Capitol riot panel weighs televised hearings in prime time

Supporters of President Donald Trump clash with the U.S. Capitol police during a riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Alex Edelman/AFP/Getty Images/TNS

WASHINGTON — The House Committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol is considering holding televised hearings during prime evening viewing hours so that the public can have “the best opportunity” to hear testimony and evaluate evidence, the panel’s chairman said.

“Maybe a series of hearings,” Representative Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said Tuesday in an interview. “The public needs to know, needs to hear from people under oath about what led up to Jan. 6th, and to some degree, what has continued after Jan. 6.”

The hearings could occur in late March or early April, but no date has been set, Thompson added. “We’re working toward that.”

A congressional hearing conducted during what is considered television’s prime viewing time would be unusual. Most such proceedings are held during business hours, sometimes carried on the C-SPAN public affairs network.

Such hearings likely would heighten the partisan rancor surrounding the work of the committee, which is investigating the insurrection by a mob of supporters of former president Donald Trump while Congress was certifying the Electoral College vote for the 2020 presidential election. The panel is made up of seven Democrats and two Republican critics of Trump.

The former president and his GOP allies have steadily derided the inquiry as a witch-hunt focused more on inflicting political damage on Trump and Republicans than finding out what went wrong on Jan. 6, when crowds overwhelmed police and stormed the Capitol in an effort to stop the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory in the election.

Most of the committee’s nearly six months of work has so far occurred behind closed doors. Thompson said the committee and its staff to date have collected 45,000 documents, interviewed more than 300 witnesses.

The panel has been rebuffed by several former Trump aides or advisers whose testimony was sought by subpoena, including onetime strategist Steve Bannon and ex-Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Bannon has already been indicted for criminal contempt for refusing to testify to the panel and awaits trial in July and the House in December voted to hold Meadows in contempt, referring the case to the Justice Department.

Thompson said the committee is likely to issue an invitation to House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy to voluntarily talk to the panel. McCarthy has acknowledged speaking to Trump on Jan. 6 as the Capitol was being breached.

“He did make a strong statement right after Jan. 6, putting the blame on the White House,” Thompson said. “So, we need to hear from him.”

McCarthy quickly backed away from that criticism and has sought to forge an alliance with the former president.

The committee also has requested interviews with two other Republican House members, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Jim Jordan of Ohio. Perry, a Trump ally, has called the request “illegitimate” and refused via a tweet. Jordan, who has publicly acknowledged talking by telephone with Trump on Jan. 6, said on Fox News shortly after the request that he has “real concerns” about the panel’s approach.

On Tuesday, the committee sent a letter to Fox News host Sean Hannity asking him to answer questions about his communications with Trump, Meadows and others about the events of Jan. 6 and Trump’s efforts to contest the election outcome.

Thompson said the televised hearings would “absolutely” involve live questioning of witnesses, including elected officials from around the country who conducted the 2020 elections and could debunk Trump’s claims of election fraud, as well as current and former government officials, who he declined to name.

He denied any political motivations for conducting public hearings. He said the committee “has worked in a bipartisan matter, we’ve gone where the evidence leads us, and we have talked to Democrats and Republicans about Jan. 6.”

He added that the committee also expects to issue an “interim report,” but has not determined when exactly that would be.

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