US Capitol riot probe to hold public hearings in June

Riot gear from the US Capitol Police is ready inside the US Capitol in Washington, DC on September 17, 2021. (Photo: AFP)

The committee investigating the 2021 US Capitol assault plans to stage public hearings in June, it said Thursday, and release its findings at the height of the midterm election campaign later this year.

Across eight hearings, key witnesses interviewed by the congressional probe will testify publicly for the first time on the alleged plot that led to the January 6 insurrection as well as the events of the day itself.

"We'll tell the story about what happened," Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the House select committee probing the violence, told reporters.

"We will use a combination of witnesses, exhibits, things that we have through the tens of thousands of exhibits... as well as the hundreds of witnesses we deposed or just talked to in general."

The hearings are expected to make for blockbuster television -- potentially on a par with the Watergate hearings or Donald Trump's two impeachments -- as America relives minute by minute the day a mob of the defeated president's supporters stormed Congress to prevent the peaceful transfer of power to 2020 election winner Joe Biden.

The bench of seven Democrats and two Republicans will explore allegations that Trump inspired the violence through months of false claims about election fraud, as part of an illegal plot to stay in power.

Trump and his inner circle deny all accusations of wrongdoing, characterizing their election disinformation and alleged machinations to overturn the results as a good-faith attempt to clear up widespread corruption.

Trump's ultra-loyal Republican base argues that the investigation is a "witch hunt" to distract from rampant inflation and a burgeoning immigration crisis ahead of elections in November that could see the Democrats lose control of Congress.

- 'Ample evidence of criminality' -

The House of Representatives created the committee last July to investigate the riot, which led to the deaths of five people and the arrests of hundreds.

Trump had urged the assembled crowd to "fight like hell" before the mob marched on the Capitol and overran it in stunning scenes of mayhem.

Accused of inciting the attack, Trump was impeached for a historic second time.

He was acquitted by the US Senate but a federal judge ruled last month that he "more likely than not" engaged in criminal conduct with his efforts to overturn the election results.

The committee has conducted more than 900 depositions and interviews and received upwards of 100,000 documents.

Thompson declined to identify any of the witnesses who would be testifying but said the hearings would be a "mixture of some prime time and some regular" with the first taking place on June 9.

"We had hoped to do hearings even sooner than June but witnesses led to other witnesses, which led to other witnesses. It's kind of a nice problem to have on the one hand," panel member and House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff told MSNBC.

"But at some point, you've got to start presenting the information to the public."

Schiff said the hearings would take place against a background of "multiple lines of effort involving multiple players at the highest levels of our government to overturn the election."

"In some of these lines of effort, there is ample evidence of criminality, including criminality of the former president," he added.