Since Rep. Liz Cheney accepted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s offer to serve as the vice chair of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, the Wyoming Republican has exerted a remarkable level of control over much of the committee’s public and private work.
Jan. 6 panel staff angry at Cheney for focusing too much of report on Trump
Now, less than six weeks before the conclusion of the committee’s work, Cheney’s influence over the committee’s final report has rankled many current and former committee staff. They are angered and disillusioned by Cheney’s push to focus the report primarily on former president Donald Trump, and have bristled at the committee morphing into what they have come to view as the vehicle for the outgoing Wyoming lawmaker’s political future.
Fifteen former and current staffers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, expressed concerns that important findings unrelated to Trump will not become available to the American public.
The feuding brings to the fore a level of public acrimony within the Jan. 6 committee that previously had largely played out behind the scenes, as public attention was focused on a series of blockbuster public hearings focused on Trump’s role fomenting the attack.
Several committee staff members were floored earlier this month when they were told that a draft report would focus almost entirely on Trump and the work of the committee’s Gold Team, excluding reams of other investigative work.
Potentially left on the cutting room floor, or relegated to an appendix, were many revelations from the Blue Team — the group that dug into the law enforcement and intelligence community’s failure to assess the looming threat and prepare for the well-forecast attack on the Capitol. The proposed report would also cut back on much of the work of the Green Team, which looked at financing for the Jan. 6 attack, and the Purple Team, which examined militia groups and extremism.
“We all came from prestigious jobs, dropping what we were doing because we were told this would be an important fact-finding investigation that would inform the public,” said one former committee staffer. “But when [the committee] became a Cheney 2024 campaign, many of us became discouraged.”
Cheney spokesman Jeremy Adler issued a blistering statement Wednesday to The Washington Post in response to the criticisms.
“Donald Trump is the first president in American history to attempt to overturn an election and prevent the peaceful transfer of power,” Adler said. “So, damn right Liz is ‘prioritizing’ understanding what he did and how he did it and ensuring it never happens again.”
Adler added, “Some staff have submitted subpar material for the report that reflects long-held liberal biases about federal law enforcement, Republicans, and sociological issues outside the scope of the Select Committee’s work. She won’t sign onto any ‘narrative’ that suggests Republicans are inherently racist or smears men and women in law enforcement, or suggests every American who believes God has blessed America is a white supremacist.”
Tim Mulvey, the select committee’s spokesman, said in a separate statement that the panel’s “historic, bipartisan fact-finding effort speaks for itself, and that won’t be changed by a handful of disgruntled staff who are uninformed about many parts of the committee’s ongoing work.”
“They’ve forgotten their duties as public servants and their cowardice is helping Donald Trump and others responsible for the violence of January 6th,” Mulvey’s statement continued. “All nine committee members continue to review materials and make contributions to the draft report, which will address every key aspect of the committee’s investigation. Decisions about the contents of the report ultimately rest with the committee’s bipartisan membership, not the staff.”
The internal tensions over Cheney’s role also stand in contrast to the widespread public praise from many Democrats and even some Republicans, who have hailed her for standing up to Trump and defending democratic norms. Cheney, under siege by Trump and ostracized by the GOP, was defeated in the Wyoming primary this summer and will leave office in January.
Some staffers noted that the mission of the committee — as spelled out in the resolution authorizing its formation — was to discover what political forces and intelligence and security failures allowed the U.S. Capitol Police and its partners to be so overwhelmed and ill-prepared for the attack and to ensure that such an event could not happen again. Leaving any relevant information out of the final report would ignore important lessons for the future and issues that will outlive Trump, they argued.
But in the wake of an NBC News story earlier this month that the final report would not include much of the panel’s work not directly related to Trump, lawmakers on the committee are now reassessing what to include in the final draft and also eyeing different ways to publicly share more of the investigators’ work outside of the report. That could include sharing findings on the committee’s website or releasing internal transcripts.
A senior committee staffer told staff in a virtual conference meeting two weeks ago that none of the work done by people serving on teams other than the Gold Team that didn’t focus on Trump would be included in the final report.
“Everybody freaked out,” the staffer said.
The announcement, this staffer argued, was premature and based on negative reactions from lawmakers who concluded that draft chapters written by non-Gold investigative teams should not be included because they were either too long or too academic in nature. However, the staffer said, while committee members disliked those chapters, they were open to including some of that material in a more concise or streamlined form.
“It’s not a class project — everyone doesn’t get a participation prize,” said a senior Democratic aide. “The Green Team has chapters and chapters of good work, but the problem is they’ve learned a lot of great stuff about objectionable but completely legal things.”
