WASHINGTON (CN) — It was the first Wednesday of the new year and a ceremony typically considered uneventful and rarely reported. Lawmakers recovering from a holiday break gathered in the Capitol building to certify that Joe Biden had won the 2020 presidential election, a representation of the peaceful transition of power.
But on Jan. 6, 2021, all eyes, and cameras, were on the Hill. Thousands of protesters moved closer and closer to the building, egged on by former President Donald Trump's months of unfounded claims that the election was plagued with voter fraud and the lawmakers inside the Capitol's walls were stealing the election from his grip. Once the mob breached the Capitol, a typically formulaic day became etched into the brains of millions of Americans. Five people died, including one Capitol Police officer. Approximately 150 people were injured.
Many details of the siege have been made clear in the intervening year, but House lawmakers tasked with investigating the insurrection are honing in on one area that still remains shrouded in mystery: What was known, and when, by Trump and his staff?
Experts say the Jan. 6 investigative committee's goal is to create a historical record of the day that rattled the country, and to determine the degree to which White House officials were involved and how security procedures failed to keep rioters out. But the committee faces an uphill battle as Republicans sharpen allegations that such efforts are mere political posturing by the Democrats.
“The main point of any commission like this is to investigate what happened and to really come up with the answer to the question ‘Why did this happen?,'" Todd Belt, director of the political management program at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management, said. “The secondary purpose is to provide recommendations to provide legislative remedies, 'What can be done to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future?'"
After holding one public hearing with the Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police back in the summer, the committee has been interviewing witnesses behind closed doors, racking up a list of more than 150 sources and keeping much of its investigation close to the chest.
"We’re in this investigative stage right now and and there is some of it that we’re seeing publicly and there is a lot of it that we’re not seeing," Molly Reynolds, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, said.
The committee is expected to resume public hearings in the new year, which will likely provide clarity on the unfolding narrative of Jan. 6. Reynolds said the committee's discussions so far have indicated the panel is likely to eventually recommend changes to internal security procedures among the Capitol Police force as well as legislative changes to the Electoral Count Act of 1887, an obscure law that lays out the process for certifying the presidential election.
Members of the committee have said publicly that the archaic and confusing law is an issue. Trump used a contrived understanding of the legislation, part of which allows for lawmakers to object to the certification of the election results, to garner support to overturn the election and incite the insurrection.
Recommendations to reform security procedures on the Hill are also a likely eventual result of investigation.
"There were a multitude of law enforcement agencies that were responsible for the protection of the Capitol, protection of the president, and, apparently, they were not talking suffieciently to each other. There was not adequate communication, there was not adequate policy and procedures for securing the Capitol," said Thomas Kahn, distinguished faculty fellow at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University.