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Republican leaders misjudged Jan. 6 committee

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (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 Biden’s presidential victory.

Neither man anticipated that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (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.

McCarthy appears now to be feverishly trying to cover up any of former President Trump’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 Thompson of Mississippi and Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming.

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

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 Thune (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 Murkowski (Alaska) and Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah) — warned this would backfire. The opponents “would be seen as not wanting to let the truth come out,” Romney said.

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 Jordan (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 Greene (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.

Tags Bennie Thompson Capitol insurrection Congressional Republicans Donald Trump Far-right politics in the United States Jan. 6 commission Jan. 6 Committee January 6 Capitol attack Jim Jordan Joe Biden John Thune Kevin McCarthy Lisa Murkowski Liz Cheney Marjorie Taylor Greene Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Nancy Pelosi Republican leadership trumpism

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