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Jan. 6 committee chair Rep. Bennie Thompson discusses upcoming hearings

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BENNIE THOMPSON: The Select Committee to investigate the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol will be in order.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Chairman Bennie Thompson issued a warning as he gaveled his committee to order.

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THOMPSON: January 6 and the lies that led to insurrection have put 2 1/2 centuries of constitutional democracy at risk. The world is watching what we do here.

SIMON: Of course, these public hearings come after months of investigations behind closed doors. Chairman Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi, joins us. Mr. Chairman, thanks so much for being with us.

THOMPSON: Thank you for having me, Scott.

SIMON: You - there'll be hearings in the weeks ahead. You know who'll testify and much of what they'll say. What do you advise people to be on the lookout for?

THOMPSON: Well, first of all, it's the culmination of a lot of work that's been put in over the last year. We've talked to over a thousand witnesses. We have over 100,000 exhibits that we've collected in pursuit of finding the facts and circumstances around what brought about January 6. So our next hearing will talk about the big lie. It will look at the fact that former President Trump lost the election, he knew it, and he quickly exhausted all of his legal options in pursuit of challenging the election. But we'll also talk about those individuals involved in telling him, in more detail than hearing one did, why he lost and what the data reveal and how the president consistently ignored it and pushed the big lie, which, as you know, was not true.

SIMON: Mr. Chairman, I have to ask, is that an act of sedition to try and overturn the legal electoral process?

THOMPSON: Well, we will leave that up to the Justice Department. But we are concerned that time and time again, former President Trump was told that he had lost the election. His highest law enforcement official, former Attorney General Bill Barr, told him, other people told him, and he just refused to accept what his professional people had told him. And he started listening to a different group of people, as we'll show with some of the witnesses on Monday, in Monday's hearing. Those individuals did their civic duty. They said in no uncertain terms that the election was lost. We have a U.S. - former U.S. attorney in Georgia who will come forward, say he looked at it, other people. But the president just did not accept the fact that he'd lost the election.

SIMON: Mr. Chairman, do you expect to hear from witnesses who will testify or offer proof that former President Trump himself encouraged or directed or countenanced people to attack the U.S. Capitol before lawful electoral votes could be counted?

THOMPSON: Well, over the next few hearings, we will have shared with the public the fact that the president knew that some of the people coming to Washington had a history of violent behavior - the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers. As to whether or not he was directing them to do anything, we don't know. But the fact that, given the access to intelligence that the president normally would have - he would have been told the likely scenarios that existed with his invitation on bringing people to Washington on January 6. As you know, we are concerned that in his initial tweet inviting people to come, he said it would be wild. That's an unusual statement for any individual to make, especially the president of the United States at that time.

SIMON: A statement like it will be wild - does that indicate to you that he expected unrest? Do you have any proof of anyone in the Proud Boys...

THOMPSON: Well, we don't have any...

SIMON: Yeah, go ahead. Please, sir.

THOMPSON: Well, Scott, we don't have any proof, but we do have testimony on the record that those groups' membership - after that tweet and his comment to stand by, the membership increased threefold. So those subliminal messages had a detrimental impact on what was happening on January 6. So our committee - as I said, we've talked to a number of people, and we are concerned that the president, in the midst of knowing the potential, did not act responsibly in addressing it. He encouraged people at the speech to go to the Capitol. Now, you understand that people were invited to come to Washington for the rally, and he weaponized that crowd during his speech to go to the Capitol. Now, the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers didn't come to the rally. They came to the Capitol. They looked and scouted out what was going on. And so by the time former President Trump directed the crowd to go to the Capitol, those individuals already knew where the vulnerabilities existed at the Capitol.

SIMON: Representative Thompson, thanks so much.

THOMPSON: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.