When Adam Kinzinger came to Congress in 2011, the 32-year-old Air Force vet was considered a rising star in the GOP. Today he’s persona non grata within his own party. The Illinois lawmaker, among the few House Republicans who have been deeply critical of former President Donald Trump, is one of only two on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Over the course of eight public hearings this summer, the Jan. 6 committee has painted a devastating picture of Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election, leading multiple former federal prosecutors to say that the former president is at greater risk of criminal prosecution than ever before. The panel plans to continue its probe and will hold at least two new hearings in September, around the time it will release its preliminary report sharing its recommendations for how to prevent a similar event from happening in the future.
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In the meantime, Kinzinger says, committee members will keep their work in front of the public by releasing videos of testimony that didn’t make it into the hearings. The panel released one such video on Monday, showing how, on the day after the attack, Trump refused to call on the Justice Department to press charges against those who stormed the Capitol.
In an interview with TIME, Kinzinger—who is not running for re-election—discusses what he thinks the committee has already accomplished and where it will go from here. These excerpts from the interview have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Do you think the hearings so far have been successful?
I think the hearings have been more successful than I had even hoped for, much less imagined. When you go into this, you underestimate what people don’t know. The assumption is everybody knows all the details, or most of them, and can put the story together. But when we laid out not just what happened on Jan. 6, but what led up to Jan. 6, it opened a lot of people’s eyes. Obviously, the production side of it was done in a way that I think made it understandable and brought it to life.
Some people have said they think the hearings have damaged Trump politically. Do you agree? And was that a goal of the committee?
That wasn’t a goal. To be honest with you, when all this started, I didn’t think there was a chance he was going to run again anyway. I have a different view now. But I do think it’s damaged him. That doesn’t mean that he can’t be the Republican nominee in 2024—and it doesn’t mean that he can’t win. But you can just see by his reaction. One of my old email addresses is signed up for his press releases, and he sends like 30 panicked press releases a day.
The goal of the committee really was just to get to the answers. We needed to get that information out, as well as whatever legislative recommendations. But we’ve also uncovered what I believe to be various criminal acts, and I think the Department of Justice has taken interest in that, even though that wasn’t our goal.
Do you think the committee should make a criminal referral to the Justice Department? And, if so, which charges do you think would be warranted?
I believe we need to finish our investigation before we start doing that. The one thing we don’t want to do is make a criminal referral while we’re still gathering information. The criminal referral is kind of a sideshow, but I do think it would have an important point. In terms of what the charges are, I leave that to the prosecutors that understand the justice system far better than I do. But I can say this on a generic level: If we get to a point where an attempted coup, even a failed one, is not criminal—or there are people that can give it a shot and not fear retribution—that’s a concern for this country.
I’m somewhat concerned that we don’t want to get into this habit of prosecuting prior administrations because that turns us into a Banana Republic. But this is a very different situation. If there is a crime, and it’s not prosecuted, that sends a much, much worse message.
If it gets to a point where we don’t want the politics to look bad, we’re worried about civil unrest, then all you’ve done is signal that a president can basically do everything he potentially can to stay in power. If it works, he’s still in power. If not, no big deal. An indictment creates more potential for violence or civil unrest. But in the long term, not indicting him creates a much higher potential of a failed democracy.
What more does the committee have to do with its investigation before reconvening for public hearings in September?
Leading up to the hearings, the investigation team was quite busy with interviews, following leads, and gathering evidence. That will be continuing in August. We’ll start to have an eye toward writing that preliminary report, but continuing to chase down any lead. We still have some questions with the Secret Service, for instance. We can walk and chew gum.
Could you have more hearings before then?
It’s really going to be if we have another Cassidy Hutchison-type situation. I think we would be able to reconvene a hearing quite quickly. I think it’s really going to depend on whether there’s something that we think is compelling to throw in front of the American people immediately in the form of a hearing.
My understanding is there’s going to be an interim report in September and then there will be a final report down on the line. What would be in the interim report that wasn’t provided in hearings?
There will be a lot more evidence than what was presented. We have basically two hours in each hearing. What we’re presenting is, in essence, the top line, or maybe some of the most compelling evidence. But there’s more. We’ll also talk about recommendations for security. Obviously, the far right is using the security posture as an excuse—and that’s insane. It’s the equivalent of blaming a home invasion victim for not having a security system.
Rep. Luria tweeted a new video montage Monday of witness testimony showing how Trump had crossed out a line in prepared remarks for Jan. 7, calling on the DOJ to prosecute those who stormed the Capitol. Is this something that the committee will be doing more of during the break, releasing new video montages of testimony?
That’s a fair prediction. We’ve noticed those videos get a lot of traction. We’re not going to go silent over August, even if we’re not necessarily physically in D.C.
Do you think the committee’s revelations are going to hurt Republican chances in the midterms?
I think it will have marginal effect, but I don’t think 2022 is going to be an election based on Jan. 6. This is what people have to keep in mind: Getting the answers and saving the democracy isn’t always the highest on people’s political mind when you have inflation, a war, high energy prices, and all that.
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Where I do think there could be a pretty significant impact is in 2024. It may be a situation where by 2024, if Trump has gone down in flames, people see him for what he is—which I do believe will happen at some point—it could have a significant effect. I truly believe you will be very hard pressed to find anybody in five or 10 years who will admit they supported Donald Trump.
You’ve had a bit of a falling out with Kevin McCarthy. You’ve been very critical of his subservience to Trump. If Republicans do take control of the House, as many are predicting, who do you think should be Speaker?
I don’t know. Plus, if I have a thought and I say, that person probably will never be speaker. But I don’t think it should be Kevin. Obviously, I won’t have a vote on that.
Most Republicans in Congress, if not all, know that the election wasn’t stolen. Next year, though, you’re going to have a significant number of people who truly believe the election was stolen. And that’s a whole different animal. The reason I have a special disdain for Kevin McCarthy is that he was a friend, and he obviously knows better. He’s in a position to have a massive impact on what this country will look like and what the party will look like. And he has squandered that for his own political gain. So yeah, I don’t think he should be Speaker. I also think if it’s not a massive Republican majority, it’s going to be interesting to watch. I think there’s a great chance that he doesn’t become speaker. I think somebody will stab him in the back. Live by the sword, my friend, die by the sword.
Do you think he inadvertently did the committee a great favor by pulling all of his choices after Pelosi said no to Jim Banks and Jim Jordan?
Oh yeah. You wouldn’t see a fraction of what you’re seeing in these hearings. You would see the opposition throwing wrenches in everything. Every subpoena would be a massive fight. Every contempt vote, a massive fight. And you’d see something, I think, more similar to how Benghazi went down. I think he probably pulled his members at the behest of Trump. It’s extremely funny now because Trump is blaming him for pulling his members. So yeah, thanks, Kevin.
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