A few minutes before 10 p.m. Eastern on Thursday evening, the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol issued its final report. It is 845 pages long, comprised of the executive summary we saw on Monday, eight chapters, and four appendices.
The committee’s jurisdiction may not extend to indicting anyone, but it does give Congress a mandate to pass new laws designed to protect the country. On Friday, the House will vote on the omnibus budget bill that has already cleared the Senate. It contains a provision to reform the Electoral College Act. The change is necessary to clarify the law, because of the way Trump tried to contort it to steal the election he accused Democrats, wrongly, of stealing. Trump first went to the courts, hoping they would throw the election to him, but after losing at least 60 lawsuits, and with the day of Biden’s inauguration growing closer, Trump turned to the now well-known plan involving fake slates of electors from the states he had lost, but whose votes he needed for an electoral college victory. Ultimately, as his options narrowed, he tried to bully his Vice President, Mike Pence, into declining to certify the electoral college vote for Biden, claiming that the law gave the vice president the power to interfere with the counting of electoral votes. That’s a theory that is widely discounted, but it did not stop Trump, necessitating legislative reform.
If the House adopts the changes to the law that passed in the Senate, it would confirm that the vice president's role in the electoral college certification proceedings is purely ceremonial. It would also make it more difficult for a state's slate of electors to be challenged during the certification process. Currently, it takes only one representative and one senator to challenge a state's slate of electors, even in the absence of legitimate concerns — the tactic Trump tried to use. The new provision would require that 20% of the members of each chamber lodge an objection before there can be a challenge.
Even in this highly partisan Congress, it’s still possible to get things done. And the chances are good for this measure; the House passed something similar in September.
Fortunately, with this report, unlike the release of the Mueller Report, Attorney General Bill Barr is not available to issue a misleading summary and claim the report exonerates Trump. It most assuredly does not.
We’ll be reading the report for days, if not longer—it is rich in detail and full of juicy endnotes. But here’s an overview of what to expect. You can find the full report here.
The first seven chapters discuss core aspects of a conspiracy to overthrow our democracy that began long before January 6. The committee goes through Trump’s efforts to hold onto power after losing the election, starting with the Big Lie and ending with Trump’s refusal to do anything to stop the violence on January 6 until after it was clear the attack would fail. The Eighth Chapter is an analysis of the attack itself.
Chapter 1, The Big Lie: Trump intended to lie all along if he lost. There was no honest, sudden outrage over an election he truly believed he’d won that surfaced as the election results were announced. He knew he lost and he knew it wasn’t due to fraud.
When he spoke to the country in the early morning hours after Fox News correctly called Arizona for Biden, Trump said, “This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election. We did win this election.” Trump’s claim was free of any evidence the election had been tainted by fraud. But his statement came as no surprise to allies like Steve Bannon and Judicial Watch’s Thomas Fitton, both of who were in on a plan devised months earlier for Trump to call the election in his favor, no matter, and most likely despite, how it was going.
Roger Stone put it like this, “I really do suspect it will still be up in the air. When that happens, the key thing to do is to claim victory. Possession is 9/10s of the law. No, we won. F*** you, Sorry. Over. We won. You’re wrong. F*** you.”
Among Trump’s campaign advisors and staff it was a different story. Only a “definitely intoxicated” Rudy Giuliani backed Trump on that night. His campaign manager told him it was too early to know the outcome of the investigation and as the week advanced, Trump was told he’d lost. His own people told him there was no evidence of fraud.
The committee’s judgment on Trump is harsh but fair, “Donald Trump was no passive consumer of these lies. 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. Not even the electoral college’s certification of former Vice President Biden’s victory on December 14, 2020, stopped the President from lying.”
This of course wasn’t a surprise to anyone who’d been paying attention. Trump had refused to commit to abiding by the result of the election if he lost. It was all like watching a slow motion train wreck in progress. With his campaign staff, who dubbed themselves “Team Normal” refusing to go along with the Big Lie, Trump replaced them with Giuliani’s team, bringing Christina Bobb, Cleta Mitchell, Sidney Powell, John Eastman, and Boris Epshteyn into his orbit. His decision to surround himself with people who were willing to advance the fraud narrative was deliberate.
