A number of questions remain after the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol reconvened last week for what was likely its final public hearing. And with less than three months before it must wrap its investigation, the clock is ticking.
After a months-long break from public events when the committee took its investigation behind closed doors, last week’s hearing oscillated between jogging the public’s memory of previously revealed evidence and introducing new disclosures, to round out its picture of former President Donald Trump’s “multi part plan” to overturn the 2020 election that “led to an attack on a pillar of our democracy.” But the more than two-hour meeting, perhaps expected to serve as a finale to the 16-month investigation, left out widely anticipated details and spurred new questions along the way.
Notably absent were details from conservative activist Ginni Thomas’ interview, which the committee conducted behind closed doors in recent weeks, after seeking testimony from Thomas, who is married to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, due to her communications with former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows and lawmakers in Arizona and Wisconsin encouraging efforts to keep President Joe Biden from taking office.
More information from Trump’s former Cabinet members – like former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – whom the panel interviewed over the past few months, was also absent from last week’s session. The individuals were expected to shed light on Cabinet discussions about invoking the 25th Amendment to oust Trump from office.
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Also expected from last week’s hearing was additional information on the Secret Service, after the law enforcement agency was thrust into the center of the committee’s investigation in late July when a government watchdog accused the agency of deleting text messages from Jan. 5 and Jan. 6, 2021. The committee introduced glaring new evidence about the Secret Service’s advanced knowledge of the threat of violence on Jan. 6 during last week’s hearing, which created a slew of new questions over its conduct.
And committee members do not appear to be done with the Secret Service either. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that she looks forward to “calling back in some of those Secret Service officials who have knowledge about what happened and putting them under oath this time now that we have additional information,” adding that any related recommendations would be included in the panel’s final report.
Meanwhile, other testimony before the committee remains outstanding, including from a handful of GOP lawmakers, like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. The committee now likely faces a decision on whether to enforce the subpoenas issued earlier this year as time runs out on its investigation.
But the panel’s biggest bombshell in last week’s hearing came in the form of a unanimous vote to subpoena Trump, marking its boldest step yet in the intensive investigation. Even so, whether the former president complies with that subpoena remains to be seen.
“He is the one person at the center of the story of what happened on Jan. 6,” Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi said. “So we want to hear from him.”
Trump brushed off the subpoena in social media posts following the hearing, calling into question why the committee chose not to request his testimony earlier in its investigation and reiterating his claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. Later, in a 14-page letter to Thompson, he again lashed out at the lawmakers and rehashed previous claims, but he notably said nothing about whether he would comply with the subpoena.
The former president has repeatedly called the committee the “unselect committee” of “political hacks and thugs,” accusing it of launching a “witch hunt” against him. Accordingly, it appears unlikely that Trump would comply with the subpoena.
But committee members have been tight-lipped about how they would handle possible defiance of the subpoena from Trump since the vote last week.
Responding to a question about whether the Justice Department should hold the former president in criminal contempt if he refuses to respond to the subpoena, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois said on Sunday, “That’s a bridge we cross if we have to get there.”
“He’s made it clear he has nothing to hide, is what he says. So he should come in on the day we ask him to come in,” Kinzinger said on ABC’s “This Week.” “If he pushes off beyond that, we’ll figure out what to do next.”
Meanwhile, in a move that could foreshadow Trump’s future, the Justice Department is recommending a six-month prison sentence and $200,000 fine for Steve Bannon’s contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the committee.
Bannon, a right-wing podcaster and a former adviser to Donald Trump, defined a September 2021 subpoena from the committee. By November, he had been indicted by a federal grand jury on two counts of contempt of Congress. In July, a jury found Bannon guilty for refusing to provide documents to the select committee and for refusing to appear for a deposition.
Even so, another committee member, Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, said the panel expects Trump to comply with the subpoena “because he has a legal obligation to come in.”
“Of course, he had also had a legal obligation to see that the laws were faithfully executed which he completely ignored on Jan. 6,” Lofgren told “CNN Newsroom” on Sunday. “So we’ll see.”
Meanwhile, the panel is drafting its final report to be released before the year’s end. But members acknowledged that some of the work may outlast the committee itself.
“There is so much information out there, and if we were allowed to proceed I think that we should,” Murphy said. “Because there are a lot of processes and institutional changes that need to be made so we can guard against anybody – irrespective of political party – ever attempting to overturn a US election again.”
And whether the select committee’s final report will include a criminal referral related to Trump’s conduct remains to be seen. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming said during last week’s hearing that the committee has “significant information” to consider criminal referrals for “multiple individuals” while recommending a number of legislative proposals “to guard against another Jan. 6.”
Regardless, Kinzinger said on Sunday that the question over criminal referral “doesn’t have much of a point because obviously DOJ is moving forward on this anyway.”
He outlined that going forward, while pursuing new leads, the committee is “putting together in a deeper kind of way exactly what we know,” pointing to a mountain of information that could not be contained within hours-long public hearings.
“So you’ll see more of those details, we’ll start to work on recommendations and then, again, we put out that report,” Kinzinger said. “And really the torch has been passed – yes, to DOJ – but also to the American people.”