03 jan 6 riot
CNN  — 

On Monday night, the House committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack at the US Capitol unanimously recommended a pair of criminal contempt referrals for two top aides to then-President Donald Trump who have repeatedly slow-walked requests for their testimony about their actions happened that fateful day.

It’s the latest in a whirlwind of activity from the committee. The committee scored a court victory Monday that will allow them access to more than 100 emails sent between January 4-7 by right-wing lawyer John Eastman.

The panel has also expressed interest in talking to conservative activist Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who sent a series of text messages to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows urging him to actively oppose the certification of the 2020 Electoral College vote.

And, of course, there’s the reporting from CBS and The Washington Post of a more than seven-hour gap during the day of January 6 in White House phone records turned over to the committee by the National Archives.

The committee is also expected to hold public hearings sometime later this spring. “The American people will hear from our fellow citizens who demonstrated fidelity to our Constitution and the rule of law, and who refused to bow to President Trump’s pressure,” GOP Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who serves as a vice chair of the committee, said on Monday night.

There’s real momentum behind the panel’s investigation at the moment and, as I’ve written before, it now seems clear that Republican leadership miscalculated by deciding not to participate in the committee.

And yet, left largely unsaid – and un-realized by many – is that the January 6 committee is racing against the election clock. See, if Republicans retake the House majority come November, they will almost certainly immediately move to disband the committee – and make it very unlikely that the public ever hears the full extent of its findings.

Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the chairman of the January 6 committee, is, of course, well aware of this tight timeline. As CNN has previously reported, the committee’s goal is to release an interim report this summer and a final report in the fall – just before the midterm elections.

If Thompson keeps to that deadline, it would mean the committee would have taken roughly 15 months to conduct its investigation. For comparison’s sake, that’s less than the 21 months the independent commission formed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks took to conduct its investigation and issue its report.

Of course, the 9/11 Commission was bipartisan and not governed by which party was in power in Washington. The January 6 House select committee is – largely because Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would not support such a commission. The House had voted to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate January 6.

Thompson’s ability to deliver on a pre-election timeline is not entirely in his hands. A number of potentially key witnesses – including Steve Bannon, Dan Scavino and Peter Navarro – have all refused to testify. (The Department of Justice is pursuing a criminal contempt charge against Bannon.)

What is most likely to happen is that Thompson – as well as Cheney – will have to make a difficult call about when they need to just shut things down in order to get the report out before the midterm elections in November. They also have to be mindful of the fact that every day the election draws closer, the easier it becomes for Republicans to claim that the whole investigation was nothing more than a political ploy by Democrats to help their chances in the midterms. (To be clear: Republicans will say this anyway; it’s just an easier case to make in the heat of a campaign.)

When Thompson makes that call – and how much the committee will be able to say when he does – is absolutely critical in how the report will land and what, if any, political impact it will have.