When the House select committee began its investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection, its goal was simple: compile a detailed account of what happened, and make recommendations to ensure it never happens again. But piecing together the facts of how that day unfolded has proved to be a much more complicated task—one that now involves a litany of potential criminal violations.
After the select committee received a trove of ripped up White House documents in late January and learned that former President Donald Trump took classified material to his Florida property when he left office, investigators expanded their focus into whether Trump breached federal law for violating the Presidential Records Act and conspiring to commit fraud and obstruction. By March 2—roughly ten months into its investigation—the select committee revealed for the first time it had enough evidence to confirm this theory, saying in a court filing that Trump may have engaged in a “criminal conspiracy” in his efforts to overturn and spread doubt about the 2020 election. Now, the committee’s work has potentially set the stage for a criminal referral to the Department of Justice.
Here’s what you need to know about the latest revelations.
What new evidence have they found?
Lawyers for the select committee filed a brief in federal court late on March 2 that outlines its major findings, including new evidence that Trump and his allies tried to illegally obstruct Congress’ counting of electoral votes and “engaged in a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States.”
Based on its review of more than 650 depositions and official White House records, the committee’s court filing paints the picture of a president who knew he had lost the election and continued to repeat lies that the election was stolen in an attempt to mislead the public.
Among the evidence buried in the filing is a new revelation from Jason Miller, a senior campaign advisor, that a data expert informed Trump “in pretty blunt terms” soon after the election that he was going to lose, suggesting that the former president had knowledge that his continued assertions about a stolen election were false. Additional evidence obtained by the committee reveals that Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue discussed allegations of voter fraud with Trump on multiple occasions following the election in December 2020, and informed him that his claims of massive fraud were not supported.
In one meeting between the former president and several senior officials—including Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows—participants allegedly informed Trump that “people are telling you things that are not right,” Rosen said in Senate testimony, which the committee is reviewing. The court filing also states that Donoghue revealed he personally informed Trump “in very clear terms” that the Department of Justice had conducted “dozens of investigations” and “hundreds of interviews” looking at key states and concluded that “the major allegations are not supported by the evidence developed.”
“The President nevertheless continued to insist falsely through January that he had won the election in a landslide,” the committee’s filing reads. “And despite being repeatedly told that his allegations of campaign fraud were false, the President continued to feature those same false allegations in ads seen by millions of Americans.”
Another major source of evidence uncovered by the committee is some 9,000 pages of documents that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows turned over before he decided to stop cooperating. Among them are text messages to Meadows that have brought new focus on Trump’s failure to act quickly to stop the Jan. 6 insurrection, despite pleas from lawmakers, journalists, and even his eldest son. “Someone is going to get killed,” one anonymous message warned Meadows. “He’s got to condemn this sh-t ASAP,” Donald Trump Jr. wrote.
Investigators have also reviewed a PowerPoint presentation circulated by Phil Waldron, a retired colonel who worked with Trump’s outside legal team, that recommended Trump declare a national emergency to keep himself President and proposed Vice President Mike Pence reject electors from “states where fraud occurred,” despite there being no evidence of such fraud.
What have they done?
So far, the committee has subpoenaed over 90 Trump allies and rally organizers for documents, phone records and bank statements. Most witnesses have cooperated, but three former Trump aides have refused to comply with the records request: chief strategist Stephen Bannon, Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark and Meadows. The House voted to hold Bannon and Meadows in contempt of Congress, a misdemeanor criminal offense that can result in up to one year in prison.
One critical gray area for the committee is figuring out how to speak with GOP members of Congress who may have played a role in Trump’s efforts to subvert the election. For several months, the committee has grappled with whether to take the historic step of subpoenaing sitting lawmakers, but chair Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) has cast doubt on whether that will be feasible and is trying to convince GOP lawmakers to appear voluntarily. “Why would you want to be noted in that light rather than explaining your side?” Thompson told reporters on March 1. “It’s important, and that’s why we’ve asked them to come in voluntarily.” The committee has identified 14 Republican lawmakers it would like to interview, including Representatives Scott Perry of Florida and Jim Jordan of Ohio, who reportedly communicated with Trump on Jan. 6.
The committee is also still searching for communications between members of Congress and John Eastman, the attorney who helped craft Trump’s last-ditch legal strategy to prevent Joe Biden from taking office. Investigators are pressing Eastman to turn over emails, and the latest court filing outlining possible criminal conduct came as part of that effort. Eastman and his lawyer claim that he has a responsibility as an attorney to protect client confidences, but the committee argued in response that the attorney-client privilege does not cover information if it was part of furthering or concealing a crime. Eastman filed a lawsuit to block the committee’s subpoena for documents in his possession—such as a memo he wrote laying out how Trump could use the Vice President and Congress to invalidate the 2020 election results—claiming “a highly partisan” invasion of his privacy.
Investigators had previously suggested subpoenaing Trump himself to answer questions before the committee, though experts warn doing so would result in another lengthy legal battle.
Although the select committee is still in its fact-finding phase, investigators are inching closer to releasing a final report outlining what happened on Jan. 6 and how it can be prevented in the future. One of the most critical questions the committee has been trying to answer is whether Trump’s conduct while a mob of his supporters overtook the Capitol qualifies as an effort to obstruct the certification of Biden’s victory and amount to criminal obstruction of Congress. “We know hours passed with no action by the President to defend the Congress of the United States from an assault while we were trying to count electoral votes,” GOP Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming said to House colleagues on Dec. 14.
The committee’s latest court filing may have revealed its intentions. Despite having no legal authority to initiate criminal proceedings, the filing underscores the committee’s aggressive efforts to hold Trump and his allies accountable for their actions on and before Jan. 6. Lawyers for the committee argued that the evidence it has gathered so far has led to a “good-faith belief that Mr. Trump and others may have engaged in criminal and/or fraudulent acts.” The panel could make a criminal referral to the Justice Department, a step that would put pressure on Attorney General Merrick Garland to take up the case, though there is no guarantee the Justice Department will ultimately pursue charging a former president—a much more complicated proposition than charging the hundreds of Trump supporters who breached the Capitol.
But time is short. If Republicans take back control of the House in the midterm elections this November, they could dissolve the committee by January. The committee plans to conclude deposing witnesses by the beginning of April and then hold a series of public hearings that month, before releasing an interim report in June. Its timeline could be pushed back if investigators find out new information or seek testimony and records from additional witnesses.
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