The House’s legal lieutenant in its Trump wars speaks out — about Jan. 6 and more

While Congress’ biggest Donald Trump antagonists are household names to political junkies — think Liz Cheney, Adam Schiff, Jamie Raskin — there’s a lesser-known Trump adversary who may have been more effective than the others: Doug Letter.

The former House general counsel was involved in every political brawl between House Democrats and Trump that has defined Washington politics for the past four years. Letter helped guide the work of the Jan. 6 select committee, played a critical role in both Trump impeachments and strategized the certification of Joe Biden’s win — before violent rioters upended those plans on Jan. 6, 2021.

Before the Capitol riot, Letter spent years litigating the chamber’s effort to obtain Trump’s tax returns and financial records, not to mention fighting the Trump administration’s effort to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, among many more fronts of courtroom battle.

In a wide-ranging interview with POLITICO, the House's former top attorney described his tenure battling a former president who tested the limits of executive power at every turn, resisting efforts at accountability in ways that previous chief executives had not. But he has faith that his work helped to stem future presidential attempts to push constitutional boundaries, lending more power to lawmakers.

“I just feel like the Biden administration and future administrations are not going to act like the Trump administration,” Letter said. “They’re not going to show such ignorance of our system and think that the executive branch can ignore the legislative branch. That’s not the way it works.”

Until the Capitol attack, Letter was convinced that his role in Trump’s first impeachment would’ve been the pinnacle of a job already marked by extraordinary legal confrontations. That changed on Jan. 6.

Letter was returning to the House floor from some basement vending machines when he ran into Speaker Nancy Pelosi being whisked from the Capitol under heavy guard. Don’t go back up there, one official told him. An angry mob had breached the building.

But Letter, in a panic, said he had to retrieve several giant binders that were full of sensitive strategy and scripts for the day’s proceedings. He opted to forgo evacuating with Pelosi and instead raced back to the chamber.

“I was the last person in before they locked the doors,” Letter recalled.

The attack on the Capitol led to the Jan. 6 select committee, where the House’s then-top attorney charted a legal strategy that Letternow describes as one of the hallmarks of his tenure.

Through his work on that panel, Letter secured at least two streams of information that became a core element of the committee’s voluminous findings: Trump’s confidential White House records and the Chapman University emails of attorney John Eastman, an architect of the then-president's bid to subvert the 2020 election.

Through his work with the Jan. 6 committee, Doug Letter was able to subpoena the emails of key Trump election witness John Eastman (left), who invoked the Fifth Amendment in a deposition before the committee.

Letter also won court fights to obtain telephone records from Arizona GOP chair Kelli Ward, who took part in Trump world’s plan to send false electors to Congress. And he helped direct the House’s strategy to hold certain Trump advisers in contempt of Congress, which resulted in prosecutions of Trump advisers Peter Navarro and Steve Bannon.

“We had a whole enormous number of people that, as we now know, were putting together this massive, not just a conspiracy, but a whole bunch of conspiracies, to attack our democracy,” Letter said.

Additionally, Letter played a role in the select committee’s decision to subpoena five sitting Republican members of Congress to testify before the Jan. 6 select committee, including now-Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

He has moved on now that Republicans have gained the House majority, taking a new job as chief legal officer for Brady: United Against Gun Violence. That role bears a more significant connection to his Jan. 6 committee work than it may appear, in his view. Brady, he noted, had previously written a report that credited D.C.’s strict gun laws with limiting the damage rioters caused; if they had been able to stockpile firearms closer to the Capitol, it could’ve been much worse, the report said.

And he still remembers the Capitol attack vividly. Letter said he was one of the last to leave the House chamber on Jan. 6, recalling the scene in which Capitol Police officers aimed their firearms at a rear door that the pro-Trump mob had attempted to breach. He finally evacuated at around the same moment one rioter, Ashli Babbitt, was shot and killed by a Capitol Police officer.

Letter doesn’t remember hearing the shot. But that same evening, as he was processing his own trauma, he was still acting as an attorney — representing a sergeant-at-arms official who had attempted to administer medical aid to Babbitt and faced questions about the incident from Washington-area law enforcement.

He’d kept doing his job right after being evacuated from the chamber, too. Letter joined lawmakers at a safe location in the Capitol complex, where he continued to draft scripts to rebut potential challenges, should the House reconvene and continue the session (as it did later that night). But he noticed something else that bothered him — a group of House Republicans were crowded 10 feet away and refusing to wear masks, despite the raging pandemic and the limited availability of vaccines at the time.

“I’m not going to get killed by insurrectionists,” he remembers thinking. “I’m going to die of Covid.”

One of the most interesting challenges for the House counsel, Letter said, is having to technically be the lawyer for every member of the chamber — even those who would later battle the Jan. 6 select committee.

Though the position is filled by the speaker, the House general counsel is often called upon to represent individual members in legal disputes. Letter remembers successfully representing Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) in a First Amendment case, even though she had also been considered one of Trump’s enablers in the election gambit.

But when lawmakers aim legal disputes at each other — as when McCarthy sued to block Pelosi from implementing a system of “proxy voting” amid the pandemic, or when Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) sued to overturn House fines for refusing to wear masks on the floor — Letter defaulted to representing the speaker and the institution as a whole.

Overall, Letter says he believes his efforts helped empower the institution of the House by putting teeth behind its subpoenas and earning court rulings that reinforced Congress’ power to obtain information to support potential legislation.

Republicans, who now hold the gavels of powerful investigative committees that Letter had previously aided, have fretted that some of the rulings during Letter’s tenure could cut against the House’s authority. One example the GOP notes is Democrats’ pursuit of Trump’s financial information through his accounting firm, which resulted in a Supreme Court ruling that established a test for the type of private information Congress could request from a sitting president.

