Photo: Andrew Harnik / dpa
On January 6, 2021, a crowd incited by ex-US President Donald Trump violently entered the Capitol building where Joe Biden's election victory was being certified.
Five people died.
For a year and a half, a US Congressional committee of inquiry looked into how the storming of the US Capitol could come about and what role Trump played in it.
Now the result of the panel is here.
What did the special committee decide?
The investigative committee recommends that the Justice Department prosecute Trump and several of his aides, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Trump's chief of staff Mark Meadows.
They are said to have aimed to keep Trump in office despite his defeat in the presidential election.
Trump and his helpers should
tried to manipulate the election result,
planned to install a loyal henchman high up in the Justice Department,
falsified election documents
and incited the mob to storm the Capitol (read more about the allegations here)
The committee plans to publish its final report this Wednesday.
First of all, the decision has a symbolic character: the US Congress has never called for criminal proceedings against a former president.
No former US President has ever been on trial in his country.
What happens now?
The decision is not legally binding.
The Department of Justice around Minister Merrick Garland decides independently whether or not to indict Trump.
However, over a period of 18 months, the investigative committee has gathered all kinds of testimonies and evidence on which the decision is based.
And they could be of use to the new special counsel Jack Smith and his team in their investigations.
This essentially comes down to two points:
The first is the
storming of the US Capitol.
Smith and his people are investigating how Trump could be prosecuted for it.
On the other hand,
hundreds of government
documents that Trump is said to have illegally taken to his Mar-a-Lago residence after leaving the presidency.
Attorney General Garland appointed Smith himself as a special prosecutor, probably because Smith is not a political official and is therefore considered to be particularly impartial (read more about the lawyer here).
Smith not only has access to the findings of the investigative committee, but also the preparatory work of the FBI and the previously responsible prosecutors.
It is therefore speculated that Smith could complete his work within a few months.
What charges could Trump expect?
It's still unclear what charges Special Counsel Smith could invoke if he decides to indict Trump at all.
The deputies on the investigative committee – seven Democrats and two Republicans – accuse Trump of inciting or aiding the uprising, obstructing an official process and conspiring against the US government, among other things.
According to the New York Times, prosecutors have used the charge of
obstructing an official process
in nearly 300 cases related to the storming of the Capitol.
They accuse the Capitol strikers of having disrupted the certification of Biden's election victory in the Capitol.
Whether the accusation can be applied to the mob is legally controversial.
According to the New York Times, however, the investigative committee sees evidence that Trump could be prosecuted under this law.
According to the newspaper, the allegation of
conspiracy against the US government
has so far mainly been used in cases against right-wing extremists or other capitol raiders who are said to have planned the attack beforehand.
Trump could also be charged on this point, it says – the committee believes that Trump misled the public.
He falsely claimed, despite information from his advisers to the contrary, that the election had been manipulated.
He worked with others on a "multiple plan" to stay in power.
According to the New York Times, the most serious charge would also be the one that is hardest to prove:
incitement or aiding and abetting a riot
So far, there has been only one conviction for a similar offense, "seditious conspiracy," in the context of the storming of the Capitol.
In a February ruling, a federal judge in Washington paved the way for an indictment of Trump on this basis, writes the New York Times.
Accordingly, according to the judge, it is possible that Trump could have aided certain Capitol stormers, including by waiting a long time before following advice from advisors and calling on the rioters to calm down.
What threat does Trump face if indicted?
Instigating or aiding and abetting an uprising is punishable not only with a fine, but also with a prison sentence of up to ten years.
If Trump is convicted of sedition, he will no longer be allowed to hold political office, even though Trump wants to try to become president again in 2024.
In reality, however, legal proceedings against Trump could drag on for so long that they would not necessarily stand in the way of a new Trump presidency.
"There would probably be extensive pre-trial disputes before a trial," the New Yorker magazine speculates, "including possible appeals that could go as far as the Supreme Court."
Even if Trump were indicted in early 2023 and confirmed as the Republican presidential nominee, it's unlikely he would "be in federal prison" before the November 2024 election.
How do party friends react?
Trump's former Vice President Mike Pence rejects impeachment against Trump.
"It would be incredibly divisive in a country and at a time when the American people want to see us heal," Pence said in an interview with conservative Fox News.
According to the report of the special committee, some rioters are said to have shouted "hang Mike Pence".
Pence himself is said to have been just meters away from the mob at one point.
Some Republicans anonymously told the New York Times that they feared Trump's party friends could now rally behind the ex-president.
Other Republicans are more skeptical: "I don't think Donald Trump can still be saved," the New York Times quoted former Florida MP Carlos Curbelo as saying.
Trump is “clearly on the way to becoming irrelevant.” Trump is sticking to his complaints about Biden’s election – but according to the “New York Times” the topic is no longer of interest to many voters.