WASHINGTON — Staff members of the Jan. 6 committee were informed last week that the committee’s final report would focus largely on former President Donald Trump and much less on findings about failures by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies in the lead up to the attack, three sources familiar with the committee’s work told NBC News.
The sources said the plan was not set in stone and could change.
Last week, committee staffers were informed via a phone call that material prepared by several of the teams whose work did not directly link to Trump would largely not be included in the final report, according to the three sources. One source said a “pens down” order came after the call.
As it was described on the call, the sources said, the committee’s final report would reprise the case against Trump that was made during the committee’s televised hearings and not fully lay out the work of the separate teams of investigators examining other aspects of what happened. One of those teams focused on why the FBI failed to act on a torrent of information on social media threatening violence in the weeks leading up to the Capitol riot, as well as investigations into the radicalization pipeline and extremist groups like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.
The House resolution that created the committee said its mission included examining “facts and causes relating to the preparedness and response” of Capitol Police and other law enforcement agencies. NBC News has previously reported that one of the investigatory teams conducted more than 100 interviews and depositions with officials from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon, the D.C. and Capitol police, and other law enforcement agencies.
The final report — much like the committee’s hearings — seems to be shaping up to be “all-Trump,” one source said.
In a brief statement, a spokesman for the committee called this report “false” and later said it was “inaccurate and based on false information.” The FBI declined to comment for this article.
Experts said it could be a huge missed opportunity.
“The country suffered an intelligence and law enforcement failure of a scale that is in many respects comparable to 9/11,” said Ryan Goodman, a New York University Law professor who has written extensively about Jan. 6. “It’s important for the public to have a truth-seeking and fact-finding deep investigation into what happened. It is a tragic mistake if we are not able to obtain that kind of analysis from the select committee.”
The Jan. 6 committee is chaired by Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who is one of two Republicans on the panel. Its staff has included dozens of experienced former prosecutors and investigators who were divided into color-coded teams, each of which focused on different aspects of the investigation.
Two of the sources said the preliminary plan was to largely leave out material written by teams that weren’t focused directly on Trump.
The “blue team” examined the preparedness and response of law enforcement agencies. The “green team” investigated fundraising around Jan. 6. And the “purple team” looked into the rise of domestic extremism in the United States. The report will mostly focus on the work on the “gold team,” which focused on Trump.
Some staffers remain hopeful that members of the Jan. 6 committee might push back on the current plan and incorporate their research into the final report. But time is running out. The committee needs to release its final report before a new Congress is seated in January.
Former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who played a key role in the Trump-Russia investigation, said, “This is the reason there was a 9/11 report. You want to have an assessment of what did you do right and what did you do wrong. … Is it an intelligence failure or is it a failure to act on intelligence, and if it’s the latter what was the reason? Most people I know can focus on two things at once.”
Some committee staffers, who spent more than a year on the investigation, were upset with the direction of the final report, the three sources and another fourth source familiar with the committee’s work told NBC News. One of the three sources said staffers were “heartbroken” by the news that their work may not see the light of day, while the fourth source said there was considerable disappointment.
“There’s certainly frustration that over a year of work could be wasted based on what’s perceived as a political decision,” the fourth source told NBC News.
While the Justice Department’s inspector general department has its own, ongoing review into what information was available to law enforcement in the leadup to the attack, there’s no time line for the Justice Department’s report, and it is not likely to receive the same level of attention given to the findings of the Jan. 6 panel.
Congress has oversight over and controls the funding of federal law enforcement agencies. Much like the report of the 9/11 Commission, which highlighted profound CIA and FBI failures, any recommendations from the Jan. 6 panel could force changes designed to ensure that warning signs aren’t missed in the future. The Jan. 6 investigation could also highlight cultural issues within law enforcement that potentially blinded agents to the threat posed; after the Capitol attack, someone who appears to have been plugged into the FBI emailed the now-No. 2 official at the bureau, warning him that a “sizable percentage” of those in the FBI were “sympathetic” to Jan. 6 rioters, NBC News previously reported.
Questions about the FBI’s handling of intelligence have been highlighted in Jan. 6 prosecutions, including in the ongoing Oath Keepers seditious conspiracy trial. The son of one Capitol rioter who tipped off the FBI about his father, Guy Reffitt, in December 2020 testified at trial that he didn’t hear back until after the Capitol attack. In the Oath Keepers trial, testimony revealed that in November 2020, the bureau’s Clarksburg, West Virginia, office received a tip about an Oath Keepers call in which founder Stewart Rhodes talked about how Trump supporters were “very much in exactly the same spot that the Founding Fathers were” before the American Revolution and that “We’re not getting out of this without a fight.”
“Did anyone call you back?” the tipster who recorded that call was asked on the stand last month.
“Yeah,” the tipster replied, “after it all happened.”
The FBI previously said in a statement to NBC News that it had “increased our focus on swift information sharing” and “improved automated systems established to assist investigators and analysts” since the Jan. 6 attack.
The Jan. 6 committee did not end up spending much time on intelligence failures during its public televised hearings. But during a hearing focused on the Secret Service, the committee did highlight a tip about the Proud Boys that the FBI received and passed on to the Secret Service before Jan. 6.
“Their plan is to literally kill people,” the tip to the FBI read. “Please please take this tip seriously and investigate further.”