We all know what happened next, “Instead of accepting his defeat, President Trump attempted to justify his Big Lie with a series of increasingly preposterous claims. The President was not simply led astray by those around him. The opposite was true. He actively promoted conspiracy theories and false election fraud claims even after being informed they were baseless. Millions of President Trump’s supporters believed the election was stolen from him. Many of them still do, but President Trump knew the truth and chose to lie about it.”
The committee offers two case studies that document how “President Trump and his surrogates lied in the face of overwhelming evidence.” One involves Dominion Voting Systems, which Trump continued to falsely claim ran software that “switched votes” and “rigged” the election after he was definitively told by people running his own campaign as well as Justice Department officials that those claims were not true. The second one involves the video footage taken at the State Farm arena in Fulton county, Georgia, as votes were being tallied and the fake narrative concocted around it. Trump and his allies fabricated a story about suitcases of ballots mysteriously appearing and claims he would have won in the absence of fraud. Those claims were baseless and he was repeatedly told that they were not true. Even Georgia’s Secretary of State told him they were false. Trump victimized two decent women, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, whose only crime was their commitment to work to support free and fair elections.
In other words, Trump was not a passive participant in any of this. He sought out the lies, pushed them and ran with them, intentionally misleading his base so they would rally around his cause. On the Ellipse the morning of January 6, Trump told the crowd-that-would-become-a-mob that the election had been stolen from him, and falsely claimed there was widespread voter fraud. He repeated falsehoods about the election and fraud more than 100 times, a shocking betrayal for an American president.
Chapter 2, The State Pressure Campaign (“I just want to find 11,780 votes”): Far and away my favorite thing about the report is how the committee illustrates the title of many chapters with a characteristic Trump quote. They hit the spot, as here, perfectly illustrating different parts of Trump’s scheme.
There is more information in the report about the extent of the pressure brought to bear on states than what we learned during the hearings. It extends beyond Georgia. Of course, there’s the audio recording. The one where Trump, like any good mob boss, ultimately threatens and cajoles Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger, Georgia’s chief election officer, to “find” enough votes to declare him the winner of an election he lost.
But the process was repeating in states across the country, and in what seems to be new evidence, the committee paints a picture of Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, as deeply involved. Trump is included as well:
“The Select Committee estimates that in the two months between the November election and the January 6th insurrection, President Trump or his inner circle engaged in at least 200 apparent acts of public or private outreach, pressure, or condemnation, targeting either State legislators or State or local election administrators, to overturn State election results. This included at least:
68 meetings, attempted or connected phone calls, or text messages, each aimed at one or more State or local officials;
18 instances of prominent public remarks, with language targeting one or more such officials; and
125 social media posts by President Trump or senior aides targeting one or more such officials, either explicitly or implicitly, and mostly from his own account.”
The scope is mind boggling. Everyone knows about the January 2 call to Brad Raffensperger but there’s a lot more to the story and the report includes lots of detail. This is the chapter of the report to start with if you’ve only got time for one right now. Kenneth Chesebro, a name you may not yet be familiar with, surfaces here as someone who is an early adopter of the Big Lie and willing to push out marginal legal theories and urge them to take on a life of their own.
This was also where special counsel Jack Smith started, sending out subpoenas designed to elicit evidence and testimony about the campaign and individual lawyers engagement with state officials. Apparently, the special counsel sees smoke here.
Chapter 3, Fake Electors (“FAKE ELECTORS AND THE “THE PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE STRATEGY”): This is a familiar part of Trump’s scheme: “President Trump and his allies prepared their own fake slates of electoral college electors in seven States that President Trump lost: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. And on December 14, 2020—the date when true, certified electors were meeting to cast their electoral votes for the candidate who had won the popular vote in each of those States—these fake electors also met, ostensibly casting electoral votes for President Trump, the candidate who had lost.”
