The Final Word
With its expiration date of Jan. 3 looming, the committee spent its final months in a frenzy of activity occasionally marred by bitter contentiousness. Cheney, unsurprisingly, was at the center of the conflicts. One point of disagreement was over her insistence that the committee make criminal referrals of Trump; John Eastman, the lawyer who advised Trump that Pence could overturn the election; and others to the Justice Department, which initially struck Lofgren as an empty symbolic gesture, until Thompson stepped in and helped form a consensus around Cheney’s position.
Far more controversial internally was Cheney’s adamant position that the committee’s final report focus primarily on Trump’s misconduct, while marginalizing the roles of violent domestic actors, their financial organizers and their sympathizers in law enforcement. Informed of this decision in early November, current and former staff members anonymously vented their outrage to news outlets. Some members aligned themselves with the dismayed staff, while other members agreed with Cheney that some of the chapters drafted by different aides did not measure up to the committee’s standards. Still, it seemed excessive to some on the committee when Cheney’s spokesperson claimed to The Washington Post on Nov. 23 that some of the staff members submitting draft material for the report were promoting a viewpoint “that suggests Republicans are inherently racist.”
Senior staff members had resigned under less than amicable circumstances throughout the committee’s tenure. The senior technical adviser and former Republican congressman Denver Riggleman left for another job after several committee members suspected him of leaking material to the news media (which he denies having done). In September, the former federal prosecutor Amanda Wick and others left over disagreements about the committee’s direction. And in November, similar disgruntlement compelled Candyce Phoenix, who led the Purple Team investigating domestic extremists, to step back from her duties even as the final report was nearing its closing stages.
The writing of the report continued to be a mess. There was great confusion about how the report would be written and what role different people would play in putting it together. After months of dysfunction and infighting, Thomas Joscelyn, a writer brought on board by Cheney who at one point was told he would not be working on the draft after all, ended up submitting drafts that would constitute significant portions of the report. The final product, however, was a group project, prompting concerns that it would read like one.
Amid these tensions, one factor helped galvanize the committee during its final days of working together. Four of its nine members were either defeated during the 2022 midterms (Cheney and Luria) or decided to retire from Congress (Kinzinger, whose district had been redrawn to favor Democrats, and Murphy). As December came and the Washington offices of those four departing members were stripped of their furnishings to make way for new occupants, the final duty they discharged was that report: a roughly 450,000-word document, which would be posted on the committee’s website. Like every committee report before it, the text would be sent over to the U.S. Government Publishing Office on North Capitol Street to be printed, featuring colorful graphics and engaging fonts not typically found in a government publication — a final appeal to a larger audience that began in earnest when the committee asked James Goldston to assemble his production team in May 2022.
How many would ever read the document, and be convinced by the evidence it held, would be unknowable, but also beside the point. The Government Publishing Office is a hoary federal institution that was created by a congressional resolution in 1860 and began operation in 1861, after Lincoln’s inauguration and just before the country descended into civil war. It printed the Watergate White House transcripts in 1974 and the Sept. 11 Commission Report in 2004. Soon it would also place the Jan. 6 committee and its findings in the American historical record, as the lasting artifact of a congressional inquiry premised on the belief that if democracy was sacred, then so was the duty to investigate an attack on it. “The Congress had the highest obligation to conduct these hearings,” Judge Luttig would say of the committee’s efforts. “And the hearings themselves have been historic, and perhaps never to be replicated.”
Robert Draper is a contributing writer for the magazine. He is the author of, most recently, “Weapons of Mass Delusion: When the Republican Party Lost Its Mind.”
Philip Montgomery is a photographer whose current work chronicles the fractured state of America. His new monograph of photography, “American Mirror,” was published earlier this year.