The Weak Case Against the January 6 Committee

Republicans killed their parents and demanding mercy for being orphaned.

The House select committee tasked with investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol meets to hold Steve Bannon, one of former President Donald Trump’s allies in contempt, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday evening, Oct. 19, 2021. From left to right are Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., and Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Byron York, Chief Political Correspondent for the Washington Examiner, endeavors to exposeThe Jan. 6 committee charade.” Instead, he exposes his own hackery.

He leads with his strongest point but not without first tossing in a red herring:

At the end of the House Democrats’ Jan. 6 committee hearing featuring former Trump aide Cassidy Hutchinson, committee member Liz Cheney (R-WY) delivered an elaborate tease for the panel’s as-yet-unscheduled next episode. Thanking Hutchinson for her testimony, which featured the now-contested story that former President Donald Trump attacked his own Secret Service agents in the presidential SUV,

We’ll find out in due course whether Trump attempted to grab at the steering wheel. Why someone would invent a colorful detail of that sort and then swear to it under oath, I don’t know. And the fact that those “contesting” the story are anonymous and not under oath limits the impact.

Cheney said, “That brings me to a different topic. While our committee has seen many witnesses, including many Republicans, testify fully and forthrightly, this has not been true of every witness. And we have received evidence of one particular practice that raises significant concerns.”

The “one particular practice” to which Cheney referred was alleged witness tampering on behalf of Trump. “Our committee commonly asks witnesses connected to Mr. Trump’s administration or campaign whether they’ve been contacted by any of their former colleagues or anyone else who attempted to influence or impact their testimony,” Cheney said. “Without identifying any of the individuals involved, let me show you a couple of samples of answers we received to this question.”

First, Cheney recited ”how one witness described phone calls from people interested in that witness’ testimony.” The witness said the caller stressed that the witness should be a “team player” to “stay in good graces in Trumpworld.”

[…]

But here’s the thing. We have now found out who those two examples — “one witness” and “one of our witnesses” — were. They were one and the same person. And that person was none other than Hutchinson, who was sitting right in front of Cheney as Cheney spoke those words.

Yet Cheney didn’t tell the public about that. Instead, with her anonymous tease, she set off lots of leaking and speculation that kept people talking until the committee’s next hearing. The reporting of Betsy Woodruff Swan and Kyle Cheney at Politico revealed that both of the persons cited were in fact Hutchinson.

It was a kind of charade. This is very serious, Cheney said, but I won’t tell you anything else. In what way is that the purpose of a congressional investigating committee? And there was no one on the committee who had the courage and independence of mind to say to Cheney, “The person you’re referring to is sitting right here. Ms. Hutchinson, tell us what happened…”

I agree that a charge of witness tampering is very serious, indeed, and if the witness in front of the committee was among those making that allegation, we really should have heard it from her and had her cross-examined. That said, I strongly suspect Cheney has more up her sleeve on this one and will reveal more evidence and witnesses in due course.

Here’s where York’s hackery comes in:

Indeed, no one on the committee said a word during the entire hearing, other than Cheney and Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS). The others all sat there silently. Not only are committee members, seven Democrats and two Nancy Pelosi-picked Republicans, Cheney and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), in lockstep on committee business, but they are determined to maintain silence beyond the script of each hearing.

All of which makes the point yet again that it would be a very good thing for the committee to have some Republican-appointed Republican members. It’s not that those theoretical GOP members would defend the Jan. 6 riot — they would not — or even defend the actions of Trump. At the very least, they would ensure that the committee abides by long-established procedures and that if it did not, then the public would at least learn about it.

Sigh. We have no Republican-appointed Republican members because the appointing Republican, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, withdrew his slate precisely to deprive the committee of that legitimacy. This is not new news.

But, no, York explains, it’s the Democrats’ fault.

