Editor’s Note: Frida Ghitis, (@fridaghitis) a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a frequent opinion contributor to CNN, a contributing columnist to The Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.
What should happen if the public words and actions of members of Congress helped contribute to the attack on the US Capitol on January 6?
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif), has compiled pieces of the publicly available social media postings made by those representatives who voted to deny Americans their choice of president; they did this even after a riotous mob overran the Capitol just hours earlier. Her nearly 2,000-page report, which has been online for a week, is both a trove of documentation and a steaming electronic landfill of fetid lies and incitement.
Federal prosecutors have already charged more than 300 people in connection with the violent assault that sought to keep Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s electoral victory. But it was Republican politicians who also helped fuel the fire promoting the Big Lie, the false claim that former President Donald Trump was the real winner; a lie so pernicious that it still infects the country, especially since Trump and his friends are still spreading it.
It represents an ongoing threat to the health of US democracy. The crisis of January 6 has not ended.
Too many officials who voted against certifying a valid democratic election had spent months playing Trump’s dangerous game – some preemptively, ominously casting doubt on the outcome well ahead of November 3, and goading Trump supporters to act even after the votes were in and the winner declared. Many are still at it. Now, Lofgren has cataloged much of what they wrote, and it resembles nothing so much as spent shells after a battle … mixed with unexploded ordnance.
Lofgren’s report includes, for example, a video of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has previously backed QAnon from Georgia, declaring a month before the election that, “the only way to get your freedoms back is if it’s earned with the price of blood.” (After the riot, she would falsely suggest that those who had broken into the Capitol were not Republicans and instead falsely implied so-called “Antifa” dressed as Trump supporters were to blame.)
Another fervent Trumpist, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, has insisted there was fraud, and on November 8, in the official Twitter account of the “House Committee on the Judiciary,” of which he is ranking member, Republicans reposted a tweet that declares, “We Won’t Forget. Buckle Up.”
There is much more. Why do we need to see it? Because according to the 14th amendment of the US Constitution, “No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress” after swearing an oath to support the Constitution, and then engaging in “insurrection or rebellion.”
Anyone who has effectively abetted or engaged in insurrection does not belong in Congress.
The Constitution also empowers Congress to “punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour.” Those who promoted insurrection should be expelled. In the meantime, voters should have the facts. If their colleagues do not expel them, if the courts move too slowly, voters should take matters into their own hands.
Let’s consider more of Lofgren’s findings.
The running theme among all those who posted to social media and voted against certifying the voters’ choice is the relentless repetition that the election was fraudulent, that Democrats were cheating, that all the legal votes were not counted. Dozens of judges, including many appointed by Trump, in more than 60 challenges filed by Trump and his allies, have said that claim is absolutely false or baseless.
Yet, here is Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas revealing on January 2 that he, “Had a great meeting today with folks from ‘Stop the Steal’ … I encouraged them to keep fighting and assured them I look forward to doing MY duty on January 6th.”
Stop the Steal and its leader, Ali Alexander, who claims he helped organize the rally that preceded the insurrection, did this with others, whose names will surely emerge during the Justice Department’s probes. Federal investigators have already found signs of contact between the rioters and members of Congress, in addition to communication among the Capitol invaders in which they talk about their links with lawmakers in the days around January 6 (Sessions deleted the tweet about his “great meeting” with Stop the Steal; he posted a new one the afternoon of the Capitol invasion, saying the riot “should not have occurred and should not be tolerated,” according to The Dallas Morning News.)
Alexander said he planned the January 6 rally with the help of Republican Reps. Mo Brooks of Alabama and Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs of Arizona.
Four days before the attack, Gosar tweeted, “sedition and treason for stealing votes is appropriate.” At a rally a few weeks earlier, Gosar had exhorted the crowd to “conquer the Hill” to bring Trump back to power. At the rally, Alexander called him “my captain” and namechecked Biggs as “one of the other heroes.” On the day of the attack, while the Capitol was under siege, Gosar tweeted, “Let’s not get carried away. I don’t want anyone hurt.”
And a week later, after two Democrats introduced a resolution censuring him, Brooks beat a retreat, telling a local news reporter, “I think some of these folks are giving me far too much credit in my persuasive ability.”
In a statement several weeks after the attack, Biggs denied any involvement with those who rioted and said such allegations were “sensational lies.”
Then there’s Rep. Devin Nunes, another Trump acolyte, who in recent weeks highlighted and commented, “Awesome” below a Parler message declaring, “For some Americans it’s not enough to just sit and watch the news, they take action.” Nunes also reposted a Parler post that said, “We’re still living in the coup.”
The overriding message remains that Biden’s win, and hence his presidency, are illegitimate.
Nunes “echoed” multiple posts on Parler from Lou Dobbs – the former Fox anchor who has been named in a multibillion dollar lawsuit for allegedly lying – in which Dobbs asserts that the there has never been an election with so “many widespread irregularities, anomalies, screw ups, disruption and plain cheating in American history!” Nunes and Jordan were in a group of four House Republicans who sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last month charging that it was she who was partially responsible for the attack for failing to marshal National Guard defenses.
Another Trump fan, Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson – the former White House doctor who made ridiculous claims about the then President’s health and has just been excoriated in a report by the Pentagon’s inspector general for a multitude of rule violations – on December 28 offered a three-step plan to “take our country back.” Step Three, in his Twitter post, reads “Jan 6th throw out the fraudulent vote.” By that date, of course, the courts had repeatedly ruled against claims that votes were fraudulent. In an interview on January 6 he protested: “I don’t know who these people are … as far as I’m concerned they’re domestic terrorists.”
That was the day the election results was to have become official. Instead, it was the day Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol, trying to undo the most basic tenet of democracy.
There is no doubt the lawmakers in Lofgren’s report promoted the narrative that poured gasoline on the deadly insurrection. It seems quite conceivable that some of them may have had a more direct role in some of the events that ended in violence.
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But every one of them, by voting against certifying the election results, participated in an effort to subvert the results of the election, to overturn the result of a democratic vote in the United States of America. That, alone, in my mind, makes them, at the very least, a part of the insurrection, however indirectly.
The tweets, the messages, the incitement, is only more evidence that they are – what do we call it? Enablers? Collaborators? to an attempted coup against American democracy.