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What’s Left for the January 6th Committee?

The panel has worked hard to inform the public about the insurrection and what led to it. But it still has important work to do—and the clock is ticking.
October 13, 2022
What’s Left for the January 6th Committee?
Former U.S. President Donald Trump is displayed on a screen during the fourth hearing on the January 6th investigation in the Cannon House Office Building on June 21, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Al Drago-Pool/Getty Images)

After a hiatus of nearly three months, the House January 6th Committee will open its tenth hearing at 1 p.m. EDT on Thursday, less than four weeks before the midterm elections that will determine whether the committee will continue to exist. If the House of Representatives shifts to Republican control, a change that requires a net of only five seats to flip from blue to red, the congressional probe into the attack on the U.S. Capitol and all that led up to it will cease. Reminding the American people of what happened on Jan. 6th—and what remains to be investigated and revealed regarding GOP leaders’ role in the attempt to overturn the democratic election of a U.S. president—could be essential to the outcome of the midterms and thus the vitality of the rule of law itself.

Beyond shutting down the committee, what else might a Republican-controlled House of Representatives do about Jan. 6th? Last month, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy released his blueprint of what he’d do as speaker. Called a “Commitment to America,” it cynically identifies “A Government That’s Accountable” as a primary objective and promises “genuine scrutiny” of “Biden’s Justice Department labeling parents as ‘domestic terrorists’”— a vague swipe at the Department of Justice’s prosecution of hundreds of primarily white men for their actions on Jan. 6th. (Prosecutors estimate that number could climb as high as 2,000.) If elected speaker, McCarthy will also feel pressure to initiate bogus proceedings to impeach President Joe Biden. He has, according to the Washington Post, already begun training sessions for members of Congress and staff in anticipation of relentless probes into Hunter Biden’s business deals, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the origins of the coronavirus, COVID-19 school closings, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, weapons sales to Ukraine, the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago—and even the Jan. 6th Committee’s work.

Ironically, McCarthy is himself to blame for the committee’s efficacy and legitimacy, having overplayed his political hand in rejecting the compromise offered by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after she turned down two of McCarthy’s five picks for Republican members of the committee: Reps. Jim Jordan and Jim Banks, both of whom were Trump loyalists who had voted to overturn the 2020 election results. Instead of replacing just those members, McCarthy pulled the plug on GOP participation altogether, betting on fallout against Pelosi for what he called “an egregious abuse of power.” His ploy backfired spectacularly as Pelosi invited Rep. Liz Cheney and later Rep. Adam Kinzinger, two of the original five, to join the committee, producing a genuinely bipartisan panel devoted to getting to the bottom of what happened before, during, and since Jan. 6th.

Indeed, a July 22-24 Morning Consult/Politico survey revealed that, in the wake of the hearings, 63 percent of independent voters believed that Trump was at least partially responsible for Jan. 6th, up from 56 percent after the first hearing in June. A September ABC News/Washington Post poll showed a 20 percent drop since 2020 in Republican support for Trump as the 2024 GOP presidential nominee, putting Biden slightly ahead—at 48 to 46 percent—if a matchup election were held today. Said Trump to conservative radio talk show host Wayne Allyn Root in June, “This committee, it was a bad decision not to have representation on that committee.”

Let’s not forget, too, that McCarthy is a central fact witness in the Jan. 6th inquiry, having reportedly called Trump that day to tell him to call off the mob. “I was very clear with the president when I called him,” McCarthy told CBS News’s Norah O’Donnell about his heated exchange with Trump. “This has to stop, and he has to go to the American public and tell them to stop this.” According to Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, McCarthy shared with her Trump’s response: “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.” According to Robert Draper’s forthcoming book, McCarthy replied, “More upset? . . . They’re trying to fucking kill me!”

