On December 22, 2022, the US House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol released its 845-page Final Report. The Report described events leading up to, during, and in the aftermath of the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot. It also set out information about the individuals who were involved in perpetrating what the Report refers to as the “big lie.” On the basis of all this, the Committee detailed a set of recommendations to prevent an event like the Capitol riot from ever occurring again. The Report also contained criminal referrals to the US Department of Justice for former President Donald Trump and others involved in the events described above.
Along with its Final Report, the Committee released hundreds of documents and transcribed interviews collected over the course of its year-and-a-half long investigation. The Committee was first formed on July 1, 2021, and dissolved at the end of December 2022. The Committee held ten public hearings to present information contained in its Final Report to the American public.
JURIST has followed the story of January 6th since the very afternoon that the rioters stormed the Capitol. We’ve done so for two reasons.
The first reason is quite simple. As a legal news service, JURIST strives to provide the public with easy-to-digest articles about complicated legal issues. The proceedings stemming from January 6, 2021, have certainly been complicated. They run the gambit from Department of Justice investigations, to Congressional subpoenas and hearings, the whole way up to US Supreme Court arguments. JURIST has been here throughout the past two years providing the public with clear, concise and accessible coverage of all this.
The second reason is more nuanced. JURIST is a legal news service, yes, but it is also the only legal news service powered entirely by law students. As US law students living through this turbulent period of American history, the staffers who wrote this article thought it important to bear witness to an event that will undoubtedly continue to reverberate throughout the rest of our lives. We did this with an eye towards the future and out of respect for our fellow citizens. the people we will one day serve in the legal field.
What follows is a detailed description and summary of the critical points contained in the Select Committee’s Final Report.
Trump planned to claim victory and to label anything other than that ‘election fraud’
The Report begins by describing former President Trump as “no passive consumer” of lies surrounding the 2020 election, but rather as someone who “actively propagated them.” Going into the 2020 election, Trump had two strategies: claim victory no matter what and propagate election fraud disinformation. Trump used every avenue available to him to push these two strategies including social media, media interviews and even presidential debates.
The Committee obtained multiple communications spanning October through November containing prepared victory statements for Trump to read on election night. The tone of the statements echoed a recording from former Trump advisor Steve Bannon on October 31, 2020. In the recording, Bannon said, “He’s gonna declare himself a winner. So when you wake up [the day after Election Day], it’s going to be a firestorm.”
On November 4, 2020 at 2:21 AM, Trump declared the election “a fraud on the American public,” and claimed victory. This is what became known as the “big lie.” 154 million votes were cast on November 3, 2020. When Trump declared victory, there were still millions of votes left to count and no clear winner. Trump’s campaign experts, data scientists and advisors all counseled against Trump declaring victory.
As more votes were counted and all signs pointed towards a victory for Joe Biden, Trump’s election fraud disinformation campaign kicked into high gear. The disinformation campaign involved election litigation and several myths regarding fake ballots, including the assertion that ballots for Biden were counted multiple times and even a theory that dead or ineligible voters had cast ballots in favor of Biden.
Trump continued the disinformation campaign despite being repeatedly told his claims were without basis. On November 5, 2020, Trump’s campaign team told Trump they found no evidence of fraudulent activity “sufficient to be outcome determinative.” On December 27, 2020, Department of Justice (DOJ) officials Jeffrey Rosen and Richard Donoghue told Trump that federal law enforcement “concluded that the major allegations were not supported by the evidence developed.” Between November 4, 2020 and January 6, 2021, Trump’s legal team filed 62 election-related lawsuits. Trump lost all but one. Judges repeatedly told Trump’s legal team that the claims were unconvincing and seemingly unsupported by the evidence.
Part of the reason that no evidence supported Trump’s claims was because of the so-called “red mirage.” The red mirage is a phenomenon that occurs when in-person and largely Republican votes are counted first, which appears to provide Republicans a vote advantage over the later-counted, heavily Democratic mail-in ballots. The red mirage is not new and was anticipated by Trump allies. Trump’s public comments disparaging mail-in voting virtually assured the red mirage’s presence in the 2020 election.
US Attorney General William Barr was also disturbed by Trump’s immediate claims of fraud. Barr stated he knew the “President would never admit that he lost the election, and he would blame it on fraud, and then he would blame the actions and evidence on the Department of Justice.” Trump urged the DOJ to investigate. The DOJ initiated its investigation on November 9, after the media had declared Biden the winner. The launch of the investigation before results were officially certified broke with longstanding agency policy.
