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After another devastating hearing, three new questions for the 6 January committee

The panel’s relationship with the Justice Department is under strain just as it prepares to interview Clarence Thomas’s wife

Eric Garcia
Friday 17 June 2022 15:48 BST
January 6 Committee Hearing: Former Trump-appointed US Attorney BJay Pak testifies

The select committee investigating the Capitol riot on January 6 spent its first prime time hearing last week trying to convey the stakes to the American public, mostly by illustrating just how dangerous and deadly the riot was. But the second week of committee hearings has mostly focused on how the Trump administration pushed the “Big Lie” – first the effort to sell it to the American public, and then the campaign by Donald Trump and certain of his lieutenants to force then-vice president Mike Pence into overturning the 2020 election results in Congress on 6 January.

Yesterday’s session showed how Mr Trump’s legal team, led by attorney John Eastman, tried to force the vice president to subvert the election results on 6 January and remarked that “there’s been violence in the history of our country to protect the democracy or protect the republic”.

It was a seismic and harrowing hearing, and spelled out Mr Eastman’s machinations in stunning detail. But the committee is now entering new territory: the Department of Justice has criticized the committee for not delivering witness transcripts, and the panel has said it wants Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, to testify.

Here are the three biggest questions the committee faces after the second week of hearings.

When will the committee comply with the <strong>Justice Department</strong>? During the Thursday hearing, news broke that the day before, the Justice Department had sent a letter to the select committee accusing it of withholding witness transcripts that would help the department prosecute people involved in the riot. As our colleague Richard Hall wrote, in the past, the committee has criticized the Justice Department as too reluctant to pursue prosecutions of Trumpworld.

“It is critical that the Select Committee provide us with copies of the transcripts of all of its witness interviews,” the letter said.

But after the hearing Chairman Bennie Thompson made it fairly clear that the committee will move on its own time and will not rush its process.

“We got the letter yesterday. We’re reviewing it. We will respond to it. But we’re in the midst of conducting our hearing. We have to get the facts and circumstances behind January 6,” he said. “We are not going to stop what we’re doing to share information that we’ve gotten so far with the Department of Justice. We have to do our work.”

How will Ginni Thomas’s testimony go? Before the hearing began, Mr Thompson told Andrew Solender of Axios that it planned to seek testimony from Ginni Thomas after the Washington Post reported that she corresponded with Mr Eastman, who previously clerked for her husband. Later, she told the Daily Caller “I can’t wait to clear up misconceptions. I look forward to talking to them.”

Stories have abounded about Ms Thomas’s attempts to help overturn the election results, from her text exchanges with Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to her messages to Arizona state legislators.

Ms Thomas has long been a champion of right-wing causes and is widely respected in conservative circles. But questioning the wife of a sitting Supreme Court justice is uncharted territory, especially given she is the spouse of one of the most respected justices on the right. During the Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson, Senator Mike Lee decried the questions swirling around Mr Thomas’s political impartiality, complaining that “people on the left are savagely attacking him”.

Similarly, the questioning comes after Congress just passed legislation to beef up security for Supreme Court justices. If the committee gives any impression it is overstepping boundaries, it could face criticism from Republicans that it is making justices less safe.

Why did Eastman think he needed a pardon? During last week’s hearing, Vice Chair Liz Cheney revealed that Republican members of Congress (including Representative Scott Perry) had sought pardons for their actions on 6 January. On Thursday, it was revealed that Mr Eastman, who argued that Mr Pence had the authority to overturn the election results and authored the memo laying out the roadmap, had emailed Mr Giuliani and said he “should be on the pardon list, if that is still in the works”.

The request came after Greg Jacob, Mr Pence’s chief counsel and one of yesterday’s key witnesses, sent an email to him declaring that “thanks to your bulls**t, we are now under siege” – and after White House lawyer Eric Herschmann told Mr Eastman to “get a great f**king criminal defense lawyer, you’re going to need it”.

Mr Eastman’s request raises three questions: Why did he think he needed a pardon? When did he realize he might need one? What crimes did he worry he might have committed? And does the Justice Department also think he might have broken the law?

Representative Jamie Raskin, a member of the committee and a constitutional lawyer, responded to a question from your dispatcher about this in the scrum after the hearing.

“That’s not a criminal act in itself,” Mr Raskin said about Mr Eastman seeking a pardon. “The question is whether that is indicative of his consciousness of guilt or his fear of prosecution based on all of the actions he had taken in conjunction with Donald Trump. And I think those are all legitimate questions and they certainly bear more factual inquiry.”

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