While Letter acknowledged the criticism, he said he considered that case a “major victory” for Congress. The Supreme Court endorsed lawmakers’ sweeping power to demand information, he argued, and agreed they could obtain a president’s private information under specific circumstances, which the House ultimately met in that instance.

Mostly, he said, the rulings he pursued all the way to the Supreme Court were a function of Trump’s willingness to battle Congress more aggressively than any of his predecessors. But Letter hopes that marked a unique moment in history.

“I would hope that we’ll go back to a system where there are nowhere near as many fights in court,” he said.

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House launches wide-ranging review of federal handling of Jan. 6 insurrection

Seven House committees launched a sweeping investigation Thursday into the federal government's handling of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol — fueled by thousands of Donald Trump supporters who backed his false claim that the 2020 election was stolen — and the intelligence and security breakdowns that preceded it.

In letters to 16 agencies across the Executive Branch and Congress, the panels asked for all communications sent between agency officials regarding Congress' Jan. 6 session, when lawmakers certified Joe Biden's Electoral College victory. The requests demand all relevant documents and messages from Dec. 1, 2020, to Jan. 20, 2021.

The unusually broad committee review comes as Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been unable to secure bipartisan cooperation to launch an independent commission to review the federal government's handling of the attack, which left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer. The Justice Department has since charged more than 300 people with breaching the Capitol, including dozens who they allege conspired to violently halt the Electoral College certification.

“We understand that the Department continues to investigate and prosecute individuals involved in the events on January 6, 2021," they wrote in a letter to the Justice Department. "We are happy to work with you to ensure that the document requests in this letter do not interfere with ongoing investigations and prosecutions.”

The congressional investigation is reminiscent of the multi-committee efforts that pursued Trump's first impeachment probe in 2019. At the time, Pelosi regularly huddled with six key committee chairs who were pursuing Trump-related investigations.

The panels pursuing the Jan. 6 response are the Judiciary, Oversight, Armed Services, House Administration, Appropriations, Homeland Security and Intelligence Committees — each of which has jurisdiction over elements of the federal response and Capitol Security.

The nearly identical letters were sent to the White House, National Archives, Justice Department, FBI, Pentagon, National Guard, Department of Homeland Security, Department of the Interior, U.S. Park Police and the intelligence community.

The committee chairs also reached out to the District of Columbia government and police department, as well as to internal congressional agencies like the Architect of the Capitol, the Capitol Police, and the House and Senate Sergeants at Arms.

Pelosi has been pushing for a 1/6 Commission reminiscent of the post-9/11 review authorized nearly two decades ago after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. But the plan snagged as Republicans demanded that the commission's purview expand beyond Jan. 6 to include left-wing violence. Republicans pinned the blame on Pelosi's draft proposal to give Democrats a numerical edge on the panel. Pelosi has said the structure is negotiable.

Asked about the status of the commission on Thursday, Pelosi told reporters she is still seeking a bipartisan approach, but she hinted at what was to come: "We have other, shall we say, paths."

Sarah Ferris contributed reporting.

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Jan. 6 aftershocks worsen as ‘Cold War’ in the House escalates

When a catastrophic tech failure delayed the start of a hearing Thursday on the House’s ability to punish its own members for misconduct, it wasn’t immediately clear that it would be the high point of the afternoon session.

Then lawmakers started talking.

The two-hour meeting of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties — billed as an academic review of lawmakers’ ability to punish or expel one another under House rules — quickly devolved into a tidal wave of outrage, a snapshot of the increasingly toxic environment that has enveloped Capitol Hill since a mob of pro-Donald Trump supporters stormed the Capitol and sent them fleeing for their lives.

Democrats continue to seethe over their GOP colleagues who countenanced Trump’s efforts to discredit the election, and blame them for contributing to the atmosphere that inspired the mob. Republicans have largely sidestepped that debate, but as Democrats have begun ramping up tactics to marginalize the 138 House Republicans who voted to reject some of the 2020 results, some are beginning to bristle more vocally. And at Thursday’s hearing, the dam broke.

Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) accused Democrats of an “outrageous abuse of power,” of “sparking a political war” and attempting to “criminalize” GOP dissent. He compared relationships between the parties in the House to a “Cold War” that would lead to “mutually assured destruction.”

When it was his turn, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) scoffed at the “waterfall of counterfeit outrage and indignation,” underscoring that no lawmakers had actually been punished for their words or their votes, but that surely inciting a violent insurrection was different than making objectionable comments.

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 9: Lead U.S. House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) leaves at the conclusion of the the first day of former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial at the Capitol Building on February 9, 2021 in Washington, DC. House impeachment managers will argue that Trump was singularly responsible for the January 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol and he should  be convicted and barred from ever holding public office again. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Raskin went on to characterize the modern Republican Party as a “religious cult” warped in service of Trump, whom he called a “snowflake” for trying to “cancel” the 2020 election, all while his GOP allies screamed about “cancel culture.”

“You invented cancel culture,” he said. “This right-wing cancel culture has run amok.”

Johnson responded by asking for Raskin to withdraw his attacks on Trump, particularly the snowflake jibe.

“The name-calling of the former president ... obviously violates the rules,” Johnson said.

The exchanges were emblematic of the whole hearing, where the testimony of four witnesses was largely an afterthought. The witnesses largely agreed that the House has the power to punish and even expel its own members under the Constitution, but that the process should be deployed only in exceedingly rare and clear-cut cases when a supermajority — and not just one political faction — deems it necessary.

