The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

7 big things to look for in the Jan. 6 report

The House Jan. 6 investigation committee has conducted over 1,000 interviews with insurrectionists and Trump aides. Here’s what’s next. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post)
10 min

The House select committee on the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection is due to release its final report this week. And it’s likely to be very long and dense. That’s to be expected when you’ve spent more than 18 months compiling evidence about a large-scale attack on the U.S. Capitol, an investigation that encompassed many people — from former president Donald Trump on down — and many areas of inquiry.

As we all prepare to take it in, here are a few things to focus on.

1. What’s the full picture of Trump’s negligence during — or even approval of — the attack?

While the House impeached Trump in 2021 for allegedly inciting the Capitol insurrection, the committee has focused more on detailing what he knew and when, along with his failure to act.

There’s little question that Trump watched the events unfold on cable news that afternoon and was being pressured by White House aides to do something about it — pressure to which he, for whatever reason, didn’t respond. Filling out that timeline will be central to whatever might come after the report.

The most significant revelations on this front have included:

  • Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson saying Trump was aware people attending his speech had weapons and still directed them to march to the Capitol.
  • Former White House counsel Pat Cipollone indicating the internal push to have Trump call off the rioters began more than two hours before Trump ultimately did so. Cipollone also left open the possibility that Trump didn’t actually want the rioters to go home. (A White House employee told Trump that the Capitol had been breached almost as soon as he returned to the Oval Office around 1:21 p.m.)
  • Former White House spokeswoman Sarah Matthews saying press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told her Trump resisted calling on the rioters to be peaceful.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) claimed shortly after Jan. 6 that Trump that day had been “walking around the White House confused about why other people on his team weren’t as excited as he was.” Illustrating that — including to what extent Trump viewed these events as potential leverage in his effort to overturn the election — is perhaps the committee’s biggest task.

2. How much did Trump and allies know this was illegal?

When it comes to proving a crime like obstruction of an official proceeding, knowledge that the plot was corrupt is key. We’ve seen evidence that:

  • Trump and Co. were told their voter fraud claims were false, including by former attorney general William P. Barr and deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue.
  • Trump, in fact, knew he had really and truly lost. Hutchinson said Trump told White House chief of staff Mark Meadows “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t want people to know we lost, Mark. This is embarrassing.’”
  • Trump lawyers John Eastman and Rudy Giuliani knew and even acknowledged their plot was illegal and wouldn’t stand up in court, according to the testimony of former vice-presidential aide Greg Jacob and White House lawyer Eric Herschmann.

Tying that together will be crucial for the committee. It’s been a year since the committee’s vice chairwoman, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), spotlighted the crime the committee was focused on: that Trump “through action or inaction, corruptly [sought] to obstruct or impede Congress’s official proceeding to count electoral votes.” The question of what Trump and his allies knew and when gets at the second part of that test.

3. Will we learn more about Pence’s perspective that day?

Perhaps no figure is as significant but tight-lipped as Trump’s long-loyal No. 2, Mike Pence. Since Jan. 6, when Trump’s backers shouted “Hang Mike Pence,” Pence has flirted with making a fuller break from Trump. And two top Pence aides, Jacob and Marc Short, have proved to be important witnesses about Trump’s pressure campaign on his vice president — but we don’t know a ton about Pence’s own perspective on the day itself.

Pence’s aides have said that they were concerned enough about Trump publicly turning on the vice president on Jan. 6 that they warned the Secret Service about the potential security threat. And committee member Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) earlier this year pointed to Pence’s refusal to get into a limousine beneath the Capitol, saying that Pence declined because he “knew exactly what this inside coup they had planned for was going to do.”

The Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig and Philip Rucker reported in their book “I Alone Can Fix It” that Pence was suspicious of the Secret Service’s intentions. But that suspicion could have taken a number of forms that day — and the committee hasn’t focused on the subject, perhaps in part because of the absence of key Secret Service testimony.

Getting Pence’s point of view could go a long way toward showing just how “un-American” (in Pence’s own words) Trump’s plot was, given how loyally Pence served him for four years.

4. Will more details emerge about the fake-electors plot?

We’ve seen evidence that the Trump team was involved in the effort to put forward alternative, competing slates of electors — i.e., “fake electors” — for Trump in key states.

