Congressman Bennie Thompson, chair of the House select committee investigating the Capitol attack, is preparing an expanded inquiry into Donald Trump that will scrutinize whether the White House helped plan or had advance knowledge of the insurrection.
The move amounts to an escalation for the committee as they embark on an inquiry into the events around the 6 January assault that could ensnare the former US president and some top allies in the White House and on Capitol Hill, portending an aggressive inquiry with far-reaching ramifications.
House select committee investigators in July started examining the events that left five dead and nearly 140 injured as a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election win.
But for the first time in a congressional inquiry, the committee will also scrutinize whether the White House was involved in efforts to precipitate the Capitol attack – and what Trump knew of such efforts ahead of time, according to a source familiar with the matter.
The committee’s intentions to examine potential White House involvement were telegraphed in part when Thompson last week issued sweeping requests for Trump executive branch records related to the insurrection, the source said.
In letters to the National Archives and seven other agencies including the justice department and FBI, Thompson said House select committee investigators were seeking documents and communications from the previous administration related to 6 January.
But in a notable additional request, Thompson also demanded communications of White House personnel and members of Congress that referred to attacks on the Capitol – on both the day of the insurrection as well as key dates before.
“Our constitution provides for a peaceful transfer of power, and this investigation seeks to evaluate threats to that process, identify lessons learned,” Thompson said in the letters.
The expansion of the dragnet to include 5 January is significant, the source said, since it raises the specter of the committee prying open a window into what Trump and his top allies were thinking and doing the day before the Capitol attack.
White House aides and members of Congress were among those who huddled that evening to pressure more Republicans to object to the electoral college results and push then-Vice-president Mike Pence to reject Biden’s certification, according to one Trump administration official.
The meetings alarmed some White House aides, the official said, because they feared it could leave White House aides vulnerable to charges that the administration was involved in plans to violently intimidate federal officials from carrying out the transition of power, a potential crime.
House select committee investigators are poised to examine whether Trump – who Republican senator Ben Sasse was told was “delighted” at images showing rioters storming the Capitol – contributed to such deliberations, the source said.
A spokesperson for the committee declined to comment on the direction of the investigation. But taken together, the committee’s moves mark a politically treacherous turning point for the former president and his supporters on Capitol Hill.
House and Senate Republicans in June blocked the creation of a 9/11-style commission into the Capital attack for fear it could conclude the GOP’s role in promulgating Trump’s lies about a stolen election incited the rioters and prove damaging in the 2022 midterms.
The House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, and the top Republican on the House judiciary committee, Jim Jordan, were already certain to face scrutiny over their separate phone calls to Trump on 6 January.
But far from avoiding a close accounting of the insurrection, the dooming of the commission opened an avenue for House speaker Nancy Pelosi to empanel a select committee and start an inquiry overseen by some of Trump’s fiercest critics in Congress.
CNN reported on Monday that the committee plans to order that a group of telecom companies preserve the phone records of House Republicans suspected of playing a role in the “Stop the Steal” rallies and marches before the insurrection.
The list was said to be evolving but included Jordan and Republican lawmakers Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Andy Biggs, Paul Gosar, Mo Brooks, Madison Cawthorn, Matt Gaetz, Louie Gohmert, Jody Hice and Scott Perry.
Enraged at the sharpening contours of the committee’s inquiry, which raises the prospect of an embarrassing airing of Trump’s private attempts to reinstall himself in the Oval Office, the former president threatened last week to block its efforts.
“Executive privilege will be defended, not just on behalf of my administration and the patriots who worked beside me, but on behalf of the office of the president of the United States and the future of our nation,” Trump said in a statement.
It was not clear whether invoking executive privilege would be successful. The justice department previously declined to assert the protection over 6 January testimony after the White House office of legal counsel determined it did not exist to benefit private interests
The National Archives also acknowledged to CNN earlier this month that they were in possession of records and communications from the Trump administration and indicated that they would comply with records requests from Congress.
Even as Trump threatened to mount court challenges against the investigation, House select committee investigators are expected to exercise a broad mandate that mirrors the framework used by Republicans for the select committee into the 2012 terror attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
The new line of inquiry – whether Trump and White House officials played a role in planning the Capitol attack – is expected to continue for months as the committee sifts through what is anticipated to be thousands of pages of documents, the source said.
Other investigative actions are also underway. The committee announced last week that it was seeking records from social media companies for material “related to the spread of misinformation, efforts to overturn the 2020 election or prevent the certification”.