Republican leaders misjudged Jan. 6 committee

Rep. Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyOvernight Hillicon Valley — Scrutiny over Instagram's impact on teens Top Democrats tout California recall with an eye toward 2022 Former national security officials warn antitrust bills could help China in tech race MORE (Calif.) and Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLindsey Graham: Police need 'to take a firm line' with Sept. 18 rally attendees Manchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' MORE (Ky.), the two Republican congressional leaders who are into power and party, made a big political mistake last spring in opposing a bipartisan commission to investigate the mob assault on the Capitol.

McConnell pressured enough Republican Senators so the measure couldn't get the 60 votes necessary for passage. McCarthy ludicrously claimed he was opposed to any inquiry that didn't investigate left wing activists who had nothing to do with the violent Jan. 6 attack intended to prevent Congress from certifying Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race On The Money: Democrats get to the hard part Health Care — GOP attorneys general warn of legal battle over Biden's vaccine mandate MORE's presidential victory.

Neither man anticipated that House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Democrats get to the hard part Biden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week Stefanik in ad says Democrats want 'permanent election insurrection' MORE (D-Calif.) would outsmart them, maneuvering a select House committee with two prominent Republicans who are more interested in finding out all that happened that terrible day.

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McCarthy appears now to be feverishly trying to cover up any of former President TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE's complicity in the Jan. 6 riot — and possibly that of some House Republicans.

The old saying that "the cover-up is worse than the crime" is a trite cliche — still, cover-ups often backfire and make things worse: Watergate and Richard Nixon; the tobacco industry lying for decades about smoking and cancer; the Catholic church covering up pedophile priests. All were caught, with consequences.

That's the company Kevin McCarthy may join as he tries to fend off anything that would hurt his prospects of becoming Speaker with a Republican House.

McCarthy and allies give the impression they have something to hide as they pull out all stops to block inquiries headed by Democratic Rep. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonOvernight Defense & National Security: US-Australian sub deal causes rift with France Jan. 6 panel says it is reviewing Milley actions Democrats must stop using Jan. 6 committee to advance its witch hunt  MORE of Mississippi and Republican Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyOvernight Defense & National Security: US-Australian sub deal causes rift with France Jan. 6 panel says it is reviewing Milley actions The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - What do Manchin and Sinema want? MORE of Wyoming.

The context and totality of Republican actions this year tell the story.

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Despite efforts by House right wingers to paint a benign picture of Jan. 6, with just a few troublemakers, it was a lethal assault on the Capitol and the police force in which five people died and hundreds were injured. The intent was to block the pro forma certification of Biden's presidential victory. The mob was egged on by Trump and his cronies.

After a back-and-forth in Congress, there emerged a bipartisan recommendation for five members of each party on a commission. To sabotage the inquiry, McCarthy and McConnell could have tapped bomb throwers to sow discord and create chaos.

Instead, they thought it safer to simply deep-six any investigation.

Senate Minority Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneManchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants Manchin-McConnell meet amid new voting rights push Republican leaders misjudged Jan. 6 committee MORE (R-S.D.) explained why: They didn't want it to get in the way of the party's agenda and message in the 2022 elections. That was more important to them than looking into the most violent attack since the British burned the Capitol in 1814.

A few Senate Republicans — including Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - DC prepares for Saturday of festivals & Jan. 6 demonstration Republican leaders misjudged Jan. 6 committee Trump endorses GOP challenger to Upton over impeachment vote MORE (Alaska) and Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyWarren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack Overnight On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — GOP senator: It's 'foolish' to buy Treasury bonds Democrats aim for maximum pressure on GOP over debt ceiling MORE (Utah) — warned this would backfire. The opponents "would be seen as not wanting to let the truth come out," Romney said.

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Pelosi essentially said "OK — the House will appoint its own bipartisan panel." McCarthy made a mockery of this by tapping Trump sycophants Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanAllies see rising prospect of Trump 2024 White House bid Republican leaders misjudged Jan. 6 committee Watchdog group seeks ethics probe over McCarthy's Jan. 6 comments MORE (R-Ohio) among his five appointees to the panel. The Speaker called his bluff, rejecting those two, but keeping the three others — causing McCarthy to withdraw all his appointees and refuse any cooperation.

Pelosi had already tapped one Republicans on her own — Cheney. The daughter of the former vice president, Cheney is a hard-line conservative and potential future Speaker. She was kicked out of her Republican leadership post and disowned by McCarthy for the sin of insufficient loyalty to Trump, regardless his transgressions.

Pelosi then tapped another: Rep. Adam Kinziger (R-Ill.), an Air Force veteran and lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard. Cheney is vice chair to the nine member committee. To be credible, any final report will have to be unanimous.

The House GOP leader — along with fringe members of the caucus like QAnon-supporting Rep. Marjorie Taylor GreeneMarjorie Taylor GreeneGOP efforts to downplay danger of Capitol riot increase The Memo: What now for anti-Trump Republicans? Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene says she's meeting with Trump 'soon' in Florida MORE (R-Ga.) — are now doing everything to discredit the inquiry.

The committee recently sent a few dozen companies a special order to preserve phone records and social media contacts, including those of Republican members of Congress who have had frequent contact with Trump or the white nationalist groups that led the Jan. 6 attack.

McCarthy recently seemed to threaten retaliation against any companies that cooperate with the order, implying that if Republicans take control of the House again, they'll go after those companies. Greene put it more succinctly: “They will be shut down, and that’s a promise.” McCarthy claimed that cooperation would violate laws but didn't cite any. There is now a question whether McCarthy, with this apparent threat, will face legal or ethical charges himself.

The actions of Trump's man, Jordan, illustrate why the committee wants to look at such records. When Fox News's Bret Baier asked him if he’d spoken with Trump on Jan. 6, the usually combative Jordan looked like a deer in the headlights, talking all around the question before finally saying he did. In a subsequent interview, Jordan said they spoke multiple times, but claimed he couldn't remember when.

Is the Ohio Republican trying to hide something? McCarthy also spoke to the president that day. It's possible that, scared by the onslaught, they were asking Trump to call the dogs off. That may be something the Thompson-Cheney panel, which worked during the August recess, would like to find out.

It's imperative to discover as much as possible about what happened on that infamous day — and before: Trump's role and that of any House member. If there's an arsonist in the fire department, that fact has to be ferreted out.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.