At an emotional first hearing for the House select committee to investigate the 6 January attack on the US Capitol, several members made clear they will go full-throttle to gather all the facts about what happened that day and leading up to it, political considerations be damned.
Their determination is both patriotic and bold, and it sends a strong message to the House GOP: We’re not messing around.
From Donald Trump’s conversations with his top advisers all the way down to the actions of the ex-president’s crazed foot soldiers who stormed the legislature and injured dozens of police officers, the committee says it wants to know everything.
“The task of this committee will require persistence,” Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of the Republicans on the panel, said in a resolute, clear-eyed opening statement on Tuesday.
“We must issue and enforce subpoenas promptly. We must get to objective truth. We must overcome the many efforts we are already seeing to cover up and obscure the facts,” she added, a not-so-subtle dig at her GOP colleagues who have undertaken a feckless campaign to gaslight their followers about the events of January 6. “We must also know what happened every minute of that day in the White House — every phone call, every conversation, every meeting leading up to, during and after the attack.”
Cheney and the rest of the lawmakers on the panel, clearly, have their sights trained on Trump and his coterie of alleged traitors and enablers: chief of staff Mark Meadows, campaign lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, White House advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Trump also spoke on the phone during those most crucial, violent hours with Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who reportedly pleaded with the president to call off the attack.
McCarthy and his ilk have since reverted to defending Trump and cynically deflecting blame onto, of all people, Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
On Tuesday evening, Congressman Jim Jordan went on Fox News to amplify that line of defense, asking of Pelosi, “Why wasn’t more help there that day?” That’s the $521 million-dollar question, Jim. Why did it take Trump hours to send in National Guard troops as he watched Capitol Police officers being pummeled on TV? Why did the all-GOP-appointed Capitol Police board fail to recognize the threat from rioters you stirred up with your Big Lie about a stolen election?
Cheney’s intentions for the investigation are in lockstep with those of the Democratic members of the select panel chaired by Bennie Thompson, who separately leads the Homeland Security Committee. Thompson has previously promised that he “will not hesitate” to issue subpoenas for witnesses who do not volunteer for interviews, including Trump and GOP lawmakers who spoke with him on 6 January about the unfolding riot.
Good, so we’re all in agreement: Subpoena them. Subpoena all of them.
Because after years of allowing Republicans in Congress to steamroll legislative progress by exploiting institutional traditions and abandoning all sense of integrity and thought-leadership, Democratic leaders have finally found the fortitude to move ahead on important work without them.
We first witnessed this newfound Democratic resolve when Joe Biden cut loose from bipartisan Covid relief negotiations to move more quickly on the Democrats-only $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. Pelosi’s decisions surrounding the January 6th committee affirm that she, too, has no patience for the GOP’s games. She gave McCarthy the opportunity to handpick serious-minded factfinders for the select committee on January 6th. He squandered that opportunity by assigning Congressmen Jim Jordan and Jim Banks, both of whom voted to overturn the election and have subsequently downplayed the seriousness of the Capitol riot. When Pelosi blocked their selection, McCarthy yanked Jordan, Banks, and three other Pelosi-approved members.
Now the committee — which is still bipartisan, by the way — is moving forward with everyone on the same page, and there’s no way for McCarthy or his lackeys to shift the conversation or distort the facts on camera in real time. Hopefully the select committee saga will be a lesson that the bare minimum of cooperation is sometimes more profitable than serial opposition.
When asked for his thoughts by a Politico reporter after the first hearing on Tuesday, McCarthy said he didn’t even watch it because he was in “back-to-back meetings.” Here’s what he said earlier in the day: “We owe it to the officers, we owe it to the nation, to have an open and fair debate with all questions being asked again.” Perhaps if he’d bothered to tune in on Tuesday he’d understand that a political debate is the last thing these heroic officers want.
Contrast McCarthy’s cynicism with the remaining members of the select committee, who know their work is political suicide — not only for Cheney and the one other Republican congressman on the panel, Illinois’ Adam Kinzinger, but potentially for the House Democratic majority as well. Yet none of the committee members seem to care about the political consequences, and that in itself is yet another lovely harbinger for a more unyielding Democratic party moving forward. Praise be.
Make no mistake, this thing will get uglier than the yo-yos in House GOP leadership have already made it, and the panel faces long odds at breaking through Trumpworld’s firewall of silence before the 2022 midterms, their ambitious timeline for completing the probe.
Yes, the Merrick Garland-led Justice Department released a statement on Tuesday greenlighting the committee to interview ex-Trump officials. But those officials are certain to resist all inquiries until compelled to do so by federal courts, a process that typically takes years. (For recent historical context, a subpoena court case between House Judiciary Committee Republicans and Obama Attorney General Eric Holder lasted seven years, from 2014 all the way through 2018 and into 2019.)
Imagine the following (very likely) scenario: McCarthy, Pelosi’s counterpart, receives a subpoena to sit for an interview before the committee about his phone conversation with Trump on January 6. The Republican leader defies that subpoena.
What do House Democrats do next?
Some members would likely call for Pelosi to sic the chamber’s sergeant-at-arms on him, invoking the House’s “inherent contempt” power to levy fines or even take him to jail. That’s obviously untenable, so the panel would likely resort to suing McCarthy in federal court to comply with the subpoena, initiating a dramatic but protracted legal showdown that drags on for however long Democrats retain their majority.
If Republicans win back the House in 2022, McCarthy, in line for the speaker’s gavel, would simply dissolve the select committee. Poof goes the court battle. Poof goes the subpoena. Poof goes the entire investigation.
When congressional oversight experts say our systems are broken, it’s not just rhetoric. This is what they mean.
As Tuesday’s kickoff hearing with four law enforcement officers who fought back the pro-Trump mob laid bare, the trauma from January 6 is still raw. Two congressmen wiped tears from their faces while commending the officers for their bravery and holding the line for democracy. And the officers themselves simmered with rage while recounting the violence they faced. One, DC Metro Police officer Daniel Hodges, referred to his attackers as “terrorists.”
For Democrats and the handful of Republicans standing against Trump’s Big Lie, the aim always been to protect the future of democracy and hold the perpetrators of the Capitol riot responsible. That’s why they pursued impeachment in the early days of Biden’s presidency despite Trump leaving office, despite much of the nation wanting to turn the page and move on.
We can’t move on, as Cheney so adamantly insisted on Tuesday: “If those responsible are not held accountable and if Congress does not act responsibly, this will remain a cancer on our constitutional republic, undermining the peaceful transfer of power at the heart of our democratic system. We will face the threat of more violence in the months to come and another January 6th every four years.”
Cheney’s right. This committee’s work is vital, however painful it may be.
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