January 6th Congressional Panel Places Blame for Capitol Riot on Trump

From a New York Times story by Luke Broadwater and Maggie Haberman headlined “Jan. 6 Panel Issues Final Report, Placing Blame for Capitol Riot on ‘One Man'”:

Declaring that the central cause of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol was “one man,” the House committee investigating the assault delivered its final report on Thursday, describing in extensive detail how former President Donald J. Trump had carried out what it called “a multipart plan to overturn the 2020 presidential election” and offering recommendations for steps to assure nothing like it could happen again.

It revealed new evidence about Mr. Trump’s conduct, and recommended that Congress consider whether to bar Mr. Trump and his allies from holding office in the future under the 14th Amendment’s ban on insurrectionists.

“The central cause of Jan. 6 was one man, former President Donald Trump, whom many others followed,” the report said. “None of the events of Jan. 6 would have happened without him.”

The release of the full report was the culmination of the panel’s 18-month inquiry and came three days after the committee voted to formally accuse Mr. Trump of inciting insurrection, conspiracy to defraud the United States, obstruction of an act of Congress and one other federal crime as it referred him to the Justice Department for potential prosecution. While the referrals do not compel federal prosecutors to take any action, they sent a powerful signal that a select committee of Congress believes the former president committed crimes.

“Our institutions are only strong when those who hold office are faithful to our Constitution,” Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming and the vice chairwoman of the committee, wrote in the report, adding: “Part of the tragedy of Jan. 6 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.”

The report contains the committee’s legislative recommendations, which are intended to prevent future presidents from attempting a similar plot. The panel has already endorsed overhauling the Electoral Count Act, the law that Mr. Trump and his allies tried to exploit on Jan. 6 in an attempt to cling to power. The House is scheduled to give final approval to that overhaul on Friday.

Among the committee’s recommendations were a possible overhaul of the Insurrection Act and strengthening the enforcement of the 14th Amendment’s ban on insurrectionists holding office.

The panel also said Congress should consider legislation to bolster its subpoena power and increase penalties against those who threaten election workers. And it said bar associations should consider whether any of the lawyers who aided Mr. Trump’s attempts to overturn the election should be punished.

In addition to its focus on Mr. Trump’s actions, the report went into great detail about a supporting cast of lieutenants who enabled him. Mark Meadows, his final chief of staff, and the lawyers John Eastman, Rudolph W. Giuliani, Jeffrey Clark and Kenneth Chesebro were named as potential “co-conspirators” in Mr. Trump’s various attempts to cling to power.

Mr. Trump bashed the report on his social media site, Truth Social, calling it “highly partisan.”

In a statement, Mr. Clark dismissed the committee’s report as a “last gasp” of a panel that is set to dissolve as Republicans take control of the House in January.

“This committee is now largely dead and will be fully dead on Jan. 2, 2023,” said Mr. Clark, whose phone was seized as part of a criminal investigation by the Justice Department in connection with his role in aiding Mr. Trump’s efforts.

The committee had already released the report’s executive summary, a lawyerly, 154-page narrative of Mr. Trump’s relentless drive to remain in power after he lost the 2020 election by seven million votes.

The report that follows the summary was largely an expanded version of the panel’s widely watched set of hearings this summer — which routinely drew more than 10 million viewers — with its chapter topics mirroring the themes of those sessions.

Those included Mr. Trump’s spreading of lies about the election, the creation of fake slates of pro-Trump electors in states won by President Biden, and the former president’s pressure campaign against state officials, the Justice Department and former Vice President Mike Pence. The committee’s report documents how Mr. Trump summoned a mob of his supporters to Washington and then did nothing to stop them as they attacked the Capitol for more than three hours.

The committee’s report is the result of an investigation that included more than 1,000 witness interviews and a review of more than one million pages of documents, obtained after the panel issued more than 100 subpoenas.

It documented how, at times, even Mr. Trump did not believe or take seriously some of the outlandish claims about election fraud being promoted by him and his allies. During a conference call two weeks after Election Day, the lawyer Sidney Powell asserted that “communist money” had flowed through countries like Venezuela, Cuba and perhaps China to interfere with the election.

According to testimony provided to the committee by Hope Hicks, a former top aide to Mr. Trump, he “muted his speakerphone and laughed at Powell, telling the others in the room, ‘This does sound crazy, doesn’t it?’”

