By Terrance Turner
Dec. 19, 2022
Today, the House committee investigating Jan. 6 held its final public meeting. In what they billed a “business meeting”, the committee members voted to release an executive summary of its final report. They also voted to approve four criminal referrals against former President Donald Trump for inciting the deadly riot.
The committee referred Trump for violating four statutes: obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to make a false statement, and inciting an insurrection. It voted unanimously to send those referrals to the Department of Justice.
Vox explains: “A criminal referral is really just a recommendation from the committee to the Justice Department that it should prosecute individuals who the committee believes have committed crimes.” The referrals hold no legal weight and aren’t binding. The Justice Department may or may not act on them. But they can alter public perception. The committee has evidence it says backs up the referrals. And that evidence will be public, both in the committee’s report and the depositions the committee took during its investigation.
Committee chair Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi) opened the hearing with remarks. He said: “The casting of a vote in the United States is an act of faith and hope. When we drop that ballot in a ballot box, we expect the people named on the ballot to uphold their end of the deal. The winner swears an oath and upholds it. Those who come up short ultimately accept the results and abide by the rule of law. That faith in our system is the foundation of American democracy. If the faith is broken, so is our democracy.
Donald Trump broke that faith. He lost the 2020 election and he knew it. But he chose to try to stay in office through a scheme to overturn the results and block the transfer of power. In the end, he summoned a mob to Washington and, knowing that they were armed and angry, pointed them to the capitol and told them to ‘fight like hell.” No doubt about that. My colleagues will present our key findings, reminding you of some of the information in earlier hearings and telling you how it fits in our broader conclusions.
Those conclusions have helped shape the final report, which we will adopt today pursuant to House resolution 503, which established the select committee nearly a year and a half ago. I expect our work will be bound with the clerk and made public later this week. And after that release, the select committee intends to make public the bulk of its nonsensitive records before the end of the year. These transcripts and documents will allow the American people to see the evidence we have gathered and continued to explore, the information that has led us to our conclusions.
“This committee is nearing the end of its work. But as a country, we remain in strange and uncharted waters. We’ve never had a President of the United States stir up a violent attempt to block the transfer of power,” said Thompson. “If we are to survive as a nation of laws and democracy, this can never happen again. How do we stop it?
This committee will lay out a number of recommendations in its report. But beyond any specific details, there is one factor that I believe is most important in preventing another January 6 — accountability. Today, beyond our findings, we will also show that the evidence we have gathered points to further action beyond the power of this committee for the congress to help ensure accountability on the law. Accountability.”
Mr. Thompson recognized former House Rep. Liz Cheney for remarks.
Cheney responded magnanimously: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for your tremendous leadership. We have all benefited greatly from your wisdom and wise counsel. Thank you.”
Cheney began with a history lesson. “In April of 1861, when Abraham Lincoln issued the first call for volunteers for the Union army, my great-great-grandfather, Samuel Cheney, joined the 21st Ohio volunteer infantry. He fought through all four years of the war — of the Civil War. He marched with his unit in the grand review of troops up Pennsylvania Avenue in May of 1865.
Silas Canfield, regimental historian of the 21st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, described the men in the unit this way — he said they had a just appreciation for the value and advantage of free government and the necessity of defending and detaining it,” she said. “I have found myself thinking often, especially since January 6, of my great-great-grandfather and all those in every generation who had sacrificed so much for the unity of our nation and the perpetuity of our institutions.”
Peaceful Transfer of Power
“At the heart of our republic is a guarantee of the peaceful transfer of power. Members of Congress are reminded of this every day as we pass through the Rotunda. There, eight magnificent paintings detail the earliest phase of our republic. One depicts the moment in 1793 when George Washington resigned his commission, handing the control of the Continental Army back to Congress. Trumbull called this “one of the highest moral lessons several given the world.”
“With this noble act, George Washington established the peaceful transfer of power in our nation. Standing on the best front of the Capitol in 1981, Ronald Reagan described it this way: ‘The orderly transfer of authority is called for in the Constitution and routinely takes place, as it has for almost two centuries. And few of us stop to think how unique we really are.’
In the eyes of many, this every four-year ceremony that we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle. Every president in our history has defended this transfer of authority — except one. January 6, 2021 was the first time one American president refused his constitutional duty to transfer power peacefully.”
“Dereliction of Duty”
“In our work, the select committee has recognized our obligation to do everything we can to ensure this never happens again. At the beginning of our investigation, we understood that tens of millions of Americans had been persuaded by President Trump that the 2020 election was stolen. We knew this was flatly false. We knew that dozens of judges had addressed and resolved all matters of allegations about the election. Our legal system functioned as it should,” Cheney said. “But our president would not accept the outcome.
