Beginning with a prime-time session tonight, the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol plans to hold a series of televised hearings in advance of releasing a final report later this year. The goal should be to detail what the panel has learned about the plot to overturn the 2020 presidential election and to explain what changes are needed to prevent it from happening again. That requires its members to focus on presenting the facts, not scoring political points.
By most indications, the committee has thus far done its work responsibly. Since forming a year ago, it has conducted more than 1,000 interviews and collected more than 100,000 documents. It has secured testimony from several senior aides to former President Donald Trump as well as members of his cabinet. It has reportedly uncovered evidence that Trump and his allies discussed seizing voting machines, that Republican members of Congress pleaded unsuccessfully with Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows to convince the president to stop the assault, and that Trump reacted approvingly when told that the rioters had called for hanging Vice President Mike Pence.
Added up, the facts should speak for themselves. Some 2,000 rioters stormed the Capitol that day, seeking to derail the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. They assaulted police, ransacked offices, looted property, and engaged in wanton vandalism. They injured more than 140 officers, many seriously, and caused damages exceeding $30 million. Federal prosecutors have so far charged more than 800 defendants with crimes related to the attack, including counts of seditious conspiracy.
With all this on record, the committee’s objectives should be straightforward. First, tell the public what additional details its probe has turned up, in particular about the president’s conduct. Second, place these facts in the larger context of Trump’s expansive efforts to overturn the election. The aim should be a forthright description of wrongdoing, without partisan embellishment or histrionics.
Unfortunately, some Democrats seem intent on turning the prime-time hearings into a made-for-TV spectacle. The committee has brought in a former ABC News executive to “produce” the sessions, as if they were episodes in a Netflix serial. Progressives are planning watch parties in cities across the US. Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin has promised the hearings will “blow the roof off the House.”
That’s exactly the wrong approach. Polls show voters are more concerned with issues such as inflation and gun violence than in revisiting the events of Jan. 6. A resort to political theater is likely to cause even more of them to tune out. Worse, allowing the probe to stretch deeper into the summer — as Democrats seem eager to do — would push the release of a final report to the eve of the midterms, and thus tend to confirm Republican suspicions that the whole thing is a political stunt.
The best way for the committee to refute those charges would be to lay out the hard evidence it’s gathered in sober and methodical terms. It may not sway many votes or change many minds. But it can still establish a vital factual record, expose the causes of an assault on American democracy, and — perhaps — serve as a warning for other officials still toying with insurrectionist ideas. Its members should remember their responsibilities as nonpartisan investigators — and stick to the facts.
The Editors are members of the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.
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