It’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.”
Over six televised hearings in June, the House Select Committee investigating the attack intends to refute those dismissals in dramatic fashion. By providing the most comprehensive accounting of that day and the weeks leading up to it, committee members aim to make an unassailable case that there was an orchestrated conspiracy behind the worst attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812. 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 INM 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 assault on Jan. 6, 2021, left several people dead, including four police officers who took their own lives after the attack. Dozens of additional law enforcement officers were injured. Members of Congress from both parties have said they feared for their lives. The event led the House to impeach Trump for a second time during his last days in office; it was the most bipartisan impeachment vote in American history. The Senate later acquitted him.
Since then, more than 800 people have been charged for storming the Capitol, and nearly 300 have entered into guilty pleas. Hours of footage from the riot, much of it recorded by the rioters themselves, have become public, fueling 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 INM. “They had days to collect information. We’ve had months to gather evidence.”
Yet questions abound about what the tangible impact might be: Will the Department of Justice follow up with prosecutions of the former president and his closest confidantes? Will the hearings, and the committee’s subsequent report, be regarded as the definitive historical record for what happened?
Representative Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland, speaks during a business meeting of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, March 28, 2022.
Eric Lee—Bloomberg/Getty Images
In many ways, the proceedings will test whether the public still cares about the attempted coup to overturn a presidential election, or whether they are too fatigued by the ongoing saga to unpack that fateful day. They will also test whether anything can move most Republicans in Congress beyond their current position that the assault on the Capitol was simply a protest that got out of hand. (Fox News does not even plan to air Thursday’s hearing over its primetime lineup of Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity.)
The nine-member committee includes just two Republicans: Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. 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 lost her leadership position in the House GOP and is in the midst of a bruising primary fight. Kinzinger chose 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, a Democrat from Florida, echoed other committee members in insisting that the hearings have the potential to change hearts and minds about Jan. 6, in the same way that great art can.
“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.
Every witness set to appear at the hearings has already testified 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 INM. “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 were the events on Jan. 6 financed? You don’t come to knock over the government of the United States without a lot of money behind you.”
The committee is acutely aware that conservative groups and personalities will mount a campaign blitz to protect Trump and discredit findings that may implicate him or his allies. “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.”
That is part of why, Aguilar says, committee members are keeping so much of the strategy around the hearings close to the vest. “You’ll have to tune in to see.”