That effort could lead to legal problems for the participants: The central issue there is whether they broke the law by falsely asserting they were the legitimate electors from their state.

The more immediate question, though, is the intent of the effort. If it was to put electors in place as a precaution, just in case a given state determined that Trump had in fact won its popular vote, that’s one thing. But if the idea was to try to use these electors on Jan. 6 to overturn the election results regardless, that’s significantly more problematic.

And there is some evidence that some people involved, early in the process, believed they were pursuing the latter. The committee also said that a top aide to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) tried to give Pence the fake-elector slates from Michigan and Wisconsin as late as Jan. 6, but Pence’s staff rejected it.

How the fake electors plot emerged will be a big piece of the puzzle.

5. What does the report say about key disputes and claims?

The Jan. 6 hearings and surrounding coverage have featured a number of claims that have yet to be settled or substantiated further — either because the committee chose to emphasize other details instead, or because confirming them proved difficult. Here are some we’re keeping an eye on:

  • The Secret Service in April issued a very firm statement disputing that top White House aide and Secret Service agent Anthony M. Ornato played any role in the handling of Pence during the riot. It said Ornato “had absolutely no involvement in vice-presidential movements or operations on January 6, 2021.” Some fellow White House aides, though, have called Ornato’s credibility into question.
  • Hutchinson testified that Ornato described an altercation in the presidential vehicle between Trump and the head of his Secret Service detail, Bobby Engel. She said Ornato told her Trump became irate at not being allowed to go the Capitol after his speech on the Ellipse and that he both tried to “grab at the steering wheel” and “used his free hand to lunge towards” Engel. Secret Service sources anonymously disputed this, but key figures hadn’t testified before the last Jan. 6 hearing in October.
  • Hutchinson also testified that, when Barr undercut Trump’s voter-fraud claims on TV before Jan. 6, Trump became so angry that he threw his plate of food at the wall. “There was ketchup dripping down the wall and a shattered porcelain plate on the floor,” she said. (This and the above issue of what happened in the presidential vehicle don’t necessarily pertain to the question of Trump’s potential criminality — but Hutchinson was perhaps the star witness of these hearings, and it’d be significant to confirm the veracity of her testimony on matters both large and small.)
  • More substantially, Hutchinson testified that Trump was aware that his supporters on the Ellipse had weapons, before he told those assembled to march toward the Capitol anyway. “I was in the vicinity of a conversation where I overheard the president say something to the effect of, ‘You know, I don’t even care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me.'”

This last one is the big one; it would show Trump was aware of the potential danger involved in sending his supporters to the Capitol. If the committee can substantiate this point or point to other ways Trump would’ve been aware of such danger, it would be a big piece of the puzzle.

6. What might the report say about House members?

The report is likely to largely focus on Trump. But it’s worth watching how much committee members key in on their House colleagues.

The committee has alleged that members of Congress who supported Trump’s efforts to overturn the election sought pardons — implying that they knew the plot was illegal or at least dicey, and thus wanted protection. Multiple White House aides, including Hutchinson, testified to this, but in some cases the claim rests only on her testimony. And in some, it’s not clear how directly these lawmakers sought pardons for themselves or why.

A couple of House Democrats have also suggested that certain members of Congress might have somehow assisted the rioters by giving “reconnaissance” tours of the Capitol. The committee released details about a tour led by Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), and Loudermilk struggled to explain the situation. But thus far there’s no evidence that he or anybody else knowingly did anything to help those who would ultimately storm the Capitol.

Another area the committee could focus on: the comments of some GOP members comparing the moment to 1776, among other things — which some rioters later wound up taking quite literally.

7. How does the report cast the Secret Service?

This question is entwined with several of the outstanding questions above, and there’s a reason for that: The Secret Service’s actions were perhaps the biggest black box in the closing stages of the investigation.

Some questions we’ll look out for: What might the report say about the unprecedented setup in which an agent, Ornato, also served as a top White House official — and about the often too-chummy relationship between the Secret Service and the White House? How much did the Secret Service miss the signals about what lay ahead that day? And how did the agency manage to lose so much key information about that date?

The Secret Service has been involved in a series of scandals in recent years. And its reputation is on the line here, again.

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.