Two days before the one-year anniversary of the bloody Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, the House committee investigating the insurrection announced its interest in speaking to Fox News personality Sean Hannity about the attack and its causes.
"The Select Committee has immense respect for the First Amendment to our Constitution, freedom of the press, and the rights of Americans to express their political opinions freely," Chair Bennie Thompson, a Democrat, and Vice Chair Liz Cheney, a Republican, wrote in their joint appeal to Hannity on Tuesday.
"At the same time, we have a solemn responsibility to investigate fully the facts and circumstances of these events in order to inform our legislative recommendations. Our nation cannot let anything like January 6th ever happen again. Thus, we write today to seek your voluntary cooperation on a specific and narrow range of factual questions."
The panel said it was in receipt of "dozens of text messages" between Hannity and key Trump White House figures in the days and weeks surrounding Jan. 6, including messages between Hannity and then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
Newly revealed text messages from Hannity
According to the letter from Thompson and Cheney, on Dec. 31, 2020, Hannity, a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump, texted Meadows a message that said, in part: "We can't lose the entire WH counsels office [sic]. I do NOT see January 6 happening the way he is being told."
"Among many other things," Thompson and Cheney wrote, "this text suggests that you had knowledge of concerns by President Trump's White House Counsel's Office regarding the legality of the former President's plans for January 6th. These facts are directly relevant to our inquiry."
The lawmakers say Hannity also sent and received a number of messages the night before the attack, including one that purportedly said: "[I'm] very worried about the next 48 hours."
Thompson and Cheney added: "It also appears from other text messages that you may have had a conversation directly with President Trump on the evening of January 5th (and perhaps at other times) regarding his planning for January 6th."
‘He can't mention the election again’
A text message from Hannity to Meadows had already been publicly revealed.
Prior to a select committee vote to refer Meadows for contempt of Congress charges, Cheney read a series of text messages sent to Meadows the day of the riot, including one each from Hannity and two other prominent Fox News hosts, imploring the president to denounce the Capitol bedlam.
As the melee was ongoing, Hannity purportedly wrote to Meadows: "Can he make a statement? Ask people to leave the Capitol."
Those texts were handed over to the panel as part of a trove of documents Meadows relinquished last year, prior to his refusal to further cooperate with the committee.
"These text messages leave no doubt," Cheney said last month, referencing the messages reviewed by the committee. "According to the record, multiple Fox News hosts knew the president needed to act immediately. They texted Mr. Meadows."
In its Tuesday letter to Hannity, the panel makes further note of dialogue seemingly had between Hannity and Trump following the riot, in which, ahead of the Jan. 20 inauguration of Joe Biden, the Fox News host sought to counsel those within the Trump orbit on how best to triage the former president's badly bruised image.
"Guys, we have a clear path to land the plane in 9 days," Hannity wrote on Jan. 10 to Meadows and Rep. Jim Jordan. "He can't mention the election again. Ever. I did not have a good call with him today. And worse, I'm not sure what is left to do or say, and I don't like not knowing if it's truly understood. Ideas?"
Trump has continued to lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Jordan, an Ohio Republican and longtime Trump acolyte, has also received a request to address the Democratic-led House committee.
As of now, the panel has requested Hannity's voluntary cooperation. But if the rightwing political commentator does not appear of his own accord, the committee could seek a subpoena to compel his cooperation, as it has done for other figures connected to the Jan. 6 insurrection, including conservative host Alex Jones.
Following the earlier disclosure of his text with Meadows, Hannity said on his show that he had condemned the violence at the Capitol, and wondered where the outrage was about his private messages being made public.
Trump was slated to hold a news conference at his Florida resort on Thursday, the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack, but called it off on Tuesday.
Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.
Your support matters.
You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.