Jan. 6 panel set to reemerge with eye on Newt Gingrich

·6 min read

The House panel investigating last year’s attack on the U.S. Capitol is set to revive the public portion of its probe this month, eyeing at least two more hearings in the coming weeks to highlight former President Trump’s role in the deadly rampage.

Publicly, the inquiry into the Jan. 6 attack has been overshadowed in recent weeks by the FBI’s extraordinary seizure of thousands of government documents, including those alleged to be highly sensitive, from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida last month — part of a separate Justice Department investigation into Trump’s potential mishandling of federal records.

But behind the scenes, the Jan. 6 select committee has spent Congress’s long summer recess plugging away, interviewing a number of new witnesses while seeking the cooperation of several more, including such prominent GOP figures as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former Vice President Mike Pence.

The work has continued against the backdrop not only of the legal battle surrounding the FBI search, but of Vice Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) losing her primary battle against a Trump-backed candidate. Despite Cheney’s loss, many Democrats think the focus in the headlines on Trump is helping their party ahead of the midterms.

As the House returns to Washington this week, the panel is promising to air its new findings in at least one public hearing this month, with another perhaps to follow in October — a schedule that would put Trump and his GOP supporters on the defensive heading into November’s midterm elections.

The exact timing of the hearings, as well as the witness list, remain works in progress, according to members of the committee. But a central focus of the investigation throughout August was the wide-ranging effort by a long list of Trump supporters — some of them on Capitol Hill — to install slates of fake electors in certain battleground states where Trump has claimed, falsely, that he prevailed over President Biden. Gingrich, the committee has found, was a part of that effort.

“Former House Speaker Gingrich appears to have been involved in some of the planning around the counterfeit electors scheme, and efforts to substitute a fraudulent process for the actual process,” a member of the select committee said in an interview.

Another member of the committee, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), said Gingrich’s campaign to keep Trump in the White House did not stop even after Congress voted to certify Biden’s victory in the aftermath of the failed insurrection.

“We also have information about his efforts to get the election overturned, even after the riot on the 6th,” Lofgren told CNN earlier this month.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the chairman of the select committee, delivered a letter to Gingrich this month seeking his “voluntary cooperation.” The request cited Gingrich’s communications with several top Trump advisers — including Meadows, Jared Kushner and Jason Miller — about methods to reverse the election outcome and suggested Gingrich may have been in direct touch with Trump on the subject.

Snippets of Gingrich’s emails obtained by the panel reveal he had suggested line edits for a post-election TV ad in Georgia, where Trump was defeated, promoting conspiracy theories around voter fraud. The message, Gingrich advised, should include reference to a “call to action.”

“The goal is to arouse the country’s anger,” Gingrich wrote to Kushner and Miller, adding that viewers “will then bring pressure on legislators and governors.”

“These advertising efforts were not designed to encourage voting for a particular candidate,” Thompson wrote to Gingrich. “Instead, these efforts attempted to cast doubt on the outcome of the election after voting had already taken place.”

The Sept. 1 letter was a clear sign that the committee’s investigation is far from over, while raising new questions about what remaining figures could be implicated as its work continues.

Meadows, it was already known, is one of them. While Trump’s former chief of staff had delivered thousands of text messages to investigators last year, he has refused to speak with the panel, even under subpoena. The House held Meadows in contempt of Congress last year, but the Justice Department declined to bring charges. The standoff remains under litigation.

Some members of the select committee are also interested in speaking with Ginni Thomas, a conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who had sought to overturn the 2020 election and solicited the help of several well-placed figures, including Meadows and John Eastman, a conservative lawyer who had drafted the dubious legal reasoning on which the “stop the steal” effort relied.

“Speaking as one member and only as one member, I would say she has a relevant testimony to render, and she should come forward and give it,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), another member of the select committee, said earlier this month in an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program.

“I don’t want to overstate her role — we’ve talked to more than 1,000 people,” Raskin continued. “But we’d like to hear from Gingrich and we’d like to hear from her, too.”

Still another figure of interest is Tony Ornato, a former Secret Service agent who doubled as Trump’s deputy chief of staff. Ornato has already spoken with investigators, but they want him back to clarify discrepancies in testimony surrounding Trump’s alleged clash with his security detail on the day of the Capitol attack.

“We do want to talk to him again,” Lofgren told CNN. “There are a lot of things that just don’t add up, to me, on what the Secret Service has said and the material that we’re getting.”

Also largely unexplored by the committee are Trump’s actions in the window between the Capitol attack of Jan. 6 and Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20 — a time period during which Trump’s own Cabinet members were considering invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office.

The committee has hinted at that effort in clips shown of a conversation with Trump’s Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia — who penned a memo urging Trump to stop questioning the election results — as well as in a letter to Fox News host Sean Hannity.

“You appear also to have detailed knowledge regarding President Trump’s state of mind in the days following the January 6th attack. For example, you appear to have had a discussion with President Trump on January 10th that may have raised a number of specific concerns about his possible actions in the days before the January 20th inaugural,” the committee wrote to the popular pundit.

The committee has also suggested it could imminently release a report on the National Guard’s hours-long delay in getting to the Capitol to defuse the violence on Jan. 6.

But time is running short.

With Democrats expected to lose control of the House in the midterms, the panel will have to wrap up its investigation before year’s end, or Republicans will pull the plug on it. With that in mind, the panel is expected to issue an interim report on its findings before November’s elections, with its final report to follow later in the year.

“When the final report is released, the committee is dissolved,” Lofgren said earlier this summer. “And so, so long as information continues to come in, we want to avoid that result. We don’t want to prematurely cut off witnesses who want to be heard.”

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