Tuesday’s news that federal investigators have notified former President Trump of potential criminal charges for his efforts to retain power after his 2020 defeat has captivated Washington, roiled the 2024 presidential race and sparked an outcry from Trump’s GOP allies on and off Capitol Hill.
But for the lawmakers who spent the better part of the last two years investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol — and Trump’s role in it — the development came as no surprise.
“It would not surprise me in the least if Donald Trump were a target of criminal investigation based on everything that he did and everything that the whole world knows he did,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the select committee that had investigated the rampage, said Tuesday.
The Jan. 6 select committee spent roughly 18 months during the last Congress investigating the Capitol attack, interviewing more than 1,000 witnesses and airing its findings in a string of explosive public hearings before delivering its results to the Department of Justice (DOJ). Based on those findings, members of the investigative panel suggested that formal criminal charges from the DOJ would be an obvious next step.
“I don’t think there was any question … the committee, at the end of our work, [believed] that Donald Trump had something to do with it,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who had chaired the nine-member select committee, said of the violent attempt to block Congress from certifying Trump’s defeat. “So for him to receive a target letter is not something that would be a surprise.”
Hours earlier, Trump announced that he had received a so-called target letter Sunday informing him that he’s become a person of interest in the DOJ’s Jan. 6 investigation, which is being led by special counsel Jack Smith. Such advisories are typically delivered ahead of an indictment, and Trump blasted the investigation as a political witch hunt Tuesday.
“Deranged Jack Smith, the prosecutor with Joe Biden’s DOJ, sent a letter (again it was Sunday night!) stating that I am a TARGET of the January 6th Grand Jury investigation, and giving me a very short 4 days to report to the Grand Jury, which almost always means an arrest and indictment,” Trump wrote Tuesday on his Truth Social page.
Republicans have hammered the DOJ in the wake of the news, rushing to Trump’s defense with amplified claims that the DOJ has been “weaponized” under President Biden to go after the president’s political adversaries. In their telling, Trump has become a target solely because he is the front-runner for the GOP nomination in next year’s presidential contest.
“Recently President Trump went up in the polls and was actually surpassing President Biden for reelection,” Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters Tuesday. “So what do they do now? Weaponize government to go after their No. 1 opponent.”
In the days after the Capitol attack, McCarthy had said Trump “bears responsibility” for the actions of the “mob rioters,” but quickly made amends with the former president, who helped McCarthy win the Speaker’s gavel this year.
It’s unclear what charges Smith’s team might be weighing against Trump. Investigators in recent weeks have reportedly been meeting with a host of Trump’s former attorneys, aides and legal advisers, including those who had most aggressively publicized the false claims of a “stolen” 2020 election. And members of the select committee said they’re confident in the DOJ’s diligence if the agency does eventually bring charges.
“Their track record has been very solid when it comes to prosecutions, and we expect that the target letter and the work that the grand jury continues to do will meet that threshold of seeking the facts and holding people accountable, no matter where they are — and no matter who they are,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), another member of the investigative panel.
The Jan. 6 select committee, in delivering its findings to the DOJ, had recommended four separate charges against Trump: obstructing an official government proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, inciting an insurrection and conspiracy to make false statements.
“Ordinarily, if you get a target letter, you’re indicted,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), another member of the select committee. “And I’m interested in what the charges will be.”
“So far only the individual rioters have been held accountable,” Lofgren continued. “And I think it’s important that the accountability be not just for the foot soldiers, but for the generals who designed this.”
Thompson said the committee went out of its way to keep its distance from the separate DOJ investigation, noting that the panel had refused to share any of its findings with the administration while the congressional probe was still open.
“There was an effort to get some of the material before we finished, and we resisted. Because we didn’t want to be a part of the politics of our committee and DOJ,” Thompson said. “We wanted to separate our challenge and our charge, and that’s what we did.”
Thompson also said he’s had no communication with DOJ investigators since his select committee turned its findings over to the agency and disbanded at the end of last year.
“We’re out of business,” he said. “We’re out of business.”
Mychael Schnell contributed reporting.