Early yesterday, Rolling Stone published an explosive report alleging that two of the people who helped plan the January 6 “Stop the Steal” protests had extensive planning meetings with members of Congress or their staff. These two organizers appear to be cooperating with the January 6 Select Committee, the congressional task force investigating the Capitol attack, which is more than I can say for most of the Trump cronies who actually served in government.
According to the report, the organizers claim that they met directly with Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gossar as well as with the staff of Representatives Mo Brooks, Lauren Boebert, Andy Biggs, Louie Gohmert, and Madison Cawthorne. The witnesses say that Gossar went so far as to offer them “blanket pardons” in an unrelated matter in an effort to encourage them to go forward with the protest.
Knowledge of what these congresspeople knew, and when they knew it, about plans to storm the Capitol on January 6 is essential information. It’s critical to “establish[ing] the truth of that day,” as Nancy Pelosi said when she announced the formation of the Select Committee back in June. But Congress shouldn’t be the only entity looking into these claims. A congressional report is not a proportional response to a violent attack on the government, no matter how damning that report might turn out to be.
The Department of Justice should be leading the criminal investigation into the attack on the Capitol. That is the entity that can not merely catalog but actually punish the insurrectionists.
Congress’s role is oversight and lawmaking. It is therefore entirely appropriate for its members, through the Select Committee, to subpoena documents and testimony to try to understand what happened. That helps them serve their function of proposing and passing new laws so that it can’t happen again.
But accountability for any crimes that happened that day is a different matter. So is any investigation into the larger criminal conspiracy that came to fruition that day. Both are supposed to come through Justice and its subordinate investigations division, the FBI.
The problem is, Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray don’t seem to have the stomach for all that. Oh sure, they’ll go after the small people. They’ll prosecute the dude with the horns and charge the guy with the cattle prod. But when it comes time to prosecute the powerful—the congresspeople and the financiers who aided and abetted the insurrection—Garland and Wray have shown no desire to take on that challenge.
We know the Justice Department is shirking its responsibilities and leaving Congress to do all the heavy lifting, because we have a good idea of whom its investigators haven’t interviewed. There is no credible way to investigate the events of January 6 unless investigators talk to key players like Steve Bannon, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, and others in the Trump orbit (like Don Jr.) who may have played a role in planning the event. Any investigation that was seriously committed to getting to the truth would have already interviewed Mike Pence, key congresspeople’s staffs, and the congresspeople who had telephone conversations with Trump on the day of the coup attempt.
We know the Justice Department hasn’t done this work, because if it had, at least some of these figures would be complaining and rending their garments all over Fox News. Do we think Bannon would be defying the Select Committee subpoena if he had already complied with one from the FBI? Of course not. Because if he had defied an FBI request for documents and testimony, he’d be in jail already, without having to take a pass through Congress.
The failure of the DOJ to investigate the planning of the putsch is all the more shameful given the publicly available evidence that the insurrectionists may have had help on the inside. For instance: The people who sacked the Capitol made a beeline for the Senate parliamentarian’s office. Pictures after the putsch showed that the office had been ransacked. The location of that office is not obvious; it’s one of those places that is hard to find unless you’ve been there before. But the insurrectionists somehow got there and began looking for the hard copies of the electoral votes that Congress was meant to certify that day. Had they gotten their hands on those votes, even for a moment, they would have broken the chain of custody of the Electoral College count and at least delayed the certification of the election, as was their goal.
It strains credulity to think that a bunch of white supremacists and shamans knew precisely where to go and what to look for on their own. At the very least, a thorough criminal investigation of events would seek to uncover where these people got their information. It would look into claims that tours were given beforehand to eventual insurrectionists. Congress can piece together events, but the DOJ and the FBI are not supposed to wait until the political branches get it together before investigating and prosecuting people for crimes.
Garland, quite simply, does not appear to be doing his job and bringing the full force of his office to bear on this investigation. He seems to be punting the issue, leaving it to congressional oversight instead of criminal prosecutions. He seems content to prosecute the low-hanging fruit, instead of holding the powerful accountable for their actions. But Garland, the DOJ, and the FBI have a duty to prosecute those responsible for the attack on our Capitol, not just those who carried out the plan. Why aren’t they doing that?
History will ask these questions of Garland and the Biden administration, but this dereliction of duty must be answered for in real time. Because if people like Gossar and Greene had something to do with the failed coup and they are not punished for it, they will simply try again. And again. Until they finally get the violent overthrow of democracy they want.