Understanding the Investigation into the 6 January Attack on the US Capitol
Over 15 months ago, the United States Capitol was attacked in an act of domestic terror, attempting to halt the certification of the 2020 election results. Since then, there have been ongoing investigations into the attack by a House committee called the Select Committee to Investigate the 6 January attack on the Capitol. While the attack occurred over a year ago, the committee has made continual progress on its investigation. This accounts for the initially occasional and now, more frequent headlines about various testimonials. While these headlines are often soundbites, they are reflective of the persistent work of the committee.
The attack was a momentous event in US history leading to a number of thorough and complex investigations with multiple divisions, investigative bodies and prosecutors. Each of these components to the overarching investigation into 6 January has a specific purpose as well as its own set of limitations, especially between the work done by the Select Committee and the Department of Justice. While the former focuses on research and investigation, the latter serves as the prosecution and develops criminal charges. This article discusses in detail the functions and legal nuances of the different bodies within the investigation into 6 January.
The Select Committee
The Select Committee to Investigate the 6 January attack on the Capitol consists of thirteen house members: eleven Democrats and two Republicans. Their stated purpose is to investigate and report on the facts, circumstances and causes relating to the domestic terrorist attack on the US Capitol. In the last nine months since the investigations commenced, over eight hundred people have been interviewed by the Committee. One of the components of the Select Committee’s purposes is to propose recommendations, including legislation, in order to prevent similar occurrences in the future. One of the primary legislative controversies that has arisen since the investigation began questions the Insurrection Act of 1807 which grants the President of the US the authority to deploy military force within the US to respond to rebellion. While this was not used in the 6 January attack, it falls under the jurisdiction of the Select Committee in ensuring future domestic terrorist prevention. The Select Committee may contribute to ongoing criminal investigations into various criminal actions but it does not have the power to pursue criminal charges. This is strictly under the jurisdiction of the Justice Department.
The Justice Department
The US Attorney’s Office in Washington, DC acts as both the local prosecutor for the District of Columbia and the federal prosecutor. Within the DC US Attorney’s Office, there are two separate teams investigating the 6 January attacks, one focused on charging people for criminal participation in the riots and the other looking at the broader events leading up to the attack and the complicated conspiracies that potentially contributed to the attack. The national security and criminal divisions of the Justice Department in DC have been attempting to determine the extent of criminal activity involved in the 6 January attack. Following the immense number of charges over the past six months as well as the uptick in the subpoenas being issued to the Stop the Steal organisers. Stop the Steal is a group trying to prevent the confirmation of Joe Biden due to a belief that the election was altered by illegal methods. Additionally, numerous conspirators in the plot or associates of the former Trump administration have begun to increasingly cooperate with investigators in order to protect themselves from prosecution. A large contributor to the rapid number of subpoenas and charges by the Justice Department has been the increasing number of federal prosecutors that they have hired.
What has Happened So Far?
As of 3 April, 818 people have been charged by the US Attorney's Office in Washington, DC for both criminal participation and seditious conspiracy. Seditious conspiracy is a criminal act that involves two or more individuals that work together in developing a plan to overthrow the government or prevent the execution of its laws, a charge that is extremely rare. These have gone into effect against eleven members including the leader of the organisation Oath Keepers which believes that the US government is a part of an evil conspiracy attempting to strip the rights of individuals. These charges mark a shift in investigative developments and demonstrate the severity of the criminal investigation.
As the investigation continues, the public will likely see several developments within both the Select Committee and the Justice Department. This will likely include an increase in the number of subpoenas issued as well as criminal charges by the Justice Department. The Select Committee, however, is expected to conclude its investigation with recommendations to the Justice Department and the legislative branch of Congress, resulting in potential legislation to ensure that an attack like this never occurs again.