Members on the panel have been preparing for weeks to move swiftly with an investigation examining key unanswered questions surrounding the breaching of the Capitol by a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters who echoed his false claims about the 2020 election while seeking to stop Congress’s efforts to certify its results and declare Joe Biden the next president.
Those questions include to what degree the attack was coordinated, what led to the massive security lapses, and how Trump and his administration responded as lawmakers scrambled to safety while the insurrectionists marched through the halls of Congress.
“I think it’s going to be quite informative and emotionally powerful,” Democratic Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.) told reporters on Monday.
House Republican leaders have for months resisted efforts to investigate the most serious attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812, first arguing any probe should include racial justice demonstrations in several cities last summer and then that Democrats’ only goal is to highlight Trump’s role to score political points with voters ahead of the midterm elections.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) pulled his five nominees for the special committee last week after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rejected Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Jim Banks (R-Ind.) as too politically motivated to take the investigation seriously. Banks would have served as the panel’s ranking Republican had he been seated.
Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Banks blamed Pelosi for the “breakdown” in security at the Capitol and said she “already predetermined a narrative about Donald Trump, about Republicans.”
To counter GOP complaints of partisanship, Democrats are elevating the role of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) on the panel by allowing her to deliver an opening statement at the hearing along with Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), the panel’s chairman. Cheney was booted from her House Republican leadership position this year because she frequently criticized Trump for his role in the attack, saying his false claim that the election was stolen inspired the mob. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), another Trump critic, is the other Republican on the panel.
During a closed-door meeting last week, Schiff proposed to Pelosi and Cheney that having the Wyoming congresswoman speak after Thompson would present a “strong visual” for the committee’s goals and intentions as it embarks on a months-long process to investigate the insurrection, according to a person familiar with the conversation, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private deliberations.
“Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger are not only demonstrating their constitutional patriotism by serving on the committee to investigate in an objective way, but they’re also helping us to model, like what, what government should really be like, how, how it should work,” said Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the panel.
As the only committee on Capitol Hill tasked with solely investigating the security failures and political motivations that inspired the mob to break into the Capitol, the seven Democrats and two Republicans are seeking to project a somber and serious attitude amid Republican attacks on the panel.
Tuesday’s hearing will feature four police officers — two from the Capitol’s protection squad and two from D.C. police — who are expected to testify about their experiences of both physical and verbal abuse on Jan. 6 as they tried to protect the Capitol.
Thompson said he is prepared to lead a vigorous investigation in the months ahead.
“I live in the rural South where in the [1960s] churches in my communities were burned, crosses were burned, by individuals who said they were Christians,” Thompson said. “But they were the white knights of the Ku Klux Klan, so anytime I see individuals who for whatever reason want to deny democracy — participatory democracy — from going forward, I want to resist that with every fiber of my body.”
Members of the committee said they believe McCarthy’s decision not to have his conference participate in the investigation could work to their advantage by allowing them to present the hearings as serious efforts to dig up new details and combat the misinformation about the attack, which several Republicans have downplayed, rather than a partisan back-and-forth.
“Right now, when you have these conspiracies that continue to thrive, when you have lies and misinformation that continue to thrive, it is essential for us, as members of Congress, to get to this answer,” Kinzinger said. “It’s an honor to do this, and it’s not something I was looking forward to or expecting or anything, but there are also moments when you have to do the right thing, and this is it.”
McCarthy has evaded questions about whether he will strip Cheney and Kinzinger of their other committee assignments, a threat he initially made to all Republicans considering accepting an offer from Pelosi last month to join the Jan. 6 committee.
But he is facing increasing pressure from rank-and-file members to take action.
“We’ll see,” McCarthy said at the White House on Monday before characterizing Cheney and Kinzinger as “Pelosi Republicans.”
Kinzinger called McCarthy’s threats to punish GOP lawmakers participating in the investigation “childish” and said if House Republicans decide to “punish Liz Cheney and I for getting to the bottom and telling the truth, I think that probably says more about them than it does about us.”
Members and staff on the committee met behind closed doors on Monday for three hours to review visual and audio footage as well as streamline questions for witnesses. With only two Republicans on the dais, the traditional order to giving time to one Democrat followed by a Republican is being ironed out with discussions of potentially allowing Cheney and Kinzinger more time to ask questions.
It remains unclear what other witnesses will be called to provide testimony after Tuesday’s hearing with the police officers, but the first round of subpoenas are expected to be issued by the end of August or first week of September, according to Thompson, who said he is prepared to subpoena members of Congress — and Trump.
“We’ll follow the facts,” Thompson said. “I would say we need to have as much factual data from any and all individuals implicated. And so that goes from the top down — it could be leadership in the House, it could be members of Congress, it could be financiers of the people who came to Washington on that day. It could be people who paid for the printing of material, people who paid for robocalls to go out, inviting people to come to Washington to help ‘stop the steal.’ All of that is a part of the review.”
Thompson said that no final decisions on scheduling have been made but that members of the committee should be prepared to potentially cut their August recess short to conduct their investigation back in Washington. Committee appointees have been eying evidentiary gaps that include outstanding document requests from various agencies and departments, along with subpoenas that have not been complied with.
As for brewing concerns about the committee’s ability to enforce congressional subpoenas, Schiff told reporters that the Biden administration could help where the Trump administration did not during recent congressional inquiries.
“In theory, when Congress issues a subpoena and someone ignores that subpoena, and is in contempt of that subpoena, it can be pursued by the Justice Department,” Schiff explained to reporters during a briefing on Monday. “Over the last four years, the department obviously was not willing to enforce any congressional subpoenas — that was the result of having one of the president’s chief enablers as the attorney general under Bill Barr.”
The committee is expected to work closely with the Justice Department to obtain information that has already been collected about coordination between various extremist groups that participated in the attack. Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) has been preparing for the start of the investigation by reviewing reports previously published by various committees detailing the Jan. 6 attack, along with the indictments of the people charged with participating in the riot.
The third-term Democrat, who started her career working at the Pentagon after 9/11 in special operations and counterterrorism under President George W. Bush, listed a number of other objectives for the investigation, including gathering a better understanding of the ideology driving the violent extremism demonstrated by the mob — what Murphy referred to as a “kind of new American radicalism.”
“You might not be able to apply your typical countering-violent-extremism approaches to these people,” said Murphy. “The people who showed up on January — how were they motivated? How did they pay for their travel and their equipment? How are they organized? Are they still driven to trying to change political outcomes through political violence? You know, I think that we have to better understand this.”
Murphy said her experience as a Vietnamese refugee who escaped an authoritarian government as an infant has shaped her perspective on Jan. 6. Her family was among those persecuted by the new communist regime in the wake of the end of the Vietnam War and fled the country for a Malaysian refugee camp before ultimately landing in Virginia.
“A lot of authoritarian countries were democracies before the autocrat took over,” Murphy said in an interview, stressing the need to strengthen the resilience of U.S. institutions against bad actors. “When you work on these issues overseas, one commonality between successful coups is that there was inevitably an unsuccessful coup first.”
Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the special committee’s first hearing is scheduled for Wednesday. It is set to take place Tuesday. This article has been corrected. Jabin Botsford The Washington Post Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) speaks about the Jan. 6 select committee on Capitol Hill on July 21. http://www.washingtonpost.com/video/politics/pelosi-plans-to-appoint-kinzinger-to-jan-6-committee/2021/07/25/d2ef2bbd-600e-4aaa-aa03-412769114150_video.html
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Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) speaks about the Jan. 6 select committee on Capitol Hill on July 21.