The investigation into the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol by Donald Trump supporters will soon begin weeks of public hearings, putting the investigation in the spotlight as campaigning for the November elections heats up.
So far, the investigation into the worst attack on Congress since the War of 1812 has largely taken place behind closed doors. On January 6, the House of Representatives Select Committee interviewed more than 300 witnesses about the violence perpetrated by Trump supporters seeking to overturn his election defeat and Trump’s reaction to it.
Members of the committee are rushing to complete their work before the November 8 elections. The seven Democrats and two Republicans are aware that their efforts could be thwarted if Republicans regain control of the House, as forecasters believe is likely. The hearings’ coverage in the media could become campaign fodder.
The House Republican leadership refused to participate in the investigation, despite the fact that approximately 55% of Republican voters now believe former President Trump’s claims that his defeat was the result of widespread fraud. Despite the fact that multiple courts have rejected that claim, it has sparked a wave of new state voting restrictions.
The House investigation is running concurrently with the Justice Department’s prosecution of approximately 725 alleged rioters on charges ranging from disorderly conduct to conspiracy. So far, approximately 165 people have pleaded guilty to taking part in the attack, and the first trials are expected to begin next month.
Members of the House committee warn that the false claims of voter fraud that sparked the violence are undermining trust in the democratic system in the United States.
The Select Committee is tasked with investigating and reporting on the events that led to the attack, in which Trump supporters assaulted police, smashed windows, and chased members of Congress and then-Vice President Mike Pence away.
According to a source familiar with the investigation, the committee plans to release an interim report in the summer of 2022 and a final report in the fall. “We will hold multiple weeks of public hearings to lay out in vivid color for the American people exactly what happened, every minute of the day on Jan. 6, here at the Capitol and at the White House, and what led to that violent attack,” Republican Representative Liz Cheney said last month.
The only previous public hearing, held in July, featured testimony from four police officers about physical and verbal assaults they faced while responding to Capitol riots.
“I feel like I went to hell and back to protect the people in this room,” said Michael Fanone, a then-District of Columbia police officer. “The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful,” Fanone said as he slammed his hand against the witness table.
According to the Justice Department, approximately 140 police officers were assaulted during the riot. One officer who fought rioters died the day after the attack, and four officers who guarded the Capitol later committed suicide. Four rioters were also killed, including one who was shot by police while attempting to enter the building through a shattered window.
Trump has loomed large in the committee’s work since its inception, and that focus has grown stronger in recent weeks.
Cheney read text messages sent by Trump supporters to his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, during a Dec. 13 hearing, imploring the then-president to speak out against the violence.
Cheney was referring to a specific statute — a felony in the United States penal code — and suggesting Trump might have violated it.
The Justice Department will ultimately decide whether to charge Trump, but the committee may issue a “criminal referral,” increasing political pressure on Attorney General Merrick Garland to act.
The Justice Department charged Trump ally Steve Bannon with “contempt of Congress,” a misdemeanor offense, in November after he refused to comply with a Select Committee subpoena for his testimony. Bannon has vowed to fight the charges, claiming that his refusal to testify is legal.
Similar charges have been recommended by the committee against two other Trump associates.
Separately, state prosecutors in Georgia are investigating Trump for allegedly illegally pressuring election officials to change the vote tally in his favor.