The inner workings of a House select committee that spent the last 18 months investigating a violent attack on American democracy and a sitting president’s role in it have largely been shrouded from public view. Through interviews with all nine members of the committee, as well as key staffers and witnesses, however, we have been able to piece together a previously unreported picture of the feverish, fraught race to Jan. 3, 2023, when the committee is slated to dissolve as the new Congress takes over.
The first few months were rocky, even tumultuous, as the lawmakers struggled to plot out a strategy to investigate what they saw as a sprawling, complex conspiracy. But by the summer of 2021, things began to click. The panel hired around a dozen former federal prosecutors, including two U.S. attorneys and the lawyer who helped put drug lord El Chapo in prison, and requested phone and text records from more than 700 potential witnesses. Some of them quickly agreed to testify, and hearings began to roll out at a dizzying pace.
One of the most significant developments came on July 12, when committee chairwoman Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., aired footage showing how Ivanka Trump responded to her father’s call for his supporters to storm the Capitol. The hearing was seen by 13.2 million television viewers, and many observers saw it as a major turning point. It was also a high-water mark for the production team led by James Goldston, a veteran newsman who had left his position as president of ABC News a few weeks before being hired to lead the committee’s production operations. Goldston had a knack for drawing the audience into his programs with deep teases early on and exploiting any opportunity for wicked humor. He also strove to make the program as informative as possible, and his teams began to take more risks as the hearings progressed.
But as the committee neared its end, the tensions ratcheted up again. Cheney’s insistence that the panel make criminal referrals against Donald Trump, his top adviser John Eastman, and other key figures on the far right — including GOP leaders like Jim Jordan of Ohio and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and their lawyers Kenneth Chesebro and Rudy Giuliani — began to grate on colleagues, including Lofgren, who had never been particularly fond of the idea.
The panel’s executive summary released Monday lays out 17 findings that underpin its decision to issue the referrals. They include evidence that Trump, who publicly insisted on election night that he had won a “landslide” victory and that vote counting should be stopped, knew his fraud allegations were false and continued to amplify them. The executive summary also includes emails from Tom Fitton, president of the conservative group Judicial Watch, from before the election in which he instructed the organization’s supporters to gather evidence of voter fraud.
Some of the people named by the panel in its referrals have been unable or unwilling to testify, either because they’ve invoked their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination or because they have refused subpoenas from the panel. But others have made a point to comply, often testifying with remarkable candor. In some cases, those who’ve been referred to the Justice Department say they’ve provided information that has been instrumental in the case against the president and his associates.