After 11 months, nearly 100 subpoenas and more than 1,000 interviews, the congressional committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol will emerge from behind closed doors and hold a series of hearings. public to present their findings. The first is Thursday.
The Democratic-led committee wants to create a definitive account of the riot and attempts to undermine the results of the 2020 presidential election. It could lead to lawsuits and new laws to bolster election security.
Democrats can also hope the hearings will remind Americans of the chaotic attacks on Capitol Hill, carried out to support a Republican president — and keep that in mind as voters head to the polls for November’s midterm elections.
New details will aim to show that Jan. 6 “was the result of a coordinated, multi-step effort to overturn the 2020 election results and halt the transfer of power” with former President Donald Trump “at the center of this effort,” the select committee’s aides said this week.
It’s been a while since the controversial vote in the House of Representatives last July created this committee, after attempts to set up an independent inquiry failed, so here’s a quick catch-up for those who may not have not being followed every twist – leak and report – that the committee’s efforts have taken.
Who is on this committee?
The panel, chaired by Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, is made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans. The latter two, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, are staunchly anti-Donald Trump conservatives. They were nominated by Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after rejecting three members of Congress nominated by her counterpart, Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Haven’t there already been investigations into the attack on the Capitol?
Yes there is. Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial in February 2021 offered a minute-by-minute account of the events of Jan. 6 in an effort to determine whether the former president had a hand in instigating the riot. More than 861 charges have been brought against those involved in the attack on the Capitol, many of which have resulted in plea agreements or guilty verdicts.
The Congress also held several public hearings on the events of January 6. That committee held one last July where it questioned law enforcement officials about their response to the attack.
The stated purpose of this commission, and of these hearings, is to provide a full account not only of the January 6 riot, but also of the “coordinated multi-stage effort” to “undo” the results of the riot. 2020 presidential election, allegedly led by Mr. Trump and some of his inner circle.
What will the audiences look like?
Debates should be strictly scripted, in an effort to avoid the style of traditional committee hearings that can often descend into chaos or monotony. The panel even hired a former TV news director to help with their efforts.
The panel will present footage from January 6, intercut with clips of previously recorded testimony, live appearances, and excerpts from documents and communications, in an effort to form a cohesive narrative.
Thursday night’s production will include testimony and footage recorded by a British documentary maker who accompanied members of the Proud Boys – a right-wing militant group whose leaders have been accused of seditious conspiracy – before and during the attack on 6 January. It will also feature first-hand testimony from one of the US Capitol police officers that day.
Committee members will also use the evening to define the areas to be covered in future hearings.
“Thursday night is all about connecting the dots,” a select committee aide said this week. “A lot has been reported, bits have been shared, but our goal is to tie them together.”
“We will bring the American people back to the reality of this violence and remind them how horrific it was,” the aide said.
Will there be anything new?
The committee interviewed a wide range of current and former Trump administration associates, advisers and officials, including Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka, son Donald Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Members of Vice President Mike Pence’s political team, law enforcement officials, people involved in the protests that led to the attack on the Capitol and Republican officials across the United States also been questioned.
Testimony, documents and text messages from Mr. Trump’s circle have already been leaked to the public.
But there may be new information that can help fill in the details.
Select committee aides said they plan to unveil “a whole bunch of new material,” including never-before-seen documents, videos and audio files they have obtained.
In particular, investigators tried to find out what the president was doing during a three-hour period that day — from the start of the attack on the Capitol to when he recorded a video address telling rioters to leave the Capitol.
White House newspapers offer few details, but the president has made several phone calls — including to House Minority Leader McCarthy and Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville. The committee spoke with many people who were close to the president at that time – and perhaps their hearings will reveal what they learned. He also subpoenaed Mr. McCarthy about his conversation with the former president, but the congressman refused to comply.
Will Americans pay attention?
It’ll be hard to judge until the first batch of TV ratings comes out. The hearings will, however, benefit from extensive media coverage. Three US television stations – ABC, NBC and CBS – have already committed to airing at least part of Thursday’s proceedings. Notably, Fox News opted to stick with its regular lineup — including Tucker Carlson’s much-loved but controversial conservative opinion show.
However, it takes a lot for political events to cross over and capture the public’s attention, and these hearings are a drama with a known storyline and ending.
The challenge for the committee will be to make events that are now familiar feel new. To that end, Democrats are trying to drum up interest, hosting more than 90 “watch parties” across the United States. In Washington, they will project the proceedings on a large screen outside the Capitol and offer attendees free ice cream.
What will Republicans do during the hearings?
Republican lawmakers, especially those most loyal to Mr. Trump, are planning “counter-programming” and rapid response to committee submissions.
Congressmen like Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jim Banks of Indiana – two of the Republicans Ms Pelosi barred from serving on the committee – will appear on outlets like Fox News, One America News and Newsmax, and will likely argue that the hearings are partisan demagoguery.
Many conservatives will say Democrats are focused on the past when they should be tackling pressing issues like the economy, immigration, trade and crime.
How long will these hearings last?
Only the first three hearings – Thursday evening and in the daytime next Monday and Wednesday – have been scheduled, but committee members say there will be more this month.
What happens after that?
The committee plans to produce a report and possibly hold another hearing in September to present its findings and offer suggestions for reforms to the US electoral process.
There is no deadline set for the committee to complete its work, but Democrats could lose a majority in the House in November’s midterm elections and cede control of the chamber in January. One would expect Republicans to quickly close the investigation.
Will there be legal consequences?
Although the committee does not have the power to prosecute, it can make recommendations and provide evidence to the US Department of Justice, which is conducting its own criminal investigation into the January 6 attack.
It is possible, though far from certain, that the committee will recommend that Mr. Trump himself be charged with some form of criminal conduct.
In addition to cases already launched against individuals who violated the Capitol, the Justice Department has brought charges against two Trump advisers, former White House strategist Steve Bannon and trade representative Peter Navarro, for refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas.
Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows and adviser Dan Scavino have been held in contempt of Congress, but the Justice Department has said it will not prosecute them.
The committee will eventually make legislative recommendations on how to prevent another Jan. 6 from happening, but they have yet to share details of what that might be.
What about politics?
Perhaps the biggest question is not the extent of the legal consequences, but the political consequences. In the days following the Jan. 6 bombing, Democrats predicted — and conservatives feared — that the American public would hold the Republican Party accountable. Since then, however, traditional partisan divides in the United States have resurfaced.
Democrats can hope these hearings will remind voters heading to the polls in November of what happened the last time Republicans held the reins of power. For now, however, Americans seem more concerned about gas prices.