The Memo: Stunning texts offer new window into Jan. 6

The latest revelations from the House investigation into the events of Jan. 6 might not change minds or move polls in a polarized nation — but that’s not the point, at least according to Democrats and academic experts.

They say that Jan. 6 was such an exceptional event — the worst attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812, incited by a sitting president — that it demands investigation for its own sake, regardless of whether the probe has any immediate political effect.

They point to this week’s revelations as evidence of what they mean. 

New details emerged Monday about texts sent by Republican members of Congress, prominent Fox News Channel personalities and even Donald Trump Jr. to Mark Meadows, then the White House chief of staff, as the assault on the Capitol took place.

The president’s eldest son and the media personalities implored Meadows to get Trump to say something to quell the riot.

“We need an Oval address. He has to lead now. It has gone too far and gotten out of hand,” Trump Jr. texted Meadows. “He’s got to condemn this shit ASAP.” 

Those texts give the public a new window into what happened and make it hard for Trump allies to retrospectively minimize its significance.

“It is absolutely critical to find out the information about what happened, who participated and who knew what when,” Jennifer McCoy, a political science professor at Georgia State University and an expert on polarization and democratic resilience, told this column.

“I think regardless of the impact it might have on future elections and on public opinion, Congress has the responsibility to investigate and to hold anyone accountable who might be responsible.”

Harry Litman, a former deputy assistant attorney general, said that “quite apart from the polarization of today’s politics or the short-term political scoreboard, it just seems to me like an imperative for a democracy to find out the full account. This was such a grave threat against what is after all the core principle of the peaceful transfer of power.”

Comments like that gird a broader critique of today’s political and media culture, where key events are often seen only though the prism of whether they have an impact on poll ratings or election outcomes.

The dynamic has infused American politics, and the media coverage of it, for years.

More than a decade ago, then-President Obama satirized the tendency during his 2010 speech to the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, reading out mock historical headlines that included “Japan surrenders — Where’s the bounce?” and “Lincoln saves the Union — but can he save the House majority?”

During Trump’s White House tenure, his defenders often batted away the numerous controversies that he ignited by pointing to their lack of impact on his poll ratings. 

During his 2016 campaign, the future president infamously — but perhaps accurately — said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

Trump’s defenders now make the argument that the House select committee is a purely partisan enterprise. This is true in a literal sense — but only because almost all Republicans refused to participate in it. 

The only two Republicans on the panel are Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.). Both are strong Trump critics. It was Cheney who read the texts to Meadows into the public record on Monday.

Trump supporters are also upset by former key aide Stephen Bannon being criminally prosecuted for contempt of Congress and by Meadows possibly facing the same fate.

In a video posted to Twitter Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a strong Trump supporter, complained that Meadows was being held in contempt of “the most contemptible illegitimate Jan. 6 committee.” Biggs added that the committee had “violated people’s constitutional rights on a partisan witch hunt.”

Those kinds of views will find a ready audience, not just among many of Biggs’s party colleagues but in the broader Make America Great Again universe.

But Democrats still contend that the GOP positions will earn a harsh judgment over time.

“There will be a verdict by history,” said Democratic strategist Mark Longabaugh. “Whether in the current moment there is a political advantage, in the long arc of history many of those folks are not going to be just seen badly; they are going to be scorned.”

The former president, true to form, is doing everything he can to discredit the committee’s work. In a Dec. 4 statement, he called it “the crooked and highly partisan Unselect Committee of political hacks.”

McCoy, the Georgia State professor, noted that those sentiments will almost certainly be embraced by Trump’s supporters, who will not be easily shaken loose from him having come this far.

“In terms of the public’s reception of new information, any new revelations are pretty unlikely to sway opinion,” she said. “The polarization we are living in really influences people’s beliefs — and that means they will be seeking, and be receptive to, information that confirms their prior beliefs rather than refutes their prior beliefs.”

But she and other experts like Litman argue that, in terms of the importance of probing the insurrection, public opinion is neither here nor there.

“A basic premise of democracy holds that such an assault on what is, after all, an axiom of self-governance just has to be fully aired and understood,” Litman said. 

“That strikes me as an independent imperative.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.


Tags Adam Kinzinger Barack Obama Capitol riot Donald Trump Jan. 6 panel Liz Cheney Mark Meadows

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video