January 6th Committee: What’s the point of a public hearing?

January 6 public hearing of the committee

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Pro-Trump protesters gather in front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021.

On Thursday, June 9th, the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol holds the first of several public hearings.

The committee has set itself the goal of Results of months of investigative work into the involvement of President Donald Trump and his political allies in the 2021 insurgency and other attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Committee members and staff checked more than 125,000 documents and conducted more than 1,000 interviews and statements with key witnesses including high-profile Trump allies.

Blockbuster hearings are fascinating and even fun; they dominate the political and cultural conversation and Call on movie stars to appear on Saturday Night Live. But what do they actually do?

I’m a scholar of Congressional Oversight and served for a year on the Democratic-majority staff of the House Oversight and Reform Committee in 2019. The question I get asked most often by inquisitive students and fellow students is simple: what do these hearings do?


climax of the process

First of all, a crucial distinction: investigations serve to obtain information, hearings to present it.

While the committee’s public hearings will reveal new information about the insurgency to the American public, the committee itself is far less likely to learn anything new.

The committee has not yet produced a witness list, but it has former Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short, conservative attorney and former Pence adviser J. Michael Luttig, and former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen will likely appear. Recorded statements from Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner may be on display.

High-profile hearings are typically choreographed affairs that present a close-knit narrative to the public. By now, most of the investigative work has already been done, and public hearings can best be seen as the culmination of the process.

This is not to say that the content of public hearings is unimportant. The upcoming hearings will detail what happened in the weeks following the 2020 election and on the day of the attack. They will show the public “how one thing led to another, how an attempt to overthrow the election led to another and eventually led to terrible violence‘ as committee member Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, put it on June 5, 2022.

Official documents and testimonies presented at committee hearings are compiled and maintained by the House and Senate. Committees publish most minutes of public hearings. These public records serve as an important reference and repository of information for future investigators, both inside and outside of Congress, ensuring that every member of the public has easy access to the most important evidence.


“Just the facts” approach

More broadly, public hearings create a common ground of facts that can inform short- and long-term debates—at the dinner table, in the media, in Congress, and among scholars—about how major events should be interpreted.

Hearings also serve as a form of pre-emptive justification for certain legal and legislative actions that may follow the investigation. For example when the committee ends Recommend criminal charges against Trump and his allies, the public hearings have already explained the legitimacy of these charges. If the committee does Legislative recommendations on electoral reformthe public will better understand why these changes are necessary.

The big question is whether these hearings will convince anyone of anything.

Political scientist Paul Light has said that the most effective investigative hearings are those that focus on careful, thorough, and objective fact-finding rather than “bright lights, perpetrators and brutal interrogations.”

In fact, hearings also provide valuable opportunities for members of Congress to build their own “brands.” to take clear positions on controversial issuesoften from with dramatic and exaggerated language. These “presentation styles” affect voters’ views about how well they are represented.

Members recognize this dynamic themselves: In 2019, Rep. Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican, referred to the House Oversight Committee of which he was a member “Theater Committee” and maintained that “You could make a grandma feel guilty for baking cookies for her grandchildren when she sits in front of you.”

Political science research has also found that investigative hearings are very useful weapons in guerrilla warfare: investigations into the president and the executive branch can significantly reduce the President’s public approval.

As a result, committee members are often faced with conflicting options: they want the committee’s work to appear legitimate to the American people, but they also don’t want to miss opportunities to build their own reputation and go viral on social media.

The Jan. 6 committee appears to have opted for a fact-only approach to the public hearings. The committee’s attorneys will do most of the witness questioningwhich deliberately focuses on the statements of the witnesses and not on the personalities and rhetoric of the committee members.


striving for credibility

The personalities of the committee members will probably not play as much of a role here as they normally would. This is particularly important for the credibility of the current panel given its origins.

In May 2021, the Senate killed a bill creating an independent commission to investigate the attacks would have been modeled after the 9/11 Commission. Instead, the House of Representatives established a special committee supported by only two Republicans.

committees are set up by Congress to study a specific problem and persist for a finite period of time. Both Democrats and Republicans typically sit on select committees, each appointed by their respective party leaders.

In an unprecedented move, however, Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi vetoed two of Republican leader Kevin McCarthy’s picks, Trump allies Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jim Banks of Indiana, arguing that their participation would “integrity of the investigation.” McCarthy responded by refusing to nominate Republicans to the panel.

Two Republicans, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney and Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, agreed to serve as Pelosi appointees on the nine-member committee. Pelosi’s decision delegitimized the committee’s work in the eyes of Republican loyalists. But the nomination of these two Republicans by the Democratic spokesman also allowed all members of the committee to work cooperatively. Pelosi decided against even the appearance of actual bipartisanship.

And she may not even have had to sacrifice looks: a staunch conservative like Liz Cheney and an outspoken progressive like Adam Schiff working side-by-side offer, I think, a compelling picture of bipartisan collaboration to the larger segment of the public that isn’t paying attention pay attention to politics.

It is no coincidence that Cheney was named the committee’s vice chair and regularly appears alongside Democratic Chair Bennie Thompson of Mississippi at press conferences and committee meetings. There is broad public support for the January 6 investigation even as Public awareness of the attacks themselves has begun to wane.

Pelosi may have gambled that prominent and outspoken Trump allies on the committee would do more harm than good, since that is the case suggest some evidence that negative partisan attacks can reduce public political engagement overall. Public reception of the hearings will show whether Pelosi’s move has paid off.The conversation

By Claire LeavittVisiting Assistant Professor of Political Science and Policy Studies, Grinell College

This article is republished by The conversation under a Creative Commons license. read this original article.

https://heavy.com/news/january-6-committee-public-hearing/ January 6th Committee: What’s the point of a public hearing?

Zack Zwiezen

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