9 accomplishments of the Jan. 6 hearings so far

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9 ways the Jan. 6 hearings are having an impact, from deflating Trump to squeezing Merrick Garland

Over eight hearings spanning more than 16 hours, the congressional panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol presented sworn testimony from 20 live witnesses, video evidence drawn from its body of more than 1,000 interviews, newly uncovered video and audio recordings of the attack, and documentary evidence pulled from the committee’s review of more than 140,000 records.

Millions of Americans have tuned in to watch the hearings. Now that the panel, formally known as the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, has announced it’s going dark for a few weeks before resuming hearings in September, some are asking, “What has all of this accomplished?”

A glance at the state of things might suggest little has changed: Trump supporters still support Donald Trump. The Department of Justice has announced no new charges of high-ranking officials. The ex-president’s congressional enablers are still in office — and lobbing attacks against efforts to account for the events of Jan. 6, 2021. And what’s a congressional investigation supposed to accomplish, anyway?

It’s a great question. Here are key areas in which the hearings are having an impact — good, bad or neutral, depending perhaps on what one believed going into the hearings:

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Helping prevent another Jan. 6

The committee has yet to issue formal recommendations, but they’re expected to suggest reforms to law, regulation and practices to enhance security from domestic terror threats, improve timely response to attacks on government facilities, secure the Capitol itself, and hopefully strengthen and clarify federal election law.

Efforts by Trump and his associates to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election centered on exploiting the vagueness in the Electoral Count Act, an 1887 law which guides the mechanical process of counting the Electoral College votes.

Prominent conservative legal thinker J. Michael Luttig testified at length in the committee’s third hearing, explaining that reforming the Electoral Count Act is “at this moment in history an important work in progress that needs to take place.”

While efforts by Democrats to pass legislation safeguarding the nation’s election system foundered in 2021, lawmakers now say they are approaching a bipartisan consensus on a minimal set of reforms that would, among other things, clarify the vice president’s role in counting the votes is “solely ministerial.”

Boosting pressure on the Justice Department to bring charges

A congressional committee can’t charge anyone with breaking the law. But the principle of “if you see something, say something” definitely applies. The panel has been laying out evidence against Trump and apparent key enablers, like former chief of staff Mark Meadows, would-be Attorney General Jeffrey Clark, or erstwhile constitutional scholar John Eastman.

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More and more Americans are seeing evidence of possible wrongdoing, which can pressure Attorney General Merrick Garland, the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, to act.

That may be happening: In June, DOJ requested the committee provide speedier access to interview transcripts stemming from its investigative work. Recent reporting also indicates DOJ’s investigation into the “fake elector” scheme that was part of the effort to overturn the election results.

Attorney General Merrick Garland has increasingly been pressed to answer questions about DOJ’s plans to advance probes that could hold Trump accountable.

“No person is above the law in this country. I can’t say it any more clearly than that,” Garland said recently. “There is nothing in the principles of prosecution which prevent us from investigating anyone — anyone — who is criminally responsible for an attempt to undo a democratic election.”

Bolstering challenges to service by politicians involved in Jan. 6

The 14th Amendment bars people from serving in elected office if they took part in efforts to overthrow the government. Challenges under that provision go through state courts. Challenges to sitting Republican lawmakers have not succeeded; however, they also have not had the benefit of the full trove of evidence the committee has accumulated (and claims it’s still gathering).

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Section 3 of the 14th Amendment — part of the Reformation Amendments enacted following the Civil War — bars officials who “having previously taken an oath … to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection” from ever holding office in the future.

Members of the committee appear to have alluded to this provision several times in their opening and closing statements at the hearings.

“Donald Trump made a purposeful choice to violate his oath of office, to ignore the ongoing violence against law enforcement, to threaten our constitutional order,” Committee Chair Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said at the closing of the eighth hearing on July 21. “And every American must consider this: Can a president who is willing to make the choices Donald Trump made during the violence of Jan. 6 ever be trusted with any position of authority in our great nation again?”

Clouding Trump’s political future

It’s impossible to know the extent to which the panel’s findings weaken Trump’s chances to win a second presidential term. But it’s significant enough that Republicans are begging Trump not to begin his candidacy right now.

We have seen independent voters shift opinion away from Trump. Also telling, powerful conservative figures and institutions have begun to challenge Trump publicly.


The Republican National Committee recently said it would not pay Trump’s legal bills if he entered the 2024 presidential race. Right-wing media outlets controlled by Rupert Murdoch have published editorials critical of the ex-president. On Thursday, GOP power broker Karl Rove took to the Wall Street Journal op-ed page to question Trump’s stewardship of $120 million in political donations from his supporters.

Overall, Trump’s reputation has taken a hit since the hearings began: Trump was viewed unfavorably by 51.2 percent of Americans on June 8, the day before the first public hearing. As of Wednesday, he was viewed unfavorably by 55.7 percent of Americans, according to a RealClearPolitics average of national polls.

