Jan. 6 panel hits prime time: Five things to watch

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol attack is hours away from the first of its highly anticipated series of public hearings.

The prime-time hearing kicks off at 8 p.m. on Thursday and will be aired on the big three broadcast networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, as well as cable networks CNN and MSNBC. Fox News announced it will not air the hearing on its main network.

The committee described Thursday’s hearing as an initial summary of a “coordinated, multi-step effort” to overturn the 2020 election results, including previously unseen material and witness testimony.

Here are five things to watch for at tonight’s hearing:

How strongly the committee connects Trump to the riot

Some Democrats have voiced hope that the panel’s findings will amp up pressure on the Justice Department to prosecute former President Trump for his role in the attack. 

But exactly how strong the committee connects Trump himself to the riot remains a central question of the panel’s hearings.

But Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who sits on the panel, said in a Washington Post Live interview on Monday that the committee has found evidence on Trump that supports “a lot more than incitement,” the charge Democrats laid out in their second impeachment trial against Trump.

The House had voted to impeach the then-president for incitement to insurrection before Trump was ultimately acquitted in the Senate.

Raskin said he believed Trump and the White House were at the “center” of Jan. 6. 

“The select committee has found evidence about a lot more than incitement here, and we’re gonna be laying out the evidence about all of the actors who were pivotal to what took place on Jan. 6,” Raskin said.

How the committee leverages testimony from Trump’s inner circle

The committee has conducted more than 1,000 interviews in its yearlong investigation, subpoenaed more than 100 people and has promised to share video footage of some of its depositions.

The committee has pledged to air footage from interviews with “Trump White House officials, senior Trump administration officials, Trump campaign officials and indeed Trump family members,” the aide said.

The panel also sat down with a wide range of senior Trump White House officials, including some who were with the former president on Jan. 6.

It has also sat down with former Justice Department officials who spoke about Trump's pressure campaign at the department, as well as with legal advisers to former Vice President Mike Pence.

The committee has also interviewed multiple Trump family members, including Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son; his fiancee, Kimberly Guilfoyle; Ivanka Trump, the president’s eldest daughter; and her husband, Jared Kushner.

Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said on Wednesday that Ivanka Trump’s testimony would not air in Thursday’s hearing, but he left open the possibility it may be played later.

Those videotaped testimonies will be part of a multimedia presentation. The committee hired a veteran ABC producer to assist with assembling the videos as it looks to transform its evidence into a ready-for-TV package.

How organized groups played a role in spurring violence

Among the thousands of people who traveled to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 were extremist groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. Dozens of these groups’ members have been charged in connection with the riot.

The role of the Proud Boys is expected to come into particular focus on Thursday when documentarian Nick Quested appears as a witness. 

Quested filmed footage of Proud Boys members during the Capitol breach and a Jan. 5 meeting between the leaders of the two extremist groups. 

Prosecutors charged five Proud Boys leaders with seditious conspiracy on Monday. 

The committee has also taken interest in the groups that planned the now-infamous rally on the Ellipse and other events preceding the riot.

The panel issued subpoenas to individuals listed on event permits filed by Women for America First for the Ellipse event and some of the group’s contractors.

The committee also subpoenaed people affiliated with the “Stop the Steal” movement, with one organizer having said the group intended to direct Ellipse rally attendees to a subsequent event on Capitol grounds.

How the committee looks ahead to future elections

Perceptions of the committee’s end goal are varied among lawmakers. Some Democrats hope the hearings will provide a high-stakes history lesson for the public, while others desire greater accountability for the riot’s central players. 

As Democrats weigh their options, the panel itself has reportedly become divided about what long-term reforms to implement.

Axios reported on Sunday that Raskin has argued for abolishing the Electoral College to prevent future subversion of the electoral counting process. But Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the panel’s vice chair, has voiced opposition to that proposal out of concerns it would diminish the committee’s credibility, according to the outlet.

Axios reported that other committee members have pushed more modest reforms, like changes to the Electoral Count Act and federal voting rights legislation.

How Republicans combat the hearing’s messaging

The panel scheduled its first hearing for prime time in attempts to cut through to large swaths of the American public, but the committee is already facing headwinds.

Fox News announced it will not air the hearing on its cable channel, although its lower-profile sister network Fox Business will do so. Prominent Fox News host Tucker Carlson will host his show at 8 p.m. on Thursday just as the hearing begins.

But Republicans are mounting a broader media battle as the hearings approach.

The GOP is arguing the hearings are just meant to distract voters from issues like inflation and crime. The House Committee on Administration Republicans sent a letter to the Jan. 6 panel asking it to preserve all records in preparation for an investigation of the investigation.

At House Republican leadership’s press conference earlier on Thursday, just one of nine attending lawmakers said they would tune in to Thursday’s hearing: Rep. Kelly Armstrong (N.D.).