Nothing here is a close call. It’s a rank attempt to circumvent democracy. Even Republican Senator Mike Lee could see that:
“On December 30th, Senator Lee texted Trump advisor Cleta Mitchell that January 6th was “a dangerous idea,” including “for the republic itself.” He explained that, “I don’t think we have any valid basis for objecting to the electors” because “it cannot be true that we can object to any state’s presidential electors simply because we don’t think they handled their election well or suspect illegal activity.” Senator Lee even questioned her about the plan’s dangerous long-term consequences: “[w]ill you please explain to me how this doesn’t create a slippery slope problem for all future presidential elections?”
Chapter 4, The Subversion of DOJ (‘‘JUST CALL IT CORRUPT AND LEAVE THE REST TO ME’’) We heard most of the information here in the committee hearings, where there was extensive coverage of Trump’s efforts to subjugate DOJ to his political needs. When acting officials at DOJ refused to legitimize Trump’s fraud claims, he tried to replace them with Jeffrey Bossert Clark, the head of the Environment and Natural Resources Division (“We’ll call you when there’s an oil spill,” the Deputy Attorney General Rich Donoghue told him). Trump backed down when DOJ officials threatened to resign if Clark was put in place.
Donoghue testified that Trump asked him and acting AG Rosen to “just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican Congressmen.” Donoghue explained this “is an exact quote from the President.” It’s easy to believe him. It’s the same approach Trump used, leading to his first impeachment, when he asked Ukrainian President Zelensky to do him a favor and open an investigation into then-candidate Joe Biden.
Ultimately there’s the Clark letter—what the White House counsel called a murder-suicide pact for anyone who touched it. It’s a letter that, if sent, could have sparked a Constitutional crisis by telling states DOJ believed the election was tainted by fraud and they could set aside their legitimate slates of electors. Had acting officials not stood firm at this point, the Justice Department would have become another tool in Trump’s effort to hold onto power, and perhaps one that would have sealed the deal.
Chapter 5, The Pressure Campaign on VP Mike Pence (“A COUP IN SEARCH OF A LEGAL THEORY”): By the time it got close to January 6, everything else Trump tried to launch the Big Lie had failed. All that was left was persuading the Vice President to play a role in the scam. This led to the intense pressure campaign on Mike Pence. We all know much of the narrative and have seen the video from January 6, so we understand how important the role Pence played was on that day.
But this chapter still leaves unanswered questions about Trump’s January 5 phone call with Pence. We don’t learn the details, because Trump and Pence were the only two on the call, hearing both sides, and because aides who heard one side of the call declined to testify about what Trump said, citing executive privilege. If any one event could seal the deal on Trump’s criminal mindset it would be this call, but the committee doesn’t have the goods. It seems likely DOJ has more or can get it, since some of those witnesses have now abandoned their claims of privilege and have spoken with federal prosecutors. But the rest of us will have to wait.
Chapter 6, Right Wing Extremism (“BE THERE, WILL BE WILD”): One of the question marks in the narrative is the absence of direct evidence linking the militias on the ground to Trump’s inner circle. That would be essential for DOJ to consider filing seditious conspiracy charges against anyone higher up than the leaders of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers.
The committee begins to build a circumstantial case. It argues that when Trump summons the mob, it activates a network of right wing extremists and unites them under a Trump banner. The committee offers an in depth treatment of right wing extremism, moving through the Stop the Steal coalition, and engagement with the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and others, as well as individuals like Alex Jones, Ali Alexander, Roger Stone & their friends.
This chapter deserves a more critical read than I’ve given it tonight. But it does pop into focus a bit more in Chapter 8.
Chapter 7, 187 Minutes (“187 MINUTES OF DERELICTION”): In its hearings, the committee did a compelling job of showing us what Trump was doing while the mob was attacking the Capitol, his nonchalance as the crowd chanted “Hang Mike Pence” and went looking for Speaker Pelosi. Trump could have called off the mob, but he refused to. That’s strong circumstantial evidence that he intended for the mob to interfere with the certification of the election.
