Jan. 6 probe poised to spill into 2022, with no complaints from Democrats
The late jump-start to the special House investigation into Jan. 6 raises the likelihood that the probe will spill into 2022, turning the Capitol insurrection — and former President Trump’s role in encouraging it — into a potentially potent campaign issue.
Republicans have fought to prevent any Jan. 6 investigations from dragging into the midterm election year, when the House is up for grabs. With that in mind, GOP negotiators were able to secure a Dec. 31 deadline as part of the bipartisan proposal to create an independent, 9/11-stye commission to examine the Capitol attack.
But GOP leaders, after endorsing an outside probe and deputizing Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) to negotiate the details, later reversed course to oppose the deal he’d won, setting the tone for Senate Republicans to block the proposal when it hit the floor last month.
The GOP blockade has given Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) free rein to dictate the terms of the special House investigation. And the Speaker, in launching the select committee last week, made clear that Democrats won’t be bound to any deadlines, saying Republicans had ceded their powers to influence the investigative timeline when they spiked the independent commission.
“We were agreeable to doing it in a timeframe that the Republicans felt comfortable with,” she said Thursday. “But now another month has gone by. … So we’ll just have to make up the plan and see how long that takes.”
Pelosi has not revealed the specifics of the select committee, including details about its composition, leadership and subpoena powers. But the Republican proponents of a comprehensive investigation are already lamenting the political optics of having Democrats alone determine the parameters of the probe — a dynamic likely to erode some public trust in the eventual findings.
“This is precisely what I was hoping to avoid by having our bill passed,” Katko told The Hill on Friday. “Now we’re going to have a partisan commission that’s not going to get to the bottom of what we wanted to do. And that’s what really bothers me.”
Republicans know well the power of special investigations in election years. In 2014, they formed a select committee to examine the deadly 2012 attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. That probe focused heavily on the actions of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who would go on to become the Democrats’ 2016 presidential nominee, losing to Trump in November of that year.
Five weeks later, Republicans dissolved the committee.
Then, Democrats had howled that Republicans used the investigation solely to damage Clinton politically, noting that a handful of sitting committees had also investigated her role in the Benghazi attack and found no wrongdoing.
“We debunked that on a bipartisan basis as did six or seven other bipartisan committees,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), told MSNBC on Thursday, referring to the Intelligence Committee. “But that wasn’t the answer that Kevin McCarthy wanted. So, he pushed for a select committee that would be a purely political instrument.”
That same argument has now been adopted by Republicans, who maintain that Democrats are pressing to investigate Jan. 6 merely to tarnish Trump and his GOP supporters, on and off of Capitol Hill.
“The FBI is the appropriate place to investigate. We shouldn’t be involved in any of the investigation,” McCarthy, the House minority leader, told reporters Friday in the Capitol.
Pelosi has dismissed the GOP criticisms, arguing that the Jan. 6 attack — which was carried out by hundreds of Trump supporters attempting to block Congress from certifying his election defeat — marked an existential threat to the nation’s democracy and needs further exploration.
The select committee will examine both the security failures that allowed the mob to breach the Capitol, and the root causes of the attack, including the influence of white supremacists and other racists groups, Pelosi said. She was quick to note that the 9/11 Commission, a bipartisan panel that earned the respect of both parties, was not formed until more than 14 months after the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.
“It is clear that the Republicans are afraid of the truth,” she said.
Following Pelosi’s select committee announcement, Democrats of all stripes quickly agreed that there should be no time restraints on the investigation, even if it extends into 2022.
“We’re getting information six months later on about the fools that attacked the Capital of the United States of America,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), who said he would love to serve on the select committee. “Evidence leads to evidence. And so they should not have a time limit on that.”
“If there’s no cooperation” from Trump and Republicans, “then it’s not going to just go away,” added Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.).
But some Democrats deeply affected by the Jan. 6 attack urged the committee to move rapidly, warning that a threat against the Capitol still exists today. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), whose family members were trapped in the building during the violent assault, led Democrats in prosecuting Trump, during his second impeachment trial, for inciting the insurrection with his words and actions.
“I wouldn’t put a date on it, but it’s imperative that we get a complete set of facts about what happened to us on Jan. 6, what were the causes of it, and what are the security weaknesses we have now, and to what extent does violent white extremism present a continuing threat to the functioning of government,” Raskin said Friday just outside the Capitol.
“We need to get to the bottom of these events quickly.”
House Administration Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), whose committee has been probing Jan. 6 for months, agreed with Raskin: Congress can’t delay its investigation given the ongoing threat.
“We have a continuing threat to the Capitol and to the government from these radical elements,” Lofgren told The Hill. “There’s a great rush to protect the legislative branch of government.”
Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) said the timeline for issuing the findings are largely inconsequential — with one exception. Releasing a report too close to the midterm elections, he warned, would create perceptions of political motivation likely to undermine the findings’ reception.
“Obviously, if you ultimately put out a report in September, then that would be dangerous,” Yarmuth said.