Five big questions about the Jan. 6 select committee

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden pushes back at Democrats on taxes Yarmuth and Clyburn suggest .5T package may be slimmed Of partisan fights and follies, or why Democrats should follow Manchin, not Sanders MORE (D-Calif.) last week kicked off Congress's special investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, naming eight members to a newly formed select committee and announcing that the first hearing will feature Capitol Police officers.

But the roster on the 13-member panel remains incomplete; its powers to compel testimony remain uncertain; and without a defined deadline, the timeline for the committee to complete its examination and recommend reforms remains up in the air.

Here are five questions that remain unanswered as the investigation commences.

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Will Republicans participate?

Pelosi has designated only eight members to a panel intended to seat 13, with the other five to be recommended by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyWhite House debates vaccines for air travel McCarthy on Dems' spending bill: 'The amount of money we spent to win World War II' Democrats lean into vaccine mandates ahead of midterms MORE (R-Calif.). Yet McCarthy has so far declined to say whether Republicans will participate in the investigation, which most GOP lawmakers have deemed a partisan "witch hunt" designed solely to tarnish former President TrumpDonald TrumpCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Netanyahu suggests Biden fell asleep in meeting with Israeli PM Aides try to keep Biden away from unscripted events or long interviews, book claims MORE and his allies in Congress for their role in spreading the falsehoods about a stolen election that instigated the attack.

"When I have news on that, I'll give it to you," McCarthy said last week.

McCarthy's dilemma resembles that faced by Pelosi in 2014 when Republican leaders, who controlled the House at the time, created a select committee to investigate the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Their main target was former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Attorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty Attorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation MORE, who would become the Democrats' presidential nominee in 2016, and some in the party had urged Pelosi not to validate the partisan investigation by putting Democrats on the panel.

Pelosi chose otherwise, judging it better to have some Clinton allies on the stage than allow Republicans to launch their attacks uncontested. She tapped the late Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsFormer GOP congressional candidate Kimberly Klacik suing Candace Owens for defamation Former Cummings staffer unveils congressional bid McCarthy, GOP face a delicate dance on Jan. 6 committee MORE (D-Md.) to lead Clinton's defense.

McCarthy may similarly decide that it's in the best interest of Republicans to have Trump supporters on the Jan. 6 committee, particularly after Pelosi named Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyThe Memo: Never Trumpers sink into gloom as Gonzalez bows out Kinzinger says Trump 'winning' because many Republicans 'have remained silent' 'Justice for J6' rally puts GOP in awkward spot MORE (Wyo.), Trump's most prominent GOP critic, to the panel.

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But there are risks lurking, as well. Republicans on the panel would be forced to walk a delicate rope, careful not to appear too critical of police officers condemning Trump's actions — or too sympathetic to the violent pro-Trump mob — all while defending a former president who had encouraged the crowd to march on the Capitol to block the peaceful transfer of power. With that in mind, it may be more politically expedient for McCarthy to avoid any association with the select committee, and attack from afar.

As McCarthy weighs his choice, Rep. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonJan. 6 committee taps former Bush administration official as top lawyer Overnight Defense & National Security: US-Australian sub deal causes rift with France Jan. 6 panel says it is reviewing Milley actions MORE (D-Miss.), chairman of the select committee, has made clear that he's prepared to launch the process with or without the Republicans on board.

"Although we eagerly await the arrival of our five other colleagues, many of us hope to begin the process with a hearing in which the Capitol Police officers themselves could be able to testify about their experiences," Thompson said.

He did not say when.


Will Pelosi accept McCarthy's picks?

A wildcard in the process of composing the panel is this: the language of the resolution that created the select committee explicitly gives Pelosi the power to appoint all 13 members, "5 of whom shall be appointed after consultation with the minority leader." In other words, Pelosi has veto power over McCarthy's selections, should he choose to make them, and that's raised questions about how the Speaker might screen Republican lawmakers, if at all.

Even six months after the attack, Democrats are furious with the actions of Trump's congressional allies before, during and after the insurrection. Most House Republicans had endorsed formal court challenges to overturn the election results in some states, then cheered the thousands of demonstrators in Washington on Jan. 6 to protest President BidenJoe BidenCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan Biden pushes back at Democrats on taxes MORE’s ascension to the White House.

After the attack on the Capitol, 139 House Republicans voted to nullify the election results in Arizona, Pennsylvania or both. And since then, a number of Republicans have asserted, without evidence, that left-wing activists — not Trump supporters — had conducted the siege.

Pelosi has declined to say what criteria she would use in seating any Republicans McCarthy might choose to nominate for the panel. But she'll likely face pressure from her restive caucus to reject those lawmakers who have downplayed the violence of Jan. 6 or gave hope to the mob by voting to overturn the election results.

Thompson, meanwhile, is leaving those decisions to the Speaker.

"It's the minority leader's recommendation to the Speaker," he said. "And it's for their decision after that."


Will Trump be called to testify?

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For all the news reports, video footage and investigations surrounding Jan. 6, there's been little light shone on the actions of Trump throughout the attack. And that's whet the appetite of many Democrats to have the former president appear before the panel to lend his own version of what he knew that day — and when he knew it.

Trump has come under fire not only for months of false claims about election fraud and his fiery speech on the day of the insurrection, but also for his refusal to intervene more quickly after the Capitol was breached.

