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16 weeks left for a heap of questions: Jan. 6 panel weighs its endgame

POLITICO 9/12/2022 By Nicholas Wu and Kyle Cheney
Vice Chair Liz Cheney speaks as the Jan. 6 select committee holds a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, July 21, 2022. Reps. Adam Kinzinger and Elaine Luria listen. © J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo Vice Chair Liz Cheney speaks as the Jan. 6 select committee holds a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, July 21, 2022. Reps. Adam Kinzinger and Elaine Luria listen.

Should they seek Donald Trump’s testimony? What should they do with Republican lawmakers who defied subpoenas? Will they be able to negotiate an interview with Mike Pence?

Members of the Jan. 6 select committee are confronting a momentous to-do list, including some of their most precedent-setting decisions, as they prepare to present closing arguments about the former president's bid to overturn his loss in 2020. With barely 16 weeks until the panel dissolves, its nine lawmakers are still deciding when to release a comprehensive final report, as well as hundreds of witness transcripts that could provide extensive new details about Trump’s behavior surrounding the Capitol attack.

And that’s not all. The panel is expected to soon announce additional public hearings, finalize efforts to obtain the testimony of two crucial Secret Service witnesses and issue legislative recommendations designed to prevent future attempted disruptions to the transfer of power. The Justice Department's investigation into Trump's possession of highly classified material at his Mar-a-Lago estate is vacuuming up some of the national headlines that they made earlier in the summer, but select panel members are determined not to let their inquiry peter out and believe they've moved the needle.

"Each member of the committee has things that he or she really wants to continue to pursue over the next few weeks, based on the work that we did before the recess,” panel member Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said recently of their remaining investigative avenues.

"People want to make sure that we fortify the democracy against coups and insurrections, political violence and other efforts to usurp the will of the people," he added.

As the Jan. 6 committee hits a slew of last-lap decisions that could shape its legacy, it's likely to contend with internal pressures that often befall time-limited congressional investigations: staffers eyeing the exits, the distracting pull of the midterm elections and the likelihood that the House will change hands, giving Republicans the speaker’s gavel as they promise retribution.

But before that happens, the panel must deal with a Trump facing significant new legal jeopardy as other investigations into his actions, in regards to the election and otherwise, have picked up.

A grand jury investigation into efforts by the former president and his allies to overturn the election has accelerated in recent weeks. The assistant U.S. attorneys overseeing that probe have been seen at the federal courthouse in Washington, where a parade of witnesses has cycled in and out of the grand jury rooms.

Additionally, an Atlanta-area district attorney is moving ahead with a probe of Trump-linked efforts to influence 2020's Georgia ballot. And the DOJ investigation into Trump’s handling of highly classified records stashed in the basement of his Mar-a-Lago estate — punctuated by the stunning Aug. 8 FBI search of his South Florida resort — has tangled the former president in a Gordian knot of legal jeopardy.

Staffing matters at the select committee, meanwhile, have stayed largely stable for the duration of its yearlong probe. Aside from two high-profile departures — committee counsel John Wood and adviser Denver Riggleman — the investigative team has remained entirely intact.

The panel added another notable hire in the spring, according to newly disclosed records covering April through June of this year: Raymond O’Mara III, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Some longer-term members of the panel received pay raises in that quarter, too, and the total payroll of the committee grew by about $115,000 compared with the first quarter of this year.

Though the panel has yet to indicate whether it will pursue Trump’s testimony, Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) strongly hinted that there would be developments on that front soon in a recent ABC interview.

The panel’s protracted negotiations to obtain Pence’s testimony are also ongoing with no resolution yet, according to people familiar with the discussions. While visiting New Hampshire last month, Pence declined to rule out testifying to the Capitol riot committee, saying he would “consider it.” He also promised to be more vocal about his experience on Jan. 6, when a mob of Trump supporters chased him from the Capitol, some threatening to hang him.

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And though the committee has openly flirted with the notion of holding additional public hearings — following up on its series of eight hearings in June and July — members have yet to settle on precisely how many to hold and on what specific topics.

Raskin recently told a local Democratic group that investigators planned “at least two more blockbuster hearings,” with one likely to come in September, according to Maryland Matters.

The committee last month privately interviewed numerous members of Trump’s Cabinet, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, asking about their consideration of invoking the Constitution's 25th Amendment to remove Trump from power in the days after Jan. 6. Several aides also traveled to Copenhagen to review unseen footage obtained by a documentarian who trailed longtime Trump confidant and pardon recipient Roger Stone, including in the period surrounding the Capitol attack.

But the select panel stayed relatively silent over Congress’ summer recess beyond a request by members for former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich to testify. That letter also disclosed some of the evidence the select panel had gathered about false election fraud claims in political advertisements.

That “money trail” aspect of the committee’s investigation has not played a major role in its public hearings so far, though it's likely to factor into a final report.

The committee's resolution of its year-plus-long investigation process is likely to put a fresh, and altered, spotlight on Cheney, who’s long been an outsize influence on its strategy and has helped lend bipartisan credibility to the investigation. Her vote to impeach Trump a week after the Capitol attack, as well as her outspoken leadership on the select committee, propelled her landslide defeat by Trump-backed rival Harriet Hageman in last month's Wyoming GOP primary.

Now, her remaining work in Congress centers on the conclusion of the select committee probe.

The panel is also under pressure from DOJ to share its hundreds of witness interview transcripts, which could potentially assist multiple active investigations. Select panel Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) has indicated that he expects the committee to release most, if not all, of the transcripts publicly, though the timing of that move is unclear.

DOJ noted during a court hearing that it had yet to obtain the committee’s transcripts for Stone, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, Stop the Steal founder Ali Alexander and Oath Keepers general counsel Kellye SoRelle.

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