Senate Minority Leader Mitch “Party over Country” McConnell was wrong, again.
In the spring of 2021, McConnell blocked Congress from authorizing an independent investigation of the deadly insurrection at the Capitol months before. Leave it to the Justice Department, the Kentucky Republican said: “I do not believe the additional, extraneous commission that Democratic leaders want would uncover crucial new facts.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who doesn’t take her cues from Donald Trump, went to Plan B: a select House committee to probe the backstory of Jan. 6, 2021. That McConnell and House Minority Leader “My Kevin” McCarthy forced her to that fallback — two supposed stewards of the legislative branch opposing an investigation of an attack on Congress — is a shame they own.
Conversely, all those associated with Plan B have done themselves, and their country, proud.
Contrary to McConnell’s hunch (or, more likely, realizing his fear), the Jan. 6 committee has given us “new facts” aplenty at its nine televised hearings since June, right through Thursday’s session, which was likely its last. At the Justice Department, where a criminal investigation is ongoing, those facts are called leads.
The department clearly has its sights on Trump, though it hasn’t confirmed an investigation and to date has been busy prosecuting nearly 1,000 rioters and coup-plotters — the small fry. The House committee, to its credit, has focused on the big fish: Trump was “at the center” of the conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election, Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, the committee chair, said at the first hearing and the last.
In between, his committee narrated the story of the first president in history to resist the peaceful transfer of power with a clarity and focus that had otherwise been lacking. Its final report isn’t expected until after next month’s elections, but already the panel has given coherence to a saga that mostly had been told in disjointed news reports. And with subpoena power that reporters lack, and testimony taken under oath, it has greatly added to what we know.
If you doubt the committee’s contribution, just imagine if Republicans had gotten their way and the panel hadn’t been created.
The horrors of Jan. 6, 2021, were fading from memory. Republicans sought to either airbrush the trauma or rebrand the mob scene as “a normal tourist visit” and insurrectionists as “patriots.” A little more than a week ago, at a rally in Nevada, Trump boasted of the size of the crowd that day, and said his supporters “were there largely to protest a corrupt and rigged and stolen election.”
Prosecuting criminality is the Justice Department’s job, a frustratingly secretive and time-consuming one for Americans awaiting closure, and accountability for Trump. The great benefit of the House committee has been to debunk his Big Lie(s) with real evidence, whether it points to crimes or simply abuse of office, and to do so quickly, even memorably.
We’ve watched never-before-seen video of the rioters, read text messages and emails to and from those in the defeated president’s circle. We now have loads of compelling sworn testimony, almost exclusively from Republicans who worked in the administration or on Trump’s campaign.
It all goes toward proving an unprecedented assault on democracy and the rule of law: Trump planned months before the 2020 election to claim victory. He knew he lost, yet pressed claims of fraud that his advisors and scores of courts rejected. He pressured officials in seven states to overturn their election results for Joe Biden, and schemed to send fake Trump slates to the electoral college and Congress. He demanded that Vice President Mike Pence prevent Congress’ certification of the election on Jan. 6, 2021.
Finally, in what Thompson called Trump’s “last stand,” he drew his followers to Washington and, knowing some were armed, urged them to march on the Capitol. Then he watched the mayhem on television for three hours, doing nothing even as the mob hunted down the two people next in line for the presidency, Pence and Pelosi.
We knew something of this before the hearings started, but it took the House committee to connect the dots: Jan. 6 was not a one-day event, but a months-long web of conspiracy spun by the president, aided by far too many co-conspirators.
The voters now have the facts in time for the midterm elections, yet they may give Trump’s party control of Congress anyway. For all of the committee’s contribution to history, its work has not budged our calcified politics.
A Monmouth University poll released in August, well into the committee’s hearings, found that 40% of Americans still have a favorable view of Trump, owing largely to his support from 8 of 10 Republicans. Those figures are virtually unchanged from the 2020 election. The poll had 73% of Democrats in favor of charging Trump with crimes related to the insurrection, but 66% of Republicans opposed.
Further proof of the committee’s short-term political inconsequence: Most of the Republican candidates for Congress and key statewide offices still deny or question the legitimacy of Biden’s election. Many are favored to be elected, while most of the few Republicans who condemned Trump have already lost their seats.
That includes, of course, the House committee’s defiant Republican vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney. As she said at the first hearing, addressing those in her party who lack her courage: “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone. But your dishonor will remain.”
And that’s another fact for which we can thank the Jan. 6 committee.