WASHINGTON – As a House committee winds down its investigation of the attack on the U.S. Capitol, lawmakers said the inquiry already has changed the public perception of Donald Trump and what happened on Jan. 6, 2021.
The 18-month investigation – with nine blockbuster hearings this year – documented Trump at the center of an effort to overturn the 2020 election and assemble a mob he sent to Congress to interfere with the peaceful transfer of power, committee members said. The findings sharply contrast with the contention from some Republicans the riot was a spontaneous demonstration that got out of hand.
The committee, which expires Dec. 31, is expected to publish its final report by Christmas and provide the most comprehensive account yet of what led to the worst attack on the Capitol in more than 200 years.
As the committee enters its final phase, more specifics about the report emerge while the committee grapples with what to include – a decision that recently surfaced an alleged behind-the-scenes spat, rare for a committee that carefully crafted its hearings around specific themes and unanimous decisions.
The report will include legislative recommendations about how to avoid a similar assault in the future. It will include eight chapters and the entirety will be published online, along with most transcripts. Lawmakers haven't decided whether to hold a meeting to release it, according to the chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.
“The report is half about the past and what we’ve just studied and half about the future and what needs to be done to protect ourselves from similar cycles of coup, insurrection, electoral sabotage and political violence," said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the committee.
The report will be completed without the cooperation of Trump, who is fighting a subpoena in federal court, or former Vice President Mike Pence. Meanwhile, Trump, who said he did nothing wrong in challenging election results, is campaigning for president again.
Lawmakers reached a consensus on the eight chapters, which are being fact-checked, Thompson said. The committee was set to meet Friday to decide whether to recommend criminal charges for the Justice Department to pursue or civil complaints against lawyers for state bar associations to consider.
“We’re going through pages and pages of staff reports, seeing what we can include in it. It’s a busy time for the committee," Thompson said. "We’ve not gone pens-down on the draft yet. Ultimately, we have to get to the printer and get that process done."
Thompson argued the inquiry has already had an impact, even if the report doesn't expand on the revelations from hearings.
“To be honest, I think our hearings and the sharing of that information has had a lot to do with the new perception of Donald Trump," Thompson said. "So much of what happened after the last election that he lost, a lot of people decided that we’re a better country than that. I think that you will see that bear out over the next year or so in his candidacy not being accepted by a majority of the Republicans."
Here is what we know about the report and its preparation:
Discord reported over scope of final report
NBC News and The Washington Post reported last month that committee staffers said preliminary plans called for the report to focus on Trump, as urged by the vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., rather than issues such as intelligence or law enforcement failures.
But Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who is also chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said he wanted the report to cover intelligence issues.
“I'm advocating for that,” Schiff told CNN. “I think that's part of the broad picture of why the Capitol was vulnerable to attack, what intelligence we had, what intelligence we missed, what intelligence was put before law enforcement and not acted upon.”
Cheney also said the report would span the committee’s work.
“The report will have in it chapters that address the topics that we addressed in our hearings,” Cheney said at a Washington Post event. “There's been some assertion that the committee is not going to, you know, produce information about the security failures. That's just simply not true. It'll be a comprehensive report.”
Jeremy Adler, a Cheney spokesman, told The Post she was right to focus attention on Trump because he was the first president in history to attempt to overturn an election. He added that some committee staffers held liberal biases about federal law enforcement and Republicans outside the committee's scope.
"She won’t sign on to any ‘narrative’ that suggests Republicans are inherently racist or smears men and women in law enforcement, or suggests every American who believes God has blessed America is a white supremacist," Adler said.
Tim Mulvey, a committee spokesman, told The Post all nine panel members were contributing to the report, which will address every key aspect of the inquiry. He said the panel’s “historic, bipartisan fact-finding effort speaks for itself, and that won’t be changed by a handful of disgruntled staff who are uninformed about many parts of the committee’s ongoing work.”
Panel will recommend legislative remedies to prevent another attack
The report will make legislative recommendations for questions raised in the hearings such as overhauling how Congress counts presidential electoral votes, creating a congressional panel for the option of removing a president, and clarifying how to call up the National Guard to deal with civil unrest.
The House has already approved legislation to update the 1877 Electoral Count Act, which Trump’s lawyers argued offered an opening to overturn election results. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., supported the Senate version of the legislation, indicating it could be approved.
