Three days after the Jan. 6th Committee issued criminal referrals against former President Donald Trump and implicated several of his allies in the attack on the U.S. Capitol, the panel released a massive 814-page report laying out its findings in greater detail than its already hefty, 161-page executive summary.
“The January 6th attack has often been described as a riot — and that is partly true,” the report declares in its final chapter. “Some of those who trespassed on the Capitol’s grounds or entered the building did not plan to do so beforehand. But it is also true that extremists, conspiracy theorists and others were prepared to fight. That is an insurrection. They answered President Trump’s call to action.”
In a section analyzing government agencies’ preparation for — and response to — Jan. 6, the committee said that Trump is squarely responsible for making a reality of what had previously been unimaginable.
“While the danger to the Capitol posed by an armed and angry crowd was foreseeable, the fact that the President of the United States would be the catalyst of their fury and facilitate the attack was unprecedented in American history,” the report says. “If we lacked the imagination to suppose that a President would incite an attack on his own Government, urging his supporters to ‘fight like hell,’ we lack that insight no more.”
In a foreword to the report, committee chair Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) was clear about the imminent threat posed to him and his fellow lawmakers that day, as the riotous crowd closed in.
“We were told to remove our lapel pins,” Thompson began, explaining that at the start of every new Congress, House members are presented with lapel pins that are about the size of a quarter. “Typically, the pins are an easy way to spot House Members. However, on January 6, 2021, the pin that once was a badge of honor and distinction turned into a bullseye … Police officers told us that our lapel pins would make us a target for rioters.”
Thompson said that while democratic guardrails ultimately held that day, “[t]he failure of Trump’s plan was not assured. To the contrary, Trump’s plan was successful at several turns,” Thompson said, noting that in addition to legal efforts to overturn Joe Biden‘s 2020 electoral win, the then-president had a “parallel plan” to summon his supporters to Washington on Jan. 6.
“These are people who want to take America backward, not toward some imagined prior greatness, but toward repression,” Thompson wrote. “These are people who want to roll back what we’ve accomplished. I believe that those who aligned with the scheme to overturn the election heeded Donald Trump’s call to march on the Capitol because they thought taking up Donald Trump’s cause was a way to advance their vile ambitions. That is why I did not remove my lapel pin on January 6th.”
Spanning eight chapters and four appendices, the body of the report is styled as a narrative. Chapters take their titles from the different aspects of Trump’s multi-faceted scheme to overturn the election results, starting with “The Big Lie” of election fraud. Trump’s comment to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R): “I just want to find 11,780 votes” — the precise number to reverse his defeat in the Peach State — forms the title for the second chapter on the pressure campaign on state officials. Crunching numbers, the Committee found that Trump or his inner circle engaged in 68 meetings, attempted or completed calls or text messages with state or local officials in this effort.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), one of two Republicans on the committee, had harsh words for conservatives who she says have not done enough to decry the attack.
“Part of the tragedy of January 6th is the conduct of those who knew that what happened was profoundly wrong, but nevertheless tried to downplay it, minimize it or defend those responsible,” said Cheney, who in August lost her congressional primary to Trump-backed candidate Harriet Hageman. “That effort continues every day. Today, I am perhaps most disappointed in many of my fellow conservatives who know better, those who stood against the threats of communism and Islamic terrorism but concluded that it was easier to appease Donald Trump, or keep their heads down. I had hoped for more from them.”
On Monday, the committee held a business meeting putting criminal referrals for four felony charges against Trump to a vote. Two of the referrals involved statutes that a federal judge found Trump and his lawyer John Eastman “more likely than not” committed: obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the United States. The other two were inciting an insurrection and conspiracy to make a false statement, in connection with the fake-elector scheme.
The panel also asked the House Ethics Committee to consider referrals of top Republican lawmakers like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio, Scott Perry of California, and Andy Biggs of Arizona.
“In the Committee’s hearings, we presented evidence of what ultimately became a multi-part plan to overturn the 2020 Presidential election,” the 161-page introduction to its final report states. “That evidence has led to an overriding and straight-forward conclusion: 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 report’s introduction also called upon the Department of Justice to examine the possibility that Trump violated two other conspiracy statutes, including seditious conspiracy, often described as a lighter analogue of treason. Prosecutors charged leaders of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys under the statute in connection with the U.S. Capitol attack. Two Oath Keepers — founder Stewart Rhodes and Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs — were convicted by a jury of that offense late last month.
Of all the statutes, former federal prosecutor Mitchell Epner argues, the incitement referral could be the “most far-reaching.”
“If charged, tried and convicted, Donald Trump would be barred for life from holding federal office, including the Presidency,” noted Epner, a partner at Rottenberg Lipman Rich PC.
The 14th Amendment of the Constitution bars public office holders from having “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”
Since the attack on the U.S. Capitol, advocacy groups sought to disqualify pro-Trump politicians — and the former president himself — under the disqualification clause. Most, but not all, of those efforts have failed. A New Mexico judge removed “Cowboys for Trump” founder Couy Griffin from the state’s county commissioners, citing his conviction for entering the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The committee’s referrals carry no legal weight. The Department of Justice’s special counsel Jack Smith will decide whether to prosecute Trump, but Epner notes that the committee’s “history-making” action should not be diminished.
“There has never been a criminal referral for a sitting or former President,” Epner told Law&Crime. “The closest prior example is that then-former VP Aaron Burr was indicted for treason in 1806. He was acquitted in 1807.”
The report’s release follows roughly 18 months of investigation, coming to a head days before a Republican-led House of Representatives is nearly certain to shut it down.
Read the report here.
This is a developing story.
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]