Jan. 6 Hearings: What to Expect
Yout’s been 17 months since a pro-Trump mob attacked the U.S. Capitol to block Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election victory. Since then, scores of prominent Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have downplayed the deadly event, referring to it as merely “a debate about election integrity” or an “insurrection hoax.”
In six television-televised hearings, June’s House Select Committee will examine the attack and attempt to discredit those accusations. Committee members will provide the most complete account of what happened that day, and in the weeks that followed it. They hope to prove that the Capitol was the victim of an orchestrated plot. And by organizing the events with an eye to audience—complete with prime-time slots for two of the hearings—they hope to engage even those who feel the country should move on.
“To my mind, it is absolutely riveting,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland, tells TIME of the plans for the hearings, which will include both live and taped testimony from members of Trump’s inner circle, including at least one of his children. “Because it is a story of the greatest political crime ever attempted by an American president against his own government.”
The attack on January 6, 2021 left many people dead. Four police officers were also killed in the attack. Numerous additional officers in law enforcement were also injured. Representatives from both political parties said that they were concerned for their safety. The House adopted a bipartisan vote to impeach Trump twice during Trump’s final days as president. Later, the Senate exonerated him.
Over 800 individuals have been accused of storming the Capitol and almost 300 have plead guilty. Hours upon hours of video footage of the riot have been made public by the rioters, and has fuelled multiple documentaries.
Nonetheless, the hearings remain highly anticipated, as the committee members have signaled they’ve saved the most eye-opening and jaw-dropping information. The proceedings are the culmination of 10 months of work, including the collection of more than 130,000 documents and testimony from more than 1,000 witnesses, all of which gives the panel a chance to advance the public’s understanding of Jan. 6 far beyond what was unveiled during the impeachment trial. “We’ve got a lot more material,” Rep. Pete Aguilar, a Democrat from California, tells TIME. “They had days to collect information. We’ve had months to gather evidence.”
There are many questions about the impact of these hearings. Will the Department of Justice continue to prosecute the ex-president and the closest associates? Will the hearings, and the committee’s subsequent report, be regarded as the definitive historical record for what happened?
Jamie Raskin, a Democrat representing Maryland, addresses a House Select Committee on Investigating the January 6th Attack at the U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C., U.S.A on Monday, March 28, 2022.
Eric Lee—Bloomberg/Getty Images
The proceedings will be used to determine if the public is still interested in the failed coup attempt to reverse a presidential election or if they have become too tired from the continuing saga of that terrible day. It will be a test to see if anything is possible that can motivate most Republicans in Congress, beyond the current belief that the attack at the Capitol was just a protest. (Fox News does not even plan to air Thursday’s hearing over its primetime lineup of Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity.)
Two Republicans make up the nine member committee: Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney from Wyoming. Both were among just 10 House Republicans who voted for Trump’s impeachment for “incitement of insurrection.” They have both paid a political price. Cheney, who lost her leadership role in the House GOP, is currently in the middle of a bitter primary fight. Kinzinger decided to retire.
“People must pay attention,” Cheney recently told CBS News. “People must watch, and they must understand how easily our democratic system can unravel if we don’t defend it.”
Rep. Stephanie Murphy from Florida, a Democrat, said that hearings could change people’s minds regarding Jan. 6. She agreed with the other committee members.
“Think about it like a Netflix or a documentary miniseries of sorts where, in one compressed period of time, we’re telling a fulsome story, pulling together all of those threads that have been coming out drip, drip, drip, over the last year,” she says.
Each witness who was scheduled to testify at the hearings had already done so behind closed doors. Veteran prosecutors have likened the committee’s procedure to deposing witnesses before bringing them in front of grand juries—except in this case, it’s in preparation for the American people.
“It’s what we prosecutors do: You interview them and then put them in front of a grand jury, because it takes hours and hours and hours,” Barbara McQuade, a U.S. attorney during the Obama administration who is now a law professor at the University of Michigan, tells TIME. “A lot of it gets really tedious.” Committee members likely plan for the hearings to function as “the greatest hits” of the investigation, she continues, for “an hour or maybe a half hour of really important testimony.”
While the committee hasn’t released a full witness list, people close to former Vice President Mike Pence are expected to testify, including advisers Greg Jacob, J. Michael Luttig, and Marc Short. Interest in Pence’s experience around Jan. 6 has intensified in recent weeks, amid reports that Trump approved of the rioters chants of “Hang Mike Pence!” and that Short, Pence’s chief of staff, warned the Secret Service two days before the riot that Pence’s safety might be at risk that day.
On Tuesday, five members of the far-right group the Proud Boys were indicted on counts of seditious conspiracy—a charge that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail. It’s another development that may feature prominently in the first hearing Thursday night.
While it is far from certain that the hearings will resonate beyond liberals and political insiders, Raskin insists the proceedings won’t fail to deliver. “We are examining things that the impeachment trial and investigation could barely touch on,” he says. “For example, what was the role of social media in disseminating propaganda, disinformation, and conspiracy theories? How was Jan. 6 funded? You don’t come to knock over the government of the United States without a lot of money behind you.”
It is well aware of the fact that Trump supporters and groups will launch a campaign to discredit any findings or protect him. “I expect them to counter-program,” says Murphy, “but all of the members also have a platform outside of the hearing itself, to reinforce what was presented in the hearings and to tell the American people the truth.”
Aguilar describes this as part of the reason why members of committees are so careful to keep the details of strategy for the hearings under wraps. “You’ll have to tune in to see.”
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