At the same time, it showed how Mr. Trump encouraged his most extreme supporters to back him as he energized protesters massing in Washington on Jan. 6, with an organizer of his rally that day noting that he “likes the crazies.”

The committee on Wednesday and Thursday also released more than 40 witness testimony transcripts, a few of which provided extensive new detail about the investigation while others showed nearly three dozen witnesses invoking their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. More of them will be released before the end of the year.

The nine-member panel was made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans, all of whom gained new prominence through the tightly scripted and highly produced televised hearings, which redefined the way in which congressional investigations could be presented to the public.

“Our country has come too far to allow a defeated president to turn himself into a successful tyrant by upending our democratic institutions, fomenting violence and, as I saw it, opening the door to those in our country whose hatred and bigotry threaten equality and justice for all Americans,” Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the committee’s chairman, wrote in a foreword to the report.

Among those who received significant criticism in the report was Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, whom he assigned to find ways to stop Mr. Biden from assuming power and Mr. Trump from losing it.

The committee’s report traced Mr. Giuliani’s postelection behavior from the moment Mr. Trump put him in charge of legal strategy shortly after the election to his efforts to directly pressure officials in battleground states, in some cases after the election had been certified.

“Rudy was just chasing ghosts,” the report quotes Mr. Trump’s former deputy campaign manager, Justin Clark, as saying of the earliest days after the election.

In one of the more glaring examples of Mr. Giuliani’s pressure, the report cites a call he placed to an official in Maricopa County, Ariz., asking for a return call. “Maybe we can get this thing fixed up,” he said in his message. “You know, I really think it’s a shame that Republicans sort of are both in this, kind of, situation. And I think there may be a nice way to resolve this for everybody.”

The committee also took note of state officials willing to be particularly helpful to Mr. Trump’s cause, such as Doug Mastriano, a Pennsylvania state senator who later became the Republican nominee for governor. Mr. Mastriano’s emails suggest that he spoke with Mr. Trump over three days at the end of December, and that Mr. Trump’s assistant told the White House legislative affairs director that Mr. Trump wanted letters from state senators asking Republican congressional leaders to reject the Pennsylvania electoral votes.

The bulk of the report is made of eight chapters intended to tell a narrative story of Mr. Trump’s efforts to hang on to power.

“The Big Lie,” the first chapter, recounts how Mr. Trump engaged in a premeditated plan starting on election night to falsely claim that he had won and claim that outstanding votes were fraudulent — and that he went on making those claims for months even after being informed repeatedly by his aides that he was wrong and had lost. Attorney General William P. Barr told the committee that Mr. Trump never showed any “indication of interest in what the actual facts were.”

“Donald Trump was no passive consumer of these lies,” the report said. “He actively propagated them. Time and again President Trump was informed that his election fraud claims were not true. He chose to spread them anyway. He did so even after they were legally tested and rejected in dozens of lawsuits.”

Chapter 2, titled “I Just Want to Find 11,780 Votes,” recounts how Mr. Trump sought to pressure officials in Georgia to find the votes he needed to swing the state, which had been won by Mr. Biden, into his column. It goes on to explore Mr. Trump’s largely unsuccessful pressure campaign on a wide array of officials in other swing states he had lost to find ways to reverse the outcome.

At one point, the report says, the White House switchboard left a message for the chairman of the Maricopa County board of supervisors to call Mr. Trump, who was pushing for investigations into voting machines there. (The chairman decided not to return the phone call from the president of the United States.)

Subsequent chapters cover the genesis of the so-called fake electors scheme, in which Mr. Trump and his allies sought to promote alternative slates of electors from states he had lost to try to block or delay certification of Mr. Biden’s victory, and Mr. Trump’s campaign to pressure Vice President Mike Pence into using his role overseeing the congressional certification process as president of the Senate to bring the fake elector plan to fruition.

Mr. Trump was largely reliant on Mr. Eastman to provide legal justification for Mr. Pence in effect unilaterally deciding whether to accept the outcome of the election, but the report shows that he turned to other aides to help make the case as well. It says that either Mr. Trump or Mr. Meadows “tasked John McEntee, the director of the Presidential Personnel Office, with researching the matter further. Though McEntee was one of President Trump’s close advisers, he was not a lawyer and had no relevant experience.”