Among the most shameful of this committee’s findings was that President Trump sat in the dining room of the Oval Office, watching the violent riot at the Capitol on television. For hours, he would not issue a public statement asking supporters to leave, despite urgent pleas from his staff and others to do so. Members of his family, White House lawyers, virtually all those around him — that this simple act was critical,” Cheney said.
“For hours, he would not do it. Law enforcement agents were attacked and injured. The Capitol was invaded, the electoral count halted, and lives were put at risk. In addition to being unlawful, this was an utter moral failure,” she charged. “And a dereliction of duty.”
“No man who would behave that way, at that moment in time, can ever serve in any position of authority in our nation again. He is unfit for any office.”
After opening statements, the committee reminded viewers of its findings. On Jan. 6, Congress was prepared to certify Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election. But insurrectionists interrupted. They stormed the Capitol. They swarmed police officers, beating them with flagpoles. The rioters broke windows and through broken glass.
Today, the committee reminded viewers of the carnage that day.
Featured on film was U.S. Capitol Officer Caroline Edwards, who served as a first responder that day. She hit her head during the melee and was knocked unconscious. But once she regained consciousness, she rejoined the fray. She said she was pepper-sprayed and teargassed.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” she said. “There were officers on the ground. They were bleeding. They were throwing up. I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people’s blood.”
Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone was also shown during the film. The committee played audio of Fanone talking about his experience. He’d joined a line of officers trying to stand down the mob. He got dragged off the line and into the crowd. He remembered:
“As I was swarmed by a violent mob, they ripped off my badge, they grabbed and stripped me of my radio, they seized ammunition that was secured to my body. They began to beat me with their fists and with what felt like hard metal objects.”
“At one point, I came face-to-face with an attacker who repeatedly launched for me and attempted to remove my firearm. I heard chanting from some in the crowd, “Get his gun and kill him with his own gun.” I was aware enough to recognize I was at risk of being stripped of and killed with my own firearm. I was electrocuted again, and again, and again, with a taser. I’m sure I was screaming, but I don’t think I could even hear my own voice.”
Trump Knew He Lost
One major point? Trump was told he lost the election but pushed forward with an attempt to remain in power anyway. That point was emphasized by the next member of the committee.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California) spoke next.
“Over the last 18 months, the Select Committee has conducted an investigation of enormous scale, seeking to uncover the depth and breadth of ex-president Trump’s plan to reverse the law for outcome of the 2020 presidential election. We’ve compiled an immense amount of documents, selected from countless individuals, law enforcement agencies, federal and state authorities,” she said.
(Over the past year and a half, the Committee interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses, obtained more than one million documents, and issued more than 100 subpoenas.)
“Many of our evidence required litigation in federal court,” Lofgren noted.
“The Select Committee has reached a series of specific findings,” Lofgren said. “A number of these pertain to what has been called ‘the big lie’: the effort by former President Trump to spread baseless accusations and misinformation in an attempt to falsely convince tens of millions of Americans that the election had been stolen.”
“Even before the election — and continuing through January 6th and after — Donald Trump purposely disseminated false allegations of fraud in order to [reverse] the 2020 election. The president’s decision to declare victory falsely in 2020 on election night wasn’t a spontaneous decision. It was premeditated.
The committee has evidence that expressed that Trump planned to declare victory and unlawfully to call for the vote count to stop.” He told allies about this in the weeks before the election, she said.
Lofgren said Trump raised $250 million using false claims about the election. And she said Trump’s associate(s) offered a witness a job in exchange for altered testimony. “The committee found that Trump raised hundreds of millions of dollars….with false representations made to his online donors. Proceeds from his fundraising, we have learned, have been used in ways that we believe are concerning.”
“We’ve learned that a [witness] was offered potential employment that would make her, ‘financially very comfortable’ as the date of her testimony approached, by entities that were apparently linked to Donald Trump and his associates,” Lofgren said.
“These offers were withdrawn or didn’t materialize as reports of the content of her testimony circulated,” she added. “The witness believed this was an effort to affect her testimony. And we are concerned that these efforts may have been a strategy to prevent the committee from finding the truth.”
The committee included deposition from former Attorney General Bill Barr, who told the committee that he thought Trump’s claims of fraud were “bull***t.” Also played: a deposition from former White House counsel Pat Cipollone. He told the committee he described Trump’s plan to install a loyalist as acting attorney general as a “murder-suicide pact.”
The Committee also played sections of testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson.
Hutchinson’s testimony was arguably the most memorable. She had firsthand knowledge of the White House in the months before and after the election. (She worked for the White House Office of Legislative Affairs from 2019 to 2020. And she served as special assistant to the White House Chief Of Staff from March 2020 through January 2021.) When she took the stand last June, Hutchinson’s explosive testimony made national headlines.
