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What Does Success Look Like For The Jan. 6 Committee?


With the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol greater than halfway through its seven public hearings, the massive query now looming over the proceedings is whether or not or not they can be successful — and what success will appear to be.

The comparison most readily made when discussing successful congressional committee hearings is that of the Senate Watergate Committee. The investigation into Richard Nixon’s successful efforts to abuse the manager branch to assist his reelection campaign carried on the three major television stations and helped turn public opinion against Nixon.

Across the country, Americans watched together as former White House counsel John Dean revealed the existence of the Oval Office taping system. And again saw corroborating testimony by Alexander Butterfield, the previous White House aide who installed the system. The “smoking gun” tapes ultimately proved Nixon’s illegal machinations and led to his resignation ahead of imminent impeachment.

However the Jan. 6 committee is just not investigating a sitting president; former President Donald Trump left office on Jan. 20, 2021. The hearings also usually are not a precursor to an impeachment proceeding, because the House already impeached Trump weeks after the riot for guiding the attack on the Capitol and attempting to steal the 2020 election.

So, what does success appear to be exactly?

The committee’s success must be judged inside “4 boxes,” Norm Eisen, a former counsel on the House Judiciary Committee’s first impeachment of Trump and White House ethics czar under President Barack Obama, told HuffPost. Those 4 boxes are: “the cable box,” “the legislative tally box,” “the ballot box” and “the jury box.”

Former Fox News politics editor Chris Stirewalt is sworn in as Jan. 6 committee chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) preside.

Jabin Botsford-Pool/Getty Images

The “cable box” corresponds with the committee’s ability to affect public opinion in telling the story of Trump’s plot to steal the election before and on Jan. 6 and the continuing plot to steal the following election. The “legislative tally box” could be stuffed with any laws enacted in response to the committee’s findings to forestall future election theft attempts. The “ballot box” judges whether the committee’s findings can create a bipartisan referendum against those that sought to steal the 2020 election in November or in 2024. And the “jury box” will judge whether the committee’s work feeds into ongoing investigations by the Department of Justice and the Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney’s Office.

Public Opinion

What people remember in regards to the Watergate hearings is that the revelations that ultimately led to the disclosure of the “smoking gun” tape had a large impact on public opinion. The case of Jan. 6 is just a little bit more complicated, in that, the trouble to overturn the election was largely done in plain sight.

What the Jan. 6 committee must do is just not necessarily discover a “smoking gun,” but establish a shared understanding of what happened that day and within the lead as much as it and the danger it posed to the continuation of American democracy.

“One critical way of conceiving success for the committee’s work could be the degree to which they can help generate a more shared, complete, truthful understanding amongst the general public in regards to the conspiracy to overturn the election,” Grant Tudor, policy advocate on the nonprofit Protect Democracy, said.

This may occasionally not only be the toughest thing to perform, but in addition, as Tudor says, “the fuzziest and squishiest and the least easy to evaluate” of the measures of success for the committee’s work.

The challenge for the committee is that American politics are at a high point of partisan polarization, a quite different dynamic than faced by the Watergate committee within the Seventies when partisan polarization, particularly in Congress, was at a low point. This is especially true for the Republican Party. Polls consistently show that almost all Republicans imagine Trump’s lies about election fraud, with around 50% of Republicans see the attack on the Capitol in positive terms just like the act of “patriotism” or “defending freedom.”

Despite this, there still stays a “a persuadable a part of the electorate,” in accordance with Tudor. Polls have shown that around one-fifth of respondents were unsure about a number of the basic facts surrounding the Jan. 6 attack, including that it was a part of a broader conspiracy to overturn the election.

“That shared understanding doesn’t should be unanimous,” said Daniel Weiner, director of the elections and government program on the Brennan Center, a liberal law and policy nonprofit. “It must be a shared understanding of a governing majority.”

The important thing then is to ascertain the connection between Trump’s effort to abuse the principles across the counting of Electoral College votes inside Congress with a view to steal the election and the insurrectionary violence he directed on the Capitol on the very moment lawmakers were counting those votes.

People watch the first hearing of the January 6th committee at the New York Society for Ethical Culture on June 9, 2022, in New York City.People watch the primary hearing of the January sixth committee on the Latest York Society for Ethical Culture on June 9, 2022, in Latest York City.

Michael M. Santiago via Getty Images

The committee is attempting to do that almost exclusively through the testimony of Republicans who served in Trump’s administration or who advised key players from outside and evidence collected from those around Trump who sought to overturn the election results.