Other questions are more contentious. The 25th Amendment, which was ratified in 1967, allowed for a vice president to work with either a majority of a president’s Cabinet or the majority of a panel of lawmakers to remove an unfit president from office. But Congress never created such a panel, and the subject is often criticized as political.
Lawmakers and city officials spent hours on Jan. 6 pleading with the Pentagon to send National Guard troops to reinforce Capitol Police during the attack. But even after rioters breached the Capitol at 2:13 p.m., the troops arrived three hours later.
Republicans who have criticized the investigation as partisan and illegitimate will take control of the House in January and might ignore the report's legislative recommendations.
“Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture into what the Republicans are going to do," Thompson said. "We’ll make the recommendations, and whatever extent they choose to do so, we’re perfectly willing to work with them."
Republicans threatened to investigate gaps in the committee's work, including why the Capitol complex wasn't secure on Jan. 6, and hold hearings.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, who is competing to become speaker in the next Congress, wrote Thompson on Wednesday reminding the panel to preserve all records and transcripts collected during the inquiry. He cited the need to enforce a section of federal code against making false statements to the government, without mentioning who might be targeted.
"You have spent a year and a half and millions of taxpayers' dollars conducting this investigation," wrote McCarthy, who rejected a committee request to testify because he spoke with Trump on Jan. 6. "It is imperative that all information collected be preserved not just for institutional prerogatives but for transparency to the American people."
Thompson dismissed GOP complaints that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., hadn't done enough to protect the Capitol.
“That’s a dog whistle," said Thompson, who said the panel had conversations with her but not a formal deposition. "I think the information we put together in some of the other committees have determined that that’s not true."
DOJ rather than committee would pursue possible criminal charges
The committee pursued its investigation independent of the Justice Department, which has charged more than 800 participants in the riot. But the committee could recommend the pursuit of criminal charges against Trump or other officials, or civil complaints against lawyers who aided Trump.
Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel, Jack Smith, on Nov. 18 aiming for an independent perspective on potential criminal charges after Trump declared his candidacy three days earlier.
Trump issued a statement Monday saying he had done nothing wrong. He called Smith a “fully weaponized monster” who would persecute him politically.
Committee members said all the evidence they have gathered will be released when the report is completed, after redactions for personal identifiers or those that jeopardize someone's security, Schiff told CNN. Thompson also said arrangements were made with some witnesses not to release their statements.
“At the issuance of the report, we plan to make available transcripts and other materials," Thompson said, who added that hundreds of witnesses cooperated with the committee. "The only ones that won’t be are the ones where we had a prearranged agreement that we would not make them available."
Lofgren: Trump, Pence decisions not to testify 'cheated history'
The committee sought testimony from Trump and Pence, but the panel ran out of time to compel testimony through federal courts.
Thompson said it would have been valuable for Trump to verify or deny testimony from other witnesses.
"He had an opportunity to come before the committee, tell his side. He chose not to," Thompson said.
Pence was pressured by Trump to help overturn the election and became a target of the mob, whose members erected a gallows outside the Capitol and chanted “Hang Mike Pence” while rampaging through the building.
But while previous presidents and vice presidents have testified voluntarily before Congress, Pence decided against cooperating with the committee. Pence told ABC News it would set a terrible precedent for him to discuss White House deliberations with a congressional panel.
His comments came while promoting his book, “So Help Me God,” where he describes how Trump pressured him to reject electors from competitive states that President Joe Biden won.
Raskin called Pence’s refusal to get into a Secret Service vehicle to avoid being evacuated from the Capitol – “I’m not getting in that car” – six of the most chilling words in American history. The book and a Pence op-ed in The Wall Street Journal confirmed tensions between him and Trump, which committee members wanted to ask him about.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., called Pence’s decision “really disappointing” and said he was trying to please both those who like Trump and those who don’t.
“So, he can't, on the one hand, say that what Donald Trump did was terrible, was a threat to our democracy, and then say 'But Congress has no right to my testimony,'” Kinzinger told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Because the committee expires at the end of the year, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said it doesn’t have time to compel testimony from Trump or Pence through civil litigation.
"But I think they've cheated history, and they should have done otherwise,” Lofgren told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: January 6 report details emerge: What we know about committee's end