Jan. 6 hearings give Democrats a chance to revamp midterm message

WASHINGTON — Seventeen months after a mob of Donald J. Trump supporters stormed the Capitol with bogus allegations of a stolen election, House Democrats plan to use a historic series of hearings to investigation starting this week in an attempt to refocus voters’ attention on January 6. aimed at directly tying Republicans to an unprecedented plot to undermine democracy itself.

With their control of Congress at stake, Democrats plan to use made-for-TV moments and a carefully choreographed rollout of revelations across six hearings to remind the public of the magnitude of Mr. Trump’s efforts to nullify the election. , and to persuade voters that the upcoming midterm elections are a chance to hold Republicans accountable.

It’s an uphill battle at a time when polls show voters’ attention is focused elsewhere, including on inflation, rising coronavirus cases and record gasoline prices. But Democrats argue the hearings will give them a platform to more broadly argue why they deserve to stay in power.

“When these hearings are over, voters will know how irresponsibly complicit Republicans have been in trying to throw out their vote and how far Republicans will go to win power for themselves,” Rep. Sean Patrick said. Maloney, Democratic campaign chairman.

The select committee investigating the attack, made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans, said it approached its work in a restrained and apolitical manner and will report its findings as such. But it’s clear that the hearings, coming five months before the midterm elections in which Democrats are bracing for big losses, carry high political stakes.

The hope among Democrats is that the committee’s findings, gathered from 1,000 witnesses and more than 140,000 documents, will do most of the messaging work for them. Representative Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland and a member of the committee, promised that the hearings will “blow the roof off the House.”

They engaged the services of an experienced TV executive to make sure that happened and held dozens of watch parties across the country in hopes of drumming up interest. But they face an onslaught from Republicans determined to deny, minimize and obscure the truth about what happened in their own email operation aimed at discrediting the investigation.

And Democrats face the reality that raw emotions in the wake of the attack have faded even among fact-conscious voters as attention has turned to an ongoing war in Ukraine, gun violence at home and deep pessimism about the state of the economy.

Their task is to persuade voters that the Jan. 6 attack revealed bigger and more important issues, including the Republican Party’s alignment with violent extremists and its decision to embrace the “big lie” according to which the 2020 election was robbed of a test of membership.

Representative Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat of New York, said on Twitter that the hearings would “fully expose the cult’s extreme efforts to overthrow the United States government”.

A significant portion of Thursday night’s first hearing will focus on the Proud Boys, a far-right group whose members have been accused of seditious conspiracy in connection with the Capitol takeover, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke about this on condition of anonymity.

It is planned to include testimony from a documentary filmmaker, Nick Quested, who became part of the group when the building was stormed, and a Capitol police officer, Caroline Edwards, who was injured in an assault allegedly instigated by the Proud Boys. .

The aim is to provide the public with a more in-depth portrait of what unfolded on January 6 than the footage shown on television that day, and to reveal the extent of what the panel called an “effort coordinated in several stages to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and prevent the transfer of power.

Norman L. Eisen, who was hired by the Judiciary Committee to serve as a special adviser on Trump’s first impeachment, said Democrats learned from some of their hits and misses during those hearings, but that they always faced challenges.

“They must have three things: the power to draw the attention of new evidence, the spontaneous drama created by living witnesses, and the oldest trick in the book: telling a good story,” Eisen said. “The risk is that there is a huge amount of anticipation and accumulation.”

Still, some Democratic operatives believe the political payoff could be substantial, both to energize the party’s core supporters and to attract independent voters who could turn against Republicans based on what they see and hear.

Anat Shenker-Osorio, founder of ASO Communications, a progressive political consulting firm, held focus groups with voters. She said Democratic “base voters” and “swing voters” were motivated by increased attention to the Capitol riot.

“Jan. 6 is very salient and very negative for these likely midterm voters,” Ms. Shenker-Osorio told activists on a recent call promoting the hearings.

Democrats met with networks to broadcast the hearing live during prime time. Activists have scheduled more than 90 watch events in various states, including a “flagship” event at the Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon in Washington, where a large screen will be set up and attendees will receive free ice cream.

“It’s everything from a family reunion type event in the living room to hosting in a union hall to hosting on a large lot with a Jumbotron,” said Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of the progressive group Public Citoyen.

In order to prevent the hearing from becoming too dry and disconnected from the visceral reality of the attack, the committee tentatively plans to release video of the Capitol attack and plans to release clips of key testimony from high-profile witnesses. level, such as former White House advisers Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.

As it attempts to deliver the equivalent of Watergate hearings for the streaming era, the committee has tapped former ABC News chairman James Goldston, a move reported earlier by Axios, to help organize the hearings into six tight episodes, between 90 minutes and 2.5 hours.

Republican lawmakers have already begun pushing a counter-narrative to dismiss the hearings as nothing more than political theater at a time when Americans are more concerned about kitchen table issues like rising gas prices. and a shortage of infant formula.

“Instead of focusing on $5 gas, 6,000 illegal immigrants a day, fentanyl-recorded deaths, or violent criminals terrorizing the United States, Democrats are using taxpayer dollars for a producer of television for the January 6 circus prime-time political infomercial,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican. from Florida, said on Twitter In Monday.

Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, the No. 3 Republican who was Mr. Trump’s chief defender during the first impeachment hearing, will oversee efforts to discredit the committee’s findings, in coordination with Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California. , Minority Leader and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee. They plan to book Republican lawmakers on TV to push a debunked claim that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is to blame for the attack.

The committee has yet to identify the full list of witnesses and is still discussing the possibility of public testimony with several senior Trump-era officials.

The panel is waiting for Jeffrey A. Rosen, the former acting attorney general, and Richard P. Donoghue, the former acting deputy attorney general, to respond to formal requests for testimony, according to two people briefed on the matter.

Mr. Rosen and Mr. Donoghue have previously told several congressional committees that Mr. Trump and his allies pressured the department to falsely say it uncovered voter fraud and use its power to cancel the results.

The committee is still in informal talks with Pat A. Cipollone, the former White House attorney, as well as Byung J. Pak, the former U.S. attorney in Atlanta who abruptly resigned on January 4, 2021, after learning that Mr. Trump planned to fire him for failing to find voter fraud, according to those people familiar with the discussions.

Katie Benner contributed report.

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