“I’ve been impressed to date on the step-by-step exposure of what happened on January 6 and leading as much as it ― for probably the most part, from the testimony of Trump administration insiders acknowledging that it was dangerous and criminal,” Joanne Freeman, a historian at Yale University whose latest book “The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War” examined political violence in Congress within the mid-Nineteenth century, said in an email.

The hearings have to date shown Trump administration veterans revealing that Trump and his inner circle were repeatedly told that their scheme to steal the election was illegal and that some, including conservative lawyer John Eastman, even conceded that fact on the time. The timeline the committee has presented also links the trouble to pressure Vice President Mike Pence to not count certain states’ Electoral College votes to the “wild” protests that eventually resulted within the breach of the Capitol.

But just as essential as presenting a timeline linking the Electoral College plot to the riot on Jan. 6 is to point out that the threat has not passed.

“The riot has not ended,” Eisen said. “The ‘Big Lie’ remains to be burning across the country.”

To that end, former judge Michael Luttig, a conservative luminary who was once shortlisted for a Supreme Court seat, clerked for the late Justice Antonin Scalia and served as a mentor to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), plainly stated in testimony given on Jun. 16 that, “Trump and his allies and supporters are a transparent and present danger to American democracy.”

“To this very day, the previous president and his allies and supporters pledge that if the previous president or his anointed successor because the Republican Party presidential candidate were to lose [in 2024], that they’d try and overturn that 2024 election in the identical way that they attempted to overturn the 2020 election, but achieve 2024 where they failed in 2020,” Luttig said.


Luttig’s comments naturally flow into the following measure of success for the committee, and that is whether or not or not laws is passed based on its findings. This “is an important” metric of success, Rick Hasen, an election law expert at UCLA School of Law, told HuffPost.

“[T]here’s no reason to think that the danger of stolen elections has passed, and next time those that attempt it won’t be bunglers like Trump and his co-conspirators,” Hasen said.

To forestall a repeat of the Jan. 6 plot, Congress would, on the very least, must reform the Electoral Count Act, which governs how Congress counts Electoral College votes, to clarify that states cannot submit competing slates of electors to Congress that usually are not based on the favored vote totals of their elections, make clear that the vice chairman must open and count only valid Electoral College votes and lift the brink for lawmakers difficult a state’s Electoral College votes, amongst other things.

A bipartisan group of senators has been working on such laws since January and such reforms have received endorsement from the conservative Wall Street Journal Editorial Board. But, to date, no details on the laws have been released.

Tim Roemer, former Democratic congressman from Indiana and member of the 9/11 Commission, in calling for Electoral Count Act reform, said that the committee must not only recommend policy recommendations, but in addition proceed to push for them after its public work is completed.

Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi preside over the certification of the Electoral College vote counts from the 2020 election after the insurrection on Jan. 6.Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi preside over the certification of the Electoral College vote counts from the 2020 election after the riot on Jan. 6.

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE via Getty Images

“Follow up in your recommendations,” Roemer said. “And tenaciously and determinedly be sure they’re passed into law. Your work’s not done once you make the recommendations. You’ve got to see them implemented into law.”

At the primary meeting of the 9/11 Commission, the five Democrats and five Republicans discussed how they’d work alongside the 9/11 families to enact any recommendations they ultimately got here up with.

Whatever policy recommendations the committee does ultimately make, if it makes any, must be unanimous, just like the 9/11 Commission’s were, Roemer said.

“Most blue ribbon commissions, their recommendations find yourself in some warehouse in some nondescript constructing in Maryland buried under a whole lot of extraneous bureaucratic paperwork,” Roemer said. “They should be sure this one stands out.”

Tudor, nonetheless, worries that putting the onus on the committee to pass laws based on its recommendations “risks creating an unreasonably high expectation for the committee,” particularly since Congress “because it’s currently designed, [makes it] difficult if not unattainable to pass meaningful reforms, especially at the size that will probably be required to meaningfully guard against this sort of thing happening again.”


“The committee must, without ever doing over partisan electioneering, clarify that November is a bipartisan referendum,” Eisen said. “Are we going to have democracy in our country or Trumpery?”

Eisen was the lone voice amongst those HuffPost talked to to list electoral outcomes as a measure of success for the committee. Others were explicit in stating the alternative.

“I don’t think the hearings must be measured by whether Democrats keep control of Congress,” Weiner said.

