By Jessie Seigel / Washington, D.C.
The closer the House Select Committee on the January 6 Insurrection gets to exposing those who orchestrated the attempted overthrow of the 2020 election, the louder Republicans shout about taking revenge when they control Congress again. And with all their nationwide voter suppression machinations, they understandably believe that this year’s midterm elections will give them that control.
On January 23, Newt Gingrich, a former Republican Speaker of the House, told Fox News: “You're going to have a Republican majority in the House and a Republican majority in the Senate. And all of these people who have been so tough and so mean and so nasty are going to be delivered subpoenas.” In case anyone missed the point of whom he meant, Gingrich called the January 6 Committee a “lynch mob” for “pursuing innocent people.”
Gingrich, who knows a thing or two about political lynch mobs, was engaging in the Republicans’ favorite pastime: projecting their own actions and motives onto their opponents. In the 1990s, as Majority House Leader, Gingrich led a patently partisan impeachment investigation into President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. It’s curious how Republicans consider lying about a private affair to be a high crime and misdemeanor, but find fomenting a coup a perfectly appropriate use of presidential power.
Gingrich further threatened on Fox News, “I think when you have a Republican Congress, this is all going to come crashing down. And the wolves are going to find out they are now sheep and they're the ones who are going to face a real risk of, I think, jail for the kind of laws they're breaking."
Of course, Gingrich did not name one single law January 6 Committee members have broken.
In response, the vice chair of the committee, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, staunchly tweeted, “A former Speaker of the House is threatening jail time for members of Congress who are investigating the violent January 6 attack on our Capitol and our Constitution. This is what it looks like when the rule of law unravels.”
California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren, one of the Democrats on the committee, called Gingrich’s statements “bizarre,” saying, “We're not going after anybody. We're going after the truth.” Lofgren told CNN that the committee is uncovering a plot to “essentially overturn our system of government,” and said of Gingrich’s jail threat, "You know, it leaves me speechless. I mean, unless he is assuming that the government does get overthrown and there's no system of justice."
Why Gingrich’s statements surprised Lofgren, I do not understand. Overthrowing the government is precisely what those at the top of the Republican Party attempted in fomenting the January 6 insurrection—and they are continuing in that attempt even now.
But why should anyone care what Newt Gingrich—who has not been in government since 1998—thinks? Because Gingrich is advising House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Republican plans for the midterm elections and the next congressional term. Apparently, Gingrich is passing on the wisdom of his viperous, scorched-earth tactics, and responding to legitimate investigations with brazen tit-for-tat threats—justice, reason, or evidence be damned.
The Republican Threats
When Republicans accuse their opposition of something, you won’t lose money betting it is something they themselves are doing—or planning to do. Their tried-and-true maneuver is projection. They also frequently appropriate their opponents’ language to describe their own situation in order to confuse public perception. This often involves claiming they are doing the opposite of what they are actually doing. And of course, there is the outsized, over-the-top nature of the accusations Republicans lodge against those who oppose them. Gingrich’s bullying statements are a classic example of these techniques.
In a January 20 op-ed in Newsweek, Gingrich claimed that Democrats seem to think they can “behave like wolves and destroy and intimidate their Republican opponents.” Gingrich shamelessly equated the January 6 Committee’s requests for testimony and documents with Joseph Stalin “killing his rivals,” and the Castro brothers in Cuba “torturing, imprisoning, and exiling political opponents.”
On a tear, Gingrich called for Republicans, once they are back in power, to launch the “Select Committee on Congressional Dishonesty and Abuse of Power” to investigate members of the January 6 Committee and Justice Department officials.
Then, while again calling the committee members vicious wolves, Gingrich simultaneously appropriated parts of their language in an effort make his threats appear respectable: “This is not about revenge. This is about reinforcing the principle that in America, political wolves who viciously destroy their fellow Americans—and violate the rule of law to do so—will not be tolerated. This is about restoring the core principles of American self-government.”
Lesson learned. Following Gingrich’s tutelage, McCarthy and other Republicans have characterized the investigations of wrongdoing on January 6 as “politically motivated.” But as Vanity Fair wrote, “each time Democrats have tried to hold Republicans accountable for flagrant transgressions, their counterparts have responded with threats to return the favor, regardless of whether or not it’s actually warranted.”
If Republicans win back the House, Kevin McCarthy has vowed that he will remove Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell of California, from key committee assignments. No surprise there--both Schiff and Swalwell were prominent in the Trump impeachment investigations. Schiff, the current chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is also on the January 6 Committee. The Republicans would also remove from committees, ultra-progressive Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.
Clearly, this would be done as retribution for the Democrats’ unilateral removal of Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona from their committee assignments. But Greene and Gosar were removed for cause. The duo had seriously threatened the lives of fellow representatives and Minority Leader McCarthy, the head of their caucus, had refused to do anything about it. If these Democrats are removed, it will not be for cause, but as revenge for their efforts to save our democracy or for the policy positions they have taken to represent their constituents.
And that’s not all. Republican North Carolina Rep. Dan Bishop has, according to The New Republic, also threatened contempt resolutions and criminal referrals of Attorney General Merrick Garland; White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain; President Biden’s son, Hunter Biden; Attorney Marc Elias, who has been challenging voter suppression laws in court; Andrew Weissmann, the chief of DOJ’s fraud section; and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.
