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Why the Jan. 6 committee's outreach to Sean Hannity matters

As far as the Jan. 6 committee is concerned, Fox News' Sean Hannity is a "fact witness" whose unique perspective can answer key questions.

It was about a month ago when the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack released a series of important text messages, which were sent to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows around the time of the assault on the Capitol. Among the striking revelations were the communications the North Carolina Republican had with Fox News hosts.

Sean Hannity, for example, was presented as effectively a member of Donald Trump's political advisory team. The host specifically recommended during the riot that the then-president tell his violent followers to exit the Capitol — suggesting that Hannity believed at the time that Trump bore at least some responsibility for the deadly developments, despite the sentiments he shared with the public.

It's against this backdrop that the conservative media personality received an important request yesterday. NBC News reported overnight:

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol wants Fox News host Sean Hannity to voluntarily cooperate with its investigation, citing newly released communications that it says show he had detailed discussions with the White House around the time of the attack.

It's worth emphasizing that Hannity, at least at this point in the investigatory process, has not been subpoenaed. The bipartisan select committee has instead appealed to his sense of patriotism, asking that he simply agree to a transcribed interview.

Indeed, the written request, sent by Democratic Chair Bennie Thompson and Republican Vice Chair Liz Cheney, told the host they're seeking "voluntary cooperation on a specific and narrow range of factual questions" and do not intend to request information "regarding any of your broadcasts, or your political views or commentary."

And why, pray tell, would congressional investigators have factual questions for a television personality about events unfolding inside the White House and on Capitol Hill? Because according to the information made available to and from the committee, Hannity appeared to be a key insider, speaking directly with the then-president and the then-White House chief of staff.

"The Select Committee now has information in its possession ... indicating that you had advance knowledge regarding President Trump's and his legal team's planning for January 6th," yesterday's request read. "It also appears that you were expressing concerns and providing advice to the President and certain White House staff regarding that planning. You also had relevant communications while the riot was underway, and in the days thereafter. These communications make you a fact witness in our investigation."

The reference to "fact witness" was of particular interest. There's been some worthwhile discussion about the First Amendment, the freedom of the press, and possible constitutional issues surrounding the committee's outreach to Hannity. Some of the Fox News host's critics have argued that such legal protections shouldn't apply because when it came to Team Trump, Hannity was less of a journalist and more of an allied political operative who helped guide the then-president's hand.

This debate may be interesting, but for the Jan. 6 committee, it's largely irrelevant: Investigators see Hannity as a citizen who was a witness to important events. Congress is now investigating those events and needs to ask questions of those with pertinent information.

If Hannity were a witness to a car crash, the fact that he's a media professional wouldn't matter, and those investigating the crash would still seek his cooperation. The same principles apply here.

The committee's correspondence went on to note a text message Hannity sent to Meadows on December 31, 2020. "We can't lose the entire WH counsels office," the host wrote. "I do NOT see January 6 happening the way he is being told. After the 6 th. [sic] He should announce will lead the nationwide effort to reform voting integrity. Go to Fl and watch Joe mess up daily. Stay engaged. When he speaks people will listen."

Such a message suggests that Hannity, at least privately, believed Trump was getting some bad advice and preferred to see the then-president step down from the White House at the end of his term, rather than fighting to overturn the results.

Just as important, from the committee's perspective, the New Year's Eve text leaves little doubt that Hannity was aware of concerns within the White House Counsel's Office about the Jan. 6 scheme — which is directly relevant to the ongoing probe.

As for the kind of questions the committee would like to ask the host in a transcribed interview, yesterday's letter added:

Similarly, on January 5th, the night before the violent riot, you sent and received a stream of texts. You wrote: "Im very worried about the next 48 hours." With the counting of the electoral votes scheduled for January 6th at 1 p.m., why were you concerned about the next 48 hours? Also, on the evening of January 5th, you texted Mr. Meadows: "Pence pressure. WH counsel will leave." What communications or information led you to conclude that White House Counsel would leave? What precisely did you know at that time?

The committee went on to reference direct conversations Hannity had with Trump, both before and after the attack, and direct interactions with Meadows during the riot. All of this leaves little doubt that the media personality has a unique perspective that would advance the committee's investigation.

"Guys, we have a clear path to land the plane in 9 days," Hannity texted Meadows the week before Inauguration Day. "He can't mention the election again. Ever. I did not have a good call with him today." Thompson and Cheney added yesterday, "None of these communications are subject to any kind of privilege, and all bear directly on the issues before our Committee."

Their letter concluded, "We have no doubt that you love our country and respect our Constitution. Now is the time to step forward and serve the interests of your country. We thank you in advance for your cooperation."

Hannity and his lawyer said they're "reviewing" the request. Watch this space.

Postscript: Let's note for context that Hannity is represented by Jay Sekulow, a former member of Trump's legal team, who was previously known for heading a far-right legal group created by radical televangelist Pat Robertson. Sekulow has also received highly unflattering scrutiny for his role in a highly dubious fundraising scheme that benefited several members of his immediate family.