But electoral outcomes are a good measure of success. The rationale for this circles back to what the retired conservative judge Luttig said on Thursday. Trump and lots of within the Republican Party intend on running the very same playbook to steal the election in 2024 in the event that they don’t win an Electoral College majority. Actually, quite a few crucial elections for positions that may have power over the certification of elections in key swing states feature Republican candidates who’re expressly running on a platform of not certifying election wins by Democrats.

A few of these GOP candidates, like Doug Mastriano, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Pennsylvania, and Ryan Kelly, the poll leader for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Michigan, were on the Capitol on Jan. 6. Kelly was indicted and arrested on Jun. 9 for entering the Capitol grounds, which he saw as a boon for his campaign.

This measure of success connects to the committee’s success at affecting public opinion. The party of the incumbent president almost all the time loses congressional seats in a midterm election. The variety of seats are often tied to the incumbent’s approval rankings, which, in turn, are tied to economic concerns just like the Gross Domestic Product growth rate and gas prices. And there are not any shortage of economic concerns for voters, from inflation to provide chain shortages to a possible Federal Reserve induced recession. Most polls show economic concerns the highest issue for Americans in 2022.

“If we lose this democracy,” Roemer said, explaining the argument that should be made to the general public. “If the precedent becomes, you lose an election you may assault the federal government or take power in your personal hands, that’s the tip of our great experiment that our founder began 250 years ago. And we don’t get answers or solutions, whether it’s from the federal government or the private sector, for these other issues we care a lot about.”


Finally, the committee’s investigation could feed into investigations already under way within the Department of Justice and in Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ office.

Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said that the committee wouldn’t be making a criminal referral to the Department of Justice. Other committee members, including Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), pushed back on that suggestion by saying the committee had not selected that yet.

Whether or not the committee makes an official referral to the Justice Department, it has been fairly explicit in outlining how Trump’s actions and people of his inner circle were illegal — and that they knew it was illegal.

Doug Mastriano, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Pennsylvania, attended the Jan. 6 protest that led to the insurrection and threatens to not certify a win by a Democrat in the state if elected.Doug Mastriano, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Pennsylvania, attended the Jan. 6 protest that led to the riot and threatens to not certify a win by a Democrat within the state if elected.

Michael M. Santiago via Getty Images

This outline, presented on the committee’s first public hearing by Cheney, details how Trump pressured party, state and federal officials to corruptly help him overturn the election results. As he did this, his own Department of Justice and lawyers each opposed and in support of his plot to overturn the election told him that what he was doing was illegal. He then rallied a mob of supporters on the Mall and directed them on the Capitol. When the mob breached the Capitol, he didn’t lift a finger to stop them.

The committee has backed up this outline of criminality with evidence from key players and testimony exclusively from Republicans who served within the Trump administration or Republicans who played some role across the events of Jan. 6.

“The kind of fact finding that this body is doing is sort of literally, in real time, collecting precious evidence and collating that evidence and systematizing that evidence in a way that can very likely be helpful for criminal prosecutions and investigations,” Tudor said.

And it does appear that the Department of Justice wants the evidence the committee has collected. In a Jun. 15 letter to the committee, the department complained that the committee has not shared witness testimony to assist in its criminal investigations and prosecutions, specifically the prosecution of leaders of the Proud Boys, a pro-Trump street fighting group.

The Justice Department is just not the one legal entity investigating Trump’s potential criminality related to Jan. 6. Fulton County DA Willis has empaneled a grand jury investigating Trump’s effort to pressure Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to flip the state’s election results. Raffensperger is slated to testify publicly before the committee on Jun. 21.

In The Long Run

Even apart from these 4 areas, some experts who spoke with HuffPost said the committee is already successful simply through the work it has already done.

“In holding hearings, the Home is enacting the fundamental fact of accountability and upholding the concept and reality of the rule of law,” Freeman said over email. “At a time when faith within the national government is slipping, the hearings are also showing Congress in motion as a functioning institution, holding itself accountable for its responsibilities as well. Whatever the final final result, this sort of public, visible accountability is vitally essential.”

This work creates a public record of the primary time there was not a peaceful transfer of power because the outbreak of the Civil War. It provides officially gathered evidence that Jan. 6 was not simply the attack on the Capitol, but a broad, if also insanely silly, conspiracy led by the sitting president to overthrow the elected government of the USA.

“In practical terms, that type of fact-finding lays the bottom for truth-telling which may not break through tomorrow, but keeps open the door for truth-telling efforts in the long run — perhaps a protracted time from now,” Tudor said.

The success of the committee hangs over what “a protracted time from now” looks like. Will the U.S. survive a second try and steal an election in 2024? And can the country be recognizable if it doesn’t?

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