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Why an ‘uphill battle’ awaits lawmakers investigating Jan. 6 insurrection

The committee investigating the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol has not yet decided on a timeline to complete its work. We take a look at its investigation with Seamus Hughes, a counterterrorism expert with the program on extremism at George Washington University. He previously worked in the National Counterterrorism Center, and as a staffer on the Senate homeland security committee.

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  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The committee has not yet decided on a timeline to complete its work.

    But let's still talk about what's ahead. What does this panel need to do and what questions are still unanswered about January 6?

    Seamus Hughes is a counterterrorism expert with the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. He previously worked for the National Counterterrorism Center and the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

    Seamus, I know you watched the hearing. As our viewers just saw, it was gripping. I even saw Capitol Police officers watching on their phones on Capitol Hill.

    But I'm wondering, what was new to you?

  • Seamus Hughes, George Washington University:

    I don't know if there is anything new in terms of information.

    What was new is telling a story, right? And that's the goal of a first hearing. What is the story you're trying to get after? And that is, this was not just simply a peaceful protest, right?

    You had these four officers all in their dress uniforms talking about that day, right, talking about being violently attacked by a crowd, by people saying bigoted things to them, chairs being thrown at them, a mob coming through, right? And that's what you want to get to.

    You talk about the day. You talk the emotions of the day, and then you get to the facts in the second and third hearings.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Talking about those facts, what exactly do you hope this committee is able to shed light on? What's important to get out here for this committee?

  • Seamus Hughes:

    So, if I'm a congressional staffer on this committee, what I'm doing tonight is not resting on my laurels.

    I'm writing oversight letters right now to departments and agencies, dozens of them. I need documents. I need subpoenas. I need to know what happened, right? Why did the National Guard — why was it delayed? Did the FBI issue a national intelligence bulletin to the state and local field? Was there a lead-up at the Bureau about — of suspects on that day?

    What are the facts that we failed to know at that point? I mean, ideally, you're not looking for individual blame in these types of investigations. You're looking for systemic issues, right? What are the things you can address through legislation, through resources to get to the heart of what happened on January 6 to prevent the next January 6?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    A lot of those groups you mentioned right there, that's — those are Cabinet agencies controlled by the president and the executive branch.

    You know as well as anyone Congress has a hard time getting documents from the executive branch. And we're talking about Trump era documents. First, how important are documents, do you think, in this particular investigation? And how hard is it going to be for Congress to get them?

  • Seamus Hughes:

    It's going to be an uphill battle, right?

    No matter whether you're a Republican or Democratic administration, no one wants to be the subject of investigation, right? And that includes the departments and agencies. They're not going to willingly hand over 302s, the investigative documents from the FBI. They're not going to willingly hand over DOD memos, right?

    And so it's going to be you have to fight them tooth and nail to get those things. And that's why the first hearing is so important, right? The first hearing sets the stage and ratchets up the pressure to get those documents, saying, this is an important thing. This is a serious effort. And so you need to give us these things.

    And what usually happens to these investigations — and I have done a number of them in my career — is, there's stonewalling, right? There's a dance that starts. You go back and forth with departments and agencies and say, I want everything you have got. And they say no. And they say no again, and they say no again.

    And you keep adding the pressure. You do interviews. You do op-eds. You push them to the point where they do give you documents. And the documents only tell part of the story, right? What's important is the context between the black and white.

    And that's where the role of interviews are, right, so, doing the briefings with the FBI or Department of Defense or others, but also be willing to get on a red-eye plane and end up in a small town in Middle America and interview a source that hasn't talked before, right, getting the context behind that electronic communication that came from a field office from Norfolk down to D.C.

    What were they thinking at that time, right. These are the type of things that it's a long, hard slog. And that's why you don't see the first hearing being government officials talking, right? You see these police officers, because you don't want to bring the government officials until you know all the facts.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In the last minute or so that we have left, bring us up to speed on where this government is right now, our government, with extremism, and especially racist white supremacist groups the FBI has named and also the groups that still want to reject the election.

    Where are we? What's the danger right now?

  • Seamus Hughes:

    Right now, they have had about 550 people have been arrested as it relates to January 6.

    And they come from a smattering of different groups, from the Oath Keepers, the militias, to the Proud Boys, the general white supremacists, individuals drawn by the conspiracies, and things like that.

    But this hasn't happened in a vacuum. The last six months, the Biden administration's released a new domestic terrorism strategy, the first time they had ever done that. We're seeing FBI agents who used to work international terrorism cases getting moved on to white supremacy cases.

    You're seeing a plus-up of resources. Assistant U.S. attorneys are prosecuting cases they never had before. And so you're basically seeing a complete sea change when it comes to counterextremism programs in this country.

    In the past, understandably so, focused on international terrorism, but now they're focusing inward on domestic extremism.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Very important information.

    Seamus Hughes with George Washington University, thank you very much.

  • Seamus Hughes:

    Thank you very much.

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