For Jan. 6 Committee, Time Is Transparency Is Running Out

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Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., speaks as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, July 12, 2022. Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., left, and Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., listen. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

JAN. 6 COMITTEE: TIME FOR TRANSPARENCY RUNNING OUT. In one week, Republicans will take control of Congress. The Jan. 6 committee will be dissolved with all its members chosen by Nancy Pelosi (D.CA), the outgoing House Speaker. As the clock ticks down it seems that the committee’s demise may leave some important questions unanswered.
The most important question of this kind is: What happens the material that the committee has gathered? According to the committee, it interviewed over 1,000 people. According to some reports, the number could be as high as 1,200. Many of these interviews were captured on video and transcribed. Even those that weren’t, they were preserved in notes by investigators.

Each of the 10 hearings were made for TV and featured brief video interviews. A few witnesses were present to repeat for the cameras what their previous statements had been. The public show showed that all Pelosi-chosen members were in agreement on all issues. There was no debate between them, and there were no unscripted conversations with witnesses. The whole thing was tightly controlled. The public only saw what the committee leaders wanted. It was only a fraction of the information that the committee had gathered.

The question is now: Will the video, transcripts, and notes from the more than 1000 interviews be made public? Remember the most important fact: The committee has the power to do whatever it pleases. In this instance, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D. MS) is the chairman. He decides which records the committee will archive and which records it will delete. The House resolution that created the committee states that “the records” of the Select Committee will be merged with those of other committees or committees as soon as the committee is terminated. The chairman determines what “record” is. Many Capitol Hill insiders believe that the Jan.6 committee will endanger a lot its work. It will not see the light of day.

Thompson has not been clear about what he would do. Thompson has stated that the committee would release “hundreds of transcripts”. Thompson stated that the committee had “intention to make public the bulk” of non-sensitive records by the end of the year, shortly before the committee’s final reports were released. Thompson said, “These transcripts will allow the American public to see for themselves what evidence we have gathered as well as continue exploring the information that led us to our conclusions.”

What does this mean? It all depends on what the meanings of “intends”, “bulk”, and “nonsensitive” are. Thompson leaves a lot of room for interpretation. It is possible that the committee will keep many things secret.

One thing is certain, however: the committee’s public disclosure has had a slow start. The committee also released transcripts from 34 interviews on Dec. 21. Five more were released on Dec. 22. It released 46 more transcripts on Dec. 23. This is 85 transcripts. There are likely to be as many as 1,100 more in the coming week. This time period also includes the New Year’s Day holiday so it is very limited.

The releases so far have been very selective. Cassidy Hutchinson is the committee’s star witness. She was a former White House chief-of-staff Mark Meadows aide who testified that she heard a White House official claim that Trump became violent after the Ellipse rally of Jan. 6. He demanded to be driven up to the Capitol. Hutchinson spoke before a national television audience about a conversation she claimed she had with Tony Ornato, a White House official who Hutchinson said described scenes in the presidential limousine where Secret Service agent Bobby Engel was involved. Hutchinson started: “Tony described Trump as being angry.”

The president responded by saying “I’m the finging president, take you up to Capitol now.” Bobby replied, “Sir, we must go back to West Wing.” The president reached for the steering wheel and grabbed it from the front. Engel reached up and grabbed his arm. We are going back to the West Wing. We are not going to Capitol. Then, Mr. Trump used his free hand and lunged towards Bobby Engel. After Mr. Ornato had told me the story, Mr. Trump moved towards his clavicles.

It was a sensational testimony that made Democrats and many others in the media very, very happy. The public then learned that Hutchinson had conducted multiple transcript interviews with the committee prior to her June 28 appearance. She did not mention the limousine incident in those interviews. In June, she hired a new lawyer, and recalled the incident in great detail. In a new interview, she revealed the truth to staff and vice chairwoman Liz Cheney (R.WY), who made it a personal crusade against Trump. In a hurriedly produced public hearing, Cheney and Thompson raced Hutchinson to microphone. Hutchinson then did two more transcript interviews with the committee in September.

The committee has released Hutchinson only’s September transcripts. The committee has not released Hutchinson’s original testimony nor any recording of her interview with Cheney, which led to the special hearing on June 28. Her account raises questions about Engel and Ornato’s testimony. What were their words? This is very important. Each of them has had multiple interviews with the committee, which have not been made public.

There were also no members of this committee who were skeptical about Hutchinson and might have asked questions to learn more about it. Although there were two Republicans in the committee (Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R. IL) and Cheney), they supported everything done by Democrats. To be skeptical or to do anything else would be considered “obstructionist”. According to a new report in The New York Times, which relied on substantial access to the committee, the panel was able to continue with a clear and uninterrupted account of the events of January because there were no obstructionist voices. 6.”

The reality of life was not as straight-forward as the Jan. 6-committee’s narrative. This brings us back to the question: Will people see all that the Jan. 6 committee has gathered? Thompson does not have to reveal anything. Thompson doesn’t need to tell people anything else that might complicate the “clean and uninterrupted narrative” he and his co-workers created. He might, or he may not.

But what about the right of the public to know? The public has a right of information. However, it doesn’t have to know.