The fault originally lies with Pelosi, who created the Jan. 6 select committee. House rules and practice dictate that the minority be allowed to choose members of the committee. But when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) submitted five choices, Pelosi broke a long precedent by vetoing two of them. Pelosi did not try to hide or talk around the fact that she had taken unprecedented action. “The unprecedented nature of Jan. 6 demands this unprecedented decision,” she said at the time. The move was so momentous Politico reported it “sent shock waves through the House.”

Pelosi’s decision stood in contrast to that of former House Speaker John Boehner, who in 2014 created the select committee on Benghazi. Following practice, Boehner allowed Pelosi, then the minority leader, to appoint five members to the committee. They were all staunchly opposed to the investigation. One of them, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who now serves on the Jan. 6 committee, spent much of his time demanding that the Benghazi committee be disbanded. The committee’s hearings were quite adversarial. Democrats talked a lot, and the Republican majority was not allowed to dictate every word said in every hearing because that is not the way congressional hearings are supposed to operate.

I fully anticipated that this standoff would have the intended effect of making it appear to be a partisan hearing. But the equivalence with the Benghazi committee is essentially nonexistent. Schiff an extreme partisan who uses his committee perches, quite effectively, to grandstand against the opposition party. But, unlike Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the two appointees Pelosi rejected, Schiff was not a party to the investigation.

As CNN’s Chris Cillizza observed at the time,

Pelosi and her Democratic defenders will cast the decision as the only one she really had available to her after McCarthy made his picks known earlier this week. And it’s beyond debate that McCarthy’s choices — especially Banks and Jordan — were aimed at turning the committee into something of a circus. Both men would have, at every turn, sought to turn the tables on Democrats — using the platform provided by the committee to push debunked claims about Antifa’s involvement in the Capitol riot, questioning Democratic leadership’s readiness for just such an attack and trying to broaden the committee’s mandate to cover the Black Lives Matter protests of summer 2020. Knowing this, Pelosi’s move is rightly understood as robbing Republicans of that platform. But it also dooms the committee — before it even holds a single hearing or meeting.

To which I added,

I don’t see how Pelosi had any choice. Banks and, especially, Jordan are clowns who have made no bones about their contempt for the process or the truth. McCarthy’s selection of them was a big Fuck You to the investigation and received the response he had to know was coming.

Jordan, in particular, was a leader in the bogus “Stop the Steal” movement that sparked the Capitol riot who was in personal contact with Trump that day. Banks was comparatively mild-mannered but he had not only repeatedly made statements questioning the outcome of the election but actively “supported a Texas lawsuit seeking to toss out key Biden victories and voted to overturn the results in Congress.” It would have simply been absurd to have them on the committee investigating crimes in which they were an active participant.

In the Jan. 6 matter, after Pelosi vetoed two of McCarthy’s choices, McCarthy reacted by pulling all of his nominees — in effect boycotting the committee. There has been a lot of second-guessing about that decision. I recently communicated with a well-connected Republican and asked for the best case for McCarthy’s action. The speaker violated precedent, the Republican said. That was an action that will do long-term damage to the House of Representatives. Going along with Pelosi’s actions and appointing only Pelosi-approved members would have allowed Democrats to claim that the committee was legitimate and operating in accordance with the history of the House.

You know what else violated precedent and did long-term damage? A sitting President trying to steal a goddamn election he lost by 8 million votes by inciting a riot to intimidate Senators and perhaps hang his own Vice President.

Again, that Republicans would use the fact that the only Republicans serving on the committee were there in defiance of their caucus leader to delegitimize the process was not only predictable but predicted. Subscribers to the Examiner are doubtless nodding in agreement with York. But the notion that co-conspirators in the attempt to steal the election should have been part of the investigation of that attempt is simply absurd.

Further, it’s worth noting that Cheney was in fact among the five Republicans appointed by McCarthy. That he withdrew his slate doesn’t change that fact. She was widely considered a staunch conservative star and was in the caucus leadership. Of course, she’s now on her way to being soundly defeated in the Republican primary by a Trumper touting the Big Lie for having the temerity to stand up for basic principles that no Republican leader would have opposed until quite recently.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    +1 Yup.

