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The ongoing quest for accountability two years after the Jan. 6 riot

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Today is Friday, January 6, 2023, two years from the day when rioters who supported Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol in order to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

DONALD TRUMP: And we're going to the Capitol. And we're going...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: We're seeing protesters overcome the police.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: We're in. We're in. Let's go.

CHUCK GRASSLEY: We'll stand in recess.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Protesters are in the building.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Thank you.

PETER WELCH: There has been tear gas in the rotunda.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Break it down.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Break it.

MIKE GALLAGHER: Mr. President, you have got to stop this.

TRUMP: We love you. You're very special. I know how you feel. But go home. And go home in peace.

MIKE PENCE: Today was a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol.

NANCY PELOSI: And we'll stay as long as it takes.

KELLY: Well, it has taken and continues to take time to hold people accountable for their actions that day. The biggest criminal investigation ever in the history of the Department of Justice has resulted in the arrests of more than 900 people. But we still await more arrests, charges and trials. And there is, of course, the question of whether former President Trump violated federal law to try to remain in power. NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson and senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro are here to lay out the big picture for us. How are you two?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hey there.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Thanks for having us.

KELLY: Carrie, kick us off by giving us the current tally. Two years from the day, how many people have been arrested and prosecuted?

JOHNSON: This has been an enormous undertaking. And it's not over yet. There are more than 950 arrests and nearly 500 guilty pleas so far, dozens of trials. Many people - hundreds of people have been sentenced already by judges. Among the most notable is Thomas Webster, a retired New York Police Department official who was found guilty of beating police officers with a flagpole on January 6. He got a 10-year sentence. Another defendant, Guy Reffitt from Texas, was the first January 6 defendant to take his case to trial in federal court in Washington, D.C. He got more than seven years. The Justice Department says that many, many other cases are ongoing. And then there, of course, have been satellite prosecutions like of the former presidential adviser, Steve Bannon, who was sentenced to four months in prison for flouting cooperation with the congressional panel investigating what happened on January 6.

KELLY: And keep going up from Steve Bannon. What of the very top echelon here of former President Trump and his inner circle? There are, of course, so many investigations. It can be hard to keep track. Where do they stand?

JOHNSON: Well, there has been a lot of activity here. But there also has been a lot of demand for more action, demand from people like Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin, a Democrat and a member of the January 6 committee who talked about that issue at the last public meeting of the panel.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMIE RASKIN: Ours is not a system of justice where foot soldiers go to jail and the masterminds and ringleaders get a free pass.

JOHNSON: And, of course, Mary Louise, the January 6 committee made criminal referrals to the Justice Department, nonbinding criminal referrals...

KELLY: Right.

JOHNSON: ...But concluding that former President Trump may have violated laws that relate to aiding an insurrection, conspiracy to defraud the U.S., obstruction of a congressional proceeding and conspiracy to make a false statement related to those fake electors. The Justice Department has been particularly active. We now, as of November, have a special counsel, Jack Smith. He's on the job here in Washington, we learned this week. And he's sifting through lots and lots of material. We know that he's got a lot of material from secretaries of state and officials in multiple swing states who are at the center of that fake elector scheme. He's also got people looking over witness interviews and transcripts from the January 6 congressional panel, which, of course, interviewed over a thousand people.

KELLY: Domenico, let me pull you in here because the political development running in parallel to everything Carrie just told us is that Trump, of course, has announced he's running for president again, despite those January 6 committee findings that point to his direct role in events of two years ago. How should we assess his standing today on the national stage?

MONTANARO: Well, he's probably at his weakest point, frankly. You know, his endorsements in the elections of the 2022 midterms didn't work out very well in swing states. In primaries, he still has, though, a lot of juice. And because of that, he's got a lot of members of Congress, a lot of base support still on the Republican side. But his negative numbers haven't moved. He's still as unliked and disapproved by majorities of people as he had been during his presidency - a lot of Republicans now quietly starting to finger-point at the former president. And at the same time, because of his strength with the Republican base, he is still the far and away frontrunner to win the 2024 nomination. He's the only declared candidate.

KELLY: The only one in. Yeah.

MONTANARO: And a lot of other candidates are going to be walking a very fine line.

KELLY: I want to note that on this two-year anniversary, Republicans have struggled to pick a speaker of the House. And there's overlap in that some of the people blocking Kevin McCarthy are the same people who were prominent in casting doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 election results. Domenico, has their political power decreased because of what happened on January 6, or do you think it's the opposite?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, it's kind of cutting in two different ways because in the midterms, clearly, that type of candidate - that sort of extreme election-denying candidate - doesn't work in swing districts, in purple states. But these folks, these kind of real hard-right intransigents, come from very, very red districts. And while it's only a few of them - I mean, 10% or less of the GOP conference at this point - because of that narrow majority that Republicans have, they're going to hold a lot of sway. They're going to extract a lot of concessions. And they're going to be able to hold up a lot of what's going to be needed to actually run the Congress and run the country. And things like the debt ceiling, things like budgets being passed - all of that's in jeopardy.

KELLY: Final question for you both. In just a couple of sentences, what are you watching for in 2023? What's the biggest thing to look out for? Carrie, you first.

JOHNSON: I think the legal status of Mark Meadows will be key. Mark Meadows, of course, was the chief of staff to former President Donald Trump. He knows a lot about what former President Trump said and did before and after January 6 as well as about what the former president may have done or not done with respect to classified documents that turned up at his resort in Mar-a-Lago in Florida. And so Mark Meadows, whether he becomes a subject of interest to the Justice Department or whether he decides to cooperate with the Justice Department, will be a key question moving forward in this investigation.

KELLY: Domenico, last word.

MONTANARO: Yeah. I really feel like in the last two years, the biggest political takeaway is just how dug in people are. You know, the January 6 committee that investigated what happened and pointed the finger pretty strongly at Trump - the people who are paying most close attention to that were Democrats. Republicans seemed to cast doubt on those proceedings. And if something like January 6 wasn't going to change people's minds, not much will. And I'm looking toward 2023 because this should be a primary year, a year where presidential candidates potentially jump in the fray. Will anyone present a serious challenge to Trump? And will Republicans in Congress be able to govern?

KELLY: NPR's Domenico Montanaro and Carrie Johnson. Thank you.

MONTANARO: Pleasure to be here.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF HONEYMOAN SONG, "WE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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United States & World Morning EditionAll Things Considered
Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.