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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

With detailed evidence and a call for accountability, Jan. 6 panel seeks a legacy

Supporters of President Donald Trump storm the Capitol in Washington, on Jan. 6, 2021. The final report of the January 6 committee provides many new details on Donald Trump’s actions and a record for history. But Republicans will soon begin a campaign to discredit it.

By Luke Broadwater

The House Jan. 6 committee’s 845-page final report is chock-full of new details about former President Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election.

It documents how Trump and his allies tried at least 200 times to persuade state or local officials to throw out President Joe Biden’s victory. It reveals that Trump did, in fact, push for the National Guard to be present on the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, 2021 — but to protect his supporters as they marched on Congress, not lawmakers.

And it has new testimony from Trump aides including Hope Hicks, who became overwhelmed with disgust at the president’s behavior and the mob riot they were witnessing. “We all look like domestic terrorists now,” she wrote in a text.

But even as the committee continues to reveal damning evidence about the attack on the Capitol and what led to it, it has reached the end of its run. The publication of the report, the result of an exhaustive monthslong effort, has created a permanent record intended at a minimum to hold Trump accountable in history. Criminal referrals have been issued. Much of the panel’s staff has moved on, accepting other jobs.

To be sure, there is still some final work to do. The panel has an interactive website to unveil and hundreds of transcripts to release — even after a batch of nearly 50 more on Friday evening that included testimony by former Attorney General William P. Barr; Pat A. Cipollone, former White House counsel; and Trump’s eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump.

But its members are now beginning to share their views on a central question: What is the legacy of the Jan. 6 committee?

The panel — made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans — consistently broke new ground for a congressional investigation. Staffed with more than a dozen former federal prosecutors, it set a new production standard for how to present a congressional hearing. It also got significantly ahead of a parallel Justice Department investigation into the events of Jan. 6, with federal prosecutors later interviewing many of the same witnesses the panel’s investigators had spoken with.

For Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the chair of the committee, the answer to the question of legacy is simple: The committee raised the issue of threats to democracy to the top of the public consciousness and, during midterm elections in state after state, voters repeatedly defeated election-denying candidates.

“We demonstrated that Jan. 6 was a clear and present danger that an overwhelming majority of the people rejected,” Thompson said in an interview. “A lot of them expressed that rejection at the ballot box on Nov. 8.”

But Republicans still gained enough seats that they are set to take over the House in January, and are likely to undermine the panel’s legacy in other areas.

The committee recommended that Congress consider barring Trump and his allies from holding office under the 14th Amendment’s ban on insurrectionists, a proposal likely to go nowhere. Most of its recommendations for legislation are also likely to meet a dead end, with the major exception of the passage on Friday of an overhaul of the Electoral Count Act, the law Trump had tried to exploit to get his vice president to throw out electoral votes.

Moreover, Republicans are likely to try to turn the tables on the committee, beginning an investigation into the investigators.

A counternarrative is underway. Trump bashed the committee’s report as “highly partisan.” And five House Republicans led by Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana released their own report on the Capitol attack this week. That 141-page document criticizes law enforcement failures, accuses Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her senior team of bungling Capitol security and tries to recast Trump’s role in the events of Jan. 6 as a voice for peace and calm.

Thompson has shrugged off calls to investigate the investigators as a distraction, and pointed instead to his own panel’s findings. The legacy, he said, was in the mountain of evidence the panel amassed.

The committee’s final report revealed more of the scope of that mountain, describing in extensive detail how Trump had carried out what it called “a multipart plan to overturn the 2020 presidential election.”

Among the new evidence were revelations about how early on Jan. 6, Trump knew about the mayhem at the Capitol.

After giving a speech to his supporters at the Ellipse, Trump ran into a member of the White House staff and asked whether he or she had watched his speech on television.

“Sir, they cut it off because they’re rioting down at the Capitol,” the employee said around 1:21 p.m., in an early indication Trump was aware of the violence, according to the report.

Shortly after 2:44 p.m., Trump was made aware the riot had turned deadly.

A Capitol Police officer had shot a rioter named Ashli Babbitt, and a handwritten note presented to the president — dashed off onto a White House pocket card and preserved by the National Archives — read: “1x civilian gunshot wound to chest @ door of House chaber.” A White House employee saw the note on the dining table in front of Trump, according to the committee’s report.

Still, Trump waited hours to call for his supporters to go home.

The committee’s report revealed new evidence about how those inside the Trump administration had viewed the president’s conduct.

Trump’s speechwriter Robert Gabriel Jr. sent a text message at 2:49 p.m. as the riot was escalating: “Potus im sure is loving this.”

Hicks, texted a colleague that evening after learning of Trump’s denigrating comments about his own vice president, Mike Pence: “Attacking the VP? Wtf is wrong with him.”

The panel also added new evidence about how deeply Trump was involved in the false elector scheme. Joshua Findlay, a Trump lawyer, testified that it was his “understanding” that Trump had personally directed campaign lawyers to pursue the false elector plan.

That built on testimony from the Republican National Committee chairperson, revealed during the committee’s summer hearings, that Trump had connected the RNC with conservative lawyer John Eastman “to talk about the importance of the RNC helping the campaign gather these contingent electors.”

Other witnesses attempted to clean up for Trump and cast his behavior in a more flattering light, the committee suggested.

Ivanka Trump claimed that her father had been “disappointed and surprised” by the Jan. 6 attack, but she could not name a specific instance of him expressly saying it.

“He — I just felt that,” she said. “I know him really well.”

But when the committee staff asked her if Trump had ever expressed any regret about his actions or sympathy for the people who were injured that day, she answered no.

The transcript of Ivanka Trump’s testimony released Friday, however, hinted at the trauma of that day, showing how panicked lawmakers reached out to her to try to persuade her father to call off the mob.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, texted Ivanka Trump at 3:37 p.m. on Jan. 6: “The President needs to put out a very strong tweet telling people to go home and to stop the violence now.” Later, Ivanka Trump spoke to Collins by phone, as she and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, were together. Both were “understandably quite shaken by the events of the day,” Ivanka Trump said.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., vice chair of the committee, said the transcripts were part of the “tremendous amount of evidence and information” that would shape the panel’s legacy.

“The report demonstrated the very significant and troubling plan that President Trump oversaw to overturn an election,” she said. “People will read the report. They will read the transcripts, and be able to see what evidence the committee has gathered. I’m proud of what we’ve done.”

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