The pair spoke again on January 11, 2001, with McCarthy reportedly urging Trump to call Biden and congratulate him. He told the Californian, a newspaper in his home district: “The president said there was some antifa there. I said, ‘No, the people arrested, they’re MAGA.’” In an audio recording of a conference call that same day with GOP lawmakers, which was leaked in April of this year, McCarthy said: “Let me be very clear to all of you, and I have been very clear to the president: He bears responsibilities for his words and actions. No if, ands or buts.”

In a January 12, 2022 letter to McCarthy seeking his cooperation, the Jan. 6th Committee explained the importance of his testimony: “All of this information bears directly on President Trump’s state of mind during the January 6th attack as the violence was underway.”

One of the committee members, Rep. Jamie Raskin, told NBC’s Meet the Press last month that the upcoming hearing—which was postponed by Hurricane Ian—may be the last public one before the committee issues its written report. “I’m hopeful, speaking just as one member, that we will have a hearing that lays out all of our legislative recommendations about how to prevent coups, insurrections, political violence and electoral sabotage in the future, because this is a clear and present danger that’s continuing right up to this day,” he said.

It’s not out of the question that the committee might yet add more hearings to its schedule; after all, it has unexpectedly done so before.

What are some of the other outstanding items on the committee’s agenda?

Liz Cheney announced in September at the Texas Tribune Festival that the committee has received nearly 800,000 pages of communication materials from the Secret Service, notwithstanding its scandalous deletion of phone records following the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general demand for them immediately after Jan. 6th. The information could corroborate White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s stunning testimony that former Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations Tony Ornato told her Trump had a physical confrontation with his Secret Service detail in the president’s vehicle on Jan. 6th.

Denver Riggleman, a former GOP lawmaker who formerly served on the committee’s staff, also told CBS’s 60 Minutes that the White House switchboard connected to the phone of a rioter on Jan. 6th. According to Raskin, the committee is aware of the call. But Trump’s ties to the far-right extremists who invaded the Capitol that day—including the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers—remain unclear to the public. It’s known that Trump pals Roger Stone and Michael Flynn were in close contact with some of them.

Thus far, the committee has not touched on whether Trump’s firing of former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in November 2020 was related to the multi-tiered efforts to thwart the election results, either. Esper’s acting replacement, Chris Miller, told the committee that there was “no order from the president” to have 10,000 troops ready to deploy to stop the violence. Why were the Capitol complex, members of Congress, and congressional staffers left virtually unprotected from the violence for hours that day? This question remains unsettled.

Perhaps most troubling is the committee’s failure thus far to publicly investigate the role(s) of numerous sitting members of Congress, including those who reportedly asked Trump for blanket pardons in connection with their actions both before and after Jan. 6th—reportedly Reps. Mo Brooks, Matt Gaetz, Andy Biggs, Louie Gohmert. and Scott Perry. “The only reason you ask for a pardon is if you think you’ve committed a crime,” quipped Rep. Kinzinger about the pardon requests. According to former Trump White House counsel Eric Herschmann, the “general tone” of the requests was: “We may get prosecuted because we were defensive of the president’s position on these things.”

According to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight, 60 percent of Americans who vote in November will have at least one election denier on the ballot. Of the 552 Republicans running for office, 201 fully deny the legitimacy of the 2020 election. In the House of Representatives, 118 election-denier candidates “have at least a 95 percent chance of winning.” If the committee is serious about saving democracy from a successful re-do of Jan. 6th, perhaps it should use its precious remaining weeks of life to turn its focus on colleagues in the Republican party who appear to be hellbent on destroying democracy, regardless of what Trump does in 2024.

Kimberly Wehle

Kimberly Wehle is a contributor to The Bulwark. She served as an assistant U.S. attorney and an associate independent counsel in the Whitewater investigation. She is currently a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law. An ABC News legal contributor, she is the author of three books with HarperCollins: How to Read the Constitution—and Why, What You Need to Know About Voting—and Why, and, most recently, How to Think Like a Lawyer and Why—A Common-Sense Guide to Everyday Dilemmas. Her new book, Pardon Power: How the Pardon System Works—and Why, is forthcoming in September 2024 from Woodhall Press. @kimwehle.