Republicans, though, viewed the hearing itself as part of an increasingly clear effort by Democrats to begin seeking ways to punish those they view as responsible for the Jan. 6 insurrection. That effort, they said, began just days ago when Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) posted a 2,000-page dossier of tweets by GOP lawmakers that called into question the integrity of the 2020 election. Johnson accused Lofgren, who sits on the Judiciary Committee but not the subcommittee that met on Thursday, of “outrageous abuse of power” and said it might have violated House rules since she tasked her personal office staff with the effort.

“This is a Rubicon that’s being crossed here,” he said.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020.

He and other Republicans on the panel also argued that Democrats seemed intent on punishing Republicans who voted to challenge the results in certain states even though many of them, including Raskin, had done the same in 2017.

Democrats rejected that argument forcefully.

“No reasonable person can in good faith compare what happened on Jan. 6, 2017, with what happened on Jan. 6, 2021, when the president of the United states of America, aided and abetted by members of congress, incited an insurrection that resulted in an armed assault on the United States Congress that resulted in the deaths of 6 people,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.). “On Jan. 6, 2021, many of us here today personally experienced just how fragile our democracy is. Yet here we sit today, some of us acting as if what happened on Jan. 6, 2021, never happened.”

Hank Johnson then read a definition of “seditious conspiracy,” a federal criminal offense, and asked whether a member of Congress found to have committed the offense should be expelled from the House.

One of the most tense exchanges occurred when Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) slammed the panel’s chairman, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), for accusing Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) during a CNN interview of being in league with the Capitol rioters and potentially helping some of them scout out the tunnels. Cohen interjected to say he never said he was certain that he saw Boebert with some of the would-be insurrectionists, but had seen her in a tunnel with a group of people in the days leading up to Jan. 6. Boebert has fiercely denied leading any potential rioters through the Capitol complex.

Jordan refused to accept Cohen’s explanation.

“You know what you did, Mr. Chairman,” he said.

FILE - In this Feb. 4, 2021 file photo, Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., arrives at the House chamber at the Capitol in Washington. Immigration-Sanctuary. Caption information: U.S. Rep. Bush, a St. Louis Democrat, filed a private bill Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, that would grant permanent U.S. residency to Alex Garcia, a Honduran immigrant who has lived inside a suburban St. Louis church since 2017 to avoid deportation. Private bills provide benefits only for the specified individual and are rare. Bush said only four have passed over the past 14 years. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite File)

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), a progressive freshman lawmaker who has drawn some of the sharpest attacks from Republicans, accused some of her colleagues of fomenting death threats against her.

“It dawned on me very early on that not all members are united in doing the people’s work within the people’s house,” she said. “Many are here to distract, detract and disrupt.”

As the hearing neared its end, Cohen returned to Mike Johnson’s complaint that Raskin had violated the rules by attacking Trump. He noted that while Trump was president, that rule might have applied.

“When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way,” he said, citing the “West Side Story” parlance. But now that he’s left office, Cohen added, Trump is fair game for Raskin’s harshest commentary.

That theatrical aside, ironically, drew one of the hearing’s only glimmers of cross-party good humor.

“I don’t want to mess up the hearing,” said Rep. Michelle Fischbach, a freshman Republican from Minnesota, “but I just want to say how much I appreciated your ‘West Side Story’ reference.”

The comment drew a hearty laugh from Cohen, who then ended the hearing using a mini Louisville Slugger baseball bat as a gavel.

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9/11 Commissioners warn Democrats: 1/6 Commission won’t be easy

Democratic leaders are about to find out if they can use post-9/11 bipartisanship as a model to investigate an insurrection that took place 20 years — and 20 bitter political lifetimes — after the devastating 2001 attacks. If history is any guide, it won’t be easy.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is conferring with former members of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, which took a year and a half to assemble a comprehensive report that became a best-seller, as she accelerates her push for a 2021 successor commission to probe the Jan. 6 siege on the Capitol. Democrats could release legislation creating that commission as soon as this week, but any effort to recapture a post-9/11 sense of urgency and restore a sense of statesmanlike inquiry into the security failures of last month is bound to run into a familiar obstacle: Donald Trump, newly emboldened days after his Senate acquittal on charges of inciting the insurrection.

Leaders of the widely praised 9/11 Commission, whose exhaustive findings became the basis for government-wide reforms in response to Al Qaeda’s 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, told POLITICO in interviews that Congress’ only chance at a successful sequel is to keep hot-blooded partisanship out of it. But doing so in an age of supercharged disinformation and limitless fealty to Trump may complicate the equation, they say.

“The fact that we're now even more polarized and toxic and partisan than we were when we created the 9/11 commission is true,” said Tim Roemer, who served as one of the panel's five Democratic members.

The idea that "we can have people work together, accomplish the goals and make forward recommendations to heal the country and strengthen the country is even more important in many ways," Roemer added, "given the depth of the division and the poisonous toxicity that exists today.”

Roemer is one of several 9/11 Commission veterans in touch with the speaker as she adapts the framework for last month's insurrection. Former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, a Republican appointed by George W. Bush to chair the commission, along with co-chair Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman, are also advising her.

Pelosi has described the forthcoming proposal as a way to “get to the truth” of what happened on Jan. 6, and she is conferring with fellow senior Democrats on the proposal before seeking GOP input, according to multiple Democratic aides. While she steered Democrats to a lightning-quick second Trump impeachment last month, calling a vote one week after the insurrection, Pelosi insisted that the proposed commission "has nothing to do with President Trump."

"It's about the security. How did this happen? Where do we go from here?" she told reporters Friday. Among the issues the commission would probe, Pelosi added, are "white supremacy," anti-Semitism and other factors identified as driving domestic extremism of the type on view at the insurrection.

