Capitol attack panel faces pivotal moment as Trump allies stonewall

Questions about Trump’s role in 6 January may go unanswered unless House investigators can secure a breakthrough to obtain documents and testimony

By Hugo Lowell in Washington | The Guardian | October 29. 2021

Members of the House select committee investigating the 6 January insurrection in Washington DC on 19 October. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

The House select committee investigating the Capitol attack is confronting a pivotal moment as resistance from top Trump administration aides threatens to undermine their efforts to uncover the extent of the former president’s involvement in the 6 January insurrection.

The select committee remains in the evidence-gathering phase of the investigation that now encompasses at least five different lines of inquiry from whether Donald Trump abused the presidency to reinstall himself in office or coordinated with far-right rally organizers.

But unless House investigators can secure a breakthrough to obtain documents and testimony from Trump’s White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and others in the next few weeks, the most pressing questions about Trump’s role in 6 January may go unanswered, two sources said.

The select committee has designated its “gold” team to examine the extent of Trump’s personal involvement in the events that left five dead and more than 140 injured as his supporters stormed the Capitol in his name, the sources said.

One major focus of the investigation is whether Trump had advance knowledge of the insurrection, the sources said – since if they uncover evidence of conspiracy to violently stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election win, that could constitute a crime.

But to make that kind of case, which would then guide Congress on how to draft laws to avert a repeat of the Capitol attack, may be impossible without clear insight into Trump’s movements inside the White House both on 6 January and the days before, the sources said.

The select committee, the sources said, effectively needs to know what Trump’s top aides know about what the former president thought would allow him to remain in office – and whether that extended to encouraging surrogates to physically stop the certification.

To that end, House investigators last month subpoenaed Meadows, his deputy, Dan Scavino, former chief strategist Steve Bannon and defense department aide Kash Patel, while asking the National Archives to turn over Trump White House records.

Meadows is of special interest since he remained by Trump’s side as the Capitol attack unfolded and, in the final weeks of the administration, sat in on 6 January strategy meetings with the former president.

The former chief strategist Bannon was similarly subpoenaed for documents and testimony as he was in constant contact with Trump in the days before the Capitol attack, and played a major role in drawing up the legal arguments for Pence to return Trump to office.

Bannon also appeared to have prior knowledge of the Capitol attack, which former White House aides say would not have escaped Trump’s attention. “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow,” Bannon said on his War Room podcast the day before the insurrection.

The select committee, meanwhile, also asked the National Archives for Trump White House materials since they are the custodian for visitor logs and Oval Office memoranda – records that could shed light on the interactions Trump was having with Meadows and Bannon.

But under orders from Trump to defy the subpoenas on grounds of executive privilege, the select committee is yet to obtain any materials or testimony from the four aides, while the National Archives is unable to release records until Trump’s lawsuit on the issue is resolved.

The collective efforts from Trump and his aides mean that unless House investigators can find a way to circumvent the logjam, the gold team may ultimately find themselves unable to ever uncover whether 6 January was a White House-sponsored insurrection.