The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection is set to hold what its members say is likely to be its final public hearing laying out new evidence Thursday.
And given that, and the fact that it’s been nearly three months since the last one — time the committee had to chase down a series of leads crucial to the central questions of the probe — it could be a significant one.
Below is some of the unfinished business the committee could explore — whether at the hearing or in its final report, which is due by the end of the year.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Secret Service records are likely to be a significant focus for the committee Thursday.
Carol D. Leonnig and Jacqueline Alemany reported that the committee will cite newly obtained records to show “how President Donald Trump was repeatedly alerted to brewing violence that day, and he still sought to stoke the conflict”:
Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson has testified that Trump was aware that Jan. 6 could turn violent — that he was even told his rallygoers had weapons by a Secret Service agent — and that he still directed his supporters to march to the Capitol.
Former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, meanwhile, testified about a concerted push inside the White House to get Trump to quell the violence even before the rioters entered the Capitol and more than two hours before Trump ultimately told people to go home.
He even seemed to suggest that Trump might’ve wanted the rioters to be there. Asked by the committee whether Trump didn’t want the rioters to go home, he struggled with his answer before ultimately declining to comment, citing privileged conversations with Trump.
A crucial question when it comes to assessing new evidence: How much does it reinforce that Trump personally was warned about violence in advance, and was urged to do something about it early on? It has been evident for some time that Trump dithered on telling his supporters to go home — even as the scenes played out on cable news — but Hutchinson’s and Cipollone’s testimony indicated that the warnings came very early and that Trump had been confronted with them.
After Hutchinson’s testimony, some anonymous sources close to the Secret Service called into question some of her claims. Specifically, it was her secondhand testimony about an altercation in the presidential vehicle after Trump’s speech on the Ellipse. We were told key figures would testify.
But we’re still waiting on whatever became of that, and Leonnig and Alemany report that two key Secret Service figures — Anthony Ornato (who was also a top White House aide) and Robert Engel — have not yet re-interviewed with the committee.
Ornato retired from the Secret Service in August. The Post’s Maria Sacchetti and Leonnig also reported in July that Secret Service texts from Jan. 5 and 6 had been deleted. And there’s still plenty to learn about a key event that committee member Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) emphasized back in April: Vice President Mike Pence’s unwillingness to get into a Secret Service vehicle because he feared he would be whisked away and prevented from doing his job certifying the election results.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said recently that the committee has obtained 800,000 pages of material from the Secret Service, while emphasizing that the missing texts were still a significant hole.
Separately, NBC News reported recently that the Secret Service handed over the cellphones of 24 agents to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, who is probing the missing texts.
The committee’s previous hearings were perhaps most notable for things that we learned from two star witnesses: Hutchinson and Cipollone. The facets of the insurrection they spoke to — Trump’s prior knowledge that events could turn violent, and the concerted but failing efforts to get him to call off the dogs when they did — will be key to whatever results from the committee’s work.
Cipollone’s further testimony to the committee also came after Hutchinson seemed to grease the skids for other witnesses to step forward and be more forthcoming. On Thursday, we could learn whether anybody else has emerged with more to say.
Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) has promised “significant witness testimony” we haven’t seen before, but the committee has been tight-lipped about what that might be. The hearing is not expected to include live, in-person witnesses.
(One witness we might not hear much about is Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife, who recently interviewed with the committee. A growing volume of evidence indicates that she was involved in efforts to overturn the election, including emailing with several key figures. But her interview was only transcribed — not videotaped — and over the weekend, committee member Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) downplayed what we should expect to hear about it.)
One person who should feature prominently at Thursday’s hearing is longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone. The Post reported that Danish documentary filmmakers following Stone for the past three years have turned over footage to the committee, which aides intend to use at the hearing.
The footage is expected to show Stone predicting violent clashes and alluding very early on to the idea that Trump would try to remain in power using armed guards and loyal judges. The committee will reportedly argue that this shows the plot to overturn the election on false pretenses was launched very early — even before the election was held.
The Post previously reported that one clip showed Stone saying, as far back as July, that the armed guards would prevent electors from convening at the electoral college.
Raskin said recently of Stone: “He’s someone who I think saw where things were going.”
Particularly at issue are Stone’s and former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn’s interactions with extremist groups the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers; the latter group faces historic charges of seditious conspiracy, and a trial is underway. A federal judge said in February that “Stone’s connections to both the President and these groups in the days leading up to January 6th … might prove that connection to be an important one.”
The question, as always with Stone, is how much his actions can be tied to Trump’s and how closely he was coordinating with the White House or Trump’s campaign. Stone has advised Trump for decades, but he’s also a fringe figure often lobbing rhetorical bombs from the sidelines.
One issue on which the committee will presumably want to close the loop is Trump’s “Stop the Steal” fundraising.
At the tail end of one of its June hearings, the committee played video of a Jan. 6 committee staff member saying Trump misled donors who contributed $250 million to an “Official Election Defense Fund.” But the fund didn’t technically exist, according to Trump aides, and the vast majority of the money went to Trump’s super PAC and wasn’t used to contest the election results.
Lofgren said of the effort that “it’s clear that he intentionally misled his donors, asked them to donate to a fund that didn’t exist and used the money raised for something other than what it said.”
She declined to pass judgment on whether it was illegal. But in late August, fellow committee member Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) suggested this could be a focal point moving forward, saying the committee’s work would focus on “the cash and the potential coverup.”
“It was all about just raising money, and people were abused that way, so there will be a lot more of that,” Kinzinger said.
Shortly after Kinzinger’s comments, we learned that the committee had withdrawn its subpoena for records from the Republican National Committee and Salesforce, a software vendor, after the subpoena had been temporarily blocked. The committee had continued to seek information about these matters but stated that it “no longer has a need to pursue the specific information requested.”