Reluctant witnesses, a roadmap for prosecutors: Jan. 6 committee executive summary takeaways

The House committee investigating the violent 2021 U.S. Capitol building riot is expected to soon produce a long-awaited report into its work, fresh off the heels of its final public hearing. Here are some highlights from the executive summary of that report.

Committee knows a lot about Jan. 6 at the White House, but prosecutors could unearth much more

A man raises his right hand while walking besides a younger woman on the tarmac.
Donald Trump and daughter Ivanka Trump are shown in Marietta, Ga., on Jan. 4, 2021, two days before the Capitol building riot. The House committee probing that riot believes there is enough evidence to prosecute the former president, while it criticized his daughter for not being entirely forthcoming in subsequent interviews. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

The House of Representatives committee investigating the violent 2021 U.S. Capitol riot is expected to produce a long-awaited report on Wednesday, fresh off the heels of a final public hearing.

That hearing saw the committee of seven Democrats and two Republicans vote to refer former president Donald Trump to the Justice Department for alleged violations of four criminal statutes.

The committee also released an executive summary, a prelude to their report. Here are some highlights of that summary.

The work to be done

The committee's criminal referrals have no legal standing. But multiple outlets are reporting that newly-installed special counsel Jack Smith has issued subpoenas to officials in several battleground states, indicating that federal prosecutors are examining at least some aspects of the 2020 election fraud claims.

It's not clear if any prosecution would have the former president and current 2024 candidate Trump in its sights, but if it did, excavating more of what was occurring at the White House for the so-called "187 minutes" that the former president was aware of the unrest at the Capitol but did not seemingly act will be crucial.

"The Select Committee … was unable to locate any official records of President Trump's telephone calls that afternoon," according to the summary. "And the President's official Daily Diary contains no information for this afternoon between the hours of 1:19 p.m. and 4:03 p.m., at the height of the worst attack on the seat of the United States Congress in over two centuries."

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Prosecutors interested in the topic figure to have more authority to prise records of emails, texts and phone calls from others in the White House and Trumpworld orbit.

There is already a significant amount known through such methods. Recent reporting from Talking Points Memo and a new book from Denver Riggleman — a former Republican congressman who advised the Jan. 6 committee — each detail a slew of post-election communications between White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and a few dozen lawmakers, as well as with a sitting Supreme Court justice's wife. Many who spoke to Meadows were seemingly interested in turning back the established victory for Joe Biden.

While many people were able to evade being pinned down by the House committee, rejecting subpoenas from actual federal and state prosecutors would be more fraught from a legal standpoint. For example, Susan McDougal would ultimately serve 22 months behind bars for not cooperating with investigations into then-president Bill Clinton.

More recently, Trump allies Meadows, Rudy Giuliani and Lindsey Graham have delayed but not outright prevented questioning from a special grand jury in Georgia looking into 2020 potential election interference in that state.

About that lack of cooperation …

Look who's not talking

The committee praised several of the hundreds of Republicans they interviewed for being forthcoming, including Pat Cipollone, former White House counsel for Trump. But they also highlighted those who have been obstructionist or, at minimum, had questionable recall.

At the extreme end, former White House adviser Peter Navarro in 2023 will face trial on contempt of Congress charges, the same ones that just resulted in a four-month prison sentence for longtime Trump adviser Steve Bannon.

WATCH l Experienced Supreme Court litigator analyzes the 4 referrals:

Jan. 6 committee recommends criminal charges against Trump, including aiding insurrection

9 months ago
Duration 11:55
The U.S. House Jan. 6 committee has referred former president Donald Trump to the Department of Justice to face four criminal charges, including conspiracy to defraud the United States, obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress, conspiracy to make a false statement and insurrection.

The committee has recommended bringing four Republicans up for review to the House's ethics committee: Kevin McCarthy — potentially the next House Speaker — and representatives Jim Jordan, Scott Perry and  Andy Biggs.

"Each has refused to cooperate and failed to comply with a lawfully issued subpoena," the committee said, although they have pieced together some of the communications between those four and the White House through the statements of others, texts and emails.

As well, more than 30 witnesses plead the Fifth Amendment to avoid self-incrimination when they did sit for a committee interview. They included familiar Trump associates like Michael Flynn and Roger Stone and newly public ones like lawyers John Eastman and Jeffrey Clark, the latter two said to be involved in plans to mobilize alternate state electors after the 2020 vote.

Flynn pled the Fifth to questions such as "Do you believe in the peaceful transition of power in the United States of America?" and "Do you believe the violence on January 6th was justified?"

Two men in suit jackets and ties are shown on a video screen above and behind a panel of legislators that includes men and women.
Former U.S. national security adviser Michael Flynn is shown on a projected screen at the House committee hearing on Oct. 13 in Washington, D.C. Flynn was among those who refused to answer certain questions, the committee has said. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

While not legally actionable, they are eyebrow-raising non-responses given Flynn's decorated military career and past as a national security adviser for Trump.

The committee also asserted that former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, high-ranking Secret Service official Tony Ornato and Ivanka Trump had fuzzier memories on several pertinent conversations compared to some of their colleagues. Ivanka Trump, in one example, told the committee she did not recall her father referring to vice-president Mike Pence by a derogatory and misogynistic term, even though another witness said that Ivanka Trump had relayed to them those specific Pence comments from the president.

Rudy, Rudy, Rudy

As Trump's personal lawyer and attack dog, Giuliani made a series of questionable statements and appearances. Former Trump national security adviser John Bolton referred to him as "a hand grenade who's going to blow everybody up," part of the backdrop to Trump's first, Ukraine policy-related impeachment.

A Giuliani biography released in September and written by longtime New York City politics chronicler Andrew Kirtzman is subtitled "The Rise and Tragic Fall of America's Mayor," and the Jan. 6 committee in its summary mentioned more late-career lowlights to strengthen that narrative.

A man is shown in closeup with a black streak running down the side of his face.
Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for president Donald Trump, speaks during a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters on Nov. 19, 2020, where he raised several allegations about election fraud that have not been proven. (Jacquelyn Martin/The Associated Press)

Giuliani was "the only adviser present who supported President Trump's inclination to declare victory" on election night irrespective of any evidence, per the committee, and he "appeared to be inebriated" on that occasion.

They were also particularly dismayed by Giuliani's statements that impugned or miscast behaviour by two Georgia election volunteers, who were later subjected to threats.

"Rudolph Giuliani and others with responsibility should be held accountable," the committee said.

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In his interview with the committee, meanwhile, Giuliani asserted that he didn't think "the machines stole the election," which ran counter to many of his public statements in the 2020 vote aftermath.

Giuliani faces a defamation suit from Toronto-founded Dominion Voting Systems, and both New York and D.C. authorities are considering taking away his law licence in light of his post-election behaviour.

You can read more below, including details about weapons found at the Capitol and just how much money Trump was able to raise based on his election protestations between Nov. 3, 2020 and Jan. 6, 2021.

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Chris Iorfida

Senior Writer

Chris Iorfida, based in Toronto, has been with CBC since 2002 and written on subjects as diverse as politics, business, health, sports, arts and entertainment, science and technology.