Barr had three meetings with Trump. During these meetings, Trump continued to pressure the DOJ to investigate conspiracy theories pushed by his campaign’s legal team, headed by Giuliani. Barr informed Trump the DOJ had followed up on each lead and found no substantive evidence of fraud. And yet, Trump reiterated claims of fraud to the public. Barr tendered his resignation and was replaced by Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and Deputy Attorney General Richard Donaghue on December 14, 2020. Shortly thereafter, Rosen was informed of Trump’s wishes, which were to “just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me.”
On December 21, US Representative Scott Perry (R-PA) introduced Jeffrey Clark, a little-known DOJ official, to Trump. Trump spoke with Clark several times in breach of DOJ regulations. Trump went so far as asking Clark to take over DOJ and investigation leadership after Clark suggested a change in leadership may yield more favorable results to Trump. On January 3, 2021, Trump moved to appoint Clark as the Acting Attorney General, in place of Rosen. Threats of mass resignations in the DOJ and opposition from his closest advisors dissuaded Trump from doing so.
Rosen and Donaghue summed up this time as thwarting Trump and his campaign legal team from repeated attempts to subvert the DOJ and initiate a potential constitutional crisis.
Parallel to Trump’s failed pressure campaign of DOJ officials, a multi-pronged campaign to overturn the election and keep Trump in power emerged from the disinformation campaign. The idea was simple: convince Republican-controlled state legislatures in battleground states to reject the slate of electors chosen by the popular vote and replace them with electors chosen by state representatives–notably those who would vote for Trump. Within one week of the election, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows began to contact potential supporters. By November 11, 2020, Trump was on board with the idea, bringing up the “state-focused strategy” in a meeting with close advisors.
According to Deputy White House Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, the idea was also “Bat. Shit. Crazy.” Trump’s 2020 campaign manager William Stepien dismissed the idea as well, calling it one of the “crazier ideas that w[as] thrown out, in and around that time.” Pushback concerning the plan extended outside Trump’s team, with Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) criticizing the then president’s actions as “undemocratic” on November 19, 2020.
Attorney Kenneth Chesebro and Trump’s campaign attorney Rudy Giuliani developed the “alternative” slate of electors theory that Trump pushed in his pressure campaign against state officials. The plan was to organize a slate of electors in states Trump lost–specifically Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin–to oppose the otherwise legitimate elector slates. Trump’s team believed this would allow Vice President Mike Pence to reject Biden electors from those states on January 6, 2021 and hand the presidency to Trump.
By December 8, 2020, Trump approved the plan and started reaching out to allies like RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel for help. The Select Committee’s Report emphasized repeatedly that this scheme violated the US Constitution and the Electoral Count Act of 1887. Because of that, some Republicans pushed back on the plan. The Trump campaign’s general counsel advised staff to avoid the alternate slate of electors’ efforts. The White House Office of Legal Counsel also expressed concern along with state party officials in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
But on December 14, 2020, alternative slates of Trump electors met in secret across the country to sign fake certificates of election. Trump allies on Capitol Hill then worked unsuccessfully to deliver these electors to Pence. These certificates were not legitimate, and the Senate Parliamentarian later rejected them.
Despite the criticisms from his team and his party, Trump was undeterred. Between the election and the January 6 Capitol riot, the Committee estimated that Trump and his inner circle made more than 200 acts of public or private outreach, pressure or condemnation. Among these attempts is the now infamous call Trump made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, during which Trump told the state official, “I just want to find 11,780 more votes.”
Ultimately, the pressure campaign failed to overcome the constitutional duties ascribed to the state officials. However, the intense and far-reaching pressure campaign exerted by Trump and his team left many publicly-named individuals facing countless death threats. A non-exhaustive list of those that reported death threats to the select committee include the Michigan Secretary of State Joceyln Benson, the Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the Pennsylvania Secretary of Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar, the Governor of Georgia Brad Kemp, the speaker of the Michigan State House Lee Chatfield, the speaker of the Pennsylvania State House Brian Cutler and over a dozen county election officials spread out across battleground states.
In the meantime, far-right extremists started organizing a response to a December 19, 2020 Trump tweet that said the Capitol would “be wild” on January 6, 2021. Right-wing groups like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and Three Percenters doubled down on their efforts to mobilize a “Stop the Steal” coalition. Following the election, a number of far-right protests took place at state capitols. For example, in Georgia, a mob attempted to intimidate lawmakers. Inspired by those actions and Trump’s call to Washington DC, these groups developed plans to storm the US Capitol. The Oath Keepers even started collecting weapons outside of Washington DC. The White House secured event permits for January 6, 2021 and all of the right-wing groups recruited people to be present.
