Jan. 6 committee already has a smoking gun to force changes to election law: columnist

The House select committee may already have enough evidence to push changes to the Electoral Count Act, which would undercut one of Donald Trump's arguments and possibly lead to penalties against him.

The twice-impeached one-term president's attorneys have argued the Jan. 6 investigation lacks a legitimate legislative purpose, but Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent argued that Rep. Liz Cheney has shown the panel has the "smoking gun" evidence they need to make changes to protect the electoral process.

"For weeks, Rep. Liz Cheney has hinted that the House select committee examining Jan. 6 might urge the Justice Department to consider prosecuting Donald Trump," Sargent wrote. "The grounds for this criminal referral might be that Trump obstructed the 'official proceeding' in which Congress counts presidential electors."

The Wyoming Republican says Trump stood by for more than two hours watching his supporters violently attack law enforcement as they tried to disrupt the certification of Joe Biden's election win, and Cheney accused the former president of inciting that crowd and ignored pleas from his family, White House staffers, lawmakers and media allies to call them off.

READ MORE: 'The Republican elite have always seen Trump as a clown' -- but something's changed in the last year

"Some comments from Cheney herself — and clarification I’ve now obtained from a Cheney spokesman — shed new light on where this is going," Sargent revealed. "The short version: It’s likely the committee will explore recommending changes to federal law to further clarify that obstructing the electoral count in Congress is a crime subject to stiff penalties."

Trump's failure was a "dereliction of duty," Cheney has publicly stated, and her spokesman made clear what legislative steps the committee was considering to hold him accountable and protect future elections.

“The committee will explore whether to make changes to current law to hold a future president accountable,” he told Sargent, without elaborating. “That’s part of the legislative purpose of the committee.”

The panel hasn't established, based on publicly known evidence, that Trump believed the violence would help him remain in power and that prevented him from intervening, but Sargent believes they will recommend changes to the law to make disrupting the electoral count a federal crime and introduce stiffer penalties.

"It will be interesting to see if Republicans will support strengthening the criminal code against disruption of the electoral count, and whether a certain pair of Democratic senators will support ending the filibuster to pass such a safeguard," Sargent wrote. "We may soon get answers to those questions. And they probably won’t be to our liking."