The final commission legislation is expected to closely mirror the structure of the 9/11 Commission — a bipartisan 10-member panel given wide latitude and independence to pursue its investigation. But even as Democrats insist that they want the legislation to have strong bipartisan backing, multiple Republicans have privately complained they haven’t even been included in the drafting process.

Some in the GOP have already endorsed the idea of a 9/11-style commission to independently probe the violent riot that broke out as Congress met to certify President Joe Biden's victory in November. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) has proposed his own legislation on the topic alongside Reps. John Katko (D-N.Y.) and James Comer (D-Ky.). A Davis spokeswoman said he has not yet seen what Pelosi plans to introduce.

Democrats say that's because they want to reach a final agreement among themselves before taking the proposal to Republican leaders. Pelosi is still working with her committee chairs and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to hammer out the final details.

Schumer “100 percent” supports an independent commission to investigate events surrounding the Jan. 6 insurrection “and looks forward to it being approved by both chambers with overwhelming bipartisan support,” spokesperson Justin Goodman confirmed in a statement Tuesday.

Members of the 9/11 Commission urged Democrats to carefully define the scope of their proposed Jan. 6 panel. Legislation establishing its mission, they said, should exclude extraneous issues but focus on painting the most comprehensive picture possible of who and what fueled the insurrection, including the funding of its participants, and who botched the security response.

"During the course of [the 9/11] investigation, we asked the staff again and again to tell us what the mandate was," Hamilton said. "The mandate governs the process, and it has to be very carefully worked out.”

The commission must also have subpoena power and adequate resources, they say. Kean also told POLITICO that the 9/11 Commission became a clearinghouse of sorts to debunk conspiracy theories about the event — suggesting that any 1/6 commission could fulfill a similar purpose.

"This is a time when rumors spread, when falsehoods abound," he said. "It’s hard for people to understand what’s true and not true."

But the most important decision of all can’t be written into the legislative text: the appointment of commissioners, whose selection is likely to be divided among the White House and congressional leadership. White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday indicated support for the establishment of a commission and vowed Biden's administration would aid the effort if it passes.

Appointees and staff for any commission on the insurrection must have credibility on both sides of the aisle, 9/11 Commission members said, warning that anything less risked dooming the commission to failure. Appointees to the 9/11 panel, chosen by then-President Bush as well as by the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, then hired a staff to do its day-to-day work.

“Anybody who’d been active in the recent political campaigns” was ruled out, Kean said of the staffing process. “I think we got 10 recommendations for counsel, and on tracking them down they had all been very partisan. So we picked the eleventh.”

Commissioners faced skeptics at the time, and they were quick to recall pretty intense partisanship in those days too, despite rosy recollections of a previous era. The disputed Bush-Gore election of 2000 was still fresh, conspiracy theories about the 9/11 attacks had proliferated and partisan distrust — perhaps a quainter version of it — was on the rise on Capitol Hill.

“The Washington chattering class doomed the 9/11 Commission to certain failure, predicting that we would end up in a partisan food fight,” said attorney Richard Ben-Veniste, another one of the 9/11 commission’s Democrats. “The reality was that … the individuals who were selected were able to put aside their partisan impulses for the purpose of the greater good."

That's one reason former commissioners said it’s important that any new effort include voices from outside Washington who have track records that would lend themselves toward cooperation — whether it’s former governors, attorneys general or mayors — as well as ex-lawmakers.

Kean, who spent his youth in and out of the Capitol as the son and grandson of members of Congress, said it's still impossible to compare the bloodshed and shock of 9/11 with Jan. 6. But, he added, it was “shattering” in a different way to see the symbol of American democracy sullied by the violent riots.

“You go into that building with awe and a sense of reverence," Kean said of the Capitol. "This was a psychological shock to the country."

Former 9/11 Commission members also recalled that outside activism from the families of 9/11 victims was an important force, both in shaping the commission itself and ensuring it stayed on track. Roemer said they helped muscle legislation creating the commission — a proposal from him and the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) at the time — through Congress, despite some initial concerns from the Bush administration about what a probe might turn up.

A similar outside push to create an insurrection commission from ideologically diverse groups will be crucial to create "moral suasion" this time as well, Roemer said.

Trump's presence is only one of many challenges that could bedevil any efforts to generate bipartisan agreement on a commission. Another is lingering distrust among lawmakers themselves: Democrats have accused some of their GOP colleagues of leading suspicious tours through the Capitol on Jan. 5, raising the specter of inside help for the rioters. Pelosi has stood up magnetometers in response to concerns that some members were entering the House floor armed.

Republicans, meanwhile, have begun to suggest that Pelosi herself has questions to answer about decisions about Capitol security on the eve of the riots. Davis and Comer, joined by Reps. Devin Nunes of California and Jim Jordan of Ohio, have said they want Pelosi to preserve her own office’s records on the subject.

But overlaying everything is Trump’s own uncertain political future. The former president basked in his impeachment trial acquittal — even though the 57 senators voting to convict him marked the most bipartisan impeachment trial in U.S. history — and has promised to mount a political comeback. And Trump has proven dedicated to stymieing investigations into his conduct.

Trump aides did not respond to a request for comment on the panel.

Heather Caygle, Marianne Levine and Meridith McGraw contributed to this report.

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Pelosi reiterates call for 9/11-style commission on Jan. 6 insurrection

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday that Congress must “get to the truth” of the causes of the Jan. 6 insurrection, saying the House will move quickly to establish a 9/11 Commission-style review of the deadly attack and the security failures that allowed a mob to overrun the Capitol.

