Dec 19, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Jan. 6 committee's unanswered questions

Zoe Lofgren, Bennie Thompson and Liz Cheney

Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool/Getty Images

Even after 18 months of investigation and over 1,200 witness interviews, the House Jan. 6 committee released the executive summary of its final report Monday with several major questions lingering.

Why it matters: The committee's work has been historic, culminating in an unprecedented criminal referral against former President Trump on four charges. But gaps remain — largely as a result of roadblocks that special counsel Jack Smith must now overcome in his own criminal investigation of Trump and his allies.

1. Witness tampering: Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said at Monday's meeting that the committee had "obtained evidence of efforts to provide or offer employment to witnesses" — though witness tampering was not included in its criminal referrals.

  • The report cites a lawyer, funded by a "group allied with President Trump," who allegedly told a witness that she could falsely claim she didn't recall certain events, steered her away from negative facts about Trump, and shared details about her testimony with other lawyers and the press over her objections.
  • The witness was also "offered potential employment that would make her 'financially very comfortable' as the date of her testimony approached by entities apparently linked to Donald Trump and his associates," according to the report.
  • "The Select Committee is aware of multiple efforts by President Trump to contact Select Committee witnesses. The Department of Justice is aware of at least one of those circumstances," the report adds.

Between the lines: Asked why the matter wasn't included in the referrals, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) told Axios: "We wanted to proceed where we feel the evidence is overwhelming ... and not throw out dozens of charges. We're very focused on what we actually know."

  • The report cites news articles suggesting the Justice Department is already looking into potential witness tampering.

2. Inconsistent testimony: The report highlights competing facts across different witness interviews and stresses that the committee found some witnesses more unreliable than others.

  • "In several circumstances, the Committee has found that less senior White House aides had significantly better recollection of events than senior staff purported to have," the report says, pointing to testimony from former Trump press secretary Kayleigh McEnany that was "[not] as forthright as that of her press office staff."
  • It also cites portions of former White House adviser Ivanka Trump's testimony about her and her father's actions on Jan. 6 that were seemingly contradicted by her former chief of staff, Julie Radford.

The panel also cited concerns about ties to Trump leading to flawed testimony, including by witnesses "who still rely for their income or employment by organizations linked to President Trump, such as the America First Policy Institute."

  • It says some "intentional falsehoods" in former chief of staff Mark Meadows' book were echoed in witness testimony "as if they were the party line."

3. Cassidy Hutchinson: One witness the report casts as particularly unreliable is Anthony Ornato, the former Secret Service agent and White House deputy chief of staff who was at the center of bombshell testimony by former Meadows aide Cassidy Hutchinson.

  • According to the report, Ornato later testified that he had no recollection of Trump being angry, let alone physically violent, despite "multiple other witness accounts indicat[ing] that the President genuinely was 'irate,' 'heated,' 'angry,' and 'insistent.'"
  • "The Select Committee found multiple parts of Ornato’s testimony questionable," the report says, adding that he echoed claims from Meadows' book.

Yes, but: Although the introductory materials provided to Axios contain thorough testimony and evidence of a "furious interaction" in the SUV, they don't appear to corroborate the claim of a physical altercation.

  • Asked whether the full report corroborates that story, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told Axios: "We will be releasing transcripts of witnesses whose testimony bears on the president's indignation, for lack of a better word, at not being able to accompany this mob to the Capitol."
  • "I will let people judge, when they review the transcripts, who among the witnesses they give the most credibility to," he added, calling Hutchinson's testimony "entirely credible."

What they're saying: Asked if there are any big outstanding questions he has about Jan. 6, Raskin said he is "satisfied that we have a very good sense of what happened" but "there are some little things that I want to know."

  • He offered an example: "Usually, I understand, when President Trump was in his dining room he ordered hamburgers. And I just wonder whether he was actually eating hamburgers while he was watching the insurrectionary violence unfold against our country."
  • "That was always the small detail that troubled me a little bit," Raskin said.
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