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Jan. 6 panel aimed to write history. Will it upend Trump’s political future?

In the more than 2,400-word description of its focus, the committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol never mentions the words “Donald” or “Trump.” Its founding documents instead outline several purposes, functions and goals, promising to “examine and evaluate evidence” and search for “influencing factors” that led to the insurrection.

Late Thursday, after days of delays, the committee fully unveiled its conclusions, releasing an 800-plus-page report that provides recommendations for how to avert future attacks and a road map to holding those responsible for Jan. 6 criminally accountable.

The report’s findings, which were previewed in hearings this summer and fall, focused primarily on laying out a damning case against Donald Trump and his allies, adding new details of testimony from the former president’s advisers and family members, including as the riot was underway.

Its most important legislative proposal — rewriting electoral-college laws to clearly block the methods that Trump and his allies deployed in pressuring Vice President Mike Pence to block the vote — has already been approved in the Electoral Count Act. The legislation will be signed into law once President Biden receives a massive federal funding bill that includes the act, which won final approval in the House Friday.

On Monday, the panel referred Trump for criminal prosecution on four counts, a recommendation that now rests with the Justice Department.

The final weeks of the panel’s work had its share of internal drama, as current and former advisers battled over which pieces of the investigation to highlight — relegating law enforcement and security failures, for example, to a 30-page appendix in the back.

Regardless of those disputes, however, lawmakers and independent analysts credited the nine-member committee with providing the most authoritative account yet of Trump’s involvement in the events leading up to the Capitol assault and his lack of any action for more than three hours after it started.

And, with those details more deeply embedded into the public consciousness, committee members believe they have succeeded in one of their unwritten goals: complicating Trump’s ability to win elected office again, by making sure as many voters as possible fully understand Trump’s role in helping incite the deadly riot.

The most outspoken anti-Trump member of the committee, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), used her concession speech after losing her primary in August to assert that she would “do whatever it takes to ensure Donald Trump is never again anywhere near the Oval Office,” a turn of phrase she echoed during Monday’s closing proceedings.

“No man who would behave that way at that moment in time can ever serve in any position of authority in our nation again,” Cheney said.

Trump spokesman Steven Cheung called the committee’s work “a stain on the country’s history.”

“They have continued to target President Trump and his allies because they aren’t interested in the truth, but instead are focused on trashing democracy for their own political gain,” Cheung said in a statement.

The committee’s emphatic conclusion comes on the heels of the November midterms, in which voters rejected many candidates who echoed Trump’s extreme election rhetoric.

In the six most competitive states for the presidency in 2020, Trump this year endorsed nine candidates for Senate or governor who had never won statewide office. Eight of them lost, and the only winner, Nevada gubernatorial candidate Joe Lombardo, ran the most conventional Republican campaign of the group.

Those losses cost Republicans a chance at the Senate majority, and Republicans’ down-ballot struggles helped Democrats flip state legislatures in three battleground states. At least a dozen Trump-inspired candidates for the House lost close races, leaving his party clinging to a tiny majority with which they will have little ability to govern in a conservative manner.

“Being associated with Trump and his election denial was a big fat liability in key swing states,” said Amy Walter, publisher of the Cook Political Report and a leading independent political analyst.

Thursday’s report provided the public with vivid new details about how Trump and his allies worked to overturn his 2020 election loss and the extent of the warning signs about the danger in Washington on Jan. 6.

Among the evidence was an exchange indicating that Trump aides believed their boss approved of what he was seeing on television as his supporters stormed the Capitol.

“Potus im sure is loving this,” one Trump aide, Robert Gabriel, texted to another at 2:49 p.m.. By then, both the House and Senate chambers had been evacuated, one rioter had been shot and police were engaged in hand-to-hand combat with rioters inside and outside.

Alex Jones, the right-wing conspiracist who has claimed that the 2012 Sandy Hook, Conn., massacre of 26 schoolchildren and educators was a hoax, was in touch with top Trump advisers that day, the report said, texting GOP fundraiser Caroline Wren to ask “when he should leave the Ellipse and begin the march.”

“We are going to have you lead the march,” Jones told others about what White House officials told him.

The report tallied at least 200 efforts by Trump or his inner circle to pressure lawmakers or officials in states Biden won that had Republican-controlled legislatures; offered new detail about how extensively authorities catalogued what the panel called a tenfold increase in threats of violence in the weeks before Jan. 6; and concluded that Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rallies attracted violent extremist groups and helped nudge their behavior into the mainstream.

The revelations could add to a political shift that Walter and other experts saw beginning to happen a few months ago, just as the committee hearings had started, at a time when Trump’s march to the 2024 presidential nomination seemed all but preordained.

“Prior to the Jan. 6 committee hearings, his grip was just so strong,” said Sarah Longwell, an anti-Trump Republican strategist who has conducted regular focus groups with Republican voters.

“You would ask, ‘Do you want to see Trump run again in 2024?’” Longwell said, noting that at the time, at least half the Republican hands would rise in support for Trump — and often more. But that changed during the summer, she said, as the Jan. 6 hearings started drawing attention, including several prime-time sessions that drew nearly 20 million viewers across all networks.

“We would have groups where zero people raised their hands [in response to that question], and the way they talked about it was around his baggage, his electability,” Longwell said.

