After all the publicity around the attacks on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, some will wonder why the US House of Representatives is now holding an inquiry into Donald Trump’s role in those events.
It is true that the inquiry, which has already held three public hearings, is not breaking completely new ground. Indeed, most of the facts were exposed, albeit in less depth, at the impeachment proceedings against Trump later that January during his final days in office.
In particular, it has long been known that Trump spread misinformation about his loss in the November 2020 elections; pressured the Justice Department and the then vice president, Mike Pence, to refuse to certify the results; heavied state election officials to falsify the vote counts; summoned a mob to the Capitol; and refused to call for calm while it threatened the lives of the members of Congress.
The inquiry is revisiting all these events partly because Democrats want to make the political point in the lead-up to the midterm congressional elections that voters should not forget the Republican Party’s complicity in Trump’s appalling behaviour.
But the inquiry also has the more specific goal of assembling enough to convince federal prosecutors to lay criminal charges against the former president evidence.
This is a real possibility. The legal case against Trump was buttressed in March by a judgment in a case where one of Trump’s lawyers refused to hand over a stack of emails to the inquiry on the grounds they were protected by lawyer-client privilege. The judge in the case ordered the lawyer to hand over the emails because he said Trump and the lawyer had “more likely than not” broken federal laws.
The testimony at the inquiry to date has provided even more evidence. To prove any charges, it will be necessary to show criminal intent, which means going inside Trump’s mind and proving he actually knew he had lost the election. The evidence at the hearings lends weight to the idea that Trump knew exactly what he was doing.
If the case stacks up, Trump should suffer the full force of the law for any crimes. About 800 protesters he incited to ransack the Capitol have already been charged. In fact, Trump’s behavior is, if anything, more reprehensible because it lasted months – and continues today – and he acted for the selfish reason of retaining power.