Jan. 6 panel scrambles to crunch ‘avalanche’ of evidence
In the last legs of their sprawling probe, investigators on the Jan. 6 committee are facing an enormous challenge: How to crunch a massive amount of evidence surrounding last year’s Capitol attack into a narrative that resonates with large segments of the voting public.
The House select committee has spent the last 15 months digging through tens of thousands of documents, interviewing more than 1,000 witnesses and staging eight public hearings aimed at convincing both Congress and the country that former President Trump had used the powers of the office to orchestrate nothing less than an attempted coup.
As they head into Wednesday’s hearing on Capitol Hill — what could be the last investigative forum before the committee dissolves — the panel’s lawmakers are quick to acknowledge the difficulty in wrapping up their work in a manner that’s compelling, convincing and easy to digest.
“There’s such a huge avalanche of information that it becomes difficult towards the end to decide what we’re going to use in a particular context,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).
Created in June of last year, the bipartisan select committee was given broad powers to tackle the mammoth task of uncovering the causes and actors behind the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. In the months since, investigators have presented a damning account of a volatile president who refused to accept his election defeat; summoned supporters to Washington in an effort to prevent Congress from certifying the results; and sat silently while a violent mob stormed into the Capitol in a failed attempt to do just that.
The select committee will disband at the end of the year. And with the House expected to flip to GOP control in November’s midterms, Congress’s formal investigation into Trump’s role in the rampage is certain to end. Before then, the panel is racing to craft a final report, likely to be issued following the elections, and may issue a preliminary report that could arrive before November. The sheer volume of evidence is affecting the timeline.
“It is a huge amount of information. We’re working hard to put it together,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), another member of the select committee, said Sunday night in an appearance on CNN, where she acknowledged the limitations of the public outreach campaign.
“Hearings have some constraints,” she said. “You can’t deliver that much information in a two-hour period.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Wednesday’s hearing would not be as focused on one prong of Trump’s plan as prior hearings have been.
“I think it’ll be potentially more sweeping than some of the other hearings. But it too will be … very thematic. It will tell the story about a key element of Donald Trump’s plot to overturn the election. And the public will certainly learn things it hasn’t seen before, but it will also understand information it already has in a different context by seeing how it relates to other elements of this plot,” Schiff said Sunday during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The Jan. 6 panel is working to tie up its marathon probe just as Democrats are increasingly fighting to make the midterm elections a referendum on Trump’s false claims of a “stolen” election and the threat to democracy Trump’s critics say he poses. Recent public surveys show that the issue has resonance, but doesn’t poll nearly as high as inflation and other economic measures.
Lofgren said one strategy for reaching a more diverse audience has been to schedule Wednesday’s hearing midday, instead of in the evening when it would compete with more popular programs.
“It’s true, it’s not in prime-time. I would note, however, that in the past Fox News does play our hearings if the hearing is in the daytime,” she said. “That’s a factor in reaching an audience that is not watching CNN.”
Complicating the panel’s task, investigators are seeking to make their case without having spoken to two eyewitnesses at the center of the Jan. 6 attack: Trump, who had encouraged his supporters to march on the Capitol, and Mike Pence, the former vice president whose unwillingness to help overturn Trump’s defeat made him a top target of the mob.
Lofgren said Sunday that Pence, after initially expressing some interest in testifying, has since “walked it back.” The committee has subpoena power — and has used it repeatedly in the course of the investigation — but there’s simply no time left to pursue that avenue when it comes to Trump and Pence, Lofgren added.
“That litigation could not be concluded during the life of this Congress,” Lofgren told CNN. “So while we’d like to hear from both of them, I’m not expecting that we necessarily will.”
Another wild card for the committee is former Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Va.), who served as an adviser to the panel up until April.
Riggleman has a new book, and his promotional tour has rolled out just days before the panel’s scheduled hearing, disclosing that his team uncovered a phone call between the White House and a man later arrested after entering the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Members have dismissed the value of that detail, noting that they uncovered more evidence in the many months following Riggleman’s departure.
“He does not know what happened after April, and a lot has happened in our investigation. I will say this, that everything that he was able to relay or to discern prior to his departure has been followed up on and in some cases didn’t really [pan] out,” Lofgren said.
Yet another factor complicating the panel’s effort to bring the investigation to its inevitable end is the simple fact that the committee has continued to receive new information, and even new witness testimony, more than a year after the probe was launched.
Indeed, investigators are expecting this month to sit down with Virginia Thomas, the wife of the Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, to learn more about her efforts to keep Trump in office even after his defeat. As part of that campaign, Virginia Thomas had communicated directly with Mark Meadows, Trump’s former chief of staff, and John Eastman, a conservative law professor who devised the legal rationale behind Trump’s bid to stay in power.
Lofgren declined to say when Thomas would testify, but said it would happen “quite soon.”
“We want to make clear. … we’re interviewing her because of her own activities,” Lofgren said. “It’s not because of whose wife she is.”