As the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack begins to reveal its findings at the first of several high-profile June hearings, Republicans are ramping up efforts to undermine the legitimacy of the panel’s work.
The committee will hear testimony on Thursday evening from Caroline Edwards, a Capitol Police officer who suffered a traumatic brain injury while defending the building from rioters during the insurrection by a pro-Donald Trump mob. Her injuries have prevented her from returning to the department’s First Responder Unit. Nick Quested, a filmmaker who documented the violence carried out by the Proud Boys, will also testify. Five members of the far-right group are facing seditious conspiracy charges for their parts in the insurrection. Edwards and Quested will recount what they saw and heard from the rioters they encountered, a committee aide said.
“I look forward to both witnesses, as well as the chair and the vice chair, you know, kind of guiding this and talking to the American public about what we’ve learned,” committee member Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., said of the Thursday prime-time hearing.
Thompson will frame the Capitol attack in a broader historical context and discuss what an aberration that day was in the history of American democracy, according to a committee staffer. In addition to new audio and visual materials, recordings of some of the more than 1,000 witnesses interviewed by the committee will be shown, the aide said.
Each of the June hearings will be structured differently, Aguilar said, noting the first will, in part, serve to refresh the public’s memory of the violence that occurred on Jan. 6. The panel will summarize what it has done and the interviews it has conducted, he added.
The committee’s investigation is ongoing as it continues to hear from witnesses, and there could be more hearings in coming months. Through the hearings, the committee plans to show that the Jan. 6 insurrection was the result of a coordinated, multistep effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election and that Trump was central to that initiative, according to a committee aide.
Coming presentations are planned to include video-recorded interviews with senior Trump White House officials, senior Trump administration officials, Trump campaign officials and members of Trump’s family, the aide said. Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, both were interviewed by the select committee.
Most of the major television networks, save Fox News, will broadcast the hearings live. (The right-leaning network’s sister, Fox Business, with its much smaller audience, will cover Thursday’s session.)
Aguilar said he hopes people tune in to the hearings but noted that “all we can control is what’s in front of us, and that’s to tell that story.”
‘Prevented the politicization’
The vast majority of House Republicans are keen on putting Jan. 6 in the past. It is a politically perilous topic that involves grappling with why pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol and whether Trump played a role in its planning and galvanizing his supporters to delay Congress’ count of the Electoral College vote to certify President Joe Biden’s victory in 2020.
There are also questions about why those tasked with protecting the Capitol — such as the Capitol Police, House sergeant-at-arms and Senate sergeant-at-arms — were not able to keep the mob from breaching the building and putting lawmakers, staff and others in harm’s way.
The select committee is charged with examining all of this as part of its investigation into the facts, circumstances and causes related to the Capitol attack.
Last year, all but 35 Republicans in the House voted against establishing an independent, 9/11-style commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. Republican leadership recommended a no vote, and 175 Republicans obliged. That commission would have been devoid of commissioners currently serving in government and would have required bipartisan buy-in to issue a subpoena. Thompson and John Katko, a New York Republican who serves as ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, crafted the bill together, and it still was rejected by GOP leadership.
“What we contemplated with my bill would have prevented the politicization of it,” Katko said.
When that effort was killed in the Senate by Republican opposition, the select committee was created as an alternative option.
Ahead of Thursday’s hearing, House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy — flanked by five members he picked for the Jan. 6 select committee — will hold a news conference, along with his leadership team, to push back against the panel. McCarthy, in the aftermath of the riot, pinned blame on Trump but has since aggressively backtracked.
In July 2021, Speaker Nancy Pelosi blocked two of McCarthy’s selections — Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Jim Banks, R-Ind. — from serving on the committee. Pelosi said she was prepared to appoint Reps. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., Troy Nehls, R-Texas, and Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., to the panel. Instead of submitting two replacements for Banks and Jordan, McCarthy pulled all five and chose to have none of his deputies on the committee. Pelosi then chose to appoint two Republicans who are outcasts for rejecting Trump’s election lies: Cheney and Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger.
Banks, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, is one of those leading the charge against the select committee.
“It’s not bipartisan. It’s completely partisan. They’re not Republicans,” Banks said of Cheney and Kinzinger. “They are doing the bidding of Nancy Pelosi. They are doing the work of Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats.”
Banks lamented that there hasn’t been a “single committee hearing” focused on the systemic leadership breakdown at the Capitol Police or on Pelosi’s leadership role regarding Capitol security. He said the lack of hearings on those issues “shows you just how much of a joke this entire process has become.”
Thus far, the committee has had only one public hearing, in July 2021, when police officers recounted the violence they faced while on duty during the attack.
The Capitol Police Board is charged with ensuring the security of the Capitol. On Jan. 6, 2021, these were the three voting members of that board: Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton (nominated by Trump), Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael C. Stenger (appointed by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell) and House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving (chosen by former Speaker John A. Boehner and kept on by Pelosi until she called for his resignation after the attack).
Banks said he has no questions for Trump and Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff, about their roles before and on Jan. 6.
Banks said Republicans are finishing a report on systemic issues related to Capitol security.
When asked repeatedly why the rioters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, Banks didn’t answer the question. “It was a riot at the Capitol,” Banks said, pointing to the intelligence failures of the Capitol Police and casting blame on Pelosi.
Jordan, a member who was subpoenaed by the committee, called the upcoming hearings a “political production,” referring to the panel’s move to enlist a former ABC News president, James Goldston, as an adviser to produce them.
“This is a committee that’s altered evidence, misled the American people, leaked all kinds of information, operating in secret,” Jordan said. “Now they went out and hired some former ABC president to choreograph” the hearings, he added.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Elise Stefanik, the New York Republican who replaced Cheney as GOP conference chair, called the committee “illegitimate” and a “smear campaign” against Trump, Republican members and those who voted for Trump.