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First of many ‘touchstones’ starts Thursday in prime time for Jan. 6 committee

Panel has conducted over 1,000 interviews, received more than 140,000 documents

Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.
Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The first time the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection gathered for a public hearing, members heard from law enforcement officers who were physically assaulted, verbally abused and traumatized by pro-Donald Trump rioters who stormed the building.

On that day, in late July 2021, lawmakers on the panel thanked four officers — two from the Capitol Police and two from the District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department — for defending American democracy from a violent effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

“You held the line that day. I can’t overstate what was on the line: our democracy,” said Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. “You held the line.”

Much of the work the committee has been conducting since last summer’s hearing has been in private. That is aside from public announcements of subpoenas, legal battles between the committee and Trump allies over whether executive privilege shields them from having to comply with the its requests, and business meetings to recommend certain noncompliant associates of the former president be held in contempt of Congress. 

Starting with a prime-time hearing Thursday at 8 p.m., the committee will begin to tell the public what it has found — the product of more than 1,000 interviews and over 140,000 documents. A second hearing is set for June 13 at 10 a.m. 

“I am very confident that the committee has both blockbuster information and will also build a compelling narrative of a vast conspiracy started long before January,” said Norman Ornstein, senior fellow emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute. “I don’t think the issue is going to be the failure to produce gripping information. It will be whether enough people pay attention, and whether their attention span is such that it will carry over into November and beyond.”

The panel will present previously unseen material documenting the day of the Capitol attack, receive witness testimony, preview additional hearings to come this month and give a summary of what it discovered about what it has dubbed a “coordinated, multi-step effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and prevent the transfer of power.”

There are nine members on the panel. The seven Democrats are Thompson along with Reps. Zoe Lofgren, Adam B. Schiff and Pete Aguilar of California, Elaine Luria of Virginia, Stephanie Murphy of Florida and Jamie Raskin of Maryland. On the Republican side are Reps. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who serves as the vice chair. Both Kinzinger and Cheney became outcasts of the House Republican Conference for calling out Trump’s election lies. Cheney was purged from her role as conference chair, the No. 3 position among House Republicans, in May 2021 and replaced with New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, an unwavering Trump supporter.

Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., makes remarks during the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol markup in the Cannon Building on Dec. 1, 2021. Appearing from left are Reps. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Thompson, Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., Jamie Raskin, D-Md., and Elaine Luria, D-Va. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Ultimately, the committee plans to make legislative proposals geared toward preventing another attack like Jan. 6 from occurring. Along with the hearings, forthcoming reports with findings from the panel’s investigative work and legislative recommendations are the committee’s “touchstones” in terms of a timeline, Aguilar told CQ Roll Call in May.

“All the information is going to be included in one of those buckets, or multiple buckets, to tell the story,” Aguilar said.

What will the hearings look like?

The panel has heard from a wide range of witnesses, including from Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner — both senior presidential advisers on Jan. 6, 2021 — and Cassidy Hutchinson, a staffer for Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, The Washington Post reported. It has also met with Ali Alexander, who helped organize the “Stop the Steal” rally held that day near the White House, according to The New York Times. Former House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving, one of the top officials tasked with Capitol security on Jan. 6, provided testimony to the panel.

How exactly the committee will mesh everything it has learned into a series of televised presentations is unclear. Thompson has asked specific members to take the lead in particular components of the upcoming hearings.

“We want to make sure that the members have specific responsibilities for managing the hearings and, you know, I have basically asked certain members to handle certain aspects of the hearings,” he said in May.

The chairman has also said there could be a combination of live in-person and video-recorded witness testimony. 

At last year’s sole public hearing, titled “The Law Enforcement Experience on January 6th,” Daniel Hodges and Michael Fanone of the Metropolitan Police Department, along with Aquilino Gonell and Harry Dunn of the Capitol Police, provided vivid testimony of how pro-Trump insurrectionists denigrated and beat them. That testimony was combined with audio and visual exhibits of the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Starting Thursday, the committee plans to weave together, through a comprehensive narrative, what it has uncovered, Schiff told CBS on Sunday.

“Our goal is to present the narrative of what happened in this country. How close we came to losing our democracy. What led to that violent attack on the 6th,” Schiff said, adding there is a substantial amount the public has not seen.

Schiff told CBS that people who still have an open mind about Jan. 6 are the target audience and that the committee wants to counter the propagation of Trump’s “big lie” that falsely asserts the election was stolen.

Cheney, the panel’s vice chair, said it is imperative that people tune in to the hearings. Cheney told CBS that “people must pay attention, people must watch, and they must understand how easily our democratic system can unravel if we don’t defend it.”

Can the panel finish its work without full cooperation?

House Republicans asked or compelled to provide information to the committee have refused.

Last month, the panel sent subpoenas to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California along with Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Mo Brooks of Alabama and Andy Biggs of Arizona. That action followed all five brushing off a request to voluntarily sit for interviews. All of them, according to the committee, possess information relevant to the investigation. McCarthy, the top GOP member in the House, who has his sights set on becoming the next speaker, spoke with Trump on Jan. 6 and recounted the exchange to Washington Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler. According to Herrera Beutler’s account, McCarthy asked Trump to make a statement calling off his supporters and Trump incorrectly said the mob was composed of antifa members and said he guessed the mob was more upset about the election than McCarthy was.

Since his Jan. 13 floor speech in which he acknowledged Trump’s role in the violence of the insurrection and suggested he be censured, McCarthy has sought to ingratiate himself with the most powerful figure in the GOP. McCarthy led the charge against a bipartisan, independent, 9/11-style commission to investigate the attack, oversaw Cheney’s ejection from her conference leadership role and has called the select committee illegitimate. This was after Speaker Nancy Pelosi pulled two of McCarthy’s picks for the panel: Jordan and Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind. In response, McCarthy took the remaining three of his members off the committee, resulting in the appointment of Cheney and Kinzinger by Pelosi.

On Sunday, McCarthy was endorsed by Trump. 

The committee has also asked Reps. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, and Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., for their voluntary cooperation, but without success.

Republicans continue to criticize the panel, and some of the loudest critics are McCarthy and Banks. McCarthy took aim at the committee after Axios reported the panel hired a former ABC News president, James Goldston, as an adviser to help produce the hearings.

Banks, who leads the Republican Study Committee, called the select panel’s work a “witch hunt” on Twitter.

Some requested witnesses of great interest to the committee who worked inside or in the orbit of Trump’s White House, including Meadows, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, former White House economic adviser Peter Navarro, and Trump White House social media coordinator Dan Scavino, were held in contempt of Congress by the House. Of those four, only Bannon and Navarro have been criminally charged by the Justice Department. 

Despite not being able to obtain everything it sought ahead of public hearings, the panel, Thompson said, will press on with its work.

The chairman, when asked in May whether his panel can effectively complete its work without the testimony of McCarthy, Jordan, Biggs, Brooks and Perry, said it would provide added clarity but their accounts would not be necessary.

“It would add additional clarity to the investigation. I hope they come. But we are committed to producing a qualified document that will stand any scrutiny that it receives,” Thompson said.

At the end of last summer’s hearing where the law enforcement officers testified, Thompson asked the officers what they would like to see the committee do going forward.

Dunn, one of the Capitol Police officers, told CQ Roll Call he wants the panel to get to “the facts of what happened that day.” He plans to attend Thursday’s hearing.

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