According to sources close to the investigation, the House select committee investigating the Capitol attack will unveil new evidence next week at Watergate-style public hearings showing Donald Trump and top aides acted with corrupt intent to prevent Joe Biden’s certification.
According to the sources, the panel intends to use the hearings as its primary method of revealing potential crimes committed by Trump as he attempted to overturn the 2020 election results, in what could be a dangerous legal and political moment for the former president.
The select committee is hoping that the previously unseen evidence will leave an indelible mark on the American public about the extent to which Trump went in trying to reclaim the White House as the justice department conducts parallel investigations into the Capitol attack.
“They’re important for posterity, but they’re also important for jolting the American public into realising what a direct threat we had coming from the highest levels of government to illegitimately install a president who lost,” said Norman Ornstein, a political scientist and emeritus scholar at the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute.
According to the sources, the panel’s goals for the hearings are twofold: presenting evidence that Trump broke the law and situating the Capitol attack in the larger context of efforts to overturn the election, with the ex-involvement president’s as the central thread.
According to the sources, the hearings are centred on distilling thousands of communications between top Trump White House aides and operatives outside the administration and the Trump campaign into a compelling timeline of events surrounding the events of January 6.
The select committee intends to have its senior investigative counsels reveal previously secret White House records, photos, and videos that will be presented in real time to starkly illustrate the live witness testimony, according to the sources.
The panel’s chairman Bennie Thompson and vice chair Liz Cheney are expected to make opening arguments, lay out a roadmap for the hearings, and provide an overview of the events of January 6 and the preceding weeks at the panel’s inaugural hearing on Thursday night at 8 p.m.
For the next four hearings, the panel is likely to focus on broad themes, such as how Trump used false claims of voter fraud to undermine the 2020 election and future elections, and how he tried to deceive Congress into re-electing him.
House investigators will likely focus on how Trump used the 6 January congressional certification deadline – rather than the December deadlines for states to certify their electors – as an inflection point, and how his actions led directly to covert manoeuvring by militia and far-right groups.
The panel’s most explosive revelations are likely to be saved for the final hearing in prime time, when select committee members Adam Kinzinger and Elaine Luria are expected to go over Trump’s actions and inactions as the attack unfolded on January 6th.
The list of witnesses hasn’t been finalised yet, but it’s expected to include top aides to former Vice President Mike Pence, aides to Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows, and people with direct knowledge of militia group activities on January 6, according to the sources.
From a legal standpoint, the panel has already claimed in court filings that Trump and his outside legal adviser, John Eastman, broke multiple federal laws in order to overturn the 2020 election result, including obstruction of Congress and defrauding the US.
According to the sources, the select committee hopes that by revealing new evidence in hearings, it will be able to persuade the American public and possibly the Justice Department that the former president broke the law in order to overturn his 2020 election defeat.
The revelation that Eastman, Trump’s external legal adviser, admitted to Pence’s counsel, Greg Jacob, that his scheme to obstruct Congress on January 6 was unlawful, but went ahead with it anyway is one of the highlights of the already-public evidence.
Meanwhile, Trump would have known he had no plans to march with the crowd to the Capitol when he falsely promised it at the Ellipse rally, according to an internal White House schedule obtained by the select committee through the National Archives.
House investigators are making their case to the American public in a variety of ways, according to the sources, because it’s unclear whether the panel will make criminal referrals to federal prosecutors, given that the panel’s recommendations aren’t binding on the Justice Department, which has sole authority to file charges.
But that quest will be fraught with difficulties, and the panel’s biggest challenge may not be proving wrongdoing by Trump and his top advisers, but rather motivating Republican and independent voters to care.
Because of the repeated delays in holding the hearings, House investigators were able to complete the majority of the evidence-gathering they had planned (the committee had originally planned to hold them in “the spring, then in April, then in May, and now in June”).
According to two sources familiar with the investigation, committee counsel recently told one witness who had been assisting the investigation for months that it didn’t expect to ask for any more help. “We’re almost done,” the lawyer said to that particular witness.
However, the decision to postpone the start of public hearings, as well as the constant drip of news from the investigation, may have resulted in “6 January fatigue,” which Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill are attempting to exploit to defend Trump.
According to party aides, the former president’s most ardent supporters in Congress, as well as top Republicans led by House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, are planning aggressive counter-programming to the public hearings, slamming the panel as partisan.
According to Vox, the Republican National Committee has also circulated a one-page memo of talking points requesting that Trump’s aides attack the investigation as “rigged” – despite the fact that multiple federal courts have ruled the investigation is fully legitimate.
Overcoming counter-programming in order to reach Republican and independent voters could be difficult, according to the panel’s members. After all, the panel isn’t trying to persuade Democrats of Trump’s role in the Capitol attack, according to the sources.
The prospect of public exhaustion over the 6 January-related news, with each new revelation appearing to be more shocking than the last, appears to have pushed the select committee to reduce its June hearings schedule from eight to six.
According to a draught schedule reviewed by the Guardian and first reported last week, the panel plans to hold only the first and final hearings in prime time, at 8 p.m., on June 9 and 23. The other four will take place at 10 a.m. on the 13th, 15th, 16th, and 21st.
Nonetheless, the select committee’s target audience is swing voters, not Republicans, according to Ornstein. “I don’t think Republicans who believe the election was rigged will ever change their minds.” But it’s about the other voters, and whether or not it will shock the Democratic base into realising what’s at stake.”