key Jan. 6 documents could soon be locked up for decades

Just days before it disbands and loses control over the millions of pages of evidence it has gathered, the House select committee investigating on January 19. As of December 6, 2021, Insurrection has published transcripts of only 126 of the more than 1,000 interviews it conducted.

If the committee runs out of time, the largest collection of evidence about the attack could be lost: locked away by the National Archives for decades, or withheld from the public so as not to prejudice the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation into the attack , experts warn. .

“The absence of these documents is kind of a serious concern” for ensuring accountability and making sure the historical record is as accurate as possible, said Ryan Goodman, a law professor at New York University and co-founder of the website. of national security laws and policies Just. security

Committee spokesmen did not respond to several questions about what information the committee will be able to release before it adjourns Tuesday. After the committee is disbanded, its records will be turned over to a yet-to-be-determined successor committee, then to the House Clerk and finally to the National Archives, where they are expected to be protected from public view for at least 30 years. .

Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) promised at the committee’s final hearing in December. 19 to make public most of the non-sensitive material the panel had compiled. But the rate at which the information has been released has experts fearing the committee will not follow through on that vote.

“I hope they will be as public as they humanly can,” said Daniel Weiner, director of the Brennan Center’s Program on Elections and Government.

The investigation has been largely private, so the full scope of what the committee has amassed is still unclear, but the evidence that is known places the 18-month investigation among the largest and most complex ever completed by Congress. .

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

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

The pace of document releases “seems to be the result of administrative and management issues rather than a deliberate choice,” Goodman said. “In the scramble to complete their work near the end… they seem to be running out of time.”

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

The 4,285 citations in the final report, including 967 references to “Documents Filed with the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol,” give insight into the evidence the panel has, such as emails internal White House emails he received from the National Archives, notes on more than 100 informal witness interviews, and handwritten notes from senior Justice Department officials.

There are also quotes from text messages given by former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows before he stopped cooperating with the committee; internal Secret Service and Department of Defense communications; text messages and emails provided by witnesses; and video footage of key actors obtained from documentary crews.

Goodman fears the committee won’t release those records at all.

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

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

Susanne Grooms, a former Democratic investigator for the House Oversight and Reform Committee who worked on both of former President Trump’s impeachments, said committee staff were likely working to get as much information as possible and expected more communications before Republicans took control of the House on Tuesday.

“There’s probably a set of documents that they would release if they had the ability and could do it,” he said.

Staff are likely scrambling to organize files, determine where to move information and what to release to the public, and weighing whether to accept redaction requests from federal agencies, a time-consuming process.

“They are on the brink of the end of their time. They have to face a real challenge,” Grooms said. “I think they’ll make it to the end.”

Records not made public in the coming days could be shredded by the as-yet-unnamed successor committee and released in pieces, or, in the case of the committee’s official records, sent to the National Archives.

Once the committee’s records end up in the National Archives, it will be extremely difficult for the public to see them. House rules protect records donated to the National Archives from public view for a minimum of 30 years, and sensitive information is kept for 50 years.

Transparency advocates would then have two options: wait or convince a future Congress to revisit the issue.

Congress retains ownership of the records that go into the National Archives, so lawmakers could one day decide to retrieve any archived information and release it to the public.

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