    3
  2. Scott F says:

    In York’s hackfest, this was my favorite:

    It’s not that those theoretical GOP members would defend the Jan. 6 riot — they would not — or even defend the actions of Trump.

    York theorizes that there are GOP members who would not defend January 6th or defend Trump and who are not named Cheney or Kinzinger. That theory has been thoroughly debunked.

    BTW the reporting on the idea that the excerpted comments implying witness tampering came from Ms. Hutchinson was the weakest of tea – some unnamed party familiar with her depositions says so. Ha! You have to know there are more than two examples and that any number of people would have said similar. Trump himself has been intimidating witnesses in broad daylight, so the leap to behind the scenes arm twisting is a very short hop.

    5
  3. Tony W says:

    The American flag makes an excellent blindfold.

    2
  4. gVOR08 says:

    Not to mention the preceding attempt to set up a bipartisan commission, boycotted by the GOPs.

    2
  5. Republicans killed their parents and demanding mercy for being orphaned.

    Indeed.

    13
  6. Indeed, no one on the committee said a word during the entire hearing, other than Cheney and Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS).

    Quite frankly, the way they have conducted this hearing has been all for the good. The notion that the public gets better info from the members of the panel taking turns trying to generate soundbites is utterly absurd.

    The panel has clearly decided that their goal is to actually present evidence and focuses on one D and one R at least and then usually having one additional member of the committee do the main questioning has been effective–if (unlike the Benghazi hearings) the goal is actually getting to the bottom of something.

    10
  7. de stijl says:

    I haven’t even read the article yet, but, damn, Joyner, that is a really great subhead.

    3
  8. de stijl says:

    I dislike Cheney’s policy preference to the core of my being, but I god damn applaud her determination, perseverance, and chutzpah in rooting out the bad actors, the treasonous, in her own party. Including an ex-President from her own party.

    Without her as a lead Senator questioning witnesses, the J6 committee would look compromised. With her it looks legit.

    A person who decided against her re-election chances to do the right thing and denounce bogus anti-democratic ideas and tactics that came from her own colleagues. That is brassy. That is bad-ass.

    I have to do whatever it takes to stop it and make sure it never happens again. I am of this party, and this party needs to be rid of fools who did this or who would countenance this. This was an attempted coup and I cannot stand by and shut up and accept it because my party wanted it.

    She is a hero in my book. We wouldn’t agree on much policy wise, but she is a fucking hero.

    Her own party, which she is desperately trying to save from infamous treason, will damn her to hell for the effort.

    Somebody should give her a fucking medal.

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  9. de stijl says:

    I kinda like and appreciate the comparison to the Benghazi committee investigations.

    They had, what, 35 public hearings and did not turn up jack diddly squat because there was nothing to find.

    Wanting something and the reality of that thing are two very separate things. Most kids get that around kindergarten or first grade.

    Declaring something is true when you have no evidence for it and expecting us to swallow it is either very childish or creepily gaslighting.

    If Trump actually, legitimately lost from cheating you need to provide some fucking actual evidence.

    LA LA LA LA I Can’t Hear You makes you look like a colicky toddler.

    3
  10. Gavin says:

    Only thing the committee has done wrong – and it’s pretty big – is to not share info with Garland until they’re finished. So DOJ can’t start their actual on-the-record investigating until after the committee finishes.. which may not be fast enough for 1/6/2025 when the incoming R president will shut it all down.

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  11. Kari Q says:

    @de stijl:

    I’m sure she will get the Profile in Courage award, probably next year.

    1
  12. Ken_L says:

    In the interests of accuracy, it should be noted that McCarthy did not appoint Cheney to the committee. She was one of the original eight members appointed by Pelosi. McCarthy’s five appointees were Banks, Davis, Jordan, Armstrong and Nehls.