GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – In some format tonight, staged for prime time, the nine members of the U.S. House who have been digging into why the assault on democracy happened on Jan. 6, 2001, will start to present what they’ve learned, ask more questions and dispense for your consumption details of one of the most important stories of our lifetimes.
The Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on America has spent roughly 18 months digging deeply into data and details and calling and probing witnesses about the events that led thousands to storm into the U.S. Capitol in an effort to overturn the lawful election of President Joe Biden.
These were backers of former President Donald Trump, perhaps inspired by fiery speeches at the rally he attended at the Ellipse outside the White House earlier that same morning. A mile away Congress was convening under the Constitution’s certification process to cement Trump’s defeat in a lawful election.
But Trump was preaching fraud and theft and outrage, suggesting Vice President Mike Pence should be held accountable because he would not eschew his constitutional requirement. His false claims have proven to rouse millions of supporters in support of what came to be known as “The Big Lie.”
The committee’s focus has been to determine the tangible links between those claims and the actions that led to death and destruction on Jan. 6 and chased members of Congress from their chambers and offices in fear for their lives. Dozens were injured that day as police were assaulted, barricades were destroyed and windows and doors were broken. Seven deaths were linked to those events. More than 860 have been arrested, and about 100 have been sentenced.
Nearly 50 years ago the nation was rapt in its attention to hearings in Washington that established the sitting president was behind a break-in of political headquarters at the Watergate complex and then used his office to cover up that crime. That led to Richard Nixon’s resignation.
Jan. 6 led to the second impeachment of Donald Trump, and it led to calls to get to the bottom of the crime from leaders in both political parties. But the investigation into those events of that day does not appear to have commanded the same national fancy as did Watergate.
The first hearing is at 8 p.m. tonight, followed by the second at 10 a.m. on Monday. There hasn’t been a formal announcement after that, but there have been suggestions there might be as many as eight this month. The hearings would conclude in September.
You can watch starting at 8 p.m. on WGHP and myfox8.com. ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and MSNBC are carrying the hearings live, as are Fox Business and C-Span, of course. Fox News reinforced its programming mission by deciding to send the live broadcast to its junior network and perhaps have cut-ins for its entertainment programming.
So whether you plan to watch the hearings or read about them or follow them in any way, here is what you need to know about the investigation into the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2001.
Who is on the committee?
There are seven Democrats, led by Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi), its vice-chair, serving with Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming), a party leader and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, and Republican Adam Kinzinger of Illinois: Zoe Lofgren of California, Elaine Luria of Virginia, Adam Schiff of California, Pete Aguilar of California, Stephanie Murphy of Florid and Jamie Raskin of Maryland.
What has happened with the investigation so far?
The committee has gone through more than 140,000 records, including text messages and emails, and more than 1,000 interviews. There have been dozens of reports about remarkable information gleaned from that work. The independent and respected Brookings Institution this week published its findings. There have been some who have fought subpoenas to speak, and two – former White House advisers Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro – have been indicted by a grand jury and charged with contempt of Congress. At least two of President Trump’s children, Don Jr. and Ivanka, have been interviewed, but Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has not. This is a list of everyone who has been subpoenaed by the committee. There has been much said about the content of text messages to and from Meadows on Jan. 6, which has drawn questions about why Trump waited hours that day before asking his supporters to leave the Capitol. The committee plans to air video of some of these witnesses.
What evidence will be presented and who will be called?
There is an expectation that some of the opening session will be more of an “opening argument” and will involve the far-right organizations – such as the Proud Boys, five of whom have been charged with seditious conspiracy – and their roles that day. This could include video of a meeting between the leaders of the two primary right-wing groups, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, two members of which from the Triad have been indicted for their roles that day. The Washington Post said that the opening hearing would include “unseen material.” There also have been reports that Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide to Meadows, has been a prime witness about what was said before Jan. 6 and during the insurrection, when Trump declined to make a public remark for hours and there emerged a 7-plus-hour gap in White House phone records. Some have said that Cheney is playing an aggressive role in the hearings. The Washington Post suggests that the committee’s work will focus on these six key questions, focusing ultimately on this: What should be done to prevent similar attacks on Democracy?
Why do many Republicans ignore this?
You may recall that this began as a bipartisan investigation in the manner of Watergate. You may have heard the recording of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) saying that “people need to be held accountable.” But when the committee was being formed, McCarthy nominated five Republicans that included Rep. Jim Banks (R-Indiana) and Rep Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a close confidant of President Trump who has been called by the committee as a witness. Both had voted against certifying the election results. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) rejected Banks and Jordan while accepting the other three: Rep. Rodney Davis (Ill.), Rep. Kelly Armstrong (N. Dak.) and Rep. Troy Nehls (Texas). She said Jordan and Banks may compromise “the integrity of the investigation.” McCarthy claimed politics and then pulled all five. Pelosi appointed Cheney and Kinzinger, both of whom had voted to impeach Trump for his lack of action on Jan. 6. After this process was complete, McCarthy declared the committee a “sham,” and Republicans as a caucus have downplayed its work.
What happens with the committee’s findings?
The information becomes a public record, of course, but the committee’s primary responsibility is to refer actions to the Department of Justice to determine if there are any charges to be filed.
Is there any potential that Trump could be referred for criminal charges?
If there is bonafide evidence that Trump’s actions or those of his political allies played any role in planning the events that unfolded on Jan. 6, then that would be a consideration. We know there were memoranda from Trump’s attorneys to support ways for Pence to reject the election and keep Trump in power. Because of those, at least one U.S. judge and the independent Brookings Institution have suggested that there is evidence of possible charges of conspiracy created by Trump’s unfounded claims of election fraud.