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House panel pushing ahead on Jan. 6 investigation, despite resistance

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The House Select Committee on the January 6 attacks got underway in July, when members of the Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police force in Washington, D.C., testified in vivid detail about what they endured as an angry mob fought its way into the Capitol. Here was Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gunnell.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AQUILINO GUNNELL: For the first time, I was more afraid to work at the Capitol in my entire deployment to Iraq.

CHANG: Now, there have been other public hearings since then, and various details have spilled out occasionally, like when the House voted to hold former White House adviser Steve Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena. But for the most part, the committee's work has largely unfolded behind closed doors, and it's hard for Americans to get a full appreciation for what lawmakers are learning. Democratic Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi chairs the committee, and he joins us now.

Welcome.

BENNIE THOMPSON: Thank you for having me.

CHANG: All right. So the ultimate goal of your committee is to get to the bottom of what happened on January 6, so to understand why and how it happened, and I assume it's to keep it from happening again. But are you confident at this point that you can fully understand the why and the how?

THOMPSON: Well, again, thank you for having me. Let me say that we are fully committed to getting to the facts and circumstances that brought January 6 about. We have a fully staffed operation. We are issuing subpoenas, requests for documents and doing everything humanly and physically possible to get to the bottom of the facts. So we're working hard.

CHANG: That said, your committee has encountered a lot of resistance from people that you have called to testify. I mentioned Steve Bannon already, but former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows was supposed to testify earlier this month, as well as Kash Patel, who's a former Department of Defense official. Tell me, are you getting any closer to getting them to show up and answer your questions?

THOMPSON: Well, we are negotiating with those three individuals you named along with others. We have depositions scheduled for a number of people over the next two months. And we are doing our work. No one said it would be easy. And let me tell you, this is the work that we've been tasked to do. We are doing it. But believe me, for those individuals who tried to stop our democracy from doing constitutionally what they are required to do, this is hard work.

CHANG: Well, how many - let me ask you, Congressman, how many actual depositions has your committee been able to take so far? Any?

THOMPSON: Yes. We have taken a number of depositions. We have a number of depositions scheduled. We are on a weekly basis issuing additional subpoenas for documents as well as individuals to come before the committee. This is what we will probably be doing for the better part of this year and into next year, conceivably, to get the work done.

CHANG: Well, let's talk about another potential witness. You have said that nobody is off limits, including former President Trump. Has your committee decided on whether you will subpoena former President Trump?

THOMPSON: No, we have not at this point. But that statement that I made is absolutely true. Members of Congress, the former president of the United States - if, in fact, there's evidence that we feel is germane to our body of work, we will absolutely bring those individuals before our committee, either by a subpoena, in a hearing or a deposition to get the circumstances.

CHANG: Well, meanwhile...

THOMPSON: What we've seen the develop is a combination of activities by a number of people that we think contributed to what's called the Big Lie. And in order to make this an accurate statement and body of work, it's requiring a lot of in-depth review.

CHANG: Right. And meanwhile, the former president has filed a lawsuit against your committee and the National Archives. You've been personally named as a defendant in that lawsuit. They want to block the release of any records from the Trump administration relating to the Capitol insurrection. Can you talk about - in just the last 30 seconds that we have left, I'm so sorry, Congressman - how is that lawsuit impacting your work right now?

THOMPSON: Well, it's typical Donald Trump strategy. We will defend the lawsuit. We are in good standing in the lawsuit. The law is on our side. We'll have our day in court. So will former President Trump. And it will be up to the judge. But we feel very good.

CHANG: That is Democrat Bennie Thompson of Mississippi.

Thank you very much for joining us today.

THOMPSON: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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