In a letter to House Democrats, Pelosi said establishing such a panel would be the House’s “next step,” signaling the imminent advancement of legislation designed to provide a forum to answer many of the lingering questions about the insurrection, which left five people dead. Among the issues a commission could probe are former President Donald Trump’s role in inciting the riot and the delayed arrival of the National Guard once the violence had broken out.

Pelosi also wrote Monday that House Democrats would offer a supplemental spending measure "to provide for the safety of members and the security of the Capitol."

She has previously announced her support for both proposals, but Monday's letter comes just two days after the Senate voted to acquit Trump for inciting the insurrection during an impeachment trial that forced lawmakers to relive the trauma they experienced only a month earlier. Pelosi has also tasked retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré with a review of Capitol security, and he has already recommended an increase in the allowance for individual lawmakers to spend on security.

The bipartisan 9/11 Commission was a massive two-year undertaking that resulted in an authoritative accounting of the terrorist attack that left thousands dead in New York and Washington, D.C. The panel held a dozen public hearings and published a 561-page report that became the first comprehensive guide to the 2001 attack, its causes and recommendations for the future.

House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in a phone interview that a similar panel for Jan. 6 is a necessary step toward unearthing the root causes of the insurrection — going beyond Trump’s immediate role to examine the extremists who heeded his call to descend on Washington last month. Schiff noted that his committee and others are already looking into whether the Trump administration turned its attention from the domestic security threat of white nationalism to appease the former president by focusing on left-wing extremism.

Last week’s impeachment trial in the Senate made clear the extent of evidence about Trump’s role in the violence that remains unrevealed. House Democrats brought their impeachment case against him without an accompanying investigation — a reflection of the hurried, urgent nature of the effort given Trump’s waning days in office.

Republicans, too, have raised questions about the circumstances that caused the dire security threat on Jan. 6. They’ve focused primarily on whether House Democratic leaders themselves bear any responsibility for that day's scattered security posture. Democrats have said they were assured the National Guard was prepared for protests during the certification of President Joe Biden's victory, only to find out later that this was not the case.

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House Republican pleads for Pence, Trump aides to speak out on Jan. 6 insurrection

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, one of 10 House Republicans to support Donald Trump's impeachment for inciting the Capitol insurrection, pleaded with those close to the former president — and former vice president Mike Pence — to come forward and reveal what they know about Trump's conduct.

"To the patriots who were standing next to the former president as these conversations were happening, or even to the former Vice President: if you have something to add here, now would be the time," Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) wrote in a statement released late Friday, on the eve of what is expected to be the Senate's final vote in Trump's impeachment trial.

Herrera Beutler issued the statement amid a new wave of attention on a story she has been telling since last month: that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy relayed details of a phone call he had with Trump while the violent mob was ransacking the Capitol.

In Herrera Beutler's telling, McCarthy urged Trump to call off the mob, to which Trump initially responded that he couldn't because it was made up of left-wing extremists — a falsehood that has been debunked by federal investigators.

When McCarthy refuted Trump, the former president responded, "Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are," according to Herrera-Beutler.

The comment is further evidence that supports the case the House has been mounting during the Senate trial — that Trump ignored his allies' pleas to call off the rioters and demand that they go home. Rather, he seemed more interested, they argue, in continuing to find ways to delay the certification of Joe Biden's victory as president that day.

Herrera Beutler's anecdote dovetails with the revelation from Sen. Tommy Tuberville that he directly informed Trump at around 2:15 p.m. on Jan. 6 that Pence had been evacuated from the Senate chamber just minutes earlier. At 2:24 p.m., Trump tweeted an attack on Pence, saying he lacked "courage" for refusing to unilaterally block Biden's victory.

It's unclear if Herrera Beutler's entreaties will have any impact just hours before the Senate is expected to conclude its trial and vote.

Late Friday, a Democratic senator cited the McCarthy and Tuberville revelations as a reason to potentially "suspend" the impeachment trial and seek testimony from both Republican lawmakers.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said House managers could also ask the "Secret Service to produce for review comms back to White House re VP Pence safety during siege. What did Trump know, and when did he know it?" No other Democratic senators have explicitly called for these steps so far.

The nine House Democrats prosecuting the case against Trump have yet to indicate if they want to call witnesses, though senators of both parties have anticipated that the trial will end without any additional testimony and quickly move to closing arguments and a vote.

Trump's attorneys have asserted that Trump was "horrified" by the violence at the Capitol and acted quickly to respond to it, claims that contradict recollections of numerous Trump allies and his own public statements on the day of the riots.

Herrera Beutler has been telling the McCarthy story since last month, including to her local paper, but it largely went unnoticed and wasn't mentioned in the House's impeachment case against Trump that concluded Thursday.

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Tuberville says he informed Trump of Pence’s evacuation before rioters reached Senate

Sen. Tommy Tuberville revealed late Wednesday that he spoke to Donald Trump on Jan. 6, just as a violent mob closed in on the the Senate, and informed the then-president directly that Vice President Mike Pence had just been evacuated from the chamber.

“I said ‘Mr. President, they just took the vice president out, I’ve got to go,'” Tuberville (R-Ala.) told reporters on Capitol Hill on Wednesday night, saying he cut the phone call short amid the chaos.

The existence of the phone call had been previously reported, but the detail that Tuberville informed Trump his vice president was in danger is a new and potentially significant development for House prosecutors seeking Trump’s conviction: it occurred just around the time that Trump sent a tweet attacking Pence for not having “the courage” to unilaterally stop Joe Biden’s victory. And Trump never indicated publicly that he was aware of Pence’s plight, even hours after Tuberville says he told him.

It’s long been unclear precisely when Trump learned of the danger that Congress and his vice president faced — though it was broadcast all over live television — but Tuberville’s claim would mark a specific moment Trump was notified that Pence had to be evacuated for his own safety.

