The Post reports, “The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection issued its first sweeping requests Wednesday for records from federal agencies pertaining to the attack on the Capitol and President Trump’s efforts to subvert the election.” The list of agencies and individuals from whom documents are demanded is jaw-dropping in scope and confirm what we previously observed: This is an investigation of the entire plot to steal the 2020 election, of which Jan. 6 was only one element.
The full breadth of the inquiry is now public. From the committee’s announcement:
Letters to seven other agencies seek records dealing with a range of matters relevant to the Jan. 6 attack and the run-up to that day’s violence, including the gathering and dissemination of intelligence in advance of the attack; security preparations around the U.S. Capitol; the role agencies played in the defense of the Capitol on Jan. 6, the planning and organization of events in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 5 and 6th; and how the Jan. 6 events fit in the continuum of efforts to subvert the rule of law, overturn the results of the Nov. 3, 2020 election, or otherwise impede the peaceful transfer of power.
The select committee has asked that documents be provided within two weeks by the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Interior and Justice; the FBI; the National Counterterrorism Center and Office of National Intelligence, as well as the National Archives. In addition, CNN and other outlets reported, the committee “is poised to send notices to various telecommunications companies requesting that they preserve the phone records of several people, including members of Congress.” The demand for phone records did not appear in Wednesday’s announcement.
Former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade tells me, “Getting your arms around all of the documents is the best place to start a complex investigation. . . . This letter reflects a rigorous review of the known facts to cast a net that will capture all of the potential tentacles of any malicious scheme or planning failure."
The committee’s first document blast gives us plenty to ponder — a relief to those nervous that the group would lose momentum after the movingtestimony of four police officers at its first hearing.
First, without Republican obstructionists around to stall document requests, the committee — including its two GOP members, Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) — is moving swiftly. This underscores the wisdom of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to reject two of Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s appointees just as it highlights the foolishness of McCarthy’s choice to yank three Republicans that Pelosi (D-Calif.) was prepared to welcome onto the committee. The notion that McCarthy (R-Calif.) somehow outfoxed her looks even more ridiculous in hindsight.
Second, the Justice Department made a wide-ranging investigation possible when it freed itself and its former employees to provide evidence and testimony. In letters to former officials sent in late July, Associate Deputy Attorney General Bradley Weinsheimer declared that unraveling the plot to overturn the election was a "compelling interest” that should not be impeded by an assertion of executive privilege "with respect to communications with former president Trump and his advisers and staff.” The Justice Department opened the gate to a broad inquiry, and now the select committee has driven a truck right up to the loading dock to carry off hundreds if not thousands of pages of evidence.
“The sweeping demand for executive branch records is good news with respect to the scope of the hearing and the ambition of the select committee in getting to the bottom of who did or knew what — and when they did or knew it and with whom — in the long lead-up to the Jan. 6 insurrection and in the surrounding events,” constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe tells me. “My hope is that the Justice Department will take a cue from the breadth of what the select committee is doing.”
Tribe advised that Attorney General Merrick Garland proceed “with great urgency, treating the many federal criminal statutes that appear to have been violated by officials at the highest levels of government not as garden-variety offenses but as integral parts of an unsuccessful coup attempt that cannot be swept under the rug.”
Third, with these government agencies under President Biden’s control, there will be no stonewalling. And if third parties should block access to documents, Biden’s U.S. attorneys will be on hand to enforce subpoenas. This will make a world of difference from the congressional investigations of the prior administration. However, it should also remind us that Congress needs its own mechanism to enforce its subpoenas for when the White House is in hostile hands. Legislative proposals to provide just that should move through Congress.
“Congressional record requests to the executive branch are still potent weapons, and I’m optimistic that the committee will get results. It’s not like these are going to the Trump administration,” Norm Eisen, counsel for the House impeachment managers tells me. “These are going to Biden appointees and career officials who are likely disgusted with Trump’s former obstruction and who are not going to play footsie, as Trump did with us in our impeachment.” Eisen adds that given the Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling rejecting Trump’s claim of “absolute immunity” from records releases, if litigation does ensue, “the ground rules are more clear now, so it doesn’t have to take that same amount of time.”
In sum, the speed, scope and seriousness of the select committee’s investigation should reassure Americans. We are at last set to learn a lot more about Jan. 6 — as well as the preceding GOP efforts to steal the election, and the identities of any Republicans who facilitated the violent attempt to undermine our democracy.