The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Where the Jan. 6 committee failed

Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) takes his seat at a House Jan. 6 select committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Oct. 13. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

As the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol closed what is probably its last hearing with a vote to subpoena former president Donald Trump, Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) declared, “He must be held accountable.”

But will he be?

The committee did an effective job, especially at last week’s session, proving the centrality of Trump’s role in sending a violent mob of his followers to the Capitol intent on overturning a legitimate presidential election. It was striking how premeditated his plan was to create the conditions for an insurrection, not just in the marching order the president delivered that day to “fight like hell,” but also in the plot concocted before the first 2020 election ballot had been counted to preemptively — and, it turns out, falsely — declare victory. That lie was the original sin, not just of Jan. 6, but of the undermining of democracy in which most of the Republican candidates for key offices this fall have been complicit.

And yet the early evidence shows that the committee’s probe, while important and even vital for establishing the truth, does not seem to have mattered — at least not in the sense of crystallizing public understanding or changing people’s minds.

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In a survey released Wednesday by Monmouth University’s reputable polling outfit, only 36 percent of respondents said they believed Trump was “directly responsible” for what happened on Jan. 6, which is six points down from the response they got to that question shortly after the committee began its public hearings in June. It’s only slightly more than the 33 percent in the same survey who said they believe Trump did nothing wrong.

Democrats are no doubt disappointed that the committee’s revelations are not turning out to be the political blockbuster they had hoped, even after their sky-high expectations were dashed by the muted public reaction to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.

But they can at least take heart from the deflation of a probe over which Republicans have been panting: that of special counsel John Durham, who was appointed by Attorney General William P. Barr in 2019 to review the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign in 2016 and the origins of its Russia probe. Trump had claimed the “crime of the century” had happened within law enforcement, and proclaimed that Durham was “coming up with things far bigger than anybody thought possible.”

Now, it appears, not so much. On Tuesday, a Virginia jury acquitted Igor Danchenko, a private researcher who was a primary source for a 2016 dossier of allegations about Trump’s ties to Russia, finding him not guilty of lying to the FBI about where he got his information. The case was Durham’s second strikeout in two times at bat. Cybersecurity lawyer Michael Sussmann, who also was accused by the special counsel of lying to the FBI, was found not guilty in May by a federal jury. The Post reported Danchenko’s trial might well be Durham’s last, though he will issue a report of his investigation.

We are no longer living in the years before and during Watergate when a high-profile investigation, warranted or not, could drive public opinion. The easiest conclusion to draw is that Americans are so siloed in their political views that it is impossible to budge them. But I think the problem is deeper than that — and it has been festering since long before the Trump presidency.

The vast majority of Americans believe that democracy is imperiled, but as the New York Times’s Nate Cohn pointed out while analyzing his newspaper’s most recent poll, they do not describe it in a way that “squares with discussion in mainstream media and among experts — with a focus on Republicans, Donald J. Trump, political violence, election denial, authoritarianism, and so on.” They believe the threat to democracy stems from corruption, and their view that government no longer works for all people.

The country can no longer be shocked because that would demand a baseline of idealism about what it can expect from those who claim to lead it.

Investigations such as the House Jan. 6 select committee can still have enormous value. None of this takes away from the admiration we should have for those who seek the truth — especially those two principled Republicans, Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), who were willing to set their political careers on fire in the quest.

Today’s voters might not demand accountability or even pay all that much attention. But history, we can still hope, will not look the other way.

The Jan. 6 insurrection

The report: The Jan. 6 committee released its final report, marking the culmination of an 18-month investigation into the violent insurrection. Read The Post’s analysis about the committee’s new findings and conclusions.

The final hearing: The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol held its final public meeting where members referred four criminal charges against former president Donald Trump and others to the Justice Department. Here’s what the criminal referrals mean.

The riot: On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. Five people died on that day or in the immediate aftermath, and 140 police officers were assaulted.

Inside the siege: During the rampage, rioters came perilously close to penetrating the inner sanctums of the building while lawmakers were still there, including former vice president Mike Pence. The Washington Post examined text messages, photos and videos to create a video timeline of what happened on Jan. 6. Here’s what we know about what Trump did on Jan. 6.