On January 4, 2021 attorney Dr. John Eastman met with Pence to present their alternative elector scheme. Pence rejected it as illegal and resisted mounting pressure in the following days. On January 6, 2021 a radicalized mob marched on the Capitol chanting “hang Mike Pence,” aiming to pressure him into accepting the false Trump electors. Pence did not comply and instead, certified Biden’s electoral victory.
The Capitol riot was the culmination of Trump’s election fraud disinformation campaign
On December 19, 2020 at 1:42 AM, Trump tweeted, “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” This tweet, according to the Committee, began the mobilization of right-wing extremist groups toward the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021.
Prior to Trump’s tweet, Ali Alexander founded the “Stop the Steal” coalition on November 10, 2020 in response to the 2020 election and claims of election fraud. The coalition held protests against the election across the US, in which groups that were present on January 6, 2021 participated. The Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters–among others–all participated in protests led by Alexander, right-wing commentator Alex Jones, and the “Stop the Steal” coalition in the months leading up to the Capitol riot. All groups mobilized toward the same goal: reversing the results of the 2020 election.
Following Trump’s tweet, Proud Boys leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio started a “national rally planning committee” and created an encrypted “Military of Self Defense” chat to organize the Proud Boys’ activity across the US. Tarrio also created an encrypted “Boots on the Ground” chat for the members who would be present in Washington DC on January 6, 2021.
The Oath Keepers’ started communicating with the Proud Boys after Trump’s December 19, 2020 tweet when Kelly Meggs, leader of the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers, reached out to the Proud Boys. Following a phone call between Meggs and Tarrio, Meggs sent Tarrio a Facebook message about working together with the Three Percenters, saying, “We have decided to work together and shut this shit down.”
According to the committee, members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, along with Joshua Macias, leader of Vets for Trump, and Virginia State Senator Amanda Chase, met at the Phoenix Park Hotel in Washington DC on the night of January 5, 2021. The group also participated in a livestream discussion, led by Chase, that promoted false election fraud claims and encouraged Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act. The livestream also discussed “storming the Capitol.”
The same night, leader of the Miami chapter of the Oath Keepers Gabriel Garcia, lawyer for the Oath Keepers Kelley SoRelle, and Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes met Tarrio in a parking garage in Washington DC after his release from custody, where they discussed the events of January 6, 2021 and how the organizations would work together during the riot.
Trump addressed thousands of his supporters in a speech at 12:00 PM on January 6, 2021 from just south of the White House, in an area called the Ellipse. His speech was “incendiary” throughout. Trump asserted, “‘Our country has had enough’” and that his supporters had come to the nation’s capital to “‘save our democracy’” and to “‘stop the steal.’” The committee estimated that Trump falsely claimed more than 100 times during his speech that the election had either been stolen or that votes were compromised by fraud or major procedural violations.
During his speech, Trump repeated falsehoods that he had promoted in the months leading up to January 6, 2021, including false claims about voting machines in Michigan, suitcases filled with ballots in Georgia, more votes than voters in Pennsylvania, and non-citizens voting in Arizona–among others.
After months of disinformation and encouraging his supporters to come to the nation’s capital on January 6, 2021, Trump’s speech riled the mob that then marched to the Capitol. Trump praised his own lies about the election–specifically the big lie–while telling his followers to “‘fight’ to ‘save’ their country” from election fraud.
Trump fired up the crowd of his supporters and said, “‘And we fight. We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.’”
Before and during the speech, the Secret Service confiscated many weapons and noted that crowd members wore ballistic helmets, body armor, military-grade backpacks and radio equipment. At a certain point before the speech, crowd members began to circumvent the Secret Service checkpoints for weapons.
During the speech, Trump told his supporters that the election was stolen and said Pence had the power but lacked the courage to fix it. Trump repeatedly pointed towards Pence, who was at the Capitol preparing to certify the electoral vote, and insisted that if he “does the right thing, we win the election.” When the speech concluded at about 1:10 PM, Trump directed the crowd to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Building, which led to the Peace Circle. Trump gave this order despite being informed by the Secret Service that crowd members were armed.
