Almost a year after the formation of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, lawmakers are set to take their case public.
On Thursday night, Chairman Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., and Vice Chairwoman Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., will launch a series of televised hearings featuring a combination of live witnesses, pretaped interviews with figures that include Trump family members and previously unseen video footage.
The hearings mark the culmination of an inquiry that has involved more than 1,000 interviews and reviews of more than 125,000 records. Taken together, the work represents the most comprehensive record yet of the deadly assault, and which panel members have come to believe stands out as only the most visible evidence of a broader plot to undermine American democracy — one that emanated from the White House.
To tell that story, the committee will draw on testimony from administration insiders, including a previously obscure aide who has given the committee a detailed reconstruction of meetings and movements in the West Wing. The committee also has video recordings of interviews with Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, that some inside the process believe will make for gripping television.
But the end result of the committee’s efforts remains an open question. Public opinions about Jan. 6 and about former president Donald Trump have long since hardened into competing blocs, making it difficult to break through, even with prime-time programming. The committee also has been bedeviled by a lack of cooperation from some Republicans — including some of those closest to Trump — leaving potential gaps in the evidence and an apparent deficit of high-profile figures willing to take the witness stand.
Legally, meanwhile, the investigation may have limited direct consequence: Although the committee can refer cases for prosecution, it is the Justice Department that will ultimately decide whether to file any charges.
Still, a criminal referral by Congress of a former U.S. president would be an extraordinary step. And whether it is taken or not, the hearings will represent a historic moment, one in which the committee unveils evidence of what it has described in court filings as “a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States.”
“Either way, these hearings are very important in getting that information out there,” said Norm Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who served as counsel to House Democrats for Trump’s first impeachment trial.
The first hearing is likely to provide the American public with an opening argument and overview of the events on the day rioters assaulted the Capitol, as well as the weeks that preceded it.
Lawmakers are also expected to focus on the ways in which Trump’s false claims of fraud continue to proliferate and threaten the integrity of future U.S. elections, according to people involved with the investigation who, like others interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. They cautioned that much of the plan remains under discussion and subject to change.
The witnesses set to appear at the first hearing have yet to be announced. But the committee will attempt to place the story of the violence at the Capitol in the context of a broader, multi-tentacled plot to overturn the results of Joe Biden’s electoral victory, with Trump’s involvement serving as the through line.
The hearings that follow this month — there are expected to be at least six — will drill down on particular aspects of that plot. Another hearing, for example, is likely to focus at least in part on alternate slates of Trump electors that could have been used to try to undermine Biden’s legitimacy, according to people involved with the investigation.
The final hearing is likely to be led by Reps. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., and Elaine Luria, D-Va., and focused primarily on Trump: what he did, what went on around him, and what he said before Jan. 6 and on that day. A person familiar with the planning said the few remaining “bombshells” will come in the final hearing, though the person cautioned that the most notable piece of evidence against the former president — that he allegedly expressed support for hanging Vice President Mike Pence — has been reported.
The committee — which includes two Republican members and seven Democrats — is still finalizing witnesses. But the hearings are likely to feature senior officials in the Trump Justice Department and advisers in Pence’s inner circle. Investigators also have secured cooperation from relatively junior administration staffers who were witness to crucial moments.
People familiar with the committee’s dynamics said Cheney is taking an aggressive role in organizing the hearings. Members have debated over which witnesses should be featured, and several people involved said there was frustration among lawmakers that key final decisions had not yet been made.
Cassidy Hutchinson, a top aide to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, has sat for multiple depositions with investigators — more than 20 hours — and is expected to play a starring role in the hearings, according to people familiar with the matter. Hutchinson, people familiar with the committee said, has provided extensive information about Meadows’s activities in trying to overturn the election.
Meadows, through his lawyer, declined to provide comment.
The Washington Post reported late last month that Hutchinson had told the committee that Meadows remarked to others that Trump indicated support for hanging his vice president after rioters who stormed the Capitol on that day started chanting, “Hang Mike Pence!”
“Cassidy Hutchinson might turn out to be the next John Dean,” Eisen added, referring to the former presidential counsel who accused President Richard Nixon of having direct involvement in the Watergate scandal to Senate investigators and federal prosecutors.
