The G.O.P. Heckles the January 6th Show

Looking back at the events that led up to the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, it’s hard to settle on the moment of greatest danger for the republic. A contender, as Liz Cheney, the vice-chair of the House Select Committee investigating January 6th, made clear in the committee’s prime-time hearing last Thursday, was a standoff in which Donald Trump came close to firing his acting Attorney General, Jeffrey Rosen. The plan was to replace Rosen with a Department of Justice official named Jeffrey Clark, who was ready to send officials in six of the states Joe Biden had won a letter saying that the D.O.J. had uncovered voting irregularities, and that their legislatures might want to reassign their states’ electors. “This letter is a lie,” Cheney said. Trump, according to witness testimony, had told Rosen and others at the department to “just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the [Republican] congressmen.”

The most straightforward job of those congressmen in the scheme to keep Trump in power was to contest the tallying of Biden’s electors on January 6th—and a hundred and thirty-nine representatives and eight senators ultimately objected to electors from Arizona, Pennsylvania, or both. But one of the themes of the committee’s presentation was that the Republicans’ involvement was not confined to that legislative act. For example, Representative Scott Perry, of Pennsylvania, had, Cheney said, been a key figure in connecting Trump to Clark, whose ascension to acting Attorney General was blocked only by the threat of mass resignations at the D.O.J. (Cheney played a video clip in which Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, said that he had regarded various threats to resign as just “whining.”)

Perry was active in Trump’s post-election efforts in Pennsylvania, conveying outlandish theories about how foreign forces—including, oddly, the British—had tampered with the ballot count. Politico reported that a witness told the committee that she had seen Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, burn documents after he’d had a meeting with Perry. During Thursday’s televised hearing—the first of six—Cheney said that Perry had “contacted the White House in the weeks after January 6th to seek a Presidential pardon,” as had “multiple” other Republican members of Congress. She also noted that he had refused to testify before the committee.

The focus on Perry and his colleagues illuminates a number of challenges in coming to terms with January 6th. For a start, there is a great deal that remains unknown to the public, and Republicans could fill in many of the blank spaces in the record. Yet most of Trump’s supporters in Congress are unrepentant and, in many cases, increasingly committed to an extreme and conspiratorial view not only of January 6th but also of the 2020 election.

In May, Perry, who for months had rebuffed requests to coöperate with the committee voluntarily, became one of five G.O.P. House members whom it subpoenaed. The others are Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, of California; Andy Biggs, of Arizona; Mo Brooks, of Alabama; and Jim Jordan, of Ohio. Issuing the subpoenas was a significant move that the G.O.P. is treating as an outrage. It is not unprecedented for representatives to be subpoenaed in a House investigation, although the practice has generally been confined to the Ethics Committee. But Republicans have taken the position that Cheney and her colleagues constitute, as McCarthy put it in a press conference on Thursday, “the most political and least legitimate committee in American history.” Thus far, none of the five has complied, though the legal maneuvering is still at an early stage. Jordan sent the committee’s chair, Bennie Thompson, an angry eleven-page letter on Thursday, just before the hearing began, questioning its motives and demanding that, before he responded further, he be given all material “in which my name appears or in which I am referenced.”

None of the five Republicans was hard to find on Thursday. Brooks, who was initially endorsed by Trump in Alabama’s May Senate primary, then was unendorsed, and now, in a bid to be reëndorsed before a June 21st runoff, is portraying Trump’s rejection of him as a benevolent act (“the kick in the pants we needed”), tweeted that the hearing was a “kangaroo court.” Perry and Biggs took to the House floor, with Marjorie Taylor Greene, of Georgia, as their wingwoman, to preëmptively denounce the hearing. Perry called it a “Soviet-style show trial”; Biggs suggested that the breach of the Capitol had been the work of Trump’s enemies.

At the same time, there is not much of a line between Perry, who chairs the Freedom Caucus, and McCarthy, who, at his press conference, dodged the question of whether Biden had been legitimately elected, and managed to bring up the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. When McCarthy was asked about his subpoena, he said he’d heard that the committee wanted to talk about a phone call he’d had with Trump on January 6th—and that he’d already said what he had to say about it “on the three networks.” McCarthy has a good chance of becoming Speaker after the midterms; he may be hoping, if he does, to simply disband the committee and make the subpoenas go away.

Cheney, of course, is a Republican, too, and a very conservative one. But she has broken with her party over January 6th and Trump. Adam Kinzinger, of Illinois, the only other Republican on the committee, is not running for reëlection. Cheney is trailing her Trump-endorsed opponent in the Wyoming primary, Harriet Hageman, by a wide margin. A few weeks ago, Trump, on a visit to the state to attack Cheney and the “insurrection hoax,” offered an extraordinary complaint about how his rally on January 6th has been viewed: “I have never spoken, in my opinion, before a crowd that big! And nobody wants to talk about it from the fake news media.” He called Cheney “totally crazy.”

Cheney, in her presentation, described how Trump, after urging that crowd to go to the Capitol, returned to the White House to watch the subsequent onslaught on television. According to testimony she cited, when Trump heard that people were chanting, “Hang Mike Pence,” he said, “Maybe our supporters have the right idea.” Cheney made a point of saying that, when McCarthy called Trump and people around him in the midst of the attack, looking for help that was not forthcoming, the Minority Leader “was, quote, scared.” Now it seems that what most frightens Republicans, apart from Trump’s anger, is a clear view of January 6th. In the coming weeks, the committee’s job is to make sure that neither they nor the rest of the country can look away. ♦

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