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After the January 6 Committee


This summer, shortly before a jury in Texas ordered Alex Jones, the conspiracy peddler, to pay forty-nine million dollars in damages to the parents of one of the freshmen killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there was a legal fight over a piece of evidence. Joness’ defense team had accidentally sent the parents’ attorney, Mark Bankston, a digital copy of data about Joness’ phone failure that Bankston had revealed during cross-examination of Jones. Joness attorney F. Andino Reynal belatedly pleaded with Judge Maya Guerra Gamble to keep the documents out of sight. Bankston said that could be a problem. The January 6 committee asked me to hand over the documents, he told the court, and he was ready to do so. Well, I don’t know if you can stop this anyway, Judge Gamble told Reynal with a laugh.

Jones was of interest to the committee because of the vocal role he had played in the events leading up to the assault on the Capitol. He had highlighted Donald Trump’s tweet urging his supporters to attend his wild rally on January 6 as the most important call to action on national soil since Paul Revere and his ride in 1776; Jones had attended to himself, carrying a megaphone. Part of the work of the committees has been to map the Trumpist ecosystem of right-wing media, extremist groups, Republican officials, Fox News favorites, legal crooks and even pillow salesmen. Jones was actually questioned by the committee, one of more than a thousand witnesses he questioned, and later said he had taken the Fifth Amendment. But he wasn’t the only high-profile person to tell Trump supporters they were being defrauded: Many of those who did held and still hold elected office.

The enigma now is whether it was a mistake to think, as Judge Gamble suggested, that the January 6 committee could not be stopped. It will cease to exist by the start of the year, following the Republicans regaining control of the House. Four of the nine committee members will not return to Congress, including Liz Cheney, of Wyoming, the Republican vice president, and Elaine Luria, a Democrat from Virginia. In other words, the question will be whether they and their colleagues have built a solid enough foundation for the committees to work on a real historical balance sheet with the events of January 6 to move forward without the committee itself.

The idea that the committee could get whatever it wanted was, of course, always an illusion. She had to go to court to enforce a number of her subpoenas, including pursuing criminal contempt of Congress charges against former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, whose four-month prison sentence is suspended, pending an appeal. The committee met Friday on possible additional criminal references; in October, he voted to subpoena Trump’s testimony, but he opposes the subpoena. And although Vice President Mike Pence’s aides met with the committee, Pence himself, who on Jan. 6 refused to give in to Trump’s demands to throw out electoral votes, refused to do so. Congress has no right to my testimony, he told CBS News’ Margaret Brennan last month. He added: The partisan nature of the January 6 committee disappointed me. Some members of the Capitol crowd wanted Pence dead. But even someone who has risked their life to stop a coup might not be eager to explore how that day came about and what it says about their party. The committee, for some reason, did not subpoena him.

Kevin McCarthy, the leader of the House Republicans, received a subpoena and simply defied it, as did several of his colleagues. McCarthy is trying to become Speaker of the House, for which hell needs the votes of the most extreme members of his caucus. Perhaps in service to that effort, he last week sent Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the Democratic committee chair, a letter threatening to investigate the investigators. He asked Thompson to keep all evidence, not just information that matches your political agenda, and hinted at the possibility of committees breaking the law.

For all of this, the committee produced more than twenty hours of televised hearings that offered a highly focused look at Trump’s efforts to hold power unconstitutionally. It also produced important new information, for example, regarding the bogus voter system, which a federal judge, in a case involving a subpoena from a committee, called a coup in search of a legal theory. Next term, Congress and many state houses will be filled with Republican Holocaust deniers, but there will still be fewer than expected. This is perhaps partly to the credit of the committees.

At times, hearings may have been overproduced, overly edited, overly scripted, overly reliant on video interview clips rather than live testimony from witnesses who could prove unpredictable. There were reportedly internal disagreements over what the committee’s final report, which will shape its legacy, should highlight or omit. Another sticking point has been the committee’s reluctance to share full transcripts of its interviews with the Justice Department, despite months of requests that Attorney General Merrick Garland reiterated last week. Thompson suggested, in response, that transcripts would be released with the final report, before Christmas.

The DOJ wants the transcripts because it does its own consistent and productive job of making sure there are lawsuits in response to Jan. 6. Garland has appointed special counsel, Jack Smith, to investigate Trump’s involvement in the assault, as well as his retention of classified and sensitive documents at Mar-a-Lago. Last week, five members of the Oath Keepers were convicted of a variety of charges related to the events at the Capitol, including obstructing official process and seditious conspiracy. An Atlanta County prosecutor investigating Trump’s pressure on Georgia officials to find votes for him recently prevailed in the Supreme Court in his effort to obtain testimony from Sen. Lindsey Graham. The Court also let another House committee get six years of Trumps tax returns. And the list of cases related to Trump’s business dealings is long.

Many of these investigations predate the January 6 committee and may ultimately be more consequential. The committee will be missed, but it is not irreplaceable, and its disappearance is not the end of the accounts. There are too many people asking questions.




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