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"It's a big ask": Jan. 6 hearings begin as public interest wanes, cases delayed

Congressional Investigation Into Jan. 6 Attack Goes Prime Time
Congressional Investigation Into Jan. 6 Attack Goes Prime Time 02:50

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, took place more than 1,000 miles from the Twin Cities, but a special congressional committee is hoping the riots still reverberate in the hearts and minds of voters in Minnesota and beyond.

"It's unique, because it's a bracing reminder of what happened on January 6 - not just on that day, but in the weeks prior," Robert Costa, CBS News chief election and campaign correspondent, told WCCO. "This was a legal and political crusade by then-President Donald Trump to try to block the certification of then President-Elect Joe Biden's victory."

The House select committee investigating the attack is made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans -- Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) - both of whom have been essentially excommunicated from the GOP caucus.

In a CBS News interview on Sunday with Costa, Cheney said she's confident the hearings will capture the attention of the American public.

"What [Cheney] said she wants is for people to understand the political system they live in, the everyday American democracy, is under threat, has been tested by this attack, it's been tested by President Trump, and it could be tested again," Costa added. "What was going on in terms of President Trump calling state officials trying to get elections changed in different states, to hold onto power, what was the extent of that. We will see if they have new information on that as well."

The committee chair, Rep. Bennie Thompson, said last week that lawmakers plan to use a "combination of witnesses, exhibits, things that we have through the tens of thousands of exhibits we've [...] looked at, as well as the hundreds of witnesses we deposed or just talked to in general."

The committee has interviewed more than 1,000 individuals, gathered more than 140,000 documents and received nearly 500 "substantive" tips on its tip line. Members have spent nearly a year reviewing documents and hearing testimony from people ranging from former Trump officials to Capitol police to riot defendants.

"As a reporter, I only have a notepad, a pen and a camera to try to get to the truth," Costa explained. "This committee has additional tools, most notably subpoena power."

More than 800 people arrested, including 8 from Minnesota

While the committee has focused its investigation on former President Donald Trump and his inner circle, federal investigators have simultaneously pursued thousands of suspects.

"There were body cameras, there were surveillance cameras, there were people actually recording their own criminal acts," Erica MacDonald, the former U.S. Attorney for Minnesota, explained to WCCO. "All of that digital evidence coming into play is an insurmountable amount of evidence."

So far, that evidence has led to the arrest of at least 862 people, including eight from Minnesota and nine from Wisconsin.

"As prosecutors, our job is to make sure that we are taking each case individually," MacDonald said. "We are not lumping people together. We are making appropriate and careful consideration of what they did and whether they should be held accountable and to what extent they should be held accountable."

Among the 17 suspects from both states, seven have entered plea deals while 10 cases remain pending.

According to MacDonald, the sheer volume of evidence is actually delaying the investigation even though the evidence is so helpful in tracking down the perpetrators.

"With all that evidence someone has to review it and that slows things down," she said. "This is a tremendous undertaking for the government in this case. This is the biggest investigation of its kind."

Adding to the challenges is that federal agents - and their local partners - are stretched thin by their growing case load that has nothing to do with the Capitol.

"We're seeing a spike in violent crime we haven't seen in very, very long time in our major cities. We're seeing carjackings and assaults in broad daylight, so we have to make certain we're not just focused on one matter but we're doing everything we can to address that spike in violent crime."

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