The January 6 House Special Committee has just started its work and is already proving the great value of Congressional inquiries to the country.
The committee was created against the background of vast gaps in our knowledge of the attack on Capitol Hill. It is a national imperative – one that all public leaders should share – to shed light on what happened when thousands of rioters attempted to scuttle a fair election, threatening American democracy itself.
Except that not all leaders share this goal. Almost the entire Republican Party has attempted to derail any investigation into the January 6 causes, and when that effort failed, the party refused to participate, hoping to denigrate the investigation as partisan. The only two members of the GOP committee, anti-Trumpers Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, defied their leaders when they accepted invitations to join the investigation.
During its first public hearing in late July, the chairman of the select committee, Representative Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., Made it clear that the group’s investigative power, including subpoenas, could and would be used against the members of Congress – a departure from past practice – to get the full story on Jan.6.
A month later, Thompson sent out sweeping requests for documents to federal agencies and ordered phone and social media companies to “keep records” of various Republicans, including the former president, his entourage and members of his. family, who participated in the pre-insurgency. âStop the Stealâ rally on January 6 or who may have spoken with the president just before, during and after the attack on Capitol Hill. Thousands of pages of government records were turned on September 9, with more to come.
Almost as soon as the committee’s actions became public knowledge, the truth quotient among some GOP members improved.
Start with Rep. Jim Jordan from Ohio. Just days after the first select committee hearing, a TV interviewer asked Jordan if he had spoken with the president on January 6. Any conversation would have been just routine: “Yeah, I mean, I talkâ¦ with the president all the time.” I spoke with him on January 6th. I don’t think this is unusual. I would expect members to speak with the President of the United States when trying to get things done. “
When exactly, the interviewer then asked, did he and Trump speak? Before, during or after the attack?
Jordan took it to the next level: âUh, I would have to go, I, I, I, I spoke to him that day, I think afterwards. I don’t know if I spoke to him in the morning or not. I do not know. Uh, I should go back and, I mean, I don’t know, I don’t know … “
A month later, shortly after the select committee’s phone and social media requests were made public, Jordan was much less hesitant. Quoted in Politico, he made more than one call with Trump on Jan.6 and connected with the president while he was curled up in a safe room avoiding the marauders.
Why this sudden clarity? Perhaps because Jordan realizes that he will likely be called to testify, under oath, before the committee and the country. Any discrepancy between his public statements and hard evidence – like phone company records – could prove to be demeaning, not to mention politically dangerous. It could even put him in criminal danger.
This strength of the legal process is exactly what the country was denied in Trump’s day, when the president and his facilitators brazenly lied, blocked and doubled down to evade document requests and testify under oath. Trump has leaned on sand in the cogs of justice and government bureaucracy, maneuvering to keep his behavior safe from scrutiny.
Two indictments and a special counsel investigation later, the result is that we still don’t know the truth about much of the former president’s suspicious conduct, and in particular his role in the serious threats against the regime. democratic process that culminated in the events of January 6. .
The Jan.6 committee is playing in earnest, and of course, the Biden administration will prove less of an executive branch obstacle for investigators. Individuals can still try to blockade, but Thompson and the other members show every intention of pushing back on Republicans’ maneuvers, including California Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, another congressman likely to be called as witness.
McCarthy has gone so far as to threaten the 30 companies, including Apple, AT&T and Verizon, which have been asked to keep relevant records of communications with the president. Handing over such records, McCarthy tweeted, would violate federal law (it does not). A future Republican majority âwon’t forget,â McCarthy said. (âBlatant extortion,â a lawyer replied.) If McCarthy and other obstructionists are successful, we will never know the whole story of January 6.
The House select committee is not a “partisan sham,” as the former president accused it. This is the best and perhaps the last hope we have to counter the lies of the GOP – that there was no insurgency, that the rioters were peaceful protesters and that the only danger to our democracy was a ‘stolen’ 2020 election.
In fact, the committee could achieve a major breakthrough. With the right legal incentives – information and document requests and orders, subpoenas issued and executed, sworn testimony – some of Washington’s biggest liars can meet their match. Americans of all political stripes should stand up for this effort. A full January 6 accounting is a fundamental requirement for the maintenance of American democracy.
Harry Litman, the legal affairs columnist for the Opinion page of the Los Angeles Times, is a former U.S. attorney and assistant deputy attorney general.