Public may never see all of the Jan. 6 committee’s work

The final report of the House committee investigating the January 6, 2021 riot will provide the most comprehensive account yet of what led to the worst attack on the Capitol in more than 200 years. But it likely won’t include all the evidence the panel has gathered in its 18-month investigation.

Congress is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, and the House Rules, which the legislature approves with each new Congress, set a minimum of two decades before the public can view retained records.

That means there may be millions of pages of testimonies, cellphone and text recordings, emails, staff notes and analysis compiled by outside organizations as part of the committee’s investigation that may not make it into the official final report or be released before the end of the year are not made public for decades – if at all.

Republicans blocked the establishment of an independent, impartial commission to investigate the attack, which should have disclosed much of the underlying evidence. The House Committee’s investigation represents the most comprehensive compilation of evidence into the attack and its contributing factors in one place. Federal investigators, journalists and public stakeholders have eagerly awaited what raw information the panel will provide on issues the committee is not fully investigating Has.

Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said Monday the committee will release most of the non-sensitive material it has compiled before the end of the year, although it is unclear what the scope will be and what will be considered sensitive will. Will it contain staff notes as well as the more than 1,000 testimonies from the committee? Will the public see internal memos or evidence analysis? And are emails or text messages redacted for privacy reasons?

What the committee includes in its public report will largely determine what information the public receives about intelligence failures surrounding the January 6 uprising and who was involved. For most of its investigation, the committee declined the Justice Department’s request to turn over its internal work. On Monday, the committee agreed to send the Justice Department any evidence it has in support of its criminal referrals. The department is also likely to review evidence that the committee will release as it considers criminal charges related to the attack.

Knowing that Republicans are unlikely to reshuffle the committee next year, panel members might have made the report as comprehensive as possible, said Casey Burgat, director of George Washington University’s Legislative Affairs Program.

“I think the report has become a repository of all the information they could find [include] knowing that this is their only place to report on the committee’s work and realizing they don’t want to leave information that can be guessed at or even overlooked. So I would imagine they’d want to put everything in there, whether it seems important or not,” he said.

The report is scheduled for publication this week and will consist of eight chapters. The committee plans to release additional information such as transcripts and attachments by the end of the year. It will be published online, along with transcripts of statements and videos shown at the committee’s nine hearings. Hard copies of the report are published by the government and several outside companies. It is unclear whether the trove of source information will be included in printed copies of the report.

The select committee website could go offline once a new convention is sworn in.

Information on the website is kept online by the National Archives, which collects the contents of the Congress websites at the end of each Congress. The National Archives works with the Internet Archive, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, to search websites and store the information for public use. Videos, links, search functions and some other information may not survive the process.

This worries some experts: putting a report online does not necessarily make it permanently accessible. For example, links used as footnotes in Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 election no longer work, and the source information to which the links point is lost.

Several government watchdog groups and academics, concerned that more evidence could be lost, are discussing establishing an archive of the information the committee will release over the next two weeks, along with attempting to copy and preserve all linked information.

“The Special Committee’s investigation marks the beginning of a much longer-term project to pursue accountability for January 6th. Public access to his records is critical to this ongoing and future effort,” said Grant Tudor, a political advocate with Protect Democracy, a non-partisan, anti-authoritarian group.

The final report, accompanying video and transcripts are just a portion of the mountain of information gathered by the committee, which includes more than a thousand testimonies, cell phone and email recordings obtained through subpoenas, internal communications from more than one half-dozen federal agencies and never received – previously released video footage from documentarians, Capitol security cameras, and police body cameras. However, given that much of the committee’s investigation took place behind closed doors, the full extent of the information it has versus what it will release is unclear.

And what will happen with all this additional information is even less clear.

Typically, it can take months for staff to archive recordings of a major congressional investigation. The January 6 committee had long promised to work up to the last minute and even took testimony in recent weeks while working on the final report.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) is tasked with naming at least a successor committee that will be responsible for the records when the Jan. 6 panel expires at the end of the year. At the end of each Congress, the committees turn over their official records to the House Clerk, who forwards them to the National Archives.

Unless approved by the House Select Committee, only records already published by the panel are available through the archive.

“They’re basically free to provide things as they please,” former Senior House Counsel Michael Stern said of the committee members. “But once they’re done, once they go out of business and those records are boxed up, they don’t have any control over it.”

The National Archives are banned from releasing other Committee records for 30 years. Records containing sensitive or personal information can be kept from the public for up to 50 years. Although the committee has the power to approve an earlier schedule for the release of the documents, it did not vote to set a one during its Monday meeting and is not expected to meet again.

Even if the documents go into the archives, the House retains control of them, and future committees can recall them from the National Archives at any time, although House rules say the recall is to be temporary and not for the purpose of publication,” Stern said. Future congresses may also override which committee has control of the documents or pause an expedited disclosure schedule set by the panel, Stern said.

House Rules require committees to release their “official, permanent” records. However, the committees differ on which documents they consider to be official records. For some, official records are transcripts of hearings, official correspondence, and bills. Others may include employee notes and internal memos.

“For example, if you are talking about staff notes or things that are less formal, you can imagine there being disagreements as to whether these are really part of the committee’s official records and whether these need to be surrendered and then sent to the archives or remain under control of the successor committee,” Stern said.

There are several places where documents can end up. Committees may also leave current records in the House repository. The information printed in the final report may go to the government publishing office and be published on their website. The Library of Congress also maintains a copy of the information on the committees’ websites.

Burgat said committee records, especially less formal documents like staff memos, are not always properly handled, especially when control of Congress changes parties.

“People I spoke to worked on it [committees] saying, ‘I don’t know, they’re tucked away in a drawer somewhere, they can be left with the clerk of the house for safekeeping,’ but nobody really keeps a detailed list of all these things,” Burgat said.

The public will likely learn more about what happened on Jan. 6, 2021, in murky and murky waters, he said. For example, Talking Points Memo recently received a plethora of text messages sent to or from former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows that belonged to the committee. On Monday, CBS News released audio from the committee hearing of former Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser.

“Through leaks, members voting for their release, making them public, staff across the board working on memoirs … the lines of connection with the public to make these things public are becoming more open the further we get from it.” [the investigation]’ Burgat said. “Trash is probably the most unlikely scenario for many of these documents.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), who is likely to become Speaker, sent Thompson a letter last month calling for the retention of “all records and transcripts of witness statements collected during your investigation” under House Rules.

“Official Congressional records belong neither to you nor to any Member, but to the American people, and to them owe all information you have gathered — not just information consistent with your political agenda,” the letter said.

McCarthy’s letter signals that Republicans may be making an issue of what will and won’t be saved, Stern said.

“Legally, I don’t know if it has any effect. But politically, it posed [the committee members] that this is going to be a problem,” Stern said. “You know, whether things get destroyed or just not included in the official committee records, that’s going to be an issue that could be controversial at the next convention.” Public may never see all of the Jan. 6 committee’s work

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