As Mr. Pence resisted and Mr. Trump castigated him publicly, officials became increasingly concerned about the vice president’s safety. On the morning of Jan. 6, the report says, “an agent in the Secret Service’s intelligence division was alerted to online chatter ‘regarding the V.P. being a dead man walking if he doesn’t do the right thing.’”

Chapter 6, called “Be There, Will Be Wild!,” recounts how Mr. Trump “summoned a mob for help” through a Twitter post on Dec. 19 that promoted a pro-Trump protest scheduled for Jan. 6 in Washington — a message, the report said, that “focused his supporters’ anger on the joint session of Congress” that would take place that day.

Far-right groups like the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys mobilized, as did adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory, the report said. One of the hosts on Alex Jones’s Infowars show told viewers in late December that they might have to end up “storming right into the Capitol.”

The report documents how some of the protesters came to Washington believing that Mr. Trump would march with them to the Capitol on Jan. 6. “Trump speaking to us around 11 am then we march to the capital and after that we have special plans that I can’t say right now over Facebook,” one member of a militia-affiliated group in Texas posted early that day.

The report goes on to describe Mr. Trump’s three hours of inaction as violence swept across Capitol Hill and some of his supporters called for Mr. Pence to be hanged.

At one point, Mr. Trump was informed that the Capitol Police had shot a rioter, later identified as Ashli Babbitt. “1x civilian gunshot wound to chest @ door of House chaber,” read a note on a White House pocket card that was preserved by the National Archives and seen by a White House employee on the table in front of Mr. Trump as he watched the riot unfold on television, the report said.

The eighth chapter analyzes the attack on the Capitol itself, showing how the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers appeared to storm the building in a deliberate, organized fashion, and how many individual protesters came to Washington with firearms. Eleven minutes after protesters breached the Capitol building, Mr. Trump tweeted angrily about Mr. Pence. The violence would continue for hours.

The committee later asked Mr. McEntee about Mr. Trump’s demeanor during a phone call between the two of them at the end of the day after the violence had been quelled — and specifically about whether Mr. Trump expressed sadness. “No,” Mr. McEntee said, according to the report. “I mean, I think he was shocked by, you know, it getting a little out of control, but I don’t remember sadness, specifically.”

The report contains four appendices that the committee’s investigative staff argued to include. Two are the work of the panel’s “Blue Team,” which investigated law enforcement failures and the delayed response of the National Guard to the riot.

The first detailed the flood of threats about the potential for violence that law enforcement officials received before Jan. 6, and concluded that the failure to share and act on those threats “jeopardized the lives of the police officers defending the Capitol and everyone in it.”

More than 150 officers were injured during the day’s bloody assault.

For instance, on Dec. 26, 2020, the Secret Service received a tip about the Proud Boys having “a large enough group to march into D.C. armed and will outnumber the police so they can’t be stopped.”

It stressed, “Their plan is to literally kill people,” adding: “Please, please take this tip seriously and investigate further.”

The report also documented the growing frustration inside the D.C. National Guard as soldiers were forced to sit on the sidelines while rioters were storming the Capitol.

At one point, the guard’s commander, Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, now the House sergeant-at-arms, blurted out: “Should we just deploy now and resign tomorrow?”

A third appendix, the work of the committee’s “Green Team,” focused on how Mr. Trump and his allies raised millions off the lie of a stolen election, and a fourth investigated the extent to which foreign actors played a role in the events surrounding the 2020 election, concluding that investigators found no “interference” but that Mr. Trump’s lies were a benefit to Russia and its president, Vladimir V. Putin.

The final report did not include information about some of the panel’s witnesses, including Virginia Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas. Ms. Thomas was among allies of Mr. Trump who promoted efforts aimed at overturning the results even as the Supreme Court was considering cases related to the election. The committee’s investigators had largely viewed Ms. Thomas as a tertiary figure who was not central to the events of Jan. 6.

Luke Broadwater covers Congress. He was the lead reporter on a series of investigative articles at The Baltimore Sun that won a Pulitzer Prize and a George Polk Award in 2020.

Maggie Haberman is a White House correspondent. She joined The Times in 2015 as a campaign correspondent and was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for reporting on President Trump’s advisers and their connections to Russia.

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