The House select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has presented evidence in public hearings over a series of months about former President Donald Trump’s central role in a scheme to overturn results of the 2020 election. Even with the 117th Congress set to end Jan. 3, the panel continues to interview top Trump aides this week, including former adviser Kellyanne Conway and Anthony Ornato, the former Secret Service agent who oversaw the president’s S.U.V. travel on Jan. 6. The committee will finish its work and release a lengthy report of its investigation by year’s end. One of the most important voices on the committee has been that of Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin ’87 of Maryland, who was recently named chair of a Jan. 6 subcommittee in charge of wrapping up outstanding issues and recommending possible criminal and civil charges, while the full panel finalizes the report. A former constitutional law professor who coasted to re-election earlier this month, Raskin recently spoke to the Harvard Gazette about what the American public can expect in the coming weeks. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Harvard Gazette: Do you believe the former president committed any crimes and will the committee make any criminal referrals to the Department of Justice?
Jamie Raskin: Well, I won’t comment on referrals, but undoubtedly there is probable cause to believe that he has committed crimes — that seems unquestionable to me. I don’t think there’s anyone in the country who believes that any of this would have happened if Donald Trump had just accepted the results of the 2020 election. All of it flowed out of his determination to overthrow the election by any means necessary including — ultimately — coordinating a violent insurrection in an attempt to get the vice president to step outside of his constitutional role and just nullify Electoral College votes.
Gazette: Are any of those prosecutable given the DOJ’s high bar for taking any action that involves presidents?
Raskin: Well, more than 950 prosecutions have already been brought, and there are already a bunch of guilty convictions for conspiracy to interfere with a federal proceeding. That crime seems tailor-made for precisely what Donald Trump did. He tried to coordinate all these different elements of the “Stop the Steal” protests, which he called for on Jan. 6, to prevent the Congress in joint session from counting Electoral College votes. And they succeeded in interfering with that federal proceeding for several hours. So, I just don’t see how he escapes the jurisdiction of that criminal statute.
There are Proud Boys and Oath Keepers who have also taken guilty pleas for seditious conspiracy, which means conspiracy to overthrow or put down the government of the United States. I’ll leave it to the prosecutors to make that judgment.
Our essential role is to take evidence that we received that may be indicative of crimes and to make it available to the public and to the prosecutors. We intend to do that and have pretty much done it for most of the evidence we have. But we will close that process with our report.
Gazette: It feels highly unlikely that large numbers of Americans actually pick up hefty congressional reports like the Mueller report and really read them. How will the committee ensure that the public gets a full and accurate picture of what it has uncovered?
Raskin: I strongly believe people will read this report. There will be a huge number of details that we were unable to get into the televised hearings that will be available in the report. And the report will also contain our conclusions and recommendations for fortifying American democracy against coups, insurrections, political violence, and electoral sabotage in the future. We have also been determined from the beginning to use multimedia presentation for all our communications with the public. And so, I think people will see that this will not be the kind of report that sits on somebody’s shelf.
Gazette: The committee has announced that it will put forward some recommendations to Congress to close loopholes and legal weaknesses revealed by the Jan. 6 insurrection. What is the likelihood those will be taken up by a Republicans-controlled House?
Raskin: We’ve already advanced some proposals relating to the Electoral Count Act to try to create as much security as possible within the electoral process. There are certainly a number of members who believe that the Electoral College itself is not just an undemocratic relic, but a positive danger to us at this point. But it remains to be seen whether we would have enough votes to make a recommendation about that. In terms of categories of recommendations, we can contemplate recommendations having to do with defending the security and the integrity of the electoral process against violence and sabotage. We can talk about measures that will treat the problem of domestic violent extremist groups targeting the electoral process; we can try to address the problem of disinformation, conspiracy theories, and big lies on social media.
We’re in the middle of compiling all the legislative recommendations that different members seek to advance. Some of them may have short-term relevance and be on an urgent timetable; others might take longer to develop. But we hope very much to put them on the public agenda because the members are alarmed about the vulnerability of American democracy to these kinds of attacks on the heart of the electoral process.
Gazette: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul, was attacked by someone who was reportedly looking for the speaker herself and motivated by far-right political hostilities. Threats against members of Congress have risen from 3,939 in 2017 to 9,625 in 2021, according to U.S. Capitol Police. Do you worry about your safety and that of your family, given the growing specter of violence?
Raskin: We are definitely living in a climate of intensified threats and political violence, and we need to return to a time when there can be energetic political debate without it turning into political violence against elected officials and others.