The House panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol on Thursday voted unanimously to subpoena former president Donald Trump, after presenting evidence he knew that he lost the 2020 presidential election at the same time he challenged its results.
“President Trump knew from unassailable sources that his election fraud claims were false. ... There is no defense that Donald Trump was duped or irrational.”Committee Vice Chair Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.
At its ninth public hearing on Thursday, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol said evidence it has gathered over the past 15 months demonstrates Trump knowingly made false claims about the election results, precipitating an attack by his followers on the Capitol.
“President Trump knew from unassailable sources that his election fraud claims were false,” said Committee Vice Chair Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. “There is no defense that Donald Trump was duped or irrational.”
The hearing was the committee’s first in 12 weeks, and possibly its last. It featured new evidence, including documents obtained from the Secret Service showing the agency received detailed warnings about the likelihood of postelection violence, and previously unseen footage of congressional leaders inside the Capitol on the day of the attack.
Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said prior to the committee’s vote to subpoena Trump that it had an obligation to seek Trump’s testimony.
“We have left no doubt — none — that Donald Trump led an effort to upend American democracy that directly resulted in the violence of Jan. 6,” he said. “He is the one person at the center of the story of what happened on Jan. 6. So we want to hear from him.”
The committee also showed new evidence supporting its finding that Trump and his allies planned to declare victory despite the results in the days before the election was held.
“I don’t want people to know that we lost,” Trump said privately in December 2020 — the same time he was vociferously challenging the electoral results — according to new videotaped testimony from former chief of staff Mark Meadows aide Cassidy Hutchinson that was shown Thursday.
Committee members did not say whether Thursday’s hearing would be their last. But by all appearances, it was arranged as a closing argument. Unlike the panel’s previous hearings, Thursday’s did not include live witnesses. Each of the committee’s nine members spoke at the hearing.
“It was sort of hard to conceive of potential criminal charges against Donald Trump before the hearings began,” said Noah Bookbinder, president of the good government group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and a former Department of Justice attorney. “Now we’re at a place where it’s not just possible, but maybe likely, that he’ll be charged criminally. The hearings played a role in shifting that.”
“I don’t know that there could have been anything at any hearings that could have moved people who are staunch Trump supporters. But I think the hearings did play a role both in getting people to think about, and pay attention to, the efforts to overturn the election, and that this was not some kind of protest that got out of control. This was an organized effort to overturn a free and fair election,” he added.
What’s new, what’s review: “Marching into the chambers,” “Hang Mike Pence!”
Thursday’s hearing spotlighted the warnings received by the Secret Service in the days leading up to the attack, including a December 2020 email that warned protesters could “start marching into the chambers.”
The committee has brought a wealth of firsthand testimony, gathered from top Trump advisers and aides, like Hutchinson, who were at the White House on Jan. 6. Some legal experts argue the committee has unearthed new evidence that may lead the Department of Justice to press criminal charges against Trump.
“The hearings have been particularly impactful in showing what Donald Trump and those around him knew and understood,” Bookbinder said. The committee showed “the extent to which Trump knew and was aware that [the riots] were likely to be violent, and that he understood there were people with guns. I think on that sense of knowledge and intent, the committee’s findings have moved the ball forward in a very significant way,” he added.
The contours of the Jan. 6 riots were well-known before the committee began its hearings, but the hearings produced gripping new details: During one White House meeting in December 2020, for instance, attendees including lawyer Sidney Powell proposed seizing voting machines, leading to screaming matches with White House advisers and challenges to physically fight, former White House counsel testified.
The panel revealed that on the day of the riots, Trump was so adamant that he wanted to go to the Capitol that he lunged at a Secret Service agent and tried to grab the steering wheel of a car, according to Hutchinson.
When rioters were chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” Trump said then-Vice President Mike Pence “deserved” it, Hutchinson said in testimony from one hearing.
The committee used its hearings to demonstrate that Trump was intimately involved in efforts to try to overturn the 2020 election, that he knew there was propensity for violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6, and that by not acting to stop the rioters, he encouraged armed people to storm the Capitol and potentially cause great danger.