Before the rally-goers reached the Capitol, members of the Proud Boys had already arrived at Peace Circle around 12:49 PM and instigated an assault on the Capitol before the Joint Session of Congress, which was set to begin at 1:00 PM. The Proud Boys quickly overran security checkpoints. Once the speech goers arrived at the Capitol “itching for a fight,” the Proud Boys “deliberately harnessed the mob’s anger to overrun the Capitol.”
At 12:53 PM, the rioters breached the first set of fencing at the Peace Circle and stormed toward the Capitol, pushing through Capitol Police Officers in the process. By 1:49 PM, the Metropolitan Police Department declared a riot at the Capitol.
Rioters breached the first police line at 2:06 PM. At 2:12 PM the Secret Service ushered Pence off the Senate floor. Pence initially refused the Secret Service’s first two attempts to evacuate him but was agreed when he was told that the Capitol was being overrun. Rioters were “just feet away” from the staircase that agents originally intended for Pence’s exit route. One minute later, Dominic Pezzola, a Proud Boy, led the first rioters into the Capitol through a smashed a window on the Senate wing.
Shortly thereafter, a mob entered the Capitol through the Senate wing door, chanting, “Fight for Trump”, “Stop the Steal” and “Nancy, Nancy.” Rioters filled the Capitol for the next few minutes as the House of Representatives, who were engaged in certifying the 2020 election, went into recess. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn were evacuated from the House not long after Pence and were moved to “an undisclosed location” at 2:23 PM.
As the rioters entered the Capitol Rotunda doors at 2:24 PM, Trump tweeted for the first time. The tweet read:
“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving states a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”
At 2:29PM, Pence arrived at a secure location, and security began to remove Senators from the Senate floor. Evacuation of the House of Representatives was more complicated.
Law enforcement was briefly able to regain control of the Rotunda doors before rioters started using pepper spray on the USCP and MPD. According to officer Michael Fanone, MPD officers were then forced to conduct the “first fighting withdrawal” in the history of the force, and attempted to reestablish a defensive line to prevent the crowd that had swelled to approximately 20,000 people from storming the Capitol. According to the report, January 6, 2021 was also the first time that an insurrectionist ever carried the Confederate flag inside the Capitol.
Representatives on the House floor were again “just feet away” when Ashli Babbitt climbed through a door in the Speaker’s Lobby and was fatally shot by a USCP officer at 2:44 PM. While members of Congress evacuated their chambers, Nick Fuentes, a prominent white nationalist, incited the mob further by shouting, “Mike Pence has betrayed the United States of America!” At about 2:36 PM, rioters began entering both chambers of Congress. One rioter made their way to the Senate dais, where Pence presided a short time before and shouted, “Mike Pence is a fucking traitor.”
Representatives in the House Gallery were forced to suspend their evacuation until 3:00 PM because rioters were present directly outside. The report reads, “the USCP emergency response team cleared the hallways with long rifles so that the Members could be escorted to safety. USCP surveillance footage shows several rioters lying on the ground, with longrifles pointed at them, as Members evacuate in the background.”
The rioters breached the Senate wing door a second time around the time most members of Congress had evacuated the Capitol. The second breach was more violent than the first.
USCP and MPD continued battling rioters for hours. The Capitol was not clear of rioters until 5:40 PM – nearly five hours after rioters breached the first fence line.
At 7:00 PM, Pence returned to his office in the Senate. At 8:00 PM Pence resumed the joint session of Congress, saying “Let’s get back to work.” Nearly 8 hours later, at 3:32 AM Congress completed counting votes and certified Biden as the 46th US President.
Following the Capitol riot, the Committee identified two groups of January 6, 2021 participants: those who planned to storm the Capitol in advance and those who were “enraged by President Trump’s lies” into action.
The Committee presented substantial evidence of premeditation by Proud Boys leader Tarrio and organized presence by far-right and white nationalist groups like the Three Percenters, QAnon, the Oath Keepers and the Groypers. The Oath Keepers planned “two military-style ‘stacks’ to push their way into the building” and organized the breach of the Columbus Doors over a conference phone call. Rioters were “prepared to fight” and armed with weapons like pepper spray, guns, sharpened flagpoles, a hockey stick, a tomahawk ax and a pitchfork.
Although USCP officers were not able to keep rioters out of the Capitol, they were able to work in conjunction with the Secret Service to evacuate Pence and members of Congress safely. The committee stressed that rioters were within reach of members of Congress at several key moments. Intense instances of violence against USCP officers indicated the level of physical violence that members of Congress avoided.
