Recess is over. Now the Jan. 6 committee has a glaring credibility problem.

The congressional select committee investigating the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan.6, 2021, announced that it will resume its public hearings this week. One can expect that members will attempt to pick up where the last hearing left off: trying to tie former President Donald Trump directly to the criminal activity of various right-wing extremist groups.

But before they do that, the committee has a credibility problem it needs to address at the outset of this phase of their hearings.

The committee has not held a public meeting since July 21. That date isn’t coincidental, by the way. Congress is out of session for several weeks each summer. This is known officially as "district work" time, or unofficially as the "August recess."

While some members use this time to campaign and others use it for legitimate work in their district, many take the time for vacation. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Members of Congress actually do work for a living, and while it isn’t coal mining or long-distance truck driving, it is a real job, one that often involves hundreds of days a year away from family.

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Before the recess, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the House Jan. 6 committee, said, "We have more work to do in August."
Before the recess, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the House Jan. 6 committee, said, "We have more work to do in August."

The August recess can provide a welcome, and healthy, respite. Especially in a representative democracy, having elected officials back home interacting with folks they represent can be a good thing.

But every now and then things happen at work – yours, mine and even for members of Congress – that just take precedence over vacation. It might be an illness in the family, an economic hardship or an emergency at work. That's just life, sometimes.

There was a reason I quit my job over Jan. 6

One would think, given the language used to describe the Jan. 6 riot, that these hearings would qualify for one of those extraordinary circumstances. Consider what committee members have said:

►Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.: “Jan. 6 and the lies that led to insurrection have put 2 1/2 centuries of constitutional democracy at risk.”

►Vice Chairwoman Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.: "The Republican Party has to make a choice. We can either be loyal to our Constitution or loyal to Donald Trump, but we cannot be both."

►Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.: "We came very close to losing our democracy on Jan. 6 in 2021."

That’s stern stuff. And they could be right. There was a reason I quit my job over Jan. 6.

The hearings up to this point have, despite their political biases, brought new information to light that gives rise to legitimate questions about that day.

President Donald Trump looks toward Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney after signing an executive order in the Oval Office in 2017.
President Donald Trump looks toward Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney after signing an executive order in the Oval Office in 2017.

But if you really believed that, if you really sincerely believed that our democracy almost failed that Jan. 6, would you take an eight-week break in holding hearings investigating that day? To the contrary, there seems to be a certain inconsistency in assailing the "greatest threat to our democracy in 150 years" then taking a weekslong vacation.

How did Jan. 6 committee mem use their recent weeks?

In Washington, as in life, actions speak louder than words. What people do is always more instructive than what they say.

If those words of the committee members are to have any real credibility, then they need to be backed up by actions. And two months of inactivity isn't exactly a lot of action.

Under most circumstances in Washington – be it with a president, Cabinet member or high-ranking administration official – we wouldn’t have to guess about how members of our government have been spending their time.

Even if the news media won’t report on it (as they aren’t here, it seems), inquiring minds could use the Freedom of Information Act to gain access to the members' schedules. But because Congress exempted itself from the Freedom of Information Act, that door is closed to the public.

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It might be that the members were all diligently reviewing documents and deposition transcripts. It might be that they were meeting regularly with their team of professional lawyers to continue to search for proof of wrongdoing. It might be that they were uncovering rich new sources of real, hard evidence that could help people make up their own minds about what happened.

It might also be that they were at the beach.

How did they spend their August recess? It's a fair question to ask. The committee members should address that at the outset of the next hearing.

Mick Mulvaney served as White House acting chief of staff from December 2018 until March 2020, when President Donald Trump named him special envoy to Northern Ireland and installed Mark Meadows as chief of staff. Mulvaney served previously as director of the Office of Management and Budget and as a Republican in the House of Representatives. He is now a co-chair for Actum LLC

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jan 6 hearings are back. Will committee actions match their words?