House GOP mounts media battle in prebuttal to Jan. 6 hearing
House Republicans are casting Thursday’s prime-time hearing by the committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol as a media production aimed at smearing former President Trump.
The effort by Republicans to push back at the hearing has started days before the spectacle is set to be carried live by the major networks and news networks — with the notable exception of Fox News Channel, which will air its regular programming.
Democrats have set expectations for the hearing high, both by putting it in prime time and with statements signaling they believe it will give voters new information about what happened the day a mob of Trump’s supporters overwhelmed Capitol Police and forced the evacuation of a Congress certifying President Biden’s win in the presidential race.
The GOP is arguing the effort is just meant to distract voters from inflation and crime, two issues that Republicans expect to be a big part of their effort to win back the House and Senate this fall.
“They are scrambling to change the headlines, praying that the nation will focus on their partisan witch hunt instead of our pocketbooks. It will not work,” House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) said in a Wednesday press conference.
Stefanik, who replaced Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) — one of two Republicans on the Jan. 6 panel — as conference chair, called it a “smear campaign against President Donald Trump.”
She also dinged the committee for enlisting the help of former ABC President James Goldston in producing Thursday’s hearing. She and other House Republicans criticized Goldston for overseeing ABC’s killing of stories about convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif), who has received a subpoena from the committee, pointed to a letter he sent the then-ABC News executive in 2019 about a hot mic video of ABC News anchor Amy Robach saying that the network killed a story about Epstein and her interview with one of his accusers. The hearing, McCarthy tweeted, will be “political theatre.”
The committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment on those assertions.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who was originally selected by McCarthy to sit on the Jan. 6 panel but was blocked by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), took aim at the committee bringing Nick Quested, who filmed the Proud Boys leading up to and on Jan. 6, as a witness.
“Their first witness is the documentarian. So that sort of tells you how political this thing is,” said Jordan, who has also been subpoenaed by the committee.
The comments at the press conference were part of House Republicans’ effort to push its own storyline on the hearing.
On Tuesday, the House GOP hosted a press call on the Jan. 6 hearing with a number of conservative outlets but did not invite or include many mainstream outlets, including NBC News, Politico and The Hill. It is a move that the GOP conference also made in January when discussing the Capitol riot around the time of its first anniversary.
Outlets on the Tuesday call included Breitbart, The Washington Examiner and The Federalist, according to a source familiar with the call.
Republicans have long countered the committee’s work by pointing to security failures at the Capitol that day and accusing Pelosi of not doing enough to keep the campus secure.
They have not wanted to focus on Trump’s involvement in the rioting.
Trump spoke at a “Stop the Steal” rally on the White House Ellipse before rioters broke through the lines of Capitol Police. He and other speakers at the rally repeated false statements that the election had been stolen from Trump and have been accused of egging on the mob.
The committee has interviewed dozens of subjects in its investigation into what happened on Jan. 6. Besides Cheney, GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) also sits on the panel.
The two have given a bit of a bipartisan veneer to the panel’s work, though the rest of the House GOP has largely ostracized the two Republicans. Kinzinger is not running for reelection, while Cheney is facing a tough Trump-backed primary challenger.
Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), whom McCarthy selected to be ranking member on the committee before Pelosi blocked him, is leading a GOP counter-investigation into Jan. 6 and said that he plans to release a report.
According to Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus who also received a subpoena from the committee, the pushback to the Jan. 6 hearing this week is not necessarily at the direction of or in coordination with the media-savvy man of utmost interest to the committee: Trump.
Members of the Freedom Caucus met with Trump at his Bedminster, N.J., golf club on Tuesday, but Perry said they did not discuss the Jan. 6 hearing at all.
When it comes time for the Thursday prime-time show, top Republicans don’t plan to tune in.
McCarthy told The Hill he will not be watching the hearing. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said: “I’m going to be busy.”
Mychael Schnell contributed.