Members and staff of the Jan. 6 committee are actively preparing for a multi-pronged Republican revenge campaign when the GOP takes the House next month, anticipating an all-out effort to discredit the panel’s work and punish its workers, according to current and former staff, as well as other sources briefed on the situation.
As the committee reads its final report, staff are also preparing for their investigation to be investigated, including with subpoenas seeking access to a year-and-a-half of their private communications, emails, and other documents, the sources said.
“I was told [months ago] by a superior to fastidiously avoid putting anything in writing or in emails that could one day be used against the committee and our important work,” says one former investigator. “Nothing that could be taken out of context, and nothing that could be held up as some kind of ‘smoking gun’ for the Jim Jordan’s and [Marjorie Taylor Greene’s] of Congress.”
Anticipating GOP attacks, some current and former staff have asked their supervisors if they should preemptively retain lawyers, or at least look into potential attorneys. Earlier this year, various committee staffers were advised to purchase professional liability insurance in anticipation of a coming GOP counter-investigation, according to two sources familiar with the committee’s work. Both sources say they bought it. When asked by Rolling Stone why they decided to purchase the insurance earlier this year, one of them simply said: “Because I’m not a moron.”
Republicans have been overt about their plans to go after the panel. According to a source with direct knowledge of the matter, Donald Trump spoke to House Republican allies earlier this year about potential plans for tearing through the Jan. 6 committee’s undisclosed records and communications, aiming to uncover dirt or unflattering details. Trump even, the source said, privately suggested possible routes of inquiry, including investigating whether committee members leaked details to the press or disclosed embarrassing material about the former president and his loyalists. And House Speaker hopeful Kevin McCarthy has publicly indicated plans to investigate the investigators, part of the party’s ongoing quest to insulate Donald Trump from the consequences of Jan. 6. In a letter dated Nov. 30, McCarthy told the committee to preserve its voluminous records.
The committee was already required to preserve its records, with or without McCarthy’s letter. And committee personnel viewed it as a glorified press release. One of the sources familiar with the committee’s work adds that one irony that’s been discussed among certain staff is that the “bad-faith arguments used by Trump and his allies, including Republican House members, to obstruct the select committee’s investigation could come back to haunt them, if used by targets of the incoming majority’s investigations.”
Still, it is unclear what, exactly, House Republicans will be able to get their hands on if — and more likely when — the party begins turning the Jan. 6 committee’s operations inside-out.
“The question isn’t what can be subpoenaed, but what the committee is required to turn over to its successor committee or the National Archives under House rules,” says Michael Stern, an attorney and a former senior counsel to the House of Representatives. “It gets murkier if you are talking about informal staff work product like notes and the like… If the incoming majority thinks that there are things that should have been turned over that were not, or it just wants access to certain information, it could issue subpoenas or take other steps to obtain access to records that are in the hands of individual members and staff. Its options will depend in part on whether the individuals in question are still members or staff of the House in the next Congress.”
The looming attacks add new pressure to an already tense time for the House committee. The panel’s final stretch has been rocked by internal divisions, according to current and former staff, and other sources briefed on the situation.
There have been leaks, “angry” resignations, internal paranoia, finger-pointing, and, above all, bitter disputes over what to include in the final report, the sources recount. Broadly, there have been divisions between committee staff working on the investigation and members of Congress who serve as the panel’s management. “Remaining staff seem to trust and like one another enough to execute tasks efficiently. But the distrust between management and staff that has unsurprisingly resulted from copious leaks and appallingly bad management for the last 18 months has zapped any remaining goodwill,” one staffer who spoke on the condition of anonymity tells Rolling Stone.
“There was a time not so long ago when staff would be happy to work 80 hour weeks and take on seemingly insurmountable tasks because the mission was worth it, management be damned,” the committee staffer says. “It’s hard to get people to give a fuck when the higher ups — management and some members — have routinely shit on the people actually doing the investigation, whether by actually being assholes or just by mismanaging this thing from top to bottom.”
The climate of suspicion between members and staff increased following a November story from The Washington Post, where 15 staffers claimed they felt the committee that committee vice chair Rep. Liz Cheney has ignored or sought to remove important findings about the insurrection that did not directly concern former President Trump. Multiple knowledgeable sources confirm to Rolling Stone that a number of current and former Jan. 6 staffers believe that, while the committee went hard at Trump, it too often let his enablers in the GOP elite off easy, as well as that it ignored other conservative drivers behind the “election fraud” conspiracy theories that led to the Capitol assault.
Sources familiar with the matter also tell Rolling Stone that ahead of this month’s planned release of the final report, multiple staffers have departed via “angry” resignations, complaining to their colleagues and other aides on Capitol Hill about missed opportunities and committee members’ perceived personal agendas.
Some staff have also begun to express regret at what they see as fundamental missteps by committee members in failing to more aggressively pursue some witnesses, including Fox News Host Sean Hannity. However, according to people with knowledge of the matter, Hannity was mostly left alone by the committee — and no subpoena was issued to him — in part due to concerns and potential backlash regarding his First Amendment protections as a pro-Trump journalist.
The committee initially wrote to Hannity requesting a voluntary interview with the Fox News host. Hannity’s testimony was necessary, they wrote, because he “had advance knowledge regarding President Trump’s and his legal team’s planning for January 6th” and had “provided[ed] advice” to Trump and his aides about efforts to overturn the election.
Cheney and committee chair Rep. Bennie Thompson appeared wary of pursuing Hannity more forcefully with a subpoena. In their initial letter, the inquiry leaders tried to frame their requests as unrelated to Hannity’s work in journalism and prohibit questions about “any of your broadcasts or your political views or commentary.”
But some staff now view that cautious approach as a mistake. “[The committee] let him off the hook, but that was the case with a lot of the Republican Party that should have answered for what had happened,” one of these sources says.
Text messages from Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows released by the committee showed Hannity acting as a de facto arm of the campaign in the wake of the election, offering advice on issues like “Directing legal strategies vs Biden.”
The testy final stretch follows a highly successful summer and fall for the panel, in which it earned praise and high ratings with a series of hearings offering shocking revelations about Trump’s clashes with the Secret Service, advance warnings about armed Trump supporters, and Trump’s comments that Vice President Mike Pence “deserved” the threats from MAGA fans.
Republicans will take over the House at noon on Jan. 3, 2023.