But the Republicans won’t stop there.
As early as May 2021, Elie Mystal presciently wrote in The Nation, “If Democrats prosecute Trump for corruption and tax fraud, Republicans will prosecute Joe Biden for having ice cream before dinner if they have to. That is their way.”
Proving Mystal an accurate prophet, last week, Republican Texas Senator Ted Cruz, said on his podcast that if the Republicans take over the House, “I think we’ll see serious investigations of the Biden Administration.” Cruz predicted that the Republicans could impeach President Biden “whether it’s justified or not.”
Counting on short memories, Cruz claimed that the Democrats have gone after Trump simply ”because they disagree with him.” But the 2019 impeachment was based on Trump’s attempt to force Ukraine to falsely claim it was investigating Biden’s family in order to obtain foreign aid, and the 2021 impeachment was based on his incitement of the January 6 insurrection.
As if the threats by Republicans in Congress were not enough, former President Trump still has his finger well in the pot, personally pushing GOP lawmakers, congressional candidates, and operatives to get ready to start investigations and, in particular, to target the FBI for supposedly causing the January 6 violence.
Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows has even suggested, reported Vanity Fair, that Trump become speaker if Republicans take the House. Wouldn’t that be fun? The country would have its own version of Robespierre combined with Alice in Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts. Off with everybody’s heads!
In addition, Trump is prepping his mobs for massive violence if he is indicted for anything at all. Spreading his vitriol at a Texas rally on January 29, Trump told his crowd, “If these radical, vicious” prosecutors or investigators “do anything wrong or illegal, I hope we are going to have in this country the biggest protest we have ever had…in Washington, D.C., in New York, in Atlanta, and elsewhere, because our country and our elections are corrupt.”
To encourage such mayhem, Trump promised that if he runs and gets elected in 2024, he’ll pardon the January 6 insurrectionists—thus implying that he will do the same for any who attack those who indict him.
None of these threats are hyperbolic, and we citizens dismiss them at our peril. When Trump incites violence, he means it. And when Republicans talk of putting their opponents in jail regardless of evidence of wrongdoing—they mean it too.
In its determination to stop any investigation that would prevent its creation of a totalitarian state, the Republican Party will even eat its own. On February 4, in a lightning quick voice vote with no debate or discussion, the Republican National Committee voted to censure Rep. Liz Cheney and Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger for participating on the January 6 Committee. The RNC also made plans to fund a primary challenge against Cheney in Wyoming. (Kinzinger is not running for reelection.)
Cheney and Kinzinger are standing firm. But if this is what the Republicans will do to their own for trying to defend democracy, one can only imagine what they will do when they have power over their enemies. Unless they are stopped, these authoritarians will take their anti-democratic moves as far as they are allowed to take them.
Wake Up, Merrick Garland!
The effort to prevent the establishment of a radically authoritarian state is in a race against time.
If the Republicans take over the Congress in the 2022 midterm election, the House’s current investigation of the attempted coup will be stopped dead in its tracks and buried. And if the Republicans follow through on their threats, the Justice Department may be paralyzed by impeachment inquiries that prevent it from effectively investigating or prosecuting those who conspired to overturn the 2020 election.
So the DOJ has limited time to act. But there is no indication that Attorney General Garland recognizes this. The agency has not yet even decided whether to act on the December 13, 2021, criminal referral of Mark Meadows for contempt of Congress, for his refusal to obey a lawful subpoena. And—despite the enormous amount of public evidence—the DOJ has not given any sign that it has even begun investigating the suspected organizers of the conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election.
As political scientist and MSNBC commentator Jason Johnson recently observed, “the defenders of democracy may end up failing, because while they’re trying to dot the i’s and cross the t’s, you’ve got [the Republicans]… making sure the t’s and i’s don’t matter because they control the alphabet and they control the count in every state.”
If only Attorney-General Merrick Garland would take heed of Mr. Johnson’s warning, and let the public know that the DOJ is, at this stage, not still merely considering the legal ifs, ands, and buts, of what to do. Because while the DOJ moves more slowly than a tortoise—if it is acting at all—the impending authoritarian seizure of government may make DOJ’s so-called considerations irrelevant.
The January 6 Committee is under even more pressure than DOJ. It has a mere 10 months to complete its work and present its results to the public before the fascists may take over and dismantle it. The committee was supposed to begin public hearings this month or early next month, but Democratic committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, has said that due to new evidence, public hearings now may not occur until April or May.
However, according to Salon, Rep. Raskin has also promised that the upcoming hearings “will blow the roof off the House.” Let us hope the hearings do just that, and in a timely fashion—because something needs to rouse DOJ from its reverie and wake the public up to how we almost lost our democracy, and still could if they don’t vote in the midterm elections.
Political columnist Jessie Seigel had a long career as a government attorney in which she honed her analytic skills. She has also twice received an Artist’s Fellowship from the Washington, D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities for her fiction, and has been a finalist for a number of literary awards. In addition, Seigel is an associate editor at the Potomac Review, a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books, and a dabbler in political cartoons at Daily Kos. Of this balance in her work between the analytic and the imaginative, Seigel jokes, “I guess my right and left brains are well-balanced.” More on and from Seigel can be found at The Adventurous Writer, https://www.jessieseigel.com.