Outstanding questions: Security failures, lawmaker involvement, Capitol Police
Perhaps the panel’s biggest unfilled promise is in answering questions about security and intelligence failures related to the Capitol attack. The role of some far-right lawmakers in the day’s events is also a vital unknown. In its Thursday hearing, the committee made limited progress on both.
In its hearings, the committee has kept a laser focus on Trump’s culpability and that of his top advisers, leaving some other mysteries largely untouched. Perhaps the biggest: How did the FBI miss Jan. 6? How did the Secret Service miss the specific, telegraphed threats to the life of Pence, its second-highest ranking protectee?
While the panel on Thursday brought forward new examples of tips that law enforcement apparently ignored, it made little headway enlightening Americans why those concerns weren’t taken seriously.
Meanwhile, other missed tips are coming to light. In the recent prosecution of members of the radical Oath Keepers militia, an FBI agent testified one of the group’s followers tipped the FBI off to its planning for Jan. 6 in November 2020, but it was apparently ignored. Grid has counted at least a dozen other tips and queries to the FBI that should have generated a bigger response.
The efforts of certain pro-Trump members of Congress to overturn the election results represent another significant unknown, although the panel has contributed to the public’s knowledge here. At least 16 members have been implicated in efforts to overturn the election that revolved around the Jan. 6 certification vote, and some have found themselves under FBI scrutiny. Those members may soon find themselves in positions of oversight and authority regarding the very probes that could implicate them.
Also, the committee has not made public any major new findings on why intelligence reporting and preparation by Capitol Police was so lacking. “As far as I can tell, nobody is talking about this stuff, and nothing has really changed,” said Daniel Schuman, an expert on the Capitol Police and policy director at Demand Progress, a progressive think tank. “Members continue to feel unsafe; the Capitol continues to be insecure. And we are moving into another violent period.”
Nuts and bolts: What makes up the Jan. 6 committee?
The nine-member committee was formed in July 2021. It is expected to issue a final report by the end of the year, before the panel expires. The committee has not said when it plans to release its report, although some expect it before the midterm elections on Nov. 8.
The House resolution authorizing the committee will expire when this session of Congress ends Dec. 31. If Republicans win control of the lower chamber, as many predict, they aren’t expected to renew the panel in its current form.
The panel’s staff has drawn from diverse sources for talent, even including a former member of Congress with data analysis skills. A former CIA inspector general, David Buckley, leads the team of over 50 investigators, counsel, clerks and aides drawn from private practice, other committees and detailed from federal agencies.
The committee has resisted billing Thursday’s hearing as its last, but many observers believe that unless the panel discovers significant new information, the televised meeting was likely to be its final public appearance.
Committee members have also said their information may be handed over to federal investigators. Cheney on Thursday said the committee ultimately may decide to make “a series of criminal referrals to the Department of Justice.”
Regarding the Secret Service’s involvement in events surrounding Jan. 6, committee member Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., said the committee is “reviewing testimony regarding potential obstruction on this issue, including testimony about advice given not to tell the committee about this specific topic.”
Politics: Despite Jan. 6, Trump still favored for 2024
Republicans have long been adamant that the events of Jan. 6 and its aftermath aren’t top of mind for voters ahead of next month’s midterm election. Polling in the states that will determine the Senate majority has consistently shown inflation and economic concerns as the top issues, though concerns about “preserving democracy” or “election law” often rank second. Democrats are more likely to discuss abortion than Jan. 6 in their campaign ads, which tends to poll as a top issue for Democratic voters.
Millions of people have tuned in to the committee’s hearings throughout the year, but public opinion on the committee, its findings and Trump’s role in it have remained relatively stable since it began a series of televised hearings in June.
Polling from Monmouth University showed an increase in the share of people who said they have “a lot” of trust in the investigation from November 2021 to June 2022. But since then, the numbers have barely moved, though there’s some evidence that independents might have been more persuaded than partisans. Trump’s ratings have remained stagnant, as well.
But the bigger concern might not be the upcoming election but rather 2024. Nearly every poll conducted on the 2024 GOP primary has so far shown Trump to be the favorite, even as support for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis steadily grows. There’s also a question of whether he’ll legally be able to run again, depending on the outcome of multiple investigations into Trump’s political and business activities.
Thanks to Lillian Barkley for copy editing this article.