All the complaints from critics about the January 6 select committee are inconsequential, unsupported, and undeserving of attention. With one exception. This one:
The committee is hoarding information that it should be making public, starting now.
The committee’s chair and vice-chair did a superlative and historic job of setting up their findings during their first hearing on Thursday night: They will prove that the violent, January 6 insurrection was the proud creation of a far-reaching seditious conspiracy headed by Donald Trump and intended to steal a free and fair election.
But they only released a few clips from what appear to be jaw-dropping depositions. They only released some of the new, spellbinding video they have.
They appear to be planning to release only bits and pieces over six further hearings in June, and only then – if then – spilling the rest.
This is what committee member Adam Schiff told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow after Thursday’s hearing:
The real challenge for our committee, frankly is, how do we choose what is most important to share with the public? And I think that what we will try to do is make available in these hearings as much as we can, and then provide in online resources for others, a wealth of other material for you and other members of the press, and public, to scrutinize.
But why not now?
Why not at least answer direct questions, if you know the answer?
Schiff kept on ducking questions, saying “I can’t go into too many specifics” and “I’m not at this point authorized to go into that evidence.” Who’s gagging him and why?
Unlike the Watergate hearings, Thursday night prime-time session was not genuinely investigative in nature; it was just staged to appear that way. The committee has apparently mapped out the next six hearings in some detail already.
I get they want to narrate the story, and tell it in some reasonable order, to maximize the impression it makes on the American people. But they can still do that, even if they open up their files now. Especially if the rest of the hearings won’t be in prime time, synchronous viewing will no longer be a significant factor.
Starting now, this is Netflix, not HBO. Let people binge if they want to.
Why keep the public in the dark?
The good news is that, for the most part, at least for the moment, most journalists seem genuinely captivated by the emerging facts and the terrifying, epic narrative the committee presented Thursday night.
Making more information accessible to the media would keep journalists’ focus on telling the public what happened, rather than engaging in speculation about public opinion and engaging in partisan framing, both-sidesism, bad sports analogies, and theater-criticism analysis
Access to the larger body of evidence would also allow reporters to put future hearings in greater context.
Vice Chair Liz Cheney announced Thursday that Trump, upon hearing about the “hang Mike Pence” chants, had said that “maybe our supporters have the right idea” and that Pence “deserves” it. But knowing who relayed that to the committee and how they were privy to it would have added to the impact, not detracted from it. If journalists can offer the public longer excerpts from depositions in the future, it will only add credibility to the clips shown by the committee, not detract.
Several other assertions made by the committee Thursday night would have had a lot more impact if they had been presented with context.
“As you will see, Representative [Scott] Perry contacted the White House in the weeks after January 6th to seek a Presidential Pardon. Multiple other Republican congressmen also sought Presidential Pardons for their roles in attempting to overturn the 2020 election,” Cheney said. Well, who were they? What did they say?
And most intriguing of all, to me, was a clip of General Mike Milley – who remains chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – speaking about his conversation with Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows on January 6:
He said: We have to kill the narrative that the Vice President is making all the decisions. We need to establish the narrative, you know, that the President is still in charge and that things are steady or stable, or words to that effect. I immediately interpreted that as politics. Politics. Politics. Red flag for me, personally. No action. But I remember it distinctly.
Why was Trump worried about a “narrative” suggesting Pence was “making all the decisions” – when Pence was basically running for his life at the time? When, quite possibly, Pence was narrowly avoiding a kidnap attempt? What did Pence or White House staff do that made Trump fear he was being seen as powerless? Surely committee staffers followed up on this. Why keep us all in suspense?
Start the document dump, and start it now! And let the constant coverage continue.
And I want to reemphasize one point I made on Wednesday. If anyone puts forth any evidence that contradicts the committee’s findings, then of course that should be taken seriously. But any pushback against the committee that doesn’t include a factual challenge should be met with contempt. Journalists should make clear every time they quote a Republican complaining about the committee that they have yet to put forth a single piece of evidence that contradicts its emerging narrative or supports the dangerous, seditious Big Lie that continues to be a central tenet of their party.