Jan. 6 is the GOP’s fault line
We know what happened a year ago this Thursday, one of America’s darkest days: a violent, Trump-inspired mob attacked the Capitol to try to overturn an honest election, undermining democracy.
Over the next several months the Select House Committee on the Jan. 6 attack will, with witnesses and documents, lay out, with more specificity, these atrocities, criminal and political. It was an attempt that came dangerously close to sabotaging Congress’s counting of electoral votes to award the presidency to Joe Biden, who won the election.
The committee has been remarkably professional: few leaks, a collaborative staff that has conducted hundreds of interviews, examined tens of thousands of pages of documents, issued dozens of subpoenas and two contempt citations against Trump lieutenants for refusing to cooperate.
The former president and his cronies, are invoking phony claims, trying to stall and run out the clock, counting on a new Republican majority in the House next year to deep-six everything.
They know congressional Republicans, with less than a handful of exceptions, are placing fealty to Trump and his clout within the party above the rule of law or devotion to the institution or integrity of the democratic process.
More than any issue — including taxes, national security or spending — this is the GOP fault line.
Politically, they may get away with continuing to spin lies about a “stolen election” and a Jan. 6 witch hunt. Two of the few Republican members of Congress standing up, Liz Cheney (R-Colo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), are political pariahs now with many of their GOP colleagues.
They and their fellow members of the Jan. 6 committee may provide revealing information such as:
- Was Trump counting on a violent confrontation at the Capitol with counter-protestors, probably Blacks, as an excuse to declare martial law and suspend the verification of President-elect Biden? Former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, in an email before the assault, said the National Guard would be ready to “protect the pro-Trump people.” That most certainly was to protect against counter-protestors who of course never appeared. There already was talk in Trump circles of looking for a reason to declare martial law.
- Who were important enablers? Some Republican House members are resisting cooperation with the panel, including Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), who bizarrely claims the inquiry is illegitimate, and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who had multiple contacts with President Trump that day.
- Who funded the extensive campaign to discredit the legitimacy of the election, which only culminated on Jan. 6?
Remarkably there are those Trumpites, including the defeated president, who still claim these were just patriotic protestors. Look at the captivating HBO documentary, “Four Hours at the Capitol,” especially the battle for the tunnel where outnumbered courageous Capitol police held off a hate-spewing weapons-wielding mob, many with Trump insignias. They grabbed and viciously beat one police officer. If you thought what happened that infamous day was bad, after watching this, you’ll know it was much worse.
Another instructive viewing is the C-Span Dec. 13, 2018, reel of then-Congressman Mark Meadows’s last hearing as Chairman of the House Oversight Committee. It was intended as an expose of the Bill and Hillary Clinton Foundation. In contrast to the Jan. 6 committee, it’s a classic case of a sloppy and demagogic congressional inquest that backfired spectacularly.
Tellingly, Meadows, who has been cited for contempt and a possible criminal prosecution for his refusal to testify before the select committee, sang a different tune then: championing transparency and the need to cooperate with a congressional inquiry, warning that the House can make criminal referrals.
I spoke about all this to one of Washington’s wisemen: Bill Cohen, a 24-year Republican member of Congress, starting with the House Judiciary Committee where he played a crucial role in the impeachment of fellow Republican, President Richard Nixon. He later was Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Defense.
The Jan. 6 committee, he believes, “is working diligently,” but he doubts it will have any political impact. Why? “Republicans in the House, with the exception of Liz Cheney and Kinzinger, have no reverence for the rule of law.” That, he says, is in stark contrast to his 1974 experience, when even some of the initial staunch Nixon defenders had respect for the rule of law, changing their views on impeachment when the evidence changed.
Cohen doesn’t exempt the other body, where he served three terms: “The silence of Senate Republicans on this is shameful… This is Putinism on the Potomac.”
Even if it doesn’t resonate politically, Cohen says the Jan. 6 committee’s findings “will be of historical importance.” That’s a history that will make the descendants of these Republicans cringe.
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.
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