- Ruhika Ponda
House Bipartisan Committee helped facilitate 185 sentences imposed thus far
On July 1, 2021, The United States House of Representatives voted to form a bipartisan select committee tasked with investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. The committee comprises nine Representatives: seven Democrats, including Chairperson Bennie Thompson (D-MS), and two Republicans. The committee's purpose is to act as a purely investigative body, however, the Justice Department can use interview transcripts as evidence in potential criminal investigations.
The committee began its investigation by conducting interviews with those involved and familiar with the attack. Most notably, the committee issued subpoenas to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, chief strategist Steve Bannon, Rudy Giuliani, former White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, former senior advisor to the president Stephen Miller, several Republican members of Congress, and several Trump campaign strategists. Former President Trump has also been subpoenaed, however, that legal directive morphed into a contentious legal battle, and he still has not testified. The committee also talked to former President Trump’s family members, former staff members, and security personnel assigned to President Trump on January 6.
In June 2022, several public hearings took place wherein Americans witnessed live testimony and video footage from the attack. After gathering evidence and testimony from over 1000 individuals, the committee then handed these transcripts to the Department of Justice upon the DOJ’s request.
Both Steve Bannon, former chief strategist, and Peter Navarro, former White House trade advisor, were indicted for non-compliance with the committee’s subpoenas. The Department of Justice decided not to charge Mark Meadows and Dan Scavino Jr., another former aide to President Trump; both individuals only partially cooperated with the committee’s requests. A federal grand jury indicted Mr. Navarro, charging him with two misdemeanor counts of contempt of Congress due to his failure to comply with the committee’s subpoena. A federal judge postponed his trial date from the week of November 14 to January 11, 2023.
Mr. Bannon has been similarly indicted and charged with contempt of Congress: one count for his failure to appear for a deposition and another for his inability to produce documents requested by the committee. After brief deliberation on July 22, 2022, a jury found Mr. Bannon guilty on both counts. As a result, on October 21, 2022, Mr. Bannon was sentenced to 4 months in prison. He remains free pending appeal, however, this was the first jail sentence issued for an indirect participant in the attack. Judge Carl J. Nichols, a Trump-appointed federal judge to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, stated that he imposed this sentence to deter others from similarly evading subpoenas.
In addition to these prominent actors, the committee has also played a role in investigating and identifying individuals who were physically present inside the Capitol on January 6. As a result, there have been more than 840 arrests, only 185 of whom have received criminal sentences. The charges range from minor offenses, such as obstruction of justice, to more severe crimes, such as assault with a dangerous weapon. The longest sentence so far has been 63 months in prison–Robert Scott Palmer pled guilty to assaulting law enforcement officers with a dangerous weapon in October 2021. Although many participants are still awaiting their day in court, the House committee has focused on both individuals who directly and indirectly contributed to the attack.
As the House committee continues to investigate the role of various individuals in perpetrating this attack on our nation’s Capitol, the issue of President Trump’s subpoena remains in limbo. Given that the DOJ set a precedent by indicting and prosecuting Mr. Bannon, a similar procedure could be followed for President Trump’s non-compliance. But instead, he continues to fiercely fight a legal battle to preclude himself from having to testify under oath regarding his actions on January 6, 2021.
The select committee has delved into the testimony of several key individuals, many of whom place some responsibility on former President Trump for partly inciting the violence that occurred. While the truth has been difficult to uncover, the committee members have shed light on the events of that day and the exchanges that led to the insurrection. The legal battle over Trump’s subpoena will prove to be decisive as to whether the committee can truly uncover more detail about his specific involvement in the riot.