Trump’s criminal responsibility on January 6, 2021
On January 6, 2021, prior to his speech at the Ellipse, Trump was informed that about 25,000 of the 53,000 gathered for his speech refused to walk through metal detectors. According to Deputy Chief of Staff Tony Ornato, speech goers had “weapons that they [didn’t] want confiscated by the Secret Service.” According to Cassidy Hutchinson, Trump was “fucking furious” minutes before his speech that the crowd would appear smaller to viewers at home. Hutchinson testified to the committee:
President Trump shouted to his advance team: “I don’t [fucking] care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the [fucking] mags away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here. Take the [fucking] mags away.”
Trump repeatedly told his team that he wanted to march to the Capitol with his supporters but was not permitted to do so by the Secret Service. That refusal escalated into a confrontation between Trump and the Secret Service in the presidential motorcade after Trump completed his speech at 1:10 PM. At 1:55 PM, Bobby Engel, the head of Trump’s Secret Service detail, informed other agents that Trump would not walk to the Capitol with the crowd.
The Committee concluded, “The 187 minutes between the end of President Trump’s speech [1:10 PM] and when he finally told the mob to leave the U.S. Capitol [4:17 PM] was a dereliction of duty.”
While the USCP and the Secret Service secured the Capitol and members of Congress, Trump declined to reach out to authorities in the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the FBI, the USCP, or the Washington DC Mayor’s Office. Trump ignored pleas to act from allies like Mark Meadows, Representative Marjorie Taylor Green, Fox News host Laura Ingraham, Mick Mulvaney, Representative Barry Loudermilk, Representative William Timmons and Donald Trump, Jr.
When Trump did make a statement at 2:24 PM, it was “nothing like the statement his advisors” outlined. At 2:38 PM Trump sent another tweet–this time under the “calming influence” of Ivanka Trump. However, he still did not order rioters to leave the Capitol despite the fact that Trump knew that the Capitol was on lockdown, that USCP shot a rioter in the House chamber, and that members of Congress were trapped in the House gallery.
During the 187 minutes, Trump met with advisors and friends like Giuliani and argued with them regarding the content of his intermittent tweets. According to the Committee, Trump watched Fox News “for hours” and called Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) to “talk objections to the electoral count.” At 4:17 PM, Trump finally asked rioters to leave the Capitol. However, the report concluded, ”[e]ven then, President Trump did not disavow the rioters. He endorsed their cause, openly sympathized with them, and repeated his Big Lie once again.”
As a result of these actions, the Select Committee issued four criminal referrals against Trump to the DOJ. Notably, the DOJ does not have to act on the criminal referrals, as they are merely recommendations. The DOJ is currently in the process of conducting its own investigation into January 6, 2021.
The first charge brought against Trump, obstruction of an official proceeding, is located under 18 USC § 1512(c). The second charge is conspiracy to defraud the US, and the committee alleged that Trump entered into formal and informal agreements to impair, obstruct and defeat the certification of the 2020 election results. The charge is located under 18 USC § 371. The third, conspiracy to make a false statement, is located under 18 USC §§ 371 and 1001. The fourth, inciting, assisting, aiding or comforting an insurrection, is located under 18 USC § 2383.
The Committee also listed criminal referrals for Trump allies involved in the events surrounding January 6, 2021, including Eastman and Clark, among others. Four US House representatives were also referred to the House Ethics Committee for sanctions, including Jim Jordan (R-OH), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Scott Perry (R-PA).
The Committee additonally included ten recommendations designed to prevent any event like the Capitol riot from ever occurring again.
The events that transpired on January 6, 2021 caused many members of the American public to fully appreciate for the first time the divisiveness that has steadily festered in our political system over the past few years, and perhaps longer. The rioters who stormed the Capitol and those who fueled their violence threatened the orderly transfer of power from one Administration to another.
The recommendations set forth in the Select Committee’s Final Report are crucial to moving beyond January 6, 2021. We, as members of the public and law students, must all bear witness to what occurred. While the Committee’s 845-page Final Report, and even its 154-page Executive Summary, may be ostensible hurdles to understanding what happened, JURIST hopes that by providing this summary perspective we can help others – in the United States and around the world – better understand what occurred before and on that fateful day.
The rule of law, including the orderly transfer of power in this country, must endure. JURIST is committed to ensuring its survival.
This article was written by JURIST associate and assistant editors Lauren Ban, Sean Beeghly, Hannah Brem, Maddy Bruce, David DeNotaris, Katherine Gemmingen, Lou Kettering, JP Leskovich and Luke Watkins, all law students at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.