There are a lot of things to think about when it comes to the January 6 reports. This is why the January 6, House Select Committee is right to plan bipartisan hearings and a report that will be released by the end of the summer. A lot better if that happens as soon as possible, and it won’t get caught up in the midterm elections.
That’s not to say that the pace of the investigation has been slow, but it hasn’t been quick. That’s what some people have said about Congress on that front, but they don’t know that good investigations are shaped like a pyramid. At the bottom, investigators gather vast amounts of information through tactics ranging from informal interviews to on-the-record depositions to document subpoenas. Next, all that information is narrowed and focused through hearings, where key facts are winnowed down, and hypotheses are tested. Finally, the investigators write a report or reports that lay out a clear, fact-based narrative and make conclusions and suggestions for how to fix things.
We are now substantially through the first phase of the committee’s thorough investigation. The committee has gotten a lot of documents and talked to a lot of people.
On January 5, Trump supporters like Steve Bannon and Rudy Giuliani met in a “war room” at the Willard Hotel to plan how to change the election results. We know more about the Trump campaign’s extensive outreach to state representatives, asking them to appoint phoney slates of “alternate” electors. We know that on January 6, the defeated president and his team watched the violence and chaos at the Capitol for more than three hours, but former President Trump did not speak out.
When witnesses have refused to cooperate in that first fact-gathering phase, Congress has pushed back hard, referring Bannon and former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to the Department of Justice for their flagrantly contemptuous refusal to cooperate. After surrendering on contempt charges, Bannon likened the charges to a witch hunt; Meadows, on the other hand, has claimed that executive privilege shields him from testifying. When President Trump tried to hide his administration’s records by claiming executive privilege, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee fought back hard and quickly. The committee won at the district court level and the appellate level in just three months, and now it wants the Supreme Court to make a quick decision.
That Trump administration information will be needed for hearings as the investigation moves into its next major phase. If a report is due by the summer, we can expect hearings in the first quarter of this year. The hearings will be very important for sharpening the committee’s own investigation, and for getting the country’s attention on the truth, so they will be very important. We’ve seen this many times before, from the Watergate hearings to Iran-Contra and the first Trump impeachment hearings.
Then there will be the third phase: the report. During the summer, the interim report is supposed to come out. The final report is supposed to come later on in the summer, too. As we get closer to November’s midterm elections, their actions will become more politically charged. The committee chose to act now because they know that their actions will become more politically charged the closer we get. The fact that the committee is run by both Democrats and Republicans is important for the credibility of their work. They probably know that releasing a report before the fall campaign season starts will keep that record going.
After the Capitol was breached, we need to find out why Trump didn’t do anything about the protests for so long. This and many other things will be very important for people to understand about January 6 and for leaders at all levels of government to take action to stop another insurrection. Almost all Republicans in a recent CBS poll said that the people who broke into the Capitol were “defending freedom,” but there is a way for the truth to come out. An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 62% of Americans and even 29% of Republicans think the investigation should go ahead. Congressional and state and local officials who run our elections have been fighting the “Big Lie” for more than a year. They are bipartisan. They want to see action from all levels of government, and telling the truth at the right time can help.
In fact, the committee should not be done with this yet. Once it has the facts, it should think about how important they are to the law. Part of that is looking ahead and suggesting new laws to make sure that things like January 6 don’t happen again. It’s also important to look back and make criminal referrals to federal and state prosecutors if the evidence backs up what they want to do.
In the past, there has been a long and even-handed history of this kind of thing being done by both parties. The committee’s interim report should include all possible violations and ask prosecutors to look into them. After all, the possibility of being prosecuted is also a big part of being accountable.
We don’t agree with people who want Congress to stay away from making criminal referrals in order to look like it’s not a party. As a victim of a crime, Congress has the right and the duty to tell police what happened.
There’s a lot of evidence that people who want to harm our democracy might have broken the law. Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming, has said that 18 USC 1512, which prohibits conspiracies to “corruptly” or “obstruct” official proceedings, is one of the ones that apply. It has already been decided by a federal judge that Congress’s January 6 vote count was an official one because of the law.
Local and state prosecutors may also be looking at the January 6 report for clues about how the plotters tried to mess with and steal elections. Donald Trump’s alleged attempt to change the outcome of the election in Georgia is going to be looked into by the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia. Fani Willis says she will look into Trump’s alleged call to the secretary of state to “find 11,780 votes” that didn’t exist in order to change the outcome of the election. There’s a good chance that the investigation by the committee will give Willis more information about Trump and his associates. In fact, we know that Fulton prosecutors are already talking to committee staff. Trump says he did nothing wrong.
Georgia isn’t the only state where Trump and his allies tried to manipulate election officials and stop votes from being counted. There are many examples, such as: In November of 2020, Trump asked Michigan legislators to come to the White House to try to get them to override Biden’s roughly 154,000 vote win in the state, which was a big deal. The committee may have evidence about that incredibly bold overreach, or evidence that they tried to get other states to do the same thing.
Once the interim report is out, federal, state, and local prosecutors will be in charge of any referrals that come from the interim report. A referral isn’t a command, of course. Prosecutors must still do their own research and decide whether or not to prosecute. US Attorney General Merrick Garland is a very careful prosecutor, and he knows that an independent investigation takes time, so he wants to make referrals as soon as possible.
Because Garland takes his time, we understand why some people are impatient with him. He has cooled down the politics at the Justice Department and restored order. As the committee does its work, he is paying close attention to hot-button issues. He is then picking up the threads and following them to see where they take him next. During the Bannon case, we believe that he took the case very seriously, and we think that shows. A judge in November found Bannon guilty of contempt of Congress.
When we look back at January 6, we are finally getting a clear picture of what Trump and his allies would have done to win an election. This is a year later. But we still need more information and more accountability, so we need to do better. People are excited for the interim report to come out.