Subtly promoting Mike Pence as a GOP presidential alternative to Trump

The hearings have highlighted Mike Pence’s “presidential” mien — portraying him as stoic and calm as well as making decisions in a crisis, coordinating with the Cabinet, thinking on his feet. These traits may not resonate with MAGA voters, but for many independents and a few Republicans, this could be persuasive.

If there is a lane for a non-MAGA conservative in the 2024 GOP presidential primary — that’s a big if — Pence could be more competitive as a result of the hearings.

The hearings likely have made Pence more palatable to independents and Democrats. In his opening statement for the committee’s third hearing, Thompson, a senior liberal lawmaker, noted that he and Pence, a stalwart conservative, “don’t agree on much” before heaping rich praise on the former vice president for his actions on Jan. 6.

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“We are fortunate for Mr. Pence’s courage,” Thompson said. “On Jan. 6, our democracy came dangerously close to catastrophe. That courage put him in tremendous danger. When Mike Pence made it clear that he wouldn’t give in to Donald Trump’s scheme, Donald Trump turned the mob on him, a mob that was chanting ‘hang Mike Pence,’ a mob that had built a hangman’s gallows just outside the Capitol. Thanks in part to Mike Pence, our democracy withstood Donald Trump’s scheme and the violence of Jan. 6.”

Pence recently announced the forthcoming publication of a memoir — a common item on any pre-presidential campaign to-do list — and has struck a campaign-like tone in recent speaking engagements.

“I truly do believe that elections are about the future,” Pence said in an appearance before the Young America’s Foundation’s National Conservative Student Conference in Washington on Tuesday, hours before Trump returned to D.C. to give his first public remarks in the city since leaving office.

Boosting the profiles of committee members — including two anti-Trump Republicans.

The hearings are providing free national network TV airtime — in some cases hours’ worth of prime-time attention — to members of the committee.

This may be of immediate benefit only to Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., the only member running competitively against a challenger for reelection. She raised $1.88 million in the second quarter of 2022, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the best fundraising quarter of her political career. Other Democrats are in safe seats.

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And in the near term, it won’t do much for the careers of the panel’s two Republican members: Vice Chair Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., is running so far behind her challenger it’s considered unlikely she will catch up, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois isn’t running for reelection.

Whispers abound that both Cheney and Kinzinger have their eyes on higher office. Both have been questioned about whether they may run for president on an anti-Trump platform, and neither has ruled it out.

Reinvigorating congressional oversight

The conviction last week of Steve Bannon for refusing to comply with a committee subpoena is the first of its sort in memory. The committee has pressed to enforce its subpoenas and enforce contempt laws when necessary. That’s in stark contrast to other congressional committees, which often let matters drop in the interest of time and expediency.

Americans are accustomed to watching members of Congress use oversight hearings as an opportunity to stage attention-grabbing scenes that will turn into TV news sound bites and to engage in partisan bickering.

Congressional oversight experts and former congressional investigative staffers say these hearings have shown viewers something else: a cogently presented set of facts, presented by a bipartisan panel of lawmakers behaving collegially in support of a common fact-finding mission.

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“The hearings have provided a meticulously crafted narrative of the events that led to — and took place on — Jan. 6, 2021,” Claire Leavitt, visiting assistant professor of political science and policy studies at Grinnell College, wrote in the Conversation.

Exposing the role of the far-right House Freedom Caucus

The work of the committee has drawn a harsh spotlight on more than a dozen sitting Republican members of Congress, most of them members or allies of the House Freedom Caucus, in helping orchestrate Trump’s attempts to overturn the election.

Freedom Caucus members participated in a Dec. 21, 2020, White House meeting in which at least 11 lawmakers discussed efforts to overturn the election results, helped connect Trump with lawyers who were key to the efforts and helped spread false information about the electoral results, according to testimony and records obtained by the committee.

Bringing accountability

To date, the Jan. 6 committee is the best effort to collect the facts around who was involved in planning and executing the events of Jan. 6, which saw the most aggressive effort to overturn a presidential election in over a century, as well as the first serious violence in the Capitol for decades.

Americans have seen a pretty long string of Trump scandals that appeared criminal yet did not result in significant accountability for the former president. Recall the hush-money payment to Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign that landed his former lawyer Michael Cohen in prison, or actions during the Mueller investigation into Russian electoral interference that more than 400 former officials said would have resulted in obstruction of justice were he not president at the time. And of course two impeachment efforts against Trump — one for allegedly requesting a quid pro quo from a foreign power and one for his role in allegedly inciting a mob that attacked the United States — both resulted in acquittal in the Senate.

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In a March ruling stemming from civil litigation connected to the committee’s investigation, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter wrote that the court found “it more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021.”

Garnering a comment like that from a judge in a civil case is hardly a criminal conviction — but it’s more than previous efforts can show.

Thanks to Lillian Barkley for copy editing this article.

  • Steve Reilly
    Steve Reilly

    Investigative Reporter

    Steve Reilly is an investigative reporter for Grid focusing on threats to democracy.

  • Justin Rood
    Justin Rood

    Investigations Editor

    Justin Rood is the investigations editor for Grid, overseeing our team of award-winning investigative and data reporters.