Here’s what the Jan. 6 committee missed
The House select committee on the Jan. 6 insurrection has conducted the most thorough public examination of presidential misconduct since the televised Watergate hearings in 1973. Its investigation has been meticulous and well-documented regarding former president Donald Trump’s culpability and that of his aides and advisors.
But what about the 147 members of Congress who tried to stop the certification of the 2020 election? They were accessories to Trump’s attempted coup. Some have been accused of collaborating with the rioters.
The 147, all Republicans, did this after Trump’s specious allegation of election fraud was rejected by more than 60 courts, the attorney general of the United States found Trump’s allegations baseless, several of Trump’s senior aides told him his claims of voter fraud were “completely nuts,” and the Department of Homeland Security called the election “the most secure in American history.”
Democrats in the House and Senate have asked for their respective ethics committees to investigate. It’s not clear if there are efforts going on behind the scenes, hidden from the public eye, to investigate these complaints. However, there has been no public effort to assure Americans these ethics complaints have been acted upon, let alone completed. Voters and watchdog groups have stepped in, citing provisions of the U.S. Constitution that would bar some or all the 147 lawmakers from running for public office again.
There is no acceptable excuse for their role in riots or Congress’s certification responsibility. If they were too weak to stand on principle or detached from reality, they shouldn’t be reelected. If they were willing participants in Trump’s attempted coup, Congress should remove them from office and bar them from running again.
Voters deserve to know before the Nov. 8 midterm elections.
The insurrection triggered a flurry of other investigations, but they focused on everything but the behavior of lawmakers. The Senate looked into the breakdown in intelligence gathering and sharing between federal agencies. The inspectors general of the Capitol Police and the Justice, Defense and Homeland Security departments reviewed problems with their responses to the riot.
The House resolution that created the Jan. 6 committee focused on the events leading up to and surrounding the attack on the Capitol. It charged the committee with exploring events “relating to the interference with the peaceful transfer of power,” but it did not include the role of House and Senate members in that interference.
Five days after the insurrection, Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) introduced House Resolution 25, which would have directed the House Ethics Committee to investigate whether any members who voted to overturn the election violated their oaths of office. The record shows that HR 25 has been stalled in committee since March 4, 2021.
In the Senate, several Democrats filed an ethics complaint against Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, the only senators to vote against certification. The complaint to the Senate Ethics Committee alleged Cruz and Hawley failed to put “loyalty to the highest moral principles and to country” above loyalty to Trump. However, nothing about the proceedings has been made public by the investigating panel, “one of the most secretive committees in Congress,” according to Politico. Even 10 months after the complaint was filed, Cruz and Hawley said they hadn’t been contacted about it — it’s unclear if that’s changed.
In some cases, voters have taken it upon themselves to enforce Congress’s rules and constitutional requirements. For example, a nonprofit group filed an ethics complaint against Republican Reps. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina along with Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs of Arizona, citing claims by a Stop the Steal organizer that they helped plan the Jan. 6 riot. Voters attempted to disqualify Cawthorn and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga). from running for office based on their conduct before, during and after the Jan. 6 attack, but judges in North Carolina and Georgia allowed both to remain on November’s ballot.
The Constitution gives the House the authority to discipline members for disorderly behavior such as “flagrant abuses of office,” conduct that has “reflected discredit upon the institution,” or for failing to protect the House’s “institutional integrity … its proceedings and its reputation.” The penalties include censure, reprimand, loss of privileges and even expulsion.
If the involvement of members in an attempted insurrection is not enough to trigger discipline, then it’s doubtful Congress will ever police itself.
The GOP’s heroes
Thankfully, two Republicans emerged as heroes during this sorry affair. Other Republicans have vilified them, and MAGA trolls have bombarded them with death threats. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) was one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 attack. The New York Times published an open letter in which his relatives accused him of joining “the devil’s army,” meaning Democrats and news media. Kinzinger announced a year ago he did not intend to run for reelection.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) was in line to be Speaker of the House. She intended to run for reelection next month. Instead, she served as the skillful and outspoken vice-chair of the Jan. 6 committee, knowing it would likely cost her seat in Congress. It did. Her district voted for her Trump-endorsed opponent in Wyoming’s primary election earlier this year.
It’s clear the insurrectionists and Trump allies are traitors, not patriots. On the other hand, Cheney has personified patriotism when we needed it most. For that, she deserves Congress’s highest honor, the Congressional Gold Medal. Trump’s supporters in House would object, and some Democrats would resist because Cheney is a staunch conservative who disagrees with them on most issues.
But loyalty to the Constitution and the integrity of Congress should transcend partisanship. Medal or not, Cheney’s legacy will be her courage to demonstrate what service to the country really means.
William S. Becker is co-editor and a contributor to “Democracy Unchained: How to Rebuild Government for the People,” a collection of more than 30 essays by American thought leaders on topics such as the Supreme Court’s perceived legitimacy. Becker has served in several state and federal government roles, including executive assistant to the attorney general of Wisconsin. He is currently executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project (PCAP), a nonpartisan climate policy think tank unaffiliated with the White House.