The House’s January 6 committee will publicly release its final report, recommendations, and supporting evidence next week. The committee’s highly anticipated criminal referrals and the report itself will inevitably get the most immediate attention.
But it’s the supporting evidence that could be the pre-Christmas gift that keeps on giving.
The committee’s hearings were masterfully crafted for television: Neatly packaged, with no loose ends; perfect for spoon-feeding a political media that gets easily distracted. Nothing came out that didn’t fit each hearing’s carefully delineated narrative.
But there will inevitably be plenty of loose ends in the supporting material — many of which, when pulled on, could further the public’s understanding of what happened and who was responsible.
If, as promised, the supporting material is voluminous, unabridged, and exhaustive, it’s going to take more than the depleted Christmas-week Washington press corps to sort through it all.
Crowdsourcing Success Stories
In the right (admittedly rare) circumstances, crowdsourcing a document dump can be hugely valuable.
This would seem to be one of those circumstances.
Talking Points Memo famously enlisted its readers to help them flesh out a burgeoning scandal related to the politically-motivated firing of U.S. Attorneys in 2007. At one point, they had readers pore through 3,000 emails released by the Department of Justice.
The Guardian has used crowdsourcing to good effect, most notably in 2009, when readers hunted through 700,000 individual documents comprising four years worth of expenses and claims filed by Members of Parliament. The Guardian interface – allowing readers to tag their findings as “interesting,” “not interesting,” “interesting but known,” and “investigate this!”—made categorization easy and fun.
How To Do It
Unfortunately, precisely how the public can participate isn’t clear yet. We don’t know how the committee plans to release the material. Will it be in PDFs? In raw text? Will it be searchable?
The Guardian hosted its own microsite with all the MP data. So: Will any news organization or website import the 1/6 material and allow readers to tag the good bits? Stay tuned.
The default move would be to annotate the original documents – something that a marvelous, open-source, non-profit annotation software called Hypothesis (hypothes.is) makes possible. (It’s basically a conversation layer over the entire web, a feature that was supposed to be part of the original web browser in 1993 but didn’t make it).
I would encourage you to sign up for Hypothesis and install the extension (or add a bookmarklet) to your desktop browser. Then start trying it out. Annotations are super easy to share on social media. Make sure you @ me (at Twitter, Mastodon and/or Post.) Let me know how it goes, in comments or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
News coverage of the investigation into the January 6 insurrection has been surprisingly adequate (with the exception of the near silence about the role of racism and politics in why law enforcement agencies failed to sufficiently mobilize against a known threat.)
But to get a thorough grounding in what we know and what we don’t know, the insufficiently-heralded Just Security website has compiled some extraordinary resources, most notably the Citizens Guide to January 6th and Ongoing Threats to Democracy and a Criminal Evidence Tracker.
What to Expect
Committee members are on the record saying they’ll release everything, which is both their public duty and the only way to fully insulate themselves against a bogus planned investigation-of-the-investigation by the majority House Republicans come next year.
Committee member Rep. Zoe Lofgren, for instance, once again promised to deliver everything on Tuesday, in conversation with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes.
LOFGREN: We`ve said before, it is our intention to release the committee records in their entirety. And when we do, I think the press is going to have a very busy time looking at all the information.
I mean, it`s impossible to put all of the evidence in the report, and certainly was impossible to put it all in our hearings. But we are going to put all the committee records out and I think it will be of tremendous interest not only the public but I`m sure to the press.
HAYES: That was actually going to be my second question about the sort of allowing a kind of open-source reporters to go through everything from transcripts of depositions, other items have been subpoenaed, so I guess our expectation is that that full record which, you know, belongs to the American people since the committee was constituted by it, will be in the public domain at some point.
LOFGREN: Right. There`s a couple — not exceptions, but the Secret Service gave us like a million documents. They didn`t give it to us, they lent it to us so we could go through of it. It really belongs to them and they`re going to take it back. But there were some nuggets we found — most of the information wasn`t that relevant. There`s some nuggets that we hope to produce. Obviously, we need to — if they`re a law enforcement sensitive issues there, we need to at least talk to the Secret Service about that.
We`re going to redact like, people`s personal cell phones and email addresses. We don`t want to open people up to harassment. And there were two very low level individuals who were mere witnesses that we said, you know, we would try and protect their identity for their personal safety. But everything else, I think, all the committee records will be out there and I think it`ll be interesting.
HAYES: Are you prepared and your staff members prepared for a counter investigation for the House majority, their incoming Republican House Majority to attempt to use its official power to essentially debunk or discredit the report.
LOFGREN: Well, I mean, Kevin McCarthy has more or less indicated that. And that`s another reason why publishing all the committed records is worthwhile. If the entire committee record is in the public domain, you can`t selectively edit it and then spin it. It`ll be all out there. And people will be able to see that we worked hard, and we did I believe an honorable job in presenting the facts that we found.
Kyle Cheney and Nicholas Wu reported for Politico on Monday that the evidence includes “more than 1,000 witness interviews, extensive call records obtained via subpoenas to phone companies, and text messages and emails that were voluntarily provided. The committee also obtained extensive Trump White House records from the National Archives that gave contemporaneous details of Trump’s efforts within the West Wing.”
But, they wrote, the committee has not yet formally decided precisely how much to publicly release and might, for instance, not release hundreds of hours of video depositions.
That will all presumably be decided on Monday, at the committee’s final business meeting. Anyone who cares about transparency, accountability, and the public’s right to know should be prepared to demand full access to everything – and then use it.