early and often

Will the January 6 Committee End With a Bang or a Whimper?

The committee’s body of work is impressive, but how does it wrap it all up? Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

If the House select committee on January 6 were to simply vanish today, it would have accomplished a lot of very important tasks. At a time when amnesia and revisionist history were in danger of obscuring the deadly threat to democracy that peaked when a MAGA mob tried to sack Congress, the committee reminded us of Donald Trump’s inexcusable conduct, showing again and again that the former president was warned about his wildly irresponsible and likely criminal actions by some of his closest associates. Moreover, the January 6 committee delivered its findings in a way designed to make it as easy as possible for the public — even the Republicans who more or less covered their eyes and ears and tried to ignore it all — to digest. As a veteran consumer of countless congressional hearings over the years, I never thought I’d live to see the day when members would sacrifice the opportunity to serially bloviate on national TV in order to keep viewers informed and even riveted. The members who directed the overall investigation, chairman Bennie Thompson and vice chairman Liz Cheney, have done an especially admirable job moving things along and underlying key points.

But even the best stories have to reach satisfying conclusions. And it is apparent that the January 6 committee is not entirely sure how to wrap things up, as Politico explained earlier this week:

Should they seek Donald Trump’s testimony? What should they do with Republican lawmakers who defied subpoenas? Will they be able to negotiate an interview with Mike Pence?

Members of the Jan. 6 select committee are confronting a momentous to-do list, including some of their most precedent-setting decisions, as they prepare to present closing arguments about the former president’s bid to overturn his loss in 2020. With barely 16 weeks until the panel dissolves, its nine lawmakers are still deciding when to release a comprehensive final report, as well as hundreds of witness transcripts that could provide extensive new details about Trump’s behavior surrounding the Capitol attack.

The expiration date in question, to be clear, is the end of the 117th Congress in early January. There is no rule keeping the committee from issuing a final report earlier than that, but there are some practical considerations shaping the endgame decision. Releasing a report prior to November 8 (which is likely to be logistically impossible at this late date) could theoretically affect the midterms, and also might reinforce Republican claims that the whole investigation is a partisan witch hunt. The committee also has to take into account that the real conclusion of its efforts could be out of its hands, since Merrick Garland’s Justice Department (which does not face a January 2023 expiration date) will make an independent call on the criminal indictments so many Democrats hope for and even expect, regardless of what the committee recommends.

Endgame aside, the committee does appear to be taking tentative next steps, having announced a ninth public hearing for September 28, though the topic and the witness list are unknown, as USA Today reported:

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said after a meeting of committee members the subject of the hearing hasn’t been decided and the schedule could slip. He also said the committee hasn’t decided whether to invite former President Donald Trump or former Vice President Mike Pence to testify. Pence has said he would consider it, but lawmakers are leery of lengthy court battles with Trump or Pence.

“The Select Committee has developed a massive body of evidence,” Thompson said in a statement Monday. “It hasn’t always been easy … because the same people who drove the former President’s pressure campaign to overturn the election are now trying to cover up the truth about Jan. 6th.”

Other reports indicate the committee is considering a focus on figures in Trump’s orbit who have mostly escaped serious scrutiny, like a certain former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. The Hill reports:

[A] central focus of the investigation throughout August was the wide-ranging effort by a long list of Trump supporters — some of them on Capitol Hill — to install slates of fake electors in certain battleground states where Trump has claimed, falsely, that he prevailed over President Biden. Gingrich, the committee has found, was a part of that effort. 

“Former House Speaker Gingrich appears to have been involved in some of the planning around the counterfeit electors scheme, and efforts to substitute a fraudulent process for the actual process,” a member of the select committee said in an interview. 

Some committee members are also interested in filling in gaps in the documented timeline of Trump’s attempted (and still continuing) insurrectionary plans. They’re considering and holding additional questioning of former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, former deputy chief of staff Tony Ornato, and perhaps Supreme Court spouse and right-wing busybody Ginni Thomas.

And beyond its recommendations to the Justice Department for criminal indictments, the committee is also expected to release legislative recommendations, including reforms of the presidential vote-tabulation process. We already got word that the bipartisan Senate group developing a proposal to fix the Electoral Count Act of 1887, which got off to a promising start, has slowed down its timeline for action thanks to a combination of technical quibbles, inadequate “room” on the Senate’s crowded agenda, and hard-core MAGA opposition. A House counterpart bill is now being introduced this week. The January 6 committee could help or hinder the culmination of that urgent process, depending on how it handles the issue.

The committee should have time to do what it wants: Only one member, Democrat Elaine Luria of Virginia, is in a competitive reelection race. Two members (Democrat Stephanie Murphy and Republican Adam Kinzinger) are retiring this year, and another, vice chairman Liz Cheney, famously lost her reelection bid in an August primary. If by some small miracle Democrats hang onto control of the House in November, the committee could be given a new lease on life. And it’s not as though Trump has stopped doing the sort of things that made investigating him necessary, so a fresh round of inquiries might be in order.

More on the january 6 hearings

See All
Will the January 6 Committee End With a Bang or a Whimper?