Today, the Committee played some of that footage. One portion dealt with the lead-up to Jan. 6. On January 2nd, four days before the attack on the Capitol, President Trump’s lead lawyer Mr. Giuliani met with then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and others. Hutchinson was there.
She testified that as she and Giuliani were walking to their vehicles, Giuliani expressed excitement about the 6th. “Cass, are you excited about the 6th? It’s going to be a great day!” she remembered him saying. “We’re going to the Capitol. It’s going to be great. The president’s going to be there. He’s going to look powerful!” he reportedly said. “Talk to the Chief about it.”
Hutchinson relayed the information to Meadows in his office. But he didn’t look up from his phone. “I don’t know — things might get real, real bad on January 6th,” she recalls him saying.
Hutchinson said at this point she started to become nervous about what could unfold on the 6th. She said: “I was apprehensive about the sixth. I had heard general plans for a rally, had heard tentative movements to potentially go to the capitol. But when hearing Rudy’s take on January 6th and Mark’s response that was the first — that evening was the first moment I remember feeling scared and nervous for what could happen on January 6th.”
Ms. Hutchinson testified that Mark Meadows, her boss and the White House chief of staff, spoke with her on Jan. 2, 2021. That was after Mr. Trump attempted to persuade Georgia election officials to swing the election in his favor.
“He said something to the effect of, ‘He knows it’s over. He knows he lost. But we are going to keep trying,’” Ms. Hutchinson recalled Mr. Meadows saying, referring to Mr. Trump.
Another time, Mr. Meadows described Mr. Trump as in a constant state of fury over his election loss.
Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue received an email on January 4th from the National Security division of the Department of Justice. Mr. Donoghue testified that the email identifies apparent planning by those coming to Washington on January 6th to “Occupy Federal buildings” and discussions of “invading the Capitol building.” He said “we knew that if you have tens of thousands of very upset people showing up in Washington DC, that there was potential for violence.”
The US Secret Service was looking at similar information, Cheney said. In fact, they sent several emails to White House personnel, including to the head of the person’s security detail. The White House continued to receive emails about information including the Proud Boys organizing and attempting to attend on Jan. 6th. The US Capitol Police noted: “Unlike previous post-selection protests[…]Congress itself is the target on the 6th.”
Hutchinson testified that she got a call on January 5th from Robert O’Brien, the National Security Advisor. He was asking to speak with Meadows about reports of violence on the 6th. She asked if he’d talked to Tony Ornato. He was Deputy Chief of Staff.
Deputy Chief of Staff
“The Deputy Chief of Staff position at the White House,” she said, “is arguably one of the most important positions that somebody can hold. They’re in charge of all security protocol for the campus and all the central protectees, primarily the president and the first family. But anything that requires security for any individual that has presidential protection so the Chief of Staff or the National Security advisor as well as the Vice President’s team — Tony would oversee all of that. And he’s the conduit for security protocol between White House staff and the United States Secret Service.”
“I remember Mr. Ornato had talked to him about intelligence reports; I remember Ornato coming in and saying that we had until reports saying that there could potentially be violence on the 6th.”
“You also told us about reports of violence and weapons that the Secret Service were receiving on the night of January 5th throughout the day and January 6th,” Cheney said. “Is that correct?”
“That’s correct,” Hutchinson answered.
“Of course, the world now knows that the people attacked the Capitol on January 6th had many different types of weapons. When a president speaks, the Secret Service typically requires those attending to pass through metal detectors magnetometers — or mags for short,” Cheney said.
“The Select Committee has learned that people who willingly entered the enclosed area for President Trump’s speech were screened so that they could attend the rally at the Ellipse. They had weapons and other items that were confiscated: pepper spray, knives, brass kuncles, tasers, body armor, gas masks, batons, blunt weapons. And those were just from the people who chose to go through security for the presidential event on the Ellipse,” she noted.
In a dramatic climax, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) gave his remarks. He noted that Jan. 6 contained hundreds of individual crimes. Some of them have already been addressed in court.
Raskin focused the referrals squarely on Trump and his attorney John Eastman.
“Our committee had the opportunity last spring to present much of our evidence to a federal judge. Something that distinguishes our investigation from any other congressional investigation I can recall. In the context of resolving evidence for issues related to the crime fraud doctrine and the Eastman case, a U.S. District Court judge examined a small subset of our evidence to determine whether it shows the likely commission of a federal offense. The judge concluded that former president Donald Trump and John Eastman likely violated two criminal statutes. This is the starting point to our analysis today.”
Referral No. 1
First, Raskin invoked Title 15, Sec. 1512c. That statute makes it unlawful for anyone “to corruptly obstruct, influence or impede any official proceeding of the United States government.” He announced that the evidence obtained by the committee “warrants a criminal referral, of former president Donald J. Trump, John Eastman and others, for violation of the statute.”
He went on to outline the other three charges.
This story will be updated.