Republicans move to retain Jan. 6 committee documents
Republicans are attempting to pass a new House rule to block materials compiled by the panel that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection from immediately going to the National Archives.
Although the House committee investigating the insurrection has released a trove of transcripts and underlying information backing up its report, the vast majority of raw information the panel collected is slated to be sent to the National Archives, where it could be locked away for up to 50 years.
But the proposed rules package the new Congress will vote on Tuesday orders that any record created by the panel must instead be sent to the House Committee on House Administration by Jan. 17 and orders the National Archives to return any material it has already received.
The move could signal that House Republicans intend to attempt to rebut the panel's investigation, which captivated public sentiment for months. The investigation ended with a criminal referral for former President Trump and a landmark report concluding Trump intentionally misled and provoked the insurrectionists as part of an attempt to stay in power after losing the 2020 election.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), who is his party's nominee for speaker of the House, sent a letter to Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the chair of the Jan. 6 committee, in November demanding the preservation of “all records collected and transcripts of testimony taken during your investigation."
“The official Congressional Records do not belong to you or any member, but to the American people, and they are owed all of the information you gathered — not merely the information that comports with your political agenda,” the letter states.
House Republican leaders have previously indicated plans to investigate why the Capitol was so easily breached and whether the governing body overseeing Capitol Police needs to be changed.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) already named the House Committee on House Administration the custodian of the records. Under current House rules, the committee is obligated to hand over the official records to the House clerk, who transmits them to the National Archives. The rules also prevent the National Archives from releasing committee records for at least 30 years. Sensitive records, such as those from a major investigation, can be held up to 50 years before being made public.
Each Congress sets its own rules, but targeting a single committee's records for retention rather than submitting them to the National Archives is unusual. The House retains ownership of committee records even when they've been transmitted to the National Archives, and can temporarily recall them at any time for official committee use.
A summary released by Republicans on the Rules Committee says the proposed change requires "the quick transfer of records from the January 6th Select Committee to the House Administration Committee." It is not clear if the records will be transmitted to the National Archives before the new Congress ends in 2024.
Spokespeople for Republicans on the House Rules Committee and the House Committee on House Administration did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.
In a statement Monday, Thompson indicated that the National Archives has already begun receiving records from the committee.
The committee, which is due to officially disband at 11:59 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on Tuesday, has published hundreds of interview or deposition transcripts and thousands of pages of evidence cited in the report to an online repository housed by the Government Publishing Office. Much of that information was published over the weekend, including dozens of previously unreleased transcripts, expert statements and nearly 400 documents cited in the report. Videos shown during the committee’s nine hearings in 2022 are included in the repository, and at least 75 videos are already available.
The committee generally released only the information that was cited in its report. Most of what it released appears tailored to back up the conclusions of its final report and emphasize what the committee thought was most relevant to its investigation. The rest of the material the panel obtained — often by subpoenaing agencies and individuals — was expected to enter the National Archives.
Among the information that wasn't made public and was expected to go to the National Archives are emails and text messages that witnesses or federal agencies provided to the committee that were not referenced in the final report. Raw footage from witness depositions, police video cameras or documentary filmmakers that was not shown during hearings was also expected to go to the National Archives.
For example, of the hundreds of text messages and emails former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows handed over while he was complying with the committee, only the emails or text messages referenced in the report have been officially released. Rather than make public all records produced by the Secret Service or Department of Defense about what they knew about the threats of violence on Jan. 6 or why it took so long for the National Guard to arrive, only the documents the report specifically refers to will come out.
Similarly, internal White House emails and communications, call logs and other records that the committee received from the National Archives after a lengthy legal battle with former President Trump were also expected to be sent back to the Archives unless directly cited in the report.
The committee’s 18-month investigation created the single largest compilation of evidence related to the attack, and the political forces that led to it. Investigators conducted nearly 1,200 interviews, only a fraction of which were transcribed and released through the repository.
Much of the millions of pages of information and evidence collected by the committee were obtained through subpoenas or lengthy court battles — including one over White House records that was decided in the committee's favor by the Supreme Court — or were compelled by federal agencies.
The scope of information the committee is thought to have collected goes far beyond what appears in the repository and does not exist in one place anywhere else. Republicans blocked the creation of an independent, nonpartisan commission to study the attack in 2021, so there is no other entity studying the entirety of what contributed to the attack and how it happened.
The complete interviews and underlying evidence released by the committee in the last few weeks have provided a wealth of information and explosive details that are not in the final report and that are helping explain more about the people involved in the effort to keep Trump in office despite losing the 2020 presidential election. That includes informal advisor Steve Bannon texting his spokeswoman Alexandra Preate on Jan. 8 about surrounding the Capitol with a million people after Biden’s inauguration; Trump lawyers strategizing about suing former Vice President Mike Pence; and the communications Trump had with his lawyer Rudolph Giuliani, chief of staff Mark Meadows and Bannon on Jan. 2 immediately after asking Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” the 11,000 votes Trump needed to win the state.
Experts were already concerned that a limited release of information would harm the committee's goals of accountability and guaranteeing the historical record is as accurate as possible. People closely watching the hearings, including journalists and government watchdog groups, have been anxiously waiting to see what raw information the panel would provide so they can continue examining avenues the committee didn’t fully explore.
The Department of Justice is conducting its own investigation, but its evidence isn't likely to ever be produced in full for the public. The committee provided the Department of Justice with everything it asked for in a tailored request for information in December.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.