One year after the massive assault on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, hundreds of judicial and political processes continue to search for the material and intellectual culprits of what happened, increasingly tightening the siege on former President Donald Trump.
The investigations are divided into two main groups: on the one hand, the police (led by the FBI) and judicial persecution of hundreds of people who carried out violent acts of vandalism on that day; and on the other, the open political process in the US Congress against people from the former president’s orbit.
MORE THAN 700 DEFENDANTS
To date, the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia has charged more than 700 individuals, residents across the United States, for crimes ranging from physically attacking police officers to impeding the exercise of their duties. functions, going through destroying government property and entering a restricted-access building.
“Entering the Capitol without permission is a very minor charge, but physical violence can carry several years in prison, especially against a Capitol Police officer, “ said New York University Law Professor Stephen Gillers.
In Gillers’ view, of all the different charges against the defendants, this is the one that can carry the harshest sentences.
In fact, the highest sentence issued to date – released on December 17 – was precisely for this reason, and fell on a man who attacked police officers with a fire extinguisher and was sentenced to five years and three months. from prison.
Although arrests are taking place in every corner of the country (there have been in the capital, Washington itself, and in states as far away as Minnesota, Alaska, and Hawaii), all defendants whose cases end up in trial will have to go through the District. Columbia, being the place where the events occurred.
“The trial occurs where the crime took place. However, if the defendant pleads guilty – that is, does not go to trial – and is not physically in Washington, the sentence can occur in any other part of the country,” Gillers clarified.
However, it does not seem that this is the most common route among the accused, since of the more than 700 detainees to date (a figure that will presumably continue to grow in the coming months), only about 150 have agreed to plead guilty, according to data from the US Department of Justice
One of those who did reach an agreement with the Prosecutor’s Office and pleaded guilty to obstructing an official procedure during a session of Congress was the most visible face of the assault on the Capitol, the man disguised as a bison and self-proclaimed “shaman of QAnon”. Jacob Chansley, who was sentenced to 41 months in prison in November.
THE INTELLECTUAL CONTROLLERS, TO THE CONGRESS
While the FBI and Justice deal with the anonymous citizens who were the protagonists of the events, the House of Representatives – controlled by the Democratic Party – carries out a parallel investigation into what happened on January 6 and the preceding days at the highest levels of the American government.
The “Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the US Capitol” is made up of nine members, but only two of them belong to the Republican Party and its future is in doubt if the Conservatives win control of the lower house in the legislative elections in November.
Unlike the courts in which the attackers are prosecuted, Congress does not have the power to punish anyone, so the investigation is merely informative.
However, if any of the people called to testify refuse to do so, the committee can find them in contempt, and then it is up to the Department of Justice to press charges.
That has been the case to date for three former Trump aides – his former adviser and former campaign manager Steve Bannon, his former chief of staff Mark Meadows, and former Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark – all found in contempt.
If found guilty, all of them could be sentenced to several months or even a year in prison.
Relatively low penalties but which, according to George Mason University Law Professor Ilya Somin, “could have enormously damaging consequences for the reputation of these people, who are high-level professionals and in many cases, lawyers.”
WHAT TO DO WITH TRUMP
At the bottom of the debate behind the Bannon, Meadows, and Clark cases is the figure of the former president himself: will the committee ask the Justice Department to bring criminal charges against Trump based on what it finds?
The possibility exists and the American press assures that it is something that the Democrats have on the table, but even among the progressive ranks themselves and the media of their orbit, there is a division of opinion on the issue.
While some voices – such as the chairman of the committee, Bennie Thompson – want to take the investigation to its last consequences, others warn of the danger that a request of this type will further politicize the perception that Americans have of the committee and even help Trump to present himself as a victim of political persecution.
In addition, the request of the committee in itself would not have any legal consequence, its validity would be only informative for the Government to decide whether to act or not, so requesting it and then that the Department of Justice does not even come to press charges is a realistic and potentially damaging scenario for the image of Congress.