Aides to the former president did not immediately return a request for comment.

The House impeached Trump last month for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection and began mounting their case in the trial Wednesday, the first of two days to present their evidence. The Tuberville call was among their examples to show that Trump remained fixated on stopping Biden’s victory even as it became clear that a mob devoted to him was ransacking the Capitol. Trump, they said, did nothing to publicly call off the rioters and instead called Tuberville to continue his effort to stop the transition of power.

The phone call itself figured into the House impeachment managers' case against Trump, detailed during Wednesday’s Senate trial arguments. The managers noted that while a mob encroached on the Senate chamber, Trump was ignoring his allies’ pleas for him to publicly call them off. Instead, Trump accidentally phoned Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) as he sought to get in touch with Tuberville to request that the Alabama senator continue objecting to the election results in order to buy time. Lee, according to reports in Utah’s Deseret News and CNN, passed his phone to the newly elected lawmaker for the brief call.

House managers say the call took place shortly after 2 p.m. Pence was evacuated from the chamber at about 2:15 p.m. and Trump sent his tweet attacking Pence at 2:24 pm. The entire Senate was cleared by about 2:30pm.

Meridith McGraw contributed to this report.

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How to watch Trump’s second impeachment trial like a boss

House Democrats aren’t expecting the sharply divided Senate to convict former President Donald Trump for inciting an insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6. They need 17 of the 50 GOP senators to break with the former president — which they know is unlikely. So instead, they’re going to exact as much pain as possible on Republicans, most of whom say the trial shouldn't even be allowed to happen.

And the newly disclosed rules for the trial provide a road map of sorts for how they’ll do it. Here are the crucial flashpoints in the trial, key details to watch and how Democrats plan to squeeze Republicans ahead of Trump’s near-certain acquittal.

1. Trying a former president

The House’s nine impeachment managers, led by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) — a constitutional law professor — plan to jumpstart the trial by cutting the legs out of Republicans’ top argument against Trump’s conviction: that the Constitution doesn’t permit an impeachment trial against a former president.

The Constitution’s limited guidance for impeachment says presidents convicted at trial can face two punishments: removal from office and disqualification from holding federal office in the future. Forty-five Senate Republicans have signaled that they are at least open to a constitutional theory that Trump cannot be convicted because there is no office to remove him from.

But a broad swath of the legal community, including prominent GOP lawyers like Chuck Cooper, says this argument is nonsense. The framers always intended former presidents to be eligible for impeachment and trial, they say, or else the prospect of disqualification would be meaningless. And besides, if a president could merely resign to avoid conviction, the impeachment power would be no power at all.

The Senate’s proposed trial rules require a four-hour debate on this subject at the immediate outset of the trial on Tuesday. If the Senate were to agree with the Trump team’s interpretation, the trial would end immediately and result in a dismissal.

But Democrats begin knowing they have the votes to sideline this argument — it requires a simple majority and they anticipate keeping their full caucus united, while picking off some Republicans who have signaled they disagree with the former president’s argument. The House will seek to display the broad, bipartisan support in the legal community along the way.

2. Leahy in the chair

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will not preside over Trump’s trial, a nod to the fact that he’s a former — not sitting — president. That has left the duties to Senate President Pro Tem Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat. Leahy will be tasked with deciding parliamentary questions and potentially ruling on other disputes that arise. Though the Senate as a whole has the power to overrule the presiding officer, Leahy’s interpretation of the job will help set the tone of the trial. Roberts adopted the historical role of acting as a largely passive player, deferring to the Senate and, guided by the parliamentarian, only occasionally chiming in to remind senators of the rules and procedures of the trial.

Leahy has vowed to be an impartial judge during the trial, but also will cast a vote as a trial juror — likely for conviction. Some Senate Republicans have already pointed to this unusual dynamic to suggest the trial is a rigged, partisan affair and it may be another pretense to reject the case against Trump out of hand.

One interesting quirk: Vice President Kamala Harris, the president of the Senate, has the authority to break any ties on procedural matters — such as whether to call witnesses. But there’s little expectation she’ll wade into this thicket, especially given the optics of weighing in on the disqualification from office of a potential future political opponent.

3. A cinematic experience

We now know that the House managers and Trump legal team will have 16 hours apiece — beginning on Wednesday — to make their most compelling case to the Senate. For Democrats, that means putting on a production heavy on the increasingly rich body of video evidence showing that the Jan. 6 insurrectionists took their cues from Trump, cited him as the reason they stormed the Capitol and viewed his remarks to them on that day as permission to confront lawmakers.

An underappreciated fact about the trial: The collection of evidence continues to build daily, with new court filings, social media snippets and videos taken by the rioters themselves surfacing in real time. Democrats plan to knit these together with Trump’s actual call on Jan. 6 for his supporters to “fight like hell” and march on the Capitol. Several of the subsequent participants in the insurrection told judges on Monday that they viewed Trump’s words as authorization, and one even called him an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the subsequent violence.

Democrats used video to powerful effect in Trump’s first impeachment trial — mounting a case that relied on Trump’s own words and actions. This time, they’ll have hundreds of hours of footage to cull to demonstrate the effect of Trump’s words. Trump’s team, which was caught flat-footed last year by the House’s reliance on technology, has signaled its own plans to deploy videos, potentially from violent riots that plagued some American cities over the summer and of remarks from Democrats that they’ve described as inviting violence.

4. What we don’t know

Trump’s attorneys appear poised to exploit the House’s decision not to mount an impeachment investigation as they present their own defense of Trump. In addition to their primary argument that the trial is unconstitutional — and that even a conviction could be ignored or challenged in court — they’re filling in blanks about the events of Jan. 6 in the light most favorable to Trump.

