committee is also expected to provide its assessment of some of the weaknesses in the electoral system, which members argued enabled Trump and his allies to go as far as they did in their attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. The panel will make policy recommendations aimed at better protecting democratic institutions and processes, including reforming the Electoral Count Act.
What's next: The select committee will dissolve at the end of the current Congress. Several members of the panel will not return to the House in 2023. They are: Republican Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Democratic Reps. Elaine Luria of Virginia and Stephanie Murphy of Florida.
What we know about the report so far:
It's long. Thompson previously told NPR the final report could be eight chapters and 1,000 pages long. For context, the 2019 report from special counsel Robert Mueller on Russian interference in the 2016 election was roughly 400 pages.
The report is likely to echo the main findings and evidence presented during the course of the public hearings.
Key Findings of the Panel's Investigation
- No matter the results, Trump had planned to declare victory. Brad Parscale, Trump's former campaign manager, told the committee that Trump planned as early as July to insist he won the November election.
- According to testimony from former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue, Trump asked top Justice Department officials to seize voting machines from states in late December 2020 in an effort to prove baseless claims that the election was rigged. Former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen testified that the Justice Department didn't have the legal authority to carry out Trump's request.
- Trump and his allies carried out a pressure campaign on then-Vice President Mike Pence publicly and privately to prevent him from fulfilling his ceremonial role in formally counting the votes of the Electoral College. The committee detailed how a Proud Boys informant told the FBI the group "would have killed Mike Pence if given the chance."
- Trump summoned a mob of his supporters and encouraged them to march on the Capitol as Congress was working to certify the presidential election results. Trump knew many in the group were armed.
- Trump privately admitted he lost the election but publicly waged a campaign centered on election fraud, arguing the election had been stolen from him.
- It took hours before staff could get Trump to issue a statement on Jan. 6 telling the rioters to leave the Capitol. In a short video, Trump sympathized with protesters, saying "I know your pain" and "Go home. We love you. You're very special."
The report may also include new evidence that was not introduced during the previous hearings.
Committee member Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., told NPR she came away from reading the Jan. 6 report "shocked by the breadth and depth of this plan to create a big lie and pull every lever of government to corrupt an election."
"We've seen petty criminals who've been charged with misdemeanors for trespassing be held accountable, but not the masterminds of this, who really did try to corrupt the government and its processes," Luria said.
Criminal referrals carry symbolic, not legal, weight
"We're not piling onto existing prosecutions," Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said of upcoming criminal referrals. "We're wanting to make sure that nothing falls through the cracks and the crimes of the most serious gravity are attended to."
Criminal referrals will come in the form of a letter from Thompson to the Justice Department making the case for prosecution. The referrals, which hold symbolic and not legal weight, are part of a longer list of recommendations from the committee's subpanel of lawyers.
Already, in a March court filing, the committee said Trump illegally obstructed an official proceeding — Congress' counting of the Electoral College votes. The committee added Trump "engaged in a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States."
Trump was subpoenaed by the panel in October, but he filed a lawsuit against the panel to block the move and has not cooperated.
Additionally, the committee has also laid out evidence against those who they say crafted and pushed the strategy of derailing the certification of the election:
Key figures who supported Trump
- John Eastman, an outside Trump attorney, pushed a false theory that Pence could block the certification of the electoral votes when he oversaw the count in Congress on January 6.
- Jeffrey Clark supported Trump's efforts to overturn the election results. A June hearing revealed a dramatic Oval Office meeting on Jan. 3, 2021, in which top Justice Department officials banded together to prevent Clark, an environmental lawyer at the DOJ, from replacing acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen. Trump was eager to install Clark, an ally, in order to pressure the DOJ to overturn the 2020 election results.
- Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, was a key figure in the wave of disinformation that spread after President Joe Biden was elected. Committee investigators said Giuliani told Trump in a December 2020 meeting to seize voting machines despite knowing the Department of Homeland Security had no lawful authority to do so.
New York Democratic Rep.-elect Dan Goldman, a former House impeachment lawyer, said the panel could have criminal evidence that the Justice Department would not have without a referral. The panel could be considering referrals for witness intimidation, obstruction of justice and false statements made under oath, Goldman suggested.
For example, during one of the panel's final hearings, Committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney raised concerns of witness tampering tied to Trump, but it's unclear if the panel will pursue a related referral.
"They want to make sure the Department of Justice also evaluates all of the evidence that they've uncovered, to be sure that they're including everything in evaluating whether or not a crime was committed and the charges should be brought," Goldman said.
What about other types of referrals?
In addition to criminal referrals to the Justice Department, there could be other categories of referrals as well — to the Federal Election Commission, the House Ethics Committee, and bar associations to discipline attorneys. The Justice Department is separately investigating the Jan. 6 attack with a special counsel.
NPR obtained a small portion of a draft script for the Monday meeting that shows the panel intends to accuse lawyers John Eastman and Kenneth Chesebro of being tied to the conspiracy to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
Eastman was a Trump ally who helped lead the effort to overturn President Biden's win, while Chesebro has been considered a central figure in the scheme pushing for a slate of fake Trump electors in various states won by Biden. Cheseboro's attorney, Adam Kaufmann, in an emailed statement to NPR, pushed back of that assertion and said his client gave the Trump campaign pro bono guidance on "arcane provisions of the 12th amendment and the electoral count act."
Goldman suggested a smaller circle of those who were tied to the effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election would be of interest.
"They could be subject of both criminal referrals, but also referrals to their state bar association to review whether or not they should continue to have their bar license if they are making blatant misrepresentations in court filings or otherwise," Goldman said.
The panel could also refer five House Republicans who were subpoenaed but refused to cooperate to the House Ethics committee: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Mo Brooks of Alabama, and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania.
But with the congressional session wrapping up in a matter of weeks and Republicans about to take control of the House, it's unlikely the ethics panel will launch any new probe.
When asked at a press conference last week if he was concerned that he and his colleagues might face criminal referrals, McCarthy said, "No, not at all. We did nothing wrong."
What about the alleged rioters themselves?
The FBI has estimated that 2,000 people may have been involved in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
So far, more than 900 people have been charged with crimes related to the attack. Law enforcement has arrested alleged rioters in nearly all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia.
Here is NPR's database of individuals charged.
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