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Committee investigating Jan. 6 attack plans to begin a more public phase of its work in the new year

Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) speaks with Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol meets to vote on holding former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress on Dec. 13.
Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) speaks with Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol meets to vote on holding former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress on Dec. 13. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol plans to begin holding public hearings in the new year to tell the story of the insurrection from start to finish while crafting an ample interim report on its findings by summer, as it shifts into a more public phase of its work.

The panel will continue to collect information and seek testimony from willing witnesses and those who have been reluctant — a group that now includes Republican members of Congress. It is examining whether to recommend that the Justice Department pursue charges against anyone, including former president Donald Trump, and whether legislative proposals are needed to help prevent valid election results from being overturned in the future.

“We have to address it — our families, our districts and our country demand that we get as much of the causal effects of what occurred and come up with some recommendations for the House so that it won’t ever happen again,” committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) said in a recent interview.

Jan. 6 insurrection: The Washington Post’s investigation

The committee has taken in a massive amount of data — interviewing more than 300 witnesses, announcing more than 50 subpoenas, obtaining more than 35,000 pages of records and receiving hundreds of telephone leads through the Jan. 6 tip line, according to aides familiar with the matter who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe details of the panel’s work.

The panel has made splashy headlines with its aggressive legal posture toward former White House aides Stephen K. Bannon and Mark Meadows and the possibility it could recommend the Justice Department investigate Trump for his role in the attack and efforts to overturn the election results.

Trump and Republican leaders have opposed an investigation into the attack from the start and have called the committee’s work a partisan exercise meant to damage the former president and the GOP ahead of the midterms. If Republicans were to take control of the House after November’s elections, they would almost certainly shut down the probe.

This has added a sense of urgency to the panel’s work, including the need for hearings and to show that the information gathered amounts to more than what is already publicly known.

The public business meeting earlier this month, where panel members revealed a sliver of the 9,000 documents and records provided by Meadows, was a taste of what it hopes to accomplish in hearings throughout 2022: a dramatic presentation of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering by Trump, his allies and anyone involved in the attack or the attempt to overturn the election results.

“We want to tell it from start to finish over a series of weeks, where we can bring out the best witnesses in a way that makes the most sense,” a senior committee aide said. “Our legacy piece and final product will be the select committee’s report.”

The rough timeline being discussed among senior committee staffers includes public hearings starting this winter and stretching into spring, followed by an interim report in the summer and a final report ahead of November’s elections.

“I think we may issue a couple reports and I would hope for a [full] interim report in the summer, with the eye towards maybe another — I don’t know if it’d be final or another interim report later in the fall,” said a second senior committee aide.

The five teams behind the investigation have begun to merge their findings. The topics include: the money and funding streams for the “Stop the Steal” rallies and events; the misinformation campaign and online extremist activity; how agencies across the government were preparing for the Jan. 6 rally; the pressure campaigns to overturn the election results or delay the electoral certification; and the organizers of the various events and plans for undermining the election.

Thompson says Jan. 6 committee focused on Trump’s hours of silence during attack, weighing criminal referrals

Investigators said they are also pursuing questions outside of these lanes, including how Trump has been able to convince so many of his supporters that the election was stolen despite having no evidence to support that claim.

“I think that Trump and his team have done a pretty masterful job of exploiting millions of Americans,” said the second senior committee aide. “How do you get that many people screwed up that deeply? And continue to screw them up? Right? And what do we do about that? So there are some big, big-picture items that go well beyond the events of [Jan. 6] that the committee is also grappling with.”

Investigators have consulted with experts as they attempt to understand what might have happened if the electoral count was not completed that day and “we ended up in a constitutional gray zone,” said the first senior committee staffer.

With this in mind, the panel is expected to recommend legislative and administrative changes. Members have begun reviewing the Electoral Count Act, the 19th century law that dictates the procedure for counting electoral votes during a joint session of Congress. Legal scholars across the political spectrum have said the law is in need of reform.

In addition, members of the panel have said they plan to review laws that provide a president with emergency powers, so those powers cannot be abused if a future election is contested.

Also on the agenda is whether the panel will refer to the Justice Department crimes they believe may have been committed by Trump and his aides.

“This is the next progression — to see whether or not some of the things that we have uncovered or discovered rises to the level of a criminal referral,” Thompson said.

As the committee gathers and sifts evidence, it is focusing on the question of what Trump did while the attack was raging, a time during which he was mostly publicly silent while his supporters ransacked the Capitol, and whether his action or inaction amounts to a crime.

Role as Trump’s gatekeeper puts Meadows in legal jeopardy — and at odds with Trump

The committee’s nascent discussions about potential criminal referrals also include the efforts to pressure state and local officials to overturn the results of the election and whether people raising funds for the rallies and events surrounding Jan. 6 made their appeals while knowing the claims of election fraud were false.

A referral from a congressional committee to the Justice Department carries virtually no weight legally — it’s up to prosecutors whether to pursue a charge — but such an action could have a profound political impact.

“In terms of criminal referrals more broadly, we are asking questions and finding facts,” said the second senior committee aide. “We’re not a law enforcement investigation, but we are finding facts, and we expect to make our findings public at the appropriate time for everyone to see.”

Critics have suggested the focus on criminal referral could be counterproductive, undermining the committee’s credibility.

“The more the committee talks about, ‘what we’re looking to do here is make criminal referrals,’ the more that makes it sound like what they’re doing is a criminal investigation, as opposed to a legislative investigation to propose legislative solutions to prevent this from happening again,” said Randall Eliason, a former federal prosecutor.

Eliason said if lawmakers uncovered information that they believed the Justice Department truly did not know about, they could send it over without a criminal referral.

In recent weeks, the panel has begun grappling with the thorny task of obtaining information from sitting lawmakers and people closest to the president.

Investigators earlier this month asked Reps. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) to provide the panel with information. The committee said the lawmakers could help it develop a more complete understanding of efforts to try to overturn the election by having Vice President Mike Pence reject electors from certain states where the vote was challenged by Trump and his allies.

Perry quickly rejected the committee’s request.

“I stand with immense respect for our Constitution, the Rule of Law, and the Americans I represent who know that this entity is illegitimate, and not duly constituted under the rules of the US House of Representatives,” Perry tweeted in response. He didn’t specify why the panel created through a House vote was not legitimate.

Long before embracing Trump’s false election claims, Rep. Scott Perry promoted groundless theories

It’s unlikely Perry and Jordan will be the only lawmakers from whom the committee will seek information.

Jordan told Fox News that he had “real concerns” about the panel and its integrity. He and other Republicans accused Democratic members of selectively releasing text messages — and in some cases only part of the message — creating a misleading picture.

“I’ve got to be honest with you,” Jordan told Fox. “I got real concerns about any committee that will take a document and alter it and present it to the American people, completely mislead the American people like they did last week.”

Also of interest are House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Calif.), and Reps. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) and Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.). McCarthy has previously acknowledged speaking with Trump on Jan. 6. Across the Capitol, Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) also spoke with the former president as the violence was unfolding that day.

In the face of the expected reluctance by GOP lawmakers to comply with voluntary requests for information, the panel is having conversations about the need for subpoenas to compel lawmakers to cooperate, according to senior committee aides. There is little precedent for subpoenaing members of Congress for an oversight investigation.

“The fact that they have pretty much said that we’re not coming in is unfortunate,” Thompson said. “And so if they choose not to come voluntarily, we’ll have to see what, if any, options we have as a committee. But if we have the authority, and the lawyers are still looking at it, to pursue it, then we’ll do it.”

Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.

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