Washington Whispers: The January 6th House Brawl Begins
By Jessie Seigel / Washington, D.C.
Its name is magisterial: The United States House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack. And its mandate couldn’t be more urgent, given that Trump’s marauders attacked the outnumbered police and threatened the lives of the Vice President and every member of Congress. But since its first hearing in July, where four Capitol police officers gave moving testimony about the January 6 assault on the Capitol, the select committee has appeared quiescent.
However, appearances are deceiving. The committee has been quietly working away, meeting twice per week, even during the House’s summer recess. It is now on the move, and its actions are broad, comprehensive, and dogged—exactly what they should be—a model for anyone who wants to see those behind the January 6 coup attempt exposed and democracy saved.
This is hardly surprising given the stellar backgrounds and demonstrated integrity of the Committee’s members. In addition to Committee Chair Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, there is no absence of talent. Among the Democrats, California Rep. Adam Schiff was the lead manager of Trump’s first impeachment, and California Rep. Zoe Lofgren was a fellow manager. Democratic Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, constitutional scholar, was lead manager of Trump’s second impeachment. California Rep. Pete Aguilar is vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, and Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy, currently a member of the House Armed Services Committee, was formerly a national security specialist at the Pentagon.
After jousting between Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy over the composition of the committee, only two Republicans cared sufficiently about democracy to join: Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger and Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney. In the spirit of bipartisanship, Cheney has just been made the Committee’s Vice-Chair—to the consternation of the Republican right wing, which is trying to get Cheney and Kinzinger ousted from the Republican Caucus as Democratic “spies.”
The Select Committee’s Actions
On August 25, the committee issued a sweeping demand for documents from federal agencies. These included communication records of the White House, and the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Interior, Justice, FBI, National Counterterrorism Center, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The committee gave these agencies a stiff deadline of two weeks—until September 9—to produce the documents.
The committee also requested information on personnel changes between Election Day 2020 and Inauguration Day 2021, when Biden took office, as well as documents and communications that could reveal former President Trump’s use of such personnel changes to remain in office despite losing the election. According to Salon, this included questions about why the Defense Department denied that Michael Flynn's brother, Lt. General Charles Flynn, participated in the January 6th meetings on how and when to respond to the attacks. Michael Flynn was central to Trump’s "Stop the Steal" campaign fomenting the attack.
Hopefully, the committee also has inquired about the replacement on November 9, 2020 of Defense Secretary Mark Esper with Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, who delayed authorizing deployment of the Washington, D.C. National Guard on January 6.
In addition, the committee’s requests to agencies included documents and communications involving Trump's former Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, members of Trump’s legal team like Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and Kurt Olsen, and members of his family—Melania, Donald Jr., Eric, Ivanka, son-in-law Jared Kushner, and daughter-in-law Lara—all of whom had roles in either the White House or Trump’s campaigns.
On August 30, the committee also sent letters to 35 major telephone, email and social media companies—including AT&T, Inc, T-Mobile US Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp., Facebook, Reddit, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube—instructing them to preserve records that could be relevant to the committee’s inquiry.
The private companies were not only asked to preserve records of Donald Trump, Ivanka, Eric and Donald, Jr., but records of a number of members of Congress: Republican Reps. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar of Arizona, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Jody Hice of Georgia and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania.
The committee chairman, Mississippi Democratic Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, explained that these individuals’ records were specified because they have been publicly supportive of the January 6 move on the Capitol and of the people who participated in it. According to The New York Times, Thompson said, “We need to find out exactly what their level of participation in this event was…If you helped raise money, if you provided misinformation to people, if you served on a planning committee — whatever your role in January 6, I think the public has a right to know.”
Committee member California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff told the Times that the requests were broad by design: “We know that there are members who were involved in the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally; we know that there are members who had direct communications with the president while the attack on the Capitol was going on…There are any number of members who have very pertinent information.”
As far back as July 31, the Washington Post reported that Thompson said,
“If we get an inkling that there’s any resistance with providing the committee some of this information, boom, here comes the subpoena.” Thompson has maintained that the committee will have no reluctance to subpoena any member of Congress whose testimony is relevant if they don’t cooperate voluntarily.
Finally, according to the New York Times, a person familiar with the committee’s discussions said its members intend to investigate the possible coordination by militias.
Committee member, California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren emphasized that the requests thus far are part of an investigation, not an accusation, but she also stated, according to the Times, “We’ll see what we find out…It’s fair to say you didn’t have 10,000 people just happen to show up and attack Capitol Police officers, maim them and threaten to kill the vice president and members of Congress just because they felt like it. There was a reason, there was a structure to this, and we need to uncover everything about that.”
The Republican Reaction
Now that the legal chickens are on the verge of coming home to roost, Republican feathers are flying.
On August 31, Minority Leader McCarthy tweeted:
But McCarthy cited no such law—because, apparently—there isn’t one.
In fact, the companies now have a legal duty to preserve the records as asked and
are required under law to comply with Committee subpoenas. If McCarthy wishes to oppose that, the proper recourse would be to challenge it in court—not make threats worthy of a tin-pot dictator.
While McCarthy pretended that he has law on his side, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene did not even try to veil her threat. On Fox News, referring to cooperation with the Committee, she told Tucker Carlson: "If these telecommunications companies, if they go along with this, they will be shut down. And that's a promise."
Committee member Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell of California has suggested the House should consider a criminal referral of McCarthy to the Justice Department for witness tampering or obstruction of justice. He told CNN, "I've prosecuted people for doing less on smaller scale cases."
If McCarthy made his statements or tweeted them from the floor of the House, he might—as was Joe McCarthy before him—be protected by the Constitution’s Speech and Debate Clause, providing members of Congress with immunity for “any speech or debate in either House.” But Majorie Taylor Greene, who made her threat on Tucker Carlson’s TV show, has no such protection. Perhaps, at a minimum, a criminal referral against her should be made to the Justice Department.
Whatever response the committee makes to these Republican threats, the bottom line is that the committee is proceeding to investigate Trump’s attempted coup with intelligence and vigor. They mean business. Now if only the Senate and the Justice Department can find the appetite to measure up to their superb investigative standard and do their part, perhaps Americans will get the answers they deserve.
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.