Video to play key part in Jan. 6 hearings and report
For months, the House select committee investigating the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol has been busy preparing for its upcoming hearings and finalizing plans for a public report later this year. But those hearings and that report are unlikely to be dense, text-heavy presentations. Instead, video evidence and multimedia elements are expected to be critical to both efforts, according to four people familiar with the ongoing discussions. "Don't expect the Mueller report," one of the people said, referring to special counsel Robert Mueller's 448-page report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the conduct of former President Donald Trump and his advisers. The committee's strategy is driven by members' desire to break through with Americans who might feel they already know the story of the Capitol assault and of Trump's push to claim victory — even after President Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 election. Recent committee discussions have focused on how to capture the nation's attention and ensure that their findings resonate on broadcast and social media, the people said. "You are going to see video. You are going to see text messages. You are going to see the timeline. The hope here is that the hearings and the report will ultimately bring this to life in a compelling way," a second person close to the committee said, describing the goal as "jolting" people into reengaging with an event that is already well-known from television news reports and documentaries. One model for the committee's endeavor is the 13-minute video that House impeachment managers presented at the opening of Trump's Senate trial in February 2021. That video production used dramatic, behind-the-scenes videos taken from cellphones and social media uploads, along with security-camera footage, to illuminate the scope and severity of the violence during the attack on the Capitol. The lead impeachment manager last year, Rep. Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland, is now on the House select committee and working closely with the committee's chair, Rep. Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi, and vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, to map out the hearings and the report, with the assistance of advisers steeped in video and communications, the people said. Thompson also used video to open the committee's first round of hearings last July, when Capitol Police officers emotionally recounted their experiences and the trauma of facing down the rioters for hours. "Video shocks the senses and they're likely trying to remind people of the profound nature of this event. This wasn't a blip or a protest that got out of hand but a violent insurrection," veteran Democratic strategist David Axelrod said. "The best way to do that is to share video." Axelrod added, "The challenge is to make it meaningful to people and not just a retrospective, with information that has not yet been made public."But Trump allies say the committee has an uphill climb with many Republicans, who continue to cheer on Trump's dismissive comments about the House select committee. "This has dragged out so long," said Republican consultant Ed Rollins, who manages Great America PAC, a pro-Trump group. "It needs to be laid out very carefully by the committee because Republicans won't pay any attention if it's an 800-page report, and I do wonder, with the war in Ukraine, if people will care." A spokesman for the House select committee declined to comment. Thompson recently told reporters that investigators' goal was to wrap up depositions with witnesses by the beginning of April. The committee would then hold public hearings that month, which would be followed by an interim report in June, he said. The committee's timeline could be pushed back, however, if investigators find new information or seek testimony and records from additional witnesses. But showing powerful new video and multimedia evidence on the attack itself is only part of the plan. Laying out how Trump labored to delay Mr. Biden's certification and rally slates of "alternate electors" in various states and worked with allies like Steve Bannon and attorney Rudy Giuliani on that mission, will likely be another pivotal aspect of the hearings and report, the people said. Earlier this month, the House select committee said in a court filing that it had evidence that Trump and his allies engaged in a "criminal conspiracy" by trying to block Congress from certifying the election. That filing also described how a Trump ally, attorney John Eastman, advised Trump to "press an unconstitutional plan" to persuade then Vice President Mike Pence to intervene during the January 6 certification. Eastman's attorney, Charles Burnham, has criticized the committee for "accusing him of criminal activity" and maintained Eastman is protecting "client confidences" by refusing to provide the select committee with the documents it has requested. Still, even without Eastman's documents, the committee has a trove of material to use as it builds video presentations for the hearings and for the work product that will ultimately constitute its report, including phone records and text messages. Thousands of text messages sent by former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, for example, are in the committee's possession and provide a crucial roadmap to the chronology of the White House's response to proposed legal schemes and Trump's decision-making before and after the attack on the Capitol. It is unclear who on the committee could be directly tasked with editing video and integrating tranches of data and testimony into a multimedia report, or if the committee will consult outside advisers, and the people close to the committee cautioned that discussions remain fluid. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, created the House select committee last year to investigate the January 6 attack, when thousands of Trump supporters descended on the Capitol as Congress counted the electoral votes, a largely ceremonial final step affirming Mr. Biden's victory. The riot led to the deaths of five people and the arrests of hundreds more. Trump was impeached by the House one week later for inciting the riot but was acquitted by the Senate. So far, investigators have spoken to over 650 witnesses, according to a panel aide. The committee has publicly issued more than 90 subpoenas, targeting witnesses that span members of Trump's inner circle to January 6 rally organizers and rightwing extremists.Caroline Linton and Ellis Kim contributed to this report.
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