Others who supported the committee’s work are reluctant to give too much credit to the panel for weakening Trump. They suggest that the former president’s erratic actions — such as keeping classified documents at his Florida residence and private club and hosting antisemites for a pre-Thanksgiving dinner — have precipitated his political erosion.

“As a doctor, I’m sorry, I always say there is multi-factorial analysis. There’s more than one factor taking place,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who voted to convict Trump in his February 2021 impeachment trial.

“If Representative Cheney’s effort was to discredit President Trump, a lot of Donald Trump’s actions in the last six months would probably list him as a co-conspirator in that effort,” said Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Those who remain close to Trump contend the former president and his allies successfully branded the committee’s work as a partisan effort once House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rejected several Republican picks and instead went with her own selections: seven Democrats and only two Republicans — Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, another anti-Trump lawmaker.

“You had half the country right off the bat who were like, ‘Eh.’ And everyone immediately retreated to their corners,” said one Trump adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private deliberations of the former president’s inner circle.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that “it’s a partisan committee — I don’t pay any attention to it.”

Some legal experts were left wanting additional details about the investigation.

Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, said she still had some questions about potential links between groups such as the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys that played a leading role in the attack on the Capitol and the Trump advisers who were working out of the Willard Hotel a block from the White House, plotting the attempt to get Congress to block certification of Biden’s victory.

The committee “ran out of time,” McQuade said, acknowledging that the panel faced a year-end deadline once it became clear Republicans, who probably will disband the committee, were going to take over the House in January. “It would have been great if they could have had Mike Pence or Mark Meadows in there. But they did accomplish a tremendous amount.”

Ultimately, she added, “yes, I think they have achieved their goals.”

Aides to the former vice president and former White House chief of staff did testify, and Meadows did turn over thousands of text messages — prompting Kinzinger to call him the “star witness” even though Meadows never submitted to direct questioning.

Rubio, who clashed with Trump for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination but has been supportive in recent years, also dismissed the committee’s “credibility,” citing its “completely made-for-TV production,” with hearings that incorporated video presentations and other unconventional approaches that separated it from the usual stodgy affairs on Capitol Hill.

But that high-level production won kudos even from some Trump advisers, who acknowledged that the former president could not stop watching. “He’s obsessed with anything on TV,” said the adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The fact that it was this prime-time thing — he was definitely paying attention to it.”

Democrats certainly approved of the unorthodox presentation.

“They captured America’s attention, and I think that most congressional hearings are pretty boring,” said Warner, who has helped lead many high-profile hearings, including on Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election. “They managed to do it in a slightly different way.”

Cassidy, the Senate Republican, said that the most important work came in nailing down interviews of key Trump insiders, providing critics with more ammunition to rebut Trump’s most extreme claims about 2020.

“The more information that the public has, from credible sources about important events in our society, is a good thing,” Cassidy said.

Referring to the former first daughter, White House counsel and West Wing aide whose testimony frequently undercut Trump’s claims, Cassidy added: “If you have an interview with Ivanka Trump, Pat Cipollone or Cassidy Hutchinson, those are things that added to our understanding.”

Walter, of the Cook Political Report, noted that if the midterm elections had gone the other direction — if Trump acolytes such as Kari Lake had won the Arizona governor’s race and Republicans had won the Senate majority behind Trump devotees such as Herschel Walker of Georgia — the former president would have been crowing about how little impact the Jan. 6 committee had.

“The media attention given to the January 6 hearings helped to raise the saliency of the ‘democracy is on the ballot’ message that President Biden was stressing,” she said, while noting there is not a direct cause and effect.

Longwell’s focus groups, meanwhile, showed that over time Republican voters came to have a more nuanced view of Trump, not fully breaking from him but getting ready to turn the page.

“Trump just wasn’t at the center of their universe anymore,” she said. “There were other people they were starting to look at, and that has just really continued.”

Trump remains atop most early 2024 Republican polls, and he could still end up winning the nomination with relative ease. But his standing has slipped over the past few months — a change noted by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), during an interview with NBC News released Friday.

“Here’s what I think has changed: I think the former president’s political clout has diminished,” said McConnell, who declined requests to discuss the Jan. 6 committee report this week.

YouGov, which has broken down and tracked Trump’s favorability among Republicans, detects a slow, steady erosion. When the hearings started in June, 83 percent of Republicans had a favorable opinion of him. That ticked down to 79 percent in late July after the bulk of the hearings.

While he remained at 79 percent in late October, Trump’s favorability dropped below 70 percent last week, the lowest it has been since the tracking started.

The Trump adviser credited that fall to a long “list of self-inflicted wounds” by the former president, including the criminal investigation of allegations of mishandling classified documents and his nonstop talk about the 2020 election.

“I never hear January 6 committee stuff from any regular Republican out there I might talk to,” the adviser said.

But many say the committee did inflict chinks in Trump’s armor — especially by fanning the perception, even among some Republican voters, that he’s a political loser.

“I think the red wave becoming the red ripple probably had as great an impact as anything,” Cassidy said, noting how many races Trump’s candidates lost. “People started to say we can’t win with this guy — presidency, House, Senate, now midterms. This seems to be an anchor. That’s when I started to see things change.”

Hannah Allam, Aaron C. Davis and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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