Apr 26, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Jan. 6 leaks undermine committee's plans for made-for-TV hearings

Illustration of a television with static leaking out of it as if it were a liquid.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Jan. 6 committee's intentional effort to build suspense for its blockbuster hearings is being undercut by a deluge of unauthorized media leaks.

Why it matters: The public now has an incomplete picture of the committee's closed-door work through a combination of court filings and leaks of thousands of documents and private conversations.

  • They undercut what Axios has learned was a committee goal: building drama, mystery — and widespread public interest — ahead of hearings slated for June and the release of its report later this summer.
  • The committee also worries about the information being publicized without context.

What we're hearing: Committee members and their staff are growing anxious about the torrent of leaks.

  • They fear they'll breed complacency in a country already distracted by inflation, Ukraine and the lingering coronavirus pandemic, sources familiar with the talks tell Axios.
  • A related concern: regaining public interest now that former President Trump and his red-hot rhetoric are no longer daily fixtures in their lives.

Democrats on the Hill are getting flashbacks to the Mueller investigation, they say.

  • People anticipated a political bombshell but ended up with what was deemed, "The Blockbuster That Wasn’t."
  • Enough was leaked and released piecemeal over the two-year investigation the public had already processed most of its significant findings during dozens of separate news cycles.
  • In the current investigation, CNN reported Monday about more than 2,300 text messages sent to and received by Trump's former chief of staff Mark Meadows.
  • Leaked White House call logs given to the House also showed a seven-hour gap in presidential call records, and leaked texts from Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, showed her pushing Meadows to overturn the 2020 election.

What they're saying: Committee staff pointed Axios to earlier comments by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the panel's chair.

  • “[B]efore too long, our findings will be out in the open. We will have public hearings. We will tell this story to the American people. But we won’t do it piecemeal. We’ll do it when we can tell the story all at once, from start to finish, not leave anyone guessing and not allowing it to fade into the memories of last week’s news."
  • The committee's conducted nearly 900 depositions and interviews, with more scheduled, and received over 102,000 documents.

Between the lines: Thompson has been very clear about wanting the panel to complete its investigative work privately before its findings are litigated in public and on cable news.

Ty Cobb, a former Trump White House lawyer who worked on the Mueller investigation, told Axios: "I don't think I've seen anything with leaks at this level."

  • He added: "I think it's unfortunate, because the Democrats obviously have the better part of the argument on this. Trump was way out of bounds. ... But [the leakers] mar that simple conclusion by going about it in this, sort of, sleazy way."

The other side: Martha Kumar, director of the White House Transition Project, told Axios the leaks are helping prepare the country for the televised hearings.

  • Kumar worked with the transition operations of former Presidents Obama and George W. Bush.
  • "This is not a top item for the country right now. And if you want to convince people of its importance, I think the direct evidence — and the texts are direct evidence — is important," she said.
  • "I see it as setting the table for when they do have their hearings, because they don't have that much longer, before we get into full campaign season."
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