Jan. 6 panel sharpens its knives amid growing revelations
A series of revelations about the involvement of allies of former President Trump in the days leading up to Jan. 6 is providing mounting evidence to the committee charged with investigating the attack as it gears up for prime-time hearings.
In the span of just a week, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) revealed the former president pressured him to intervene to unwind the election even after Jan. 6. Texts from Ginni Thomas to Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows have also surfaced, showing the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas urged him to find a way to keep the president in office. And a federal judge found it “more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6.”
The events give momentum to a committee many in the GOP have sought to dismiss as political, even as growing evidence reinforces the purpose of its investigation.
“When you have an independent judge or a member of the Republican Party say these things, I think it can catch the attention of people, who might otherwise be inclined to kind of brush it off as partisan politics, to say, ‘Oh, wait a minute, a judge made that finding? Wait a minute, Mo Brooks is saying this?’ ” said Barbara McQuade, a former federal prosecutor.
“I think it could matter and could help bolster the political appeal and the credibility of what the select committee is trying to do.”
It’s a steep challenge for the panel, which only includes two Republican members after the GOP largely boycotted it.
“Normally, the way that committees communicate to the public that their investigations are fair and serious is by showing bipartisanship, but in this case, [it’s] a very odd situation where the only Republican members of the committee have been essentially excommunicated by their party — precisely to prevent it from being viewed as being bipartisan,” said Michael Stern, who has served as senior counsel for the House and as a Senate investigator.
“How they navigate that I think will be quite a challenge,” Stern added.
It’s also one that’s quickly approaching. A Monday meeting to weigh contempt of Congress charges against two former Trump aides seemed to be almost a dress rehearsal for the public hearings, which could kick off as early as May.
The committee departed from its practice of having only the chair and vice chair speak.
While a chance to hold accountable two men Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said were not household names — Dan Scavino, Trump’s former deputy chief of staff for communications, and Peter Navarro, a former trade adviser — it was also an opportunity for each member to try their hand at making a compelling case before a growing audience.
The panel has weighed holding their hearings at night — bucking the practice of daytime hearings in the hopes of captivating those who may have a better opportunity to watch from home in the evening.
But while the new evidence might buoy interest in the committee’s hearings and lend credibility to their efforts, a dwindling timeline has also left lawmakers split on just what to do about it.
While Thompson has suggested a willingness to go as far as subpoenaing Ginni Thomas, the committee has not yet collectively made a decision on how to proceed with either her or Brooks.
Either could be a delicate matter for the panel.
Thompson hinted it’s not just Thomas’s status as the spouse of a Supreme Court justice that is problematic, but the sheer amount of work left for the committee and whether her actions justify additional scrutiny.
“We’re continuing to talk about [that] as a committee, and hopefully within the not-too-distant future, we’ll decide one way or the other,” Thompson told reporters Wednesday.
“It’s not the Supreme Court justice’s wife [aspect] as it is that [of] thousands of people who tweeted things like that on Jan. 6, Ginni Thomas is just another person. As to whether or not her participation on Jan. 6 causes the committee interest to review it, we’re still discussing.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) has said the committee should call Thomas and also expressed an openness to having Brooks speak with the committee’s investigators.
“The significant thing about Mo Brooks’s statement was that he told us that former President Trump continues to try to rescind the election and install himself as president. So you know, I have never felt that the insurrectionists and coup plotters have accepted the Biden presidency, and it’s an important warning to us that this is a continuing emergency,” Raskin said.
Brooks himself did not reject the idea.
“I will take that under advisement if they ever contact me,” he told Politico.
But some lawmakers have expressed skepticism about speaking with him.
“Well, you know, Mo Brooks was on one side until he got dis-endorsed, so he could just be a rejected endorsed person, and why should we get drawn into the Mo Brooks-Donald Trump disagreement?” Thompson asked.
Trump last week said Brooks made a “horrible mistake” by seeking to put the 2020 election behind him, even as Brooks has aired campaign ads showing him speaking at the former president’s Jan. 6 rally.
“You know, kind of sounds like a bad breakup, is what I thought,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.).
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said the alarming admission from Brooks may be better suited for another branch of the government.
“I’m not sure yet how to evaluate what Mr. Brooks has said. But I think that based on the former president’s efforts to obstruct the joint session of Congress, based on his actions in Georgia, among other places, I think there is ample cause for the Justice Department to investigate,” he told reporters this week.
One area where the panel’s lawmakers are completely aligned is the value of the court decision that largely backed their assertion that Trump committed a crime in seeking to unwind the election.
A federal judge ruled that there was a reasonable likelihood that Trump and his legal adviser John Eastman committed at least two felonies, saying there was enough evidence to undermine their claims of attorney-client privilege in the face of a select committee subpoena.
“The illegality of the plan was obvious,” Judge David Carter wrote in his decision.
“Dr. Eastman and President Trump launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history,” he added later. “Their campaign was not confined to the ivory tower — it was a coup in search of a legal theory.”
Thompson called it a “powerful ruling.”
“We said that there were some things that as a committee, our staff and investigators had come upon [that were] very troubling and in so many instances, he agreed,” he said.
Nearly every member of the committee used their time Monday night to reference the decision, with the panel in an official statement calling it a warning sign and saying “a failure to pursue accountability could set the stage for a repeat of Jan. 6.”
Schiff went further, noting that the responsibility of getting to the bottom of the attack cannot just rest with the committee.
“I think when you have a federal judge state that the former president of the United States likely engaged in crime or fraud, and that he believes there’s sufficient evidence to justify that conclusion, it’s something that the Justice Department needs to pay very strong attention to,” he said.
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