New hearings loom in Capitol attack probe

By AI HEPING in New York | China Daily | Updated: 2022-08-15 07:33
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Testimony before the House Select Committee, which is investigating the attack on the Capitol on Jan 6 last year, comes to an end in Washington on June 21. CHIP SOMODEVILLA/POOL PHOTO/AP

Criminal referral of Trump key issue for committee

As September approaches and millions in the United States near the end of their summer break, the nine members of the House Select Committee are preparing for season two of their investigation into the attack on the Capitol on Jan 6 last year.

Over the course of eight publicly televised meetings that started in June and ended on July 21, the panel presented evidence and selective video clips of depositions from witnesses as it has sought to prove President Donald Trump's culpability for the attack.

So far, the panel has presented a detailed narrative, including several bombshell revelations, of efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election. The committee has built a case that is more political than legal that Trump is not fit to hold the office.

It has alleged that Trump knew he lost the election but pressured officials to overturn the result anyway.

The panel also alleged that Trump called supporters to Washington and incited them to march on the Capitol, knowing that some were armed.

The committee has revealed that Trump then watched the mayhem unfold for 187 minutes on television alone in the White House and did nothing to stop it.

The panel comprises mostly Democrats. It includes two of Trump's fiercest Republican opponents-Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney, who is vice-chair of the committee, and Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger, who has announced he will not seek re-election next year.

The hearings are not a criminal proceeding. There has been no cross-examination of witnesses. The committee has no power to file charges. Its goal from the very first hearing has been less legal and more political.

Beyond some of the bombshell revelations presented by witnesses, the hearings have been effective by using a highly produced, made-for-television format against the former TV celebrity who made it to the White House as the 45th president.

The hearings drew an average of 13.1 million viewers, according to the Nielsen TV ratings service. Some 20 million watched the first televised hearing on June 9. Congressional Republicans have boycotted the hearings and tried to cast doubt on their legitimacy. After the second hearing, Trump issued a 12-page rebuttal to testimony and evidence presented by the committee, accusing Democrats of seeking to distract from a series of domestic issues facing the country.

"Seventeen months after the events of January 6, Democrats are unable to offer solutions," Trump said on June 14. "They are desperate to change the narrative of a failing nation, without even making mention of the havoc and death caused by the Radical Left just months earlier. Make no mistake, they control the government. They own this disaster. They are hoping that these hearings will somehow alter their failing prospects."

A key question the committee will have to answer is whether its final report will include a criminal referral of Trump. The report is expected to be produced in the fall as the nation heads into midterm elections.

Many Democrats argue the evidence presented by the committee against Trump is now so damning that the Justice Department should charge him with obstruction of justice, criminally defrauding the US, and possibly seditious conspiracy, and they believe it is up to Attorney General Merrick Garland to pursue further. But then Garland might indict Trump based on the Justice Department's current investigation.

With the nation already bitterly divided following the Supreme Court's denial of a constitutional right to an abortion by overturning Roe v. Wade on May 24, would such a prosecution of the ex-president cause so much recrimination that it might be counter to the national interest?

Garland has been silent on what, if anything, he may do, telling reporters recently: "No person is above the law in this country. There is nothing in the principles of prosecution ...which prevent us from investigating anyone who is criminally responsible for an attempt to undo a democratic election."

Representative Bennie Thompson, the Mississippi Democrat who is the panel's chairman, said, "There needs to be accountability, accountability under the law, accountability to the American people, accountability at every level.

"If there is no accountability for Jan 6, for every part of this scheme, I fear that we will not overcome the ongoing threat to our democracy. There must be stiff consequences for those responsible."

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