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A Sense of Frustration, Urgency as the January 6 Investigation Crawls Toward Midterms

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Zoe Lofgren was enjoying a few rare quiet minutes in her office, looking out the window at the U.S. Capitol dome. Lofgren is a 13-term congresswoman from California and a member of the committee investigating the January 6 insurrection. She was still digesting the committee’s six-hour-plus questioning of Jared Kushner from last week and in the middle of preparing to question, in less than 24 hours, Ivanka Trump. “So far things are calm,” she tells me. “As the day goes on it will get more and more fraught.”

Which is also an excellent adjective to describe the mood of the January 6 committee lately. Also frustrated. And agitated. Nine months and more than 800 witnesses into their work, congressional investigators, at least on the Democratic side, are displaying an ever-greater sense of urgency, publicly calling on Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice to take legal action against plotters of the attempted coup and the former Trump administration officials who have refused to cooperate with the probe. Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff, stiff-armed a subpoena, so the committee issued a contempt citation—way back in December. The DOJ has done nothing to enforce it. So last week, during a committee session, Virginia congresswoman Elaine Luria forcefully prodded Garland to “do your job.” (The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

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“We’re trying to do our job,” Luria tells me, with some heat. “Why is it when we get close to the White House inner circle and President [Donald] Trump, they refuse to tell us what they know? What are they trying to cover up and who are they trying to cover for?” And why, she adds, is the DOJ not acting on this faster?

The obstruction by Trump’s team is in many ways coldly logical, and it is completely in character. Less explicable is Garland’s caution. True, he wants any January 6–related prosecution to not appear partisan, something that’s extraordinarily difficult given the deep polarization in Washington. But the lack of basic procedural enforcement by the DOJ is spurring Democratic members of the January 6 committee to operate under the assumption that Garland won’t charge major coup players. And they hear the midterms clock ticking loudly: If Republicans regain a House majority this fall, the investigation will likely disappear. 

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Garland is unlikely to be swayed by the pressure. Advertising their complaints, however, provides Democrats some political cover in the event prosecutions don’t materialize. So Democrats are ramping up calls for the DOJ to start moving. “The Department of Justice, under its rules, doesn’t report to us,” Lofgren says. “But the committee—and by extension, the American people—we’re the victims of criminal misconduct here. So we obviously have a strong interest.” Last week, shortly after Luria had issued her blast at the attorney general, two unnamed sources told The New York Times that President Joe Biden was also exasperated with Garland.

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Daniel Goldman, a former federal prosecutor who spent much of 2019 building the impeachment case against Trump as the majority counsel for House Democrats, is wary, though, of the committee’s increasingly vocal attempts to prod the attorney general. “Both Biden and Garland have made it very clear that one of their objectives is to restore the political independence of the Department of Justice,” he says. “And so political pressure from Congress, I think, would have a greater chance of backfiring than being helpful. A lot of people are very frustrated at the pace of things. But if Garland does bring charges, they will come with more credibility because of the way he’s been careful and measured, and because of his history of being apolitical.” Goldman has a lot of praise for the committee’s work; he says he’s “dumbfounded”—in a good way—by the broad reach of the investigation beyond the events of January 6 itself. He’s particularly impressed by the savvy of the committee creating “essentially a backdoor criminal referral” that resulted in California district court judge David O. Carter asserting that Trump had “more likely than not” committed crimes in trying to stop the 2020 election certification.

The committee will keep plowing ahead regardless of the DOJ’s calculations, with public hearings expected, possibly beginning in May. Until then, committee rules don’t allow members to describe the substance of witness testimony. Lofgren, though, says Kushner’s demeanor was “very matter of fact. Precise. He wasn’t volunteering information that he wasn’t asked. I think it was good that he came in and answered questions. I don’t think it was the most significant interview we’ve had.” Kushner was traveling the day of the attack on the Capitol. Ivanka, however, was present in the West Wing. She reportedly did not plead the fifth as some other Trump advisers have done in committee interviews. 

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