The Jan. 6 committee set out to compile a public record for history of the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, but its final report has become so much more — a “roadmap to justice,” as Americans come to terms with Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
The panel unanimously made four criminal referrals Monday against Trump for his role in the “multi-part conspiracy,” that started with his false claims of a stolen election and ended in the mob siege of the Capitol. It’s sending the recommendations to the Justice Department, which is already conducting its own probe.
In adopting its final report, the panel also recommended a congressional ethics investigations for House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and other members of Congress over defying congressional subpoenas for information about their interactions with Trump before, during and after the bloody assault.
“The committee is nearing the end of its work, but as a country we remain in strange and uncharted waters,” said Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. “Nearly two years later this is still a time of reflection and reckoning.”
He said, “We have every confidence that the work of this committee will help provide a roadmap to justice.”
‘One man’ caused Jan. 6
Over its 18-month investigation, the panel laid out evidence that the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol was not a spontaneous protest, but an orchestrated “scheme” by Trump to try to overturn the 2020 election he lost to Joe Biden.
Trump urged supporters to come to Washington for a “big rally” Jan. 6. He whipped up supporters in a speech outside the White House. Knowing that some were armed, he sent the mob to the Capitol and encouraged them to “fight like hell” for his presidency as Congress was counting the vote. He tried to join them on Capitol Hill.
All the while, Trump stoked theories from conservative lawyer John Eastman to create alternative slates of electors, switching certain states that voted for Biden to Trump, that could be presented to Congress for the tally. Eastman also faces criminal referral by the committee to Justice.
“The central cause of January 6th was one man, former President Donald Trump, who many others followed. None of the events of January 6th would have happened without him,” the panel said in its report.
Said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., “Those responsible must be held accountable.”
No ‘ringleaders get a pass’
More than 800 people have been charged in the attack on the Capitol, and the panel showed that many of them were hanging on Trump’s every word in the weeks after the November election.
Along with militant Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, many other Americans stormed the Capitol that day. One said he wanted to “do my part to stop the steal and stand behind Trump.” Others detailed how the fighting only subsided once Trump tweeted hours later they should go home.
In unveiling its decision to make criminal referrals to the Justice Department, the panel indicated the importance of holding Trump and those around him responsible.
“Ours is not a system of justice where foot soldiers go to jail and the masterminds and ringleaders get a pass,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a constitutional scholar who played a lead role in drafting the documents.
The Department of Justice has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate Trump’s role in the Capitol attack, and the former president’s efforts to upend the election results in Georgia are being probed by prosecutors in the state.
Still, the criminal referrals of a former president are rare, and grave. The panel quieted for a solemn roll call vote as each committee member agreed to adopt the final report and its recommendations for prosecuting Trump on inciting the insurrection and other charges.
“We understand the gravity of each and every referral we are making today, just as we understand the magnitude of the crime against democracy,” Raskin said.
GOP lawmakers under scrutiny
Top Republicans in Congress — including McCarthy, who is in line to become House speaker when Republicans take control in the new year — face ongoing scrutiny over their actions before, during and after Jan. 6.
McCarthy was in close contact with Trump and White House officials that day, and wanted Trump to call off the rioters and stop the siege. At one point, he sounded “scared,” according to Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s testimony before the panel.
Other Republicans referred for ethics investigations by the committee are leaders of the conservative Freedom Caucus vying for power in the new Congress. Among them: Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., who is challenging McCarthy for the speaker’s gavel; Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who is set to become the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee; and Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., who is the chairman of the Freedom Caucus.
In its report, the committee said it believes these lawmakers and others “should be questioned in a public forum about their advance knowledge of and role in President Trump’s plan to prevent the peaceful transition of power.”
A divided country
Rather than bring the country together, the events of Jan. 6 continue to divide the Congress and the country.
The committee was born from division, established by Democrats after Republicans in Congress blocked the formation of a 9/11-style independent commission that could probe the Capitol attack and make recommendations.
The panel’s purpose was to investigate and report on the “facts, circumstances, and causes” of the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol — a public record for history.
But after 18 months and 10 public hearings, the panel closed by acknowledging it still has work to do reaching all Americans in a country often riven by partisanship.
“We understood that millions of Americans still lack the information necessary to understand and evaluate what President Trump has told them about the election,” the report said.
The committee interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses, and noted much of the public testimony came from some four dozen Republicans — including Trump’s former attorneys general and other top White House officials.
The hearings “featured a number of members of President Trump’s inner circle refuting his fraud claims and testifying that the election was not in fact stolen,” the report said.
Later this week, the full report of the committee’s probe — eight chapters, along with videos and transcripts — is set to be released.
Along with it will be recommendations for legislative changes, including proposals for updating the 19th century Electoral Count Act that was strained by Trump’s attempt to challenge the way Congress tallies the votes.
While the committee was set up to dissolve at the end of the congressional session, its work is expected to ripple through the other investigations by state and federal officials of Trump and his actions around Jan. 6.
Trump has announced he is running again for the White House. And congressional Republicans may launch their own probes of the Jan. 6 investigation as they take control of the House in the new year.