Trump tweeted twice during the siege imploring the mob to stay "peaceful." But it wasn't until 4:17 p.m. — more than two hours after the Capitol was overrun — that he put out a video statement calling for the rioters to "go home in peace." In the same video, he also amplified the lie about the "stolen" election, and praised the rioters as "very special" people.

In the midst of the attack, Trump also fielded a call from McCarthy. According to an account from Rep. Jaime Herrera BeutlerJaime Lynn Herrera BeutlerThe Memo: Never Trumpers sink into gloom as Gonzalez bows out Kinzinger says Trump 'winning' because many Republicans 'have remained silent' Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE (R-Wash.), McCarthy had pleaded with Trump to call off the attack, only to hear the president siding with the mob.

"Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,” Trump said, according to Herrera Beutler.

It's highly unlikely that Trump would appear before the select committee, even under subpoena. And a court battle over the request could stretch for years. But the act of summoning the former president — and having him refuse — would bolster the Democrats' suspicions that he has something to hide, lending them political ammunition against his GOP defenders.

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Pelosi said such a request is a decision for the committee. Thompson, meanwhile, is keeping the option open.

"We're not going to decide [yet] who we're going to talk to," he said when asked about Trump. "We have to assemble the committee. We have to get the staff."


Will the committee have the power to subpoena lawmakers?

While the House resolution empowers the select committee to issue subpoenas to compel witness testimony, it's unclear how broadly Democrats will cast their net. But there are plenty in the party who want to hear from some of their House colleagues who had unique connections to the event.

Two GOP lawmakers — Reps. Mo BrooksMorris (Mo) Jackson BrooksWatchdog group seeks ethics probe over McCarthy's Jan. 6 comments Jan. 6 panel seeks records of those involved in 'Stop the Steal' rally Jan. 6 panel to ask for preservation of phone records of GOP lawmakers who participated in Trump rally: report MORE (Ala.) and Madison Cawthorn (N.C.) — had appeared at Trump's rally just before the siege, for instance.

Other Republicans were allegedly in contact with some of the organizers and participants of the Jan. 6 "Stop the Steal" rally before the Capitol attack. That list includes Reps. Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarDomestic extremists return to the Capitol Republicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally Washington ramps up security ahead of Sept. 18 rally MORE (R-Ariz.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and Brooks, who were singled out by a prominent Trump supporter as having "schemed up ... putting max pressure on Congress" that day.

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More recently, one of the rioters appeared with a group of roughly two dozen House Republicans on a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border, led by the Republican Study Committee.

Rep. Greg PenceGregory PenceBiden jabs at McConnell for highlighting bill he voted against Five big questions about the Jan. 6 select committee Biden needles GOP touting rescue plan they opposed: 'Some people have no shame' MORE (R-Ind.), the brother of former Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally The Memo: Never Trumpers sink into gloom as Gonzalez bows out 'Justice for J6' organizer calls on demonstrators to respect law enforcement MORE, was alongside his brother throughout Jan. 6, when the vice president was a top target of the mob.

McCarthy, who has declined to reveal the full details of his phone call with Trump on Jan. 6, is also a potential witness for the select committee.

And Rep. Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenOmar leads lawmakers in calling for US envoy to combat Islamophobia Trump says being impeached twice didn't change him: 'I became worse' Five big questions about the Jan. 6 select committee MORE (D-Tenn.) has accused Rep. Lauren BoebertLauren BoebertWatchdog group seeks ethics probe over McCarthy's Jan. 6 comments Jan. 6 panel seeks records of those involved in 'Stop the Steal' rally Jan. 6 panel to ask for preservation of phone records of GOP lawmakers who participated in Trump rally: report MORE (R-Colo.) of giving tours through the Capitol complex in the days leading up to the insurrection — a charge Boebert has adamantly denied. Boebert has also been criticized for live-tweeting the attack from the House floor, where she revealed the moment that Pelosi — another chief target of the mob — "has been removed from the chambers.”

Thompson, for his part, declined to say if he'll try to compel his own colleagues to testify on their experiences. But nor did he rule it out.

"We have not set all the parameters of the committee at this point," he said. "Hopefully we can get the select committee fully composed."


How long will it take?

The duration of any investigation into Jan. 6 has been a concern of Republicans, who are wary of a high-profile, headline-grabbing probe wrapping into 2022, a midterm election year when GOP leaders like their odds of winning back both chambers.

With that in mind, Rep. John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoEmboldened Trump takes aim at GOP foes McCarthy-allied fundraising group helps Republicans who voted to impeach Trump Bipartisan House group introduces legislation to set term limit for key cyber leader MORE (N.Y.), the lead Republican negotiator on the independent commission proposal, was able to secure a Dec. 31 deadline as part of that deal. But McCarthy and other GOP leaders, after deputizing Katko in those talks, opposed the agreement he’d won, setting the stage for Senate Republicans to block the legislation when it hit the floor in May.

That left Pelosi to set her own deadline, and she's landed on no deadline at all.

"The timeline will be as long as it takes," she said last month.

Republicans are familiar with the political potency of special investigations in high-stakes election years. Their Benghazi probe, begun in 2014, carried all the way through the 2016 election cycle, and was thought to be a factor in Clinton's loss to Trump that year.

Five weeks later, Republicans dissolved the committee.

Some Democrats are warning against a scenario where Democrats release the select committee findings too close to the midterm elections, saying that could backfire on the party at the polls. But Thompson is not playing his hand, saying only that he intends to be thorough.

"I can't give a timeline," he said. "We'll let the facts help determine how long we'll meet."