The Republican chairman of the House subcommittee examining last year’s Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection hearings said last week that some of the evidence gathered for the inquiry wasn’t preserved.
Though some Republicans and former President Trump have jumped on the statement as a sign the House Jan. 6 select committee did something wrong, the rules and standards of what is preserved following a congressional investigation are loose and subject to the interpretation of each new Congress.
Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) chairman of the House Administration Subcommittee on Oversight told Fox News on Tuesday that the House Jan. 6 select committee did not adequately preserve documents, data and video depositions — including communications it had with President Biden‘s administration — and failed to provide any evidence that it looked into Capitol Hill security failures on the day of the insurrection. Loudermilk’s spokesman did not respond to a request for comment from The Times.
On the Truth Social platform Wednesday, Trump falsely stated that “The January 6th Unselect Committee got rid of EVERYTHING! Discarded, Deleted, Thrown Out. A Flagrant Violation of the law. They had so much to hide, and now that I have Subpoena Power, they didn’t want to get caught. They knew EXACTLY what they were doing. AN EGREGIOUS CRIMINAL ACT & BLATANT DISREGARD OF THE LAW! Can you imagine if I would have done such a thing???.”
That is not accurate. Much of the committee’s work was made public through an 845-page, eight-chapter report, several televised hearings and about 180 released transcripts and interviews.
Loudermilk himself alleged only that the information his subcommittee has is incomplete, not that it was all destroyed.
“We’ve got lots of depositions, we’ve got lots of subpoenas, we’ve got video and other documents provided through subpoenas by individuals,” he told Fox News.
Possession of the massive trove of evidence collected by the committee was long expected to remain an issue on Capitol Hill once the panel’s work was done. The select committee’s 18-month investigation is believed to be among the most extensive probes in congressional history, but much of it was done behind closed doors, so the full extent of what was collected is unknown.
Committee staff spoke with more than 1,000 people for the investigation, which resulted in potentially millions of pages of depositions, cellphone and text records, emails, staff notes and analysis by outside organizations.
Official records are typically handed over to a successor committee, then to the House clerk, and eventually to the National Archives, where they’re shielded by law from public view for at least 30 years. Sensitive information can be held back for up to 50 years.
When Republicans took control of the House in January, they included something new in the rules for the 118th Congress: an order that all documents that were retained from the House Jan. 6 select committee go to the House Administration Committee. All materials already sent to the National Archives were to be returned.
House Rule VII, which outlines preservation of House records at the end of each two-year Congress and has been used by nearly every Congress including the current one, loosely defines what has to be preserved. It says that committees should preserve an “official, permanent record of the committee (including any record of a legislative, oversight, or other activity of such committee or a subcommittee thereof).”
What committees consider an official record have varied widely over the years. For some, the definition includes hearing transcripts, official correspondence and drafts of legislation. Other committees might include staff notes and internal memos. Some preserve only their final report and notices of hearings that were held.
Then-House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), who is now speaker, sent Select Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) a letter in December demanding the preservation of “all records collected and transcripts of testimony taken during your investigation” in accordance with House rules, but he had no authority to enforce it.
Because the committee disbanded moments before the new Congress controlled by Republicans was sworn in, their new rule ordering preservation of “any noncurrent records” from the committee could only apply to records that had already been transferred to a successor committee or to the National Archives. In essence, the Republicans couldn’t order the Jan. 6 select committee to turn over anything because it no longer existed.
Loudermilk shared with Fox a series of letters he and Thompson exchanged this year. In a footnote from a July 7 letter, Thompson wrote that, consistent with guidance from the Office of the Clerk, “the Select Committee did not archive temporary committee records that were not elevated by the Committee’s actions, such as use in hearings or official publications, or those that did not further its investigative activities.”
Thompson also said the select committee was not obligated to archive all video recordings of transcribed interviews or depositions, but determined that written transcripts were sufficient under House Rule VII.
Trump and his legal team will get access to at least some materials, including potentially those that were not deemed official and saved for the National Archives. The select committee provided a trove of information in December to special counsel Jack Smith, who brought an indictment against Trump early this month on four felony criminal charges.
Smith said in a court filing Thursday that he is ready to turn over discovery materials in the case as soon as a protective order is in place, including “unredacted materials obtained from other governmental entities, including the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol.”
On Friday, prosecutor Thomas Windom said information not made public by the select committee but provided to the special counsel is among the information that would be marked sensitive in an effort to keep Trump and his legal team from disclosing it publicly during the trial.