Key Jan 6 Documents could soon be locked away for decades

Just days before it disbands and loses control of the millions of pages of evidence it has collected, the House Inquiry Committee on Jan. On February 6, 2021, Insurrection released transcripts of just 126 of the more than 1,000 interviews, who led it.

If the committee runs out of time, the largest body of evidence about the attack could be lost — locked away for decades by the national archives or withheld from the public so as not to interfere with the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation into the attack, experts warn.

“The lack of these documents is a kind of serious concern” to ensure accountability and ensure the historical record is as accurate as possible, said Ryan Goodman, a New York University law professor and co-founder of the national security law and policy website Just Security.

Committee spokesmen did not respond to several questions about what information the committee can release before it closes on Tuesday. After the committee disbands, its records will be turned over to a successor committee to be determined, then to the house clerk, and finally to the National Archives, where they are expected to be protected from the public for at least 30 years.

Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) at the committee’s final hearing on 12/19 vowed to make public most of the non-sensitive material the panel had compiled. But the speed with which information has been released has experts worried the committee will not honor that vow.

“I hope that they will make as much publicity as possible,” said Daniel Weiner, Brennan Center’s director of election and government programs.

The investigation was conducted largely privately, so the full scope of what the committee gleaned is still unclear, but known evidence makes the 18-month investigation one of the largest and most complex ever conducted by Congress.

Committee staff spoke to more than 1,000 people for the investigation. The committee’s final report cites approximately 180 transcribed interviews or statements.

As of Thursday morning, in just over a week, the committee had released 126 transcripts of statements or interviews, including several that were not included in the final report.

The pace of document release “appears to be the result of administrative issues and management issues rather than a conscious choice,” Goodman said. “In the scramble to finish their work near the end… it sounds like they’re running out of time.”

None of the underlying information or evidence gathered by the Committee has been made public.

The final report’s 4,285 citations, including 967 references to “Documents on file with the Select Committee to Investigate the 6th January Attack on the United States Capitol,” provide a glimpse of the evidence the panel has — such as internal e- Mails from the White House obtained from the National Archives, notes on over 100 informal witness interviews, and handwritten notes from senior Justice Department officials.

There are also citations for text messages delivered by former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows before he stopped working with the committee; internal communications of the Secret Service and the Department of Defense; text messages and emails delivered by witnesses; and video footage of key actors obtained from documentary teams.

Goodman fears the committee will not release those records at all.

“It’s almost gone from the conversation that there are these other underlying documents. The bright, shiny object is the transcripts, which are super important — and probably most important — but the other underlying documents are very important,” he said.

Government monitoring groups and other organizations have already pulled information from the committee into online repositories, but they can only keep what the committee publishes.

Susanne Grooms, a former Democratic investigator on the House Oversight and Reform Committee who worked on both former President Trump’s impeachment cases, said the committee’s staff were likely working to dig up as much information as possible and she expected more releases before the Republicans will take control of House on Tuesday.

“There’s probably a set of documents that they would release if they had the capacity and were able to get it done,” she said.

Staff are likely busy organizing files, determining where to move information and what to release to the public, and deciding whether to accept redaction requests submitted by federal agencies — a time-consuming process.

“They are right on the brink of their end. They must face a real challenge,” said Grooms. “I think they will go to the bitter end.”

Records not released in the next few days could be snatched up by the as yet unnamed successor committee and released in chunks or, in the case of official committee records, sent to the National Archives.

Once the Committee’s records end up in the National Archives, they will be extremely difficult for the public to see. House rules protect records given to the National Archives from the public for at least 30 years, with sensitive information being withheld for 50 years.

Transparency advocates would then have two choices: wait it out or persuade a future Congress to revisit the issue.

Congress retains ownership of records entering the National Archives, so one day the legislature may decide to recall all archived information and make it available to the public.

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