For example, Trump’s team argued in its trial brief Monday that Trump was “horrified” by the violence at the Capitol and did not sit on his hands or delay sending aid. Rather, they said, his White House grappled with a complex set of procedures to mobilize assistance. That assertion contradicts multiple media reports that Trump was uninterested in quelling the violence and was more concerned with chastising Vice President Mike Pence — even as he fled violent insurrectionists — than coordinating a security response.

Democrats are going into the trial without testimony on these matters from anyone in Trump’s orbit or from confidants and allies who might dispute the Trump team’s characterization of events.

But it was an unanticipated bombshell that nearly upended Trump’s first impeachment trial: the leak of John Bolton’s book manuscript, which revealed the former national security adviser’s conversations with the president about Ukraine. And in this fluid investigation of the Capitol insurrection, the potential for surprises remains high.

5. The Q&A tea leaves

After each team presents opening arguments, senators will have four hours to grill them and resolve any remaining questions about their cases. In last year’s trial, senators on the fence about whether to prolong the proceedings or acquit Trump provided clues to their position during the Q&A round. This time, if House managers are succeeding in persuading any GOP senators beyond the handful already considered open to conviction, it may be obvious by this phase of the trial.

One wrinkle: The four hours of questioning is just one-quarter of the amount of time allotted for similar questions during Trump’s 2020 trial on charges that he abused his power and obstructed congressional investigations.

6. The witness conundrum

The House impeachment managers have indicated that if they mounted a full-scale effort to secure witness testimony — from insurrectionists, Capitol Police officers, witnesses to the Jan. 6 violence and Trump’s White House aides — they might be able to secure even more damning testimony than they have on the record.

But there’s little appetite to prolong the Senate trial beyond the currently allotted week of proceedings. Democrats are convinced that Republicans who have made up their mind to acquit wouldn’t be moved even by smoking-gun type testimony. And the Biden White House has made clear its position that extending a trial for weeks or months would damage his agenda.

There’s no sign as of now that any minds are likely to be changed by this week’s proceedings. The question is: If the Democrats sense a shifting playing field — from an implosion by the Trump defense to newly emerging evidence that puts more GOP senators into the “persuadable” column — will they change course?

Though most trial business is required to occur before the arguments begin, the proposed trial rules explicitly defer a decision on witnesses until after the Senate’s Q&A period. At that point, the House managers and Trump team have two hours to argue the matter and decide whether to subpoena any witnesses or documents.

If both teams agree they have no interest in witnesses, it could be a short discussion. But the deferred decision gives each team a chance to regroup and assess its strategy late in the trial.

In 2020, the Senate narrowly rejected Democrats’ bid to subpoena Bolton, though two Republicans — Susan Collins and Mitt Romney — joined them. This time, Democratic leaders have said Trump’s alleged crimes were so overt that witnesses wouldn’t be necessary. But they’re facing cross-currents of pressure from progressives who want to see the case against Trump fully aired — and are worried that it’s a bad look to appear to cut corners in a trial about a deadly insurrection.

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Pelosi says any lawmaker who helped insurrectionists could face criminal prosecution

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that lawmakers found to have aided any aspect of the mob violence and insurrection that overran Capitol Hill last week could face prosecution.

"If in fact it is found that members of Congress were accomplices to this insurrection, if they aided and abetted the crime, there may have to be actions taken beyond the Congress in terms of prosecutions," Pelosi said at a press conference, choking up at times as she decried the racism and bigotry some of the rioters displayed openly on Capitol grounds.

Pelosi, in particular, singled out a participant in the violence who was wearing a sweatshirt that read "Camp Auschwitz," a reference to the concentration camp at which more than 1 million Jews were systematically killed during the Holocaust. Pelosi described a congressional delegation visit to some of the most notorious Nazi concentration camps that she described as a "transformative" moment for lawmakers who were overwhelmed by the "dehumanizing of people" that occurred there.

"To see this punk with that shirt on and his anti-Semitism that he has bragged about to be part of a white supremacist raid on this capitol requires us to have an after-action review," Pelosi said.

Authorities arrested the man seen wearing the sweatshirt, 56-year-old Robert Keith Packer of Newport News, VA., and charged him with violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds as well as unlawfully entering a restricted building.

Pelosi delivered her remarks two days after the House impeached President Donald Trump for inciting the riots that left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer. Those riots included an element of armed insurrectionists that federal prosecutors now say intended to assassinate top lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence for certifying President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 election.

Pelosi said that as a result, she's tapping a retired lieutenant general, Russel Honoré, to conduct a thorough review of Capitol security measures ahead of Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration.

She also said that the nine impeachment managers she appointed to lead the Senate trial have been meeting to prepare their arguments and strategy. She declined to say when she would formally deliver the articles of impeachment to the Senate, which would kick off a trial in the first days of Biden's administration.

Asked about the allegations by some House Democrats that Republican members of Congress may have aided the rioters, perhaps by giving them advance tours so they could scout the Capitol, Pelosi said she's interested in finding the truth.

"In order to serve here with each other, we must trust that people have respect for their oath of office, respect for this institution," she said. "We must trust each other, respecting the people who sent us here. We must also have the truth. And that will be looked into."

Democrats have not presented specific evidence that any lawmakers helped lead these tours but have asked the Capitol Police to provide logs.

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How Trump’s second impeachment will work

Democrats are embarking on the fourth impeachment in American history, exactly half of them aimed at removing Donald Trump from office.

But this one is unlike any other.

Conceived as lawmakers were ducking a violent mob that overran the U.S. Capitol last week, it's coming just days before the president is leaving office anyway.