Hutchinson is likely to testify live before the committee, complimented by video footage of previous interviews before investigators, according to a person familiar with the investigation.
Hutchinson has recalled for the committee various episodes in the chaotic scramble to sustain Trump’s election-fraud lie. A former mid-level aide, she kept detailed schedules of movements in the West Wing and had extensive conversations with Meadows.
Court filings show Hutchinson detailing a meeting in the lead-up to Jan. 6 between Meadows and House Republican lawmakers in which they discussed delaying the Joint Session of Congress — or altogether preventing the counting of electoral votes — so that state legislatures could select different electors.
Investigators have come to view Meadows as a key actor in the efforts to overturn the results of the election. He was in close touch with Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and his outside legal team, which was operating out of the Willard hotel in Washington, according to people familiar with their interactions.
“Meadows would tell Trump we wanted to talk to him,” said a person involved with the operation.
Meadows was also warned before Jan. 6 about the prospect of violence that day, according to Hutchinson’s testimony. She told congressional investigators that Anthony Ornato, a senior Secret Service official who also held the role of political adviser at the White House, told Meadows “we had intel reports saying that there could potentially be violence on the 6th.”
Meadows initially cooperated with the investigation, providing his text messages among other records. But like many of those close to Trump, he ultimately refused to testify.
The committee referred criminal charges against Meadows and top Trump advisers Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino to the Justice Department, for defying committee subpoenas. The department announced Friday that it had indicted Navarro, but would not be pursuing charges against Meadows and Scavino. Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon was charged with two counts of contempt last year, and is set to go on trial in July.
Unlike other boldfaced names who have been subpoenaed by the committee, Hutchinson is no longer a figure in Trump’s orbit or Republican politics.
Other mid- and low-level administration, campaign and Capitol Hill staffers have described their participation with the investigation as an opportunity to say their piece to the American public after a traumatizing experience. The committee has agreed to anonymize accounts from those who have expressed fear or discomfort with publicly coming forward, according to people involved with the investigation.
“You’re going to hear from people who you haven’t heard from before or who haven’t had the opportunity to do any media,” said a person who provided a recorded account for the committee.
Although the committee has not made a final decision, people familiar with the investigation believe the panel will screen footage of testimony from Ivanka Trump and Kushner — including Trump’s account of her father’s actions in the West Wing on Jan. 6.
“Everybody will pay attention when Jared and Ivanka talk on video. It doesn’t matter how damning the presentations are,” said a person close to the investigation.
Accounts from panel members and testimony released in court filings depict a daughter who was in and out of her father’s presence while the Capitol was under siege, repeatedly attempting to get him to respond to the violence.
Former Trump national security adviser Keith Kellogg told investigators during his December appearance before the committee that, on the day after the riot, he had told Ivanka that he “appreciated what she did that day and by talking to her dad. And I said: ‘You know, I just thought what you did was to me pretty heroic.’ And she said: ‘Well, my dad’s stubborn.’ And I said: ‘Your whole family’s stubborn.'”
Michael Luttig — a conservative lawyer and former appeals court judge who advised Pence — is expected to appear as a witness, as are Pence’s former chief of staff Marc Short and the vice president’s former chief counsel, Greg Jacob, according to people familiar with the plans for the hearings.
Jacob and Short were in the room for a meeting on Jan. 4, 2021, among Trump, Pence and John Eastman, an attorney for Trump. In that session, Eastman made the case for Pence to unilaterally act during the counting of electoral college votes to halt Trump’s defeat, The Post has previously reported.
Jacob and Short were also with Pence, who had been presiding in the Senate, on Jan. 6.
Jeffrey Rosen, the former acting attorney general, and other Justice Department officials are expected to receive formal invitations to testify in the coming days, a person familiar with the matter said.
Despite securing a handful of key witnesses and extensive closed-door testimony from former senior officials — including former attorney general William Barr — some former congressional investigators and individuals close to the committee fear that it does not have enough big names featured publicly.
“This has been their problem from the beginning: They have no one big who will talk to them — including Pence,” said a person close to the committee’s work.