The real shocker here is the lack of official documentation from inside of the White House during this critical period. No entries in the presidential diary, no call records. Everything that should be there is missing, precisely at this most important time. Why? Of course, we’re all capable of drawing that obvious conclusion. It’s important that the committee has documented what’s missing, both for DOJ’s purposes and for the historical record.
Chapter 8, Analysis of The Attack: Prosecutors like timelines. You can learn a lot by looking at events in the context of what is going on around them. Here, there are important inferences to be drawn from the timeline.
It’s before 1:00 pm on January 6 when the Proud Boys launch their pre-planned attack. They’re doing it for Trump and they want to obstruct Congress and prevent it from certifying the electoral college vote. (The Proud Boys’ leaders’ trial on seditious conspiracy and other charges related to this is currently underway).
There has been some criticism of the argument that Trump bears any responsibility for these events because the Proud Boys launched their attack on the Capitol before Trump finished his speech. This line of reasoning says that Trump isn’t responsible because he didn’t set off the attack by sending the mob to the Capitol.
The committee’s narrative can be used to construe those facts in a different light, showing that the Proud Boys intended to harness the power of the mob that they knew would be coming their way. A key piece of evidence the committee details is that the Proud Boys took down security barriers between Peace Circle and the Capitol. That meant that when Trump told the mob to go to the Capitol, they had a clear path. At that point, fighting had stalled on the Western Mall between the Proud Boys and Metro PD. It was the influx of the mob that allowed the Proud Boys to overrun the Capitol, leading to MPD’s first ever fighting retreat.
We have yet to see direct evidence linking Trump to any of this. But the Proud Boys, and to some extent the Oath Keepers, were buddy-buddy with Roger Stone, who took the 5th Amendment rather than confirm for the committee that he was communicating with Trump on January 5th and 6th. Draw your own conclusions for now. DOJ may well be able to access evidence and testimony the committee couldn’t.
One detail that jumps out—and this section of the report is so rich in detail I’m sure we’ll be reading it over and over to extract all of the nuances—is that the Proud Boys cleared the security barriers at Peace Circle. Why do that if you didn’t expect someone to be coming that direction? Did the Proud Boys expect the crowd from Trump’s speech to join them at the Capitol? Did someone tell them to expect it?
Examining the facts helps investigators develop the leads they use to work with witnesses and get to the truth of matters. It’s why cooperating witnesses can make such a difference. And it’s why coming out of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys trials with defendants who might newly wish to cooperate could have a real impact. Why were the rooms at the Willard Hotel called war rooms? It doesn’t seem like a moniker that would be used unless there was some type of attack to manage. Given that the war rooms were staffed by folks like Stone, Giuliani, and Flynn, there is undoubtedly a lot that prosecutors would like to know about what was going on and what lines of communication and coordination were open.
Lots of questions. Prosecutors know to follow their common sense about what took place to see if evidence to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt can be developed.
In addition to the eight chapters, there are four appendices:
1) Law enforcement & pre-January 6 intelligence
2) The National Guard
3) The Big Grift
4) Foreign Influences
When we have time to review all of the sourcing and endnotes, it may well be these sections of the report that are the most illuminating. Appendix I provides compelling information about law enforcement failures:
“As January 6th approached, some of the intelligence about the potential for violence was shared within the executive branch, including the Secret Service and the President’s National Security Council. That intelligence should have been sufficient for President Trump, or others at the White House, to cancel the Ellipse speech, and for President Trump to cancel plans to instruct his supporters to march to the Capitol. Few in law enforcement predicted the full extent of the violence at the Capitol, or that the President of the United States would incite a mob attack on the Capitol, that he would send them to stop the joint session knowing they were armed and dangerous, that he would further incite them against his own vice President while the attack was underway, or that he would do nothing to stop the assault for hours.”
