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They’re only in charge of the House of Representatives for about a month, but Democrats who have spent years investigating former President Donald Trump and the Capitol insurrection face many unanswered questions.
Two of the most pressing questions:
The end of Democratic control in the House in January won’t end Trump’s legal issues, which include city and state trials in New York, a county investigation in Georgia and a massive inquiry by the Department of Justice. But it will seriously curtail the ability of his political enemies to use the power of Congress against him.
Speed read or what?
About the tax returns: Having finally achieved their yearslong goal of obtaining the former president’s financial documents after a court battle and delay by the Supreme Court, Democrats in the House lack the time to do much investigation.
The House Ways and Means Committee met Thursday to discuss the (short) path forward. While CNN has reported the committee has access to tax returns, committee chairman Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts would not confirm if he had possession of the documents, citing legal constraints.
Previously, Democrats like Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas had told CNN the committee could refer the tax returns to the full House and get the Democratic majority to publicly release portions before they officially hand over control to Republicans on January 3.
“There certainly is the alternative of making these documents public. And the time pressure here creates an added reason to consider doing that,” Doggett told CNN in late November, arguing that doing so would allow for a fuller public inquiry.
Much is already known
While there may be much to learn from the returns, it’s important to remember the public has had some access to them and his business practices have been the subject of much scrutiny.
The New York Times obtained copies and published detailed reports on them in 2020, including the finding that for many years Trump paid no income taxes.
Trump’s financial documents were also part of New York City’s criminal inquiry into his business’ practices – the trial of the Trump Organization is in its final stages – and of New York state’s $250 million civil trial that will kick off next October.
Still waiting for that report
The clock is also ticking for the House January 6 committee, although its problem is not a lack of time to investigate.
The committee, which featured Democrats and two anti-Trump Republicans who will be leaving office January 3, conducted more than 1,000 witness interviews, including as recently as this week, and is now scrambling to merge all of the information into a cohesive report – perhaps in time to be a stocking stuffer.
The committee’s last interview, by the way, was with Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Republican who was pressured by Trump to decertify Wisconsin’s election results as recently as this summer. Read more about Vos.
“I explained that it’s not allowed under the Constitution. He has a different opinion,” Vos told Wisconsin station WISN of Trump’s pressure over the summer. He had sued the committee in September, attempting to block its subpoena.
The full picture
While some of Trump’s efforts to overturn election results were in private, others were very public. The committee report will presumably tie them all together, as did hearings in the spring and summer.
“Some of it was overt. Some of it was hidden,” California Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a member of the House January 6 committee, told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins on “CNN This Morning” on Thursday. “And now we’re trying to finish up writing our report. It’s December 1st. We have a month at the most to go, and we expect to be done well before the end of this month.”
An interactive version
Lofgren said there will be both a printed version and an interactive version.
“So, it’s a lot of work involved, and the members of the committee are actively involved in editing and making sure that what we release is actually tethered to the facts we found, not going off on tangents or just opinions that we can’t tie into the facts,” Lofgren said.
Transcripts and referrals
In addition, many who have watched the committee’s goings-on, including the Justice Department, want to see more from the interviews, most of which were heavily edited for inclusion in the public hearings.
The report is not the committee’s only work. It must also determine whether to refer its findings to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution. The government has its own ongoing inquiry into the January 6 insurrection and wants to see the interview transcripts, but a recommendation from the House to prosecute Trump or his associates would place more pressure on that investigation.
“We want to make sure that we are on firm ground if we make any recommendations over to DOJ,” Lofgren said.
While questions remain about the remaining month, there’s some emerging clarity about what happens when Republicans take over – an investigation of the House investigation and an attempt to recast the narrative of January 6, 2021.
In fact, Republicans plan many investigations once they are in charge. Read this preview from CNN’s Annie Grayer.
The counter-investigation is coming
The Republican leader in the House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who is trying to win over enough conservative members to become speaker in January, wrote a letter to the January 6 committee instructing members to preserve records for a planned counter-investigation. Read more about McCarthy’s demands.
McCarthy, by the way, is among a number of subpoenaed witnesses who refused to cooperate with the committee. The Democratic majority could, conceivably, ask the Justice Department to prosecute him or otherwise sanction McCarthy before they lose control of the chamber.