Tensions among lawmakers on the committee are also high, with some members angry about information being shared with the press regarding internal discussions on what to include or exclude from the final report, according to people familiar with the mood on the committee. Some distrust has been sown between lawmakers and staff over the NBC News story, and some senior staff called complaints about Cheney from committee staff unprofessional — and said that ultimately, the members call the final shots.
“Ten years from now, most of us are going to think that the work of the committee has been the most important thing we’ve ever done in our careers, and I think it’s just very shortsighted to have these kinds of smaller, petty kind of complaints,” a senior committee staffer said.
People familiar with the committee’s work said Cheney has taken a far more hands-on role than Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), who is chairing the committee. She is said by multiple staffers to want the report to focus on Trump, and has pushed for the hearings to focus extensively on his conduct — and not what she views as other sideshows.
Two people familiar with the process argued that without Cheney’s guidance, the committee would not be on track to submit a cohesive final report by the end of the year. One of these people described some of the output from investigators as being “uneven.”
“They were headed for a worse version of the Mueller report, which nobody read — and Cheney knew that,” this person said.
Some staff vehemently objected to the characterization that some of the work product was weak or inconsistent, and countered that it’s long been clear that Cheney deprioritized findings that didn’t fit a specific narrative about Trump’s efforts to foment the insurrection.
Some of the disaffected staff have left in recent months, in part out of frustration that their work is not expected to get significant attention in the report, some of these people said. Cheney has been uninterested in such criticisms, reminding others that she is a member — and if other members have a problem with her work, they can approach her.
In recent days, some staffers have started directly lobbying other panel members to include the full set of findings in the final report, according to people familiar with the discussions. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), a member of the panel, said over the weekend during an interview with “Face the Nation” that the public would have access to “all the evidence, for good or ill” within the next month.
“Trump lit the fuse on all of this, but he is kind of irrelevant now — it doesn’t matter if he runs for president … Of course we want to stop Trump in any way possible, but we’ll still be facing these organized militia types or lone-wolf attackers in five to ten years,” said one committee staffer. “I don’t think it’s good for the committee or democracy at large if this entire final report is the case against Trump.”
Frustration with Cheney’s perceived heavy hand has been building since the committee started putting together the public hearings. While many staffers credit Cheney for the unparalleled success of the bombshell set of presentations made by the panel over the summer, some grew exasperated by her tactics.
Several staffers recalled Cheney’s unpopular initial mandate that witnesses who appeared before the committee for an interview or deposition must review their transcripts in person, rather than online. Staffers griped that Cheney’s orders would be a strain on the relationships that investigators had developed with witnesses, many of whom would have to travel across the country to review their transcript.
Eventually, one of the lawyers who worked closely with Cheney conveyed to her that she was jeopardizing the staff’s goodwill and convinced her to adjust the process. Other staff expressed irritation with Cheney’s last-minute decision-making, and being consistently left in the dark on major decisions until public announcements.
Some investigators were furious with the vice chair’s secrecy around former Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s appearance before the panel in June, according to former and current staff. Some staffers complained that the appearance caused unforced errors — such as Hutchinson’s uncorroborated claim of a tussle between Trump and a Secret Service officer — because Cheney did not give staff the opportunity to thoroughly vet the line of questioning and structure of the hearing.
A senior staffer argued that Cheney and other members were properly secretive about Hutchinson’s upcoming testimony in late June, and rightly concerned about staff leaks that could both unintentionally put her in danger and prematurely reveal her testimony before she gave it on live television. If details about the account Hutchinson planned to give were leaked, the staffer said, “more rabid Trump supporters might try to hurt her” and, less importantly, the power of her live testimony would be muted.
Lofgren defended Cheney in a statement: “No member of the Committee has worked harder than Liz Cheney. Our bipartisan efforts have led to what some have called the most effective set of congressional hearings in modern history. The Committee intends to release the evidence we have acquired so no element of our work will go unreported.”
Drew Hammill, spokesman for Pelosi, said in a statement Wednesday that Pelosi thanked Thompson and Cheney, and said the committee had been “successful” and had “deepened the public’s understanding.”
With House Republican control of the House coming in January, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and his staff are already preparing to conduct an examination of any evidence omitted from the final report that is more flattering or at least exculpatory about Trump’s actions leading up to the Jan. 6 assault, according to one Republican operative.
Lawyers familiar with witness testimony that was never aired said Jordan is preparing for the deep-dive he will lead as the likely chairman of the House Judiciary Committee as he seeks to portray the investigation as a political hit-job that focused on a predetermined narrative to “blame Trump,” and ignored other facts that conflicted with that storyline.
The committee is well aware that Republicans are eager to get their hands on whatever materials become available to them when the House GOP conference takes back the majority.
“I expect them to do a document dive and cherry pick from the documents,” said a staffer working on the final report. “I have 100 percent confidence they’re going to do that — I just don’t think it’s as exculpatory as they’re going to make it out to be.”