“Other agencies were also surfacing indications and receiving tips. On December 26, 2020, the Secret Service received a tip about the Proud Boys detailing plans of having “a large enough group to march into DC armed and will outnumber the police so they can’t be stopped.” It stressed, “Their plan is to literally kill people . . . . Please please take this tip seriously and investigate further.” On December 24th, the Secret Service received a compilation of social media posts from “SITE,” a private intelligence group. One of them urged that protesters “march into the chambers.” Another, referring to President Trump’s December 19th “will be wild!” post, wrote that Trump “can’t exactly openly tell you to revolt,” so the December 19th post was “the closest he’ll ever get.” Another understood the President’s tweet to be urging his supporters to come to Washington “armed.” Others were to the same effect (“there is not enough cops in DC to stop what is coming,” “make sure they know who to fear,” and “waiting for Trump to say the word”).”
Despite all of this, At 10:43 a.m. on January 6, “Acting Deputy Attorney General Donoghue received an email from Matt Blue, Acting Chief of the Counterterrorism Section, stating ‘[t]here are no credible threats as of the 10:00 brief.’ Twelve minutes later, Rosen spoke to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone via phone. Acting Attorney General Rosen admits that “in hindsight” no one at the Department contemplated “how bad that afternoon turned out to be.” Nobody in the DOJ leadership could have predicted President Trump’s actions that day.”
Funny, it feels like we could have all told them that at this point.
The committee isn’t able to give us any closure on whether there was simple misfeasance or gross malfeasance at the Secret Service. But the report concludes that they knew violence was possible at the January 6 rally:
“The Committee has reviewed hundreds of thousands of new Secret Service documents, including many demonstrating that the Secret Service had been informed of potential violence at the Capitol before the Ellipse rally on January 6th,” its authors wrote. “These documents were critical to our understanding of what the Secret Service and White House knew about the threat to the Capitol on January 6th.”
In some ways, the appendices provoke more questions than answers.
It’s clear that a crime was committed. We saw the Capitol overrun. DOJ is prosecuting a multitude of people for it and has either convicted, or is in the middle of trying, members of two key militias on seditious conspiracy charges. The question is, how high up does culpability go? And it’s the whiff of obstruction of the investigation at the top that should drive DOJ forward. If it was just the mob, acting spontaneously, there’d be no reason for a broad swath of Trump allies to take the 5th and for so many people to try to avoid testifying, or to suffer from a sudden outbreak of bad memory.
Nonetheless, one reiterated caution that you’ve heard from me before: The report is more opening statement than prosecution memo. We get potential charges and the evidence for them, but we don’t get the arguments the defense would make. And we don’t know what different evidence—whether better or worse—DOJ has in its possession. All that to say, it’s still difficult to assess whether we should expect a federal prosecution on some or all of the counts the committee recommends. Whether or not that happens, the report is a compelling document that should aid people with common sense in understanding how we process Trump’s conduct following the 2020 election. It will be up to all of us to make sure that the details of the report find their way to the people who need to hear them the most.
Apologies if there are typos in this piece, but it’s late (or early, depending on how you look at it), as I didn’t sit down to write until after a stint of late night TV. I wanted to offer a backdrop for those of you who plan on taking a look at the report today, or for those who won’t have the chance to just yet and want to hit some of the high points.
We’re in this together,
Thank you for your thoughtful distillation of the 845 page report. Crimes were committed. I hope DOJ has the courage to indict. We all saw crimes committed in plain sight. Hope you get some rest and your chickens stay warm durning these ferociously freezing temperatures.
Girl, get some rest… you are going to be in demand well into next week. I wish I could say… thank you for making this all understandable. Sadly it makes me sick… sick of it all. The taxes, the fraud, everything he touches does indeed die today overwhelmingly it seems half our citizenry. I’m exhausted from it all, yet like all train wrecks in the making I can’t turn away. I hope too many others can’t either. Ughhh and thank you!