• Danielle Uehara

Understanding the January 6 Investigation

Updated: Mar 10


Democrat protesters gathered on January 6, 2022, at the National Mall, a year after the storming of the U.S. Capitol. (Elvert Barnes/Flickr)


The nation watched as a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, just after former President Trump made a speech to his supporters claiming that the 2020 presidential election was invalid. Now, a year later, the investigation continues. The January 6th Committee has been investigating the events leading up to the attack on the Capitol. In recent weeks, the Supreme Court has allowed the release of some of Trump’s documents.


What are these documents?


The documents that were released to the committee have been long-awaited. Trump has been fighting to keep them under executive privilege. Although he prevented them from being released to the committee temporarily, he has ultimately failed.


The documents contain over 700 pages of activity logs, schedules, speech notes, and notes from staff held by the National Archives after Trump was impeached. The documents showed Trump’s actions leading up to and during the attack, if he knew how violent the riot would become, how long the event was in planning, and whether or not Trump delayed calling off the storming.


Why does Trump believe the documents should stay under executive privilege?


Trump believes that, as a former president, the documents should be kept under executive privilege. When aides are given executive privilege, they are shielded from having to share private conversations with Congress. This can be both beneficial and detrimental. Executive privilege allows advisers to give their honest opinions, which could be unpopular, but can also help the president come to the best conclusion. However, it is often wondered if the president may be abusing executive privilege by conducting illegal or improper behavior.


Trump wants to grant this protection to Steve Bannon, a private citizen. This would extend the typical executive privilege, which currently only extends to aides, people who have been employed by the president or the White House.


Over the past year, the issue of who may be covered under executive privilege and whether a former president has the power to invoke executive privilege has been under serious debate. Throughout history, questions of executive privilege have been taken up in courts on several occasions, and oftentimes, decisions on such matters take many months or years to be resolved. Typically, presidents tend to defend each other’s claims even after leaving office. However, in the case at hand, President Biden overruled former-President Trump.


Why did Biden overrule Trump and win?


Unlike most presidents, Biden did not stand by and defend his predecessor. Instead, he urged Congress to allow the documents to be reviewed by the January 6th committee.


Biden overruled Trump because Congress has a “compelling need in service of its legislative functions to understand the circumstances that led to these horrific events,” White House Counsel Dana Remus wrote. In addition, a federal appeals court said that even if Trump were still president, he would not have the power to keep the House committee from the records via subpoena. A subpoena requires a person to testify before a court or produce documents, materials, and other evidence for a case. In the face of refusal to comply with a subpoena, Congress has other ways to gather evidence: Congress can imprison a person until the documents are supplied (an extremely rare option), jail a person for a month or more, or seek a federal court’s civil judgment (meaning the person is legally obligated to comply with the subpoena), though this takes many months or years to be resolved.


Several months ago, Mark Meadows, the former Trump White House chief of staff, Steve Bannon, and Kash Patel were subpoenaed, prompting Trump’s attempt to assert executive privilege.


Although Trump is a former president, the Supreme Court ruled that his executive privilege does not apply to the people he requested since they were not employees of Trump or the White House. Additionally, since every president will eventually become a former president, the Court believes that if Trump is given permission, other presidents in the future may follow his example, resulting in hundreds of secrets shielded away from the public’s eye, and away from legal processes.


What has been found so far in the investigation before the release of the documents?


Several documents have already been handed over to the Committee to investigate. Some had to be pieced together after being torn apart, and wads of paper have been found clogging toilets, leading investigators to believe that Trump may have flushed them down the toilet in an attempt to get rid of them. Reportedly, Trump has done this in several different situations and locations.


The most prominent of these documents is a slideshow handed over by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. The slideshow showed detailed plans of the invasion created by Trump’s followers. According to professor and national security expert Karen Piper, the slideshow was written by retired Army Colonel Phil Waldron of the Allied Security Operations group.


Results of the Investigation


The January 6 investigation has continued for several months, but it is finally coming to a close. It has been judged that Trump is not immune to the lawsuits that have been filed.


On February 18, 2022, a judge ruled that Trump may be held accountable for his statements and actions during the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Trump’s speech before his supporters stormed the Capitol contained statements such as, “We will stop the steal,” “all Mike Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify, and we become president,” and “we will never give up.” U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta wrote in her ruling, “The word ‘we’ being used repeatedly in this context implies that the President and rally-goers would be acting together toward a common goal. That is the essence of a civil conspiracy.”


In the end, former president Donald Trump lost. He will not be able to dismiss the lawsuits against him, including the lawsuit by members of Congress accusing him of playing a role in the attempt to violently overturn the results of the 2020 United States presidential election on January 6, 2021.