Here's what you need to know when the House convenes at 9 a.m. Wednesday to begin the process.

1) Why impeach now?

Democrats are clear-eyed that impeaching Trump precisely one week before he's set to leave office might leave some Americans perplexed. But House leaders have emphasized multiple reasons for pushing forward anyway.

The top one is the egregiousness of Trump's conduct. Trump didn't just make intemperate comments at a rally when he urged his supporters to march on the Capitol and pressure lawmakers into halting certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s win. Those remarks were the culmination of a monthslong effort to convince followers that the 2020 election had been stolen from him.

Democrats note Trump embarked on a relentless campaign, even before Nov. 3, to sow doubt about the integrity of the election, and his claims grew more outlandish and conspiratorial over time, even as courts, election officials and fact-checks disproved them. One of Trump's moves considered most audacious occurred less than two weeks ago, when he called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and pressured him to attempt to unilaterally reverse Biden's victory in the state.

Democrats outline this lengthy effort, including the Raffensperger call, in their single article of impeachment, under the heading "willful incitement of insurrection." The conduct, they say, is so damaging to the bedrock of American democracy that taking no action would be a dereliction, even with Trump's term expiring.

A separate reason some Democrats cite to impeach: the process could constrain Trump's worst impulses in the final week of his term, knowing that any further incitement could coax Senate Republicans — most of whom have previously resisted the House's push — to act against him. And lastly, an ongoing impeachment would become the immediate backdrop for any attempt by Trump to pardon himself or his supporters for their role in the riots.

2) Will any Republicans support impeachment this time?

Yes. A dozen House Republicans — and maybe more — are considering joining Democrats. On the eve of the House’s impeachment, House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney announced she would vote to impeach Trump, and GOP Reps. John Katko and Adam Kinzinger said they would, too.

Particularly after it was reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated Trump’s actions qualify him for removal from office, there was a feeling Tuesday night that a flood of Republican support for impeachment might be on the way.

So far, at least three Republican senators have publicly signaled their openness to conviction this time. And a fourth, Sen. Mitt Romney, became the first lawmaker in history to vote to convict a president of his own party back in 2019. He was the only GOP lawmaker in either chamber to endorse Trump’s impeachment last time.

3) Can the Senate hold a trial for Trump after he leaves office?

Yes. Even though McConnell has privately expressed an openness to ousting Trump, he also recently signaled that the Senate wouldn't take up the House's articles until it returns to session on Jan. 19, a day before Biden takes office.

Trump's few legal defenders say the Senate has no business holding an impeachment trial for a private citizen, which Trump would become just 24 hours after the process starts. But the Constitution also empowers the Senate to impose a sentence on the convicted that isn't limited to removal from office.

A convicted president could be barred from holding federal office ever again, making a Trump 2024 comeback impossible. A Senate conviction could also strip Trump of his post-presidential salary and other perks from being an ex-president.

4) What would a Senate trial look like?

By their nature, Senate trials are slow and plodding. Typically, the first day is about formalities — the arrival of the Supreme Court chief justice and the swearing-in of the Senate to sit in judgment of the president. The second day is about setting the rules of the trial, including the parameters of potential witnesses and the length of arguments.

In 2019, each side had 24 hours to present their cases, split up over three days apiece. After that, the senators are permitted to ask the prosecutors and defense attorneys questions, a process that can take multiple days. That's followed by any additional motions — such as the calling of witnesses — before deliberations and a verdict.

This time, the Senate could go a few different ways:

— A traditional trial with similar lengths of argument that would extend a couple of weeks and consume the Senate's focus during the early days of the Biden administration.

— A truncated trial that includes significantly briefer presentations, an acknowledgment of the more public nature of the evidence against Trump.

— A lengthier half-day-at-a-time trial that permits the Senate to focus on its other business for large parts of the day. Biden has suggested this approach as a compromise that will allow him to govern with Congress in his early tenure even as the Senate considers the charge against Trump.

5) Who will represent Trump at the trial?

This is among the thorniest questions facing the president as he prepares to face his second impeachment. His original trial team included Jay Sekulow, Marty and Jane Raskin, and White House lawyers Pat Cipollone and Patrick Philbin. None of them are expected to return.

That leaves Rudy Giuliani — who has berated Republican senators as "quislings" in recent weeks for refusing to overturn the election — and Alan Dershowitz, who has defended Trump on free-speech grounds, as potential options, though Dershowitz has not committed to becoming a formal part of the Trump team.

The other question is, what opportunities will these lawyers have to answer the House's charges against Trump? Though Democrats prioritized due process last time, and at least afforded opportunities for Trump to rebut charges and present a case — chances Trump routinely passed up — their breakneck pace might preclude a more robust offer for the president to present a counterargument.

6) What if the Senate did remove Trump before Jan. 20?

This appears to be unlikely, but not impossible. It would require the Senate to return to session earlier than planned — a procedural gambit that itself would be difficult to arrange, as a single senator can object to doing so.

But if two-thirds of the Senate voted to convict Trump ahead of Jan. 20, Vice President Mike Pence would take office ahead of Biden's inauguration and Biden, despite lots of campaign merchandise suggesting otherwise, would become the 47th president of the United States.

7) Is there precedent for such a hurried impeachment?

Actually, there is, but it's been awhile. The first-ever impeachment, of Andrew Johnson in 1868, began one day after he violated the Tenure of Office Act.

A House committee recommended impeachment on Feb. 22 that year, and the president was impeached by March 2. Ultimately, the Senate trial dragged for nearly three months before Johnson was acquitted by a single vote. Don't count on a Senate trial lasting until April.

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