Jun 7, 2022 - Politics & Policy

4 things to watch for in the prime-time Jan. 6 hearing

Illustration of a hand in a spotlight holding a gavel out from behind a red curtain.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Seventeen months after pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, the House Jan. 6 select committee is preparing to test whether revelations from that day still have the capacity to shock the American public.

The big picture: Thursday's prime-time, Watergate-style hearing will be the first of several meticulously crafted events produced in part by James Goldston — the former president of ABC News and a master documentary storyteller.

  • The hearings will blend elements from the first and second Trump impeachment hearings: a combination of testimony from key witnesses, harrowing new video footage and committee members laying out their case in televised speeches, sources familiar with the planning tell Axios.
  • British documentary filmmaker Nick Quested — who embedded with the far-right Proud Boys, including during the group's private meetings ahead of the insurrection — will testify Thursday, the committee announced this evening. So will Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards, who suffered a concussion after being assaulted on Jan. 6.

What we're watching

1. Whether the committee draws a direct tie between former President Trump and the Capitol attack — and proves a premeditated plot to disrupt certification of the 2020 election.

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) has said the committee has evidence of Trump's involvement in "a lot more" than just "incitement" — and that revelations from the hearings would "blow the roof off the House."
  • The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Secret Service agents scrambled to secure a motorcade route on Jan. 6 so Trump could accompany his supporters as they marched toward Congress, though D.C. police ultimately nixed the plan.

2. New allegations or evidence of criminality.

  • The Jan. 6 committee does not have the power to prosecute, but investigators have collected reams of potential evidence over the course of 1,000+ depositions and interviews.
  • The Justice Department has reportedly asked the committee for transcripts of closed-door interviews — including some with Trump associates.

3. Any discussion of legislative reforms to prevent another Jan. 6.

  • Axios reported the committee is privately divided on whether to recommend abolishing the Electoral College — a proposal Republicans have seized on as evidence of its alleged partisanship.

4. Ratings.

  • Nearly every major broadcast and cable news network — except for Fox News — will have live coverage of the hearing, which is breaking the mold of past congressional spectacles by airing in primetime.
  • Benchmarks: James Comey testimony in June 2017 (19.5 million viewers); Brett Kavanaugh hearing in September 2018 (20 million); day one of Trump's first impeachment hearing in November 2019 (13 million); day one of Trump's second impeachment trial in February 2021 (11 million).

The view from the White House

The White House is planning to leave the Jan. 6 messaging to the Hill, a White House official tells Axios.

  • Biden officials see the hearings as Congress' turf and are wary of injecting political messaging into an ongoing, independent investigation that could lead to law enforcement actions or further criminal investigation, a second source familiar with the White House's planning said.
  • That would give Trump and his allies an opening to allege Biden is politicizing the investigation for his own political ends, the source added.
  • White House officials also believe the president's voice shouldn’t be used to provide running commentary on day-to-day procedural developments in the investigation.
  • It should be reserved for key moments, they argue, pointing to the president's remarks on the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

The Biden administration is also being very careful to avoid the perception that the president is politicizing the DOJ.

  • If Attorney General Merrick Garland ultimately decides to take action against former Trump officials, they don't want to give Republicans any fodder to muddy the waters or undermine the White House's credibility.
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