capitol officer
'I felt like they were trying to kill me': Police officers to testify during hearing
03:40 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

The tasks before the Democratic-led House Select Committee examining the January 6 insurrection that opens on Tuesday, after bitter partisan feuding over its make-up, could hardly be more critical.

Not only is it probing one of the darkest episodes in America’s story, but – in examining the incitement and assaults on democracy on that terrible day – it will serve as a real-time counterpoint as pro-Donald Trump Republicans whitewash history to excuse their demagogic leader.

When police officers on Tuesday testify on the committee’s opening day about how they were abused and attacked by Trump’s supporters, they will directly refute the ex-President’s claim about a “loving” crowd of his MAGA-hatted supporters.

In examining Trump’s behavior after he lost November’s election and then claimed massive fraud, investigators will later likely draw a direct line between the former President’s malfeasance and the shocking US Capitol assault. The committee’s work is even more vital, since the dangerous tide of insurrection and lies that helped spark the sacking of Congress has only intensified since the former President left Washington and set his sights on destroying democracy from the outside.

The committee will represent the most formal and sweeping effort yet to find out what happened behind the scenes in the White House, in Trump’s campaign and by violent elements of his supporters before their march on Congress. It is also likely to examine the policy and security failures that allowed the mob to breach the Capitol. And it may offer recommendations for how to prevent such unheard-of scenes in the future – should the nation again stand on the cusp of political disaster.

That the first hearing on Tuesday will begin more than six months after the January 6 mob attack underscores how the GOP’s continuing fealty to Trump has warped normal constitutional customs of accountability and will be certain to diminish its impact.

But the panel will go ahead, with seven Democrats and two Republicans, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney and Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who were appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – and may well be in the process of sacrificing their promising political careers to expose Trump’s threat to democracy and the Constitution.

House GOP Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy brands the committee as effectively a kangaroo court designed to damage the ex-President. He pulled out all five of his picks for the committee after Pelosi rejected two of them, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan and Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, who have been amplifying Trump’s claims that the last election was fraudulent. Jordan has been a leading figure in trying to blame Pelosi for the sacking of Congress – over security failings – rather than Trump.

Acting in line with Trump’s demands, McCarthy actually helped sabotage an earlier genuine independent commission formed in a bipartisan House deal. And after initially saying Trump bore responsibility for the red-hatted hordes who stormed Congress, McCarthy has made the ex-President the anchor of his midterm election campaign.

A historical record

After months of right-wing propaganda and misinformation about the January 6 assault, the committee has the chance to set the record straight and to establish a historical record – even if Trump supporters are certain to reject the truth.

Testimony from police officers, lawmakers and others who fled for their lives from the crowd on that day will recreate the stark horror of those moments when it seemed that America’s democratic traditions were in grave peril.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, who serves on the January 6 panel, said Monday that testimony from DC and Capitol Police officers will push back on GOP attempts to rewrite history and portray what it was like “to be on the front lines for the brave police officers.” The committee is expected to see never-before-seen videos from January 6 that include profane language.

What actually did happen is still shocking.

A sitting US president refused to accept his sound defeat in a presidential election, cast a malicious web of lies about fraud that did not take place and called a mob to Washington. Then he incited them with further lies, told them to “fight like Hell” before they marched on Congress to block the certification of his successor’s election victory.

It was, for all intents and purposes, a coup attempt and made the United States look more like a failed state in the hands of a vengeful dictator trying to cling onto power rather than the global guarantor of democracy and peaceful transfers of power it set itself up to be.

The atmosphere surrounding the committee would feel less fraught had Trump’s threat to basic American democratic values faded – as many hoped it would – when he left power on January 20. But the ex-President has only escalated his claims that the election was stolen, convincing millions of his supporters that American democracy is corrupt.

His increasingly extreme behavior carries the possibility that the violence on January 6 may not be the end of it. In Arizona on Saturday for instance, Trump spewed lie after lie about the election, and warned that the midterms in 2022 and the presidential race in 2024 would also be corrupted if a supposed plot against him wasn’t exposed.

If anything, his speech was more inciteful than the one he delivered on the Ellipse in Washington on January 6 that led to the insurrection.

“It was a scam, the greatest crime in history, and we have to hold these people accountable,” Trump said in his visit to the Grand Canyon State, where GOP state senators are conducting a sham audit of votes in key Maricopa County based on his lies about fraudulent ballots.

In another example of incitement from Trump world, the ex-President’s short-tenured national security adviser Michael Flynn, a former general, made a “joke” about assassinating someone in Washington when he was presented with an automatic rifle at an event earlier this month.

In the light of the events on January 6, his humor was in very poor taste.

Feuding between Pelosi and McCarthy could undermine probe findings

When Pelosi vetoed Banks and Jordan’s spots the committee last week, many Beltway pundits suggested she had made a grave political error and enabled McCarthy to claim that her motives were nakedly partisan.

In the most-narrow sense, that may be true. And it is almost impossible to find a precedent for a speaker dismissing members of a committee selected by a rival party leader.

But the unique context of the January 6 insurrection also provides some unprecedented background. And as the committee opens, her strategy looks less risky. McCarthy for instance will have no capacity to control events in the hearing room or have allies on Trump’s side push back on damaging televised testimony.

The select committee, which has subpoena power, will have the capacity to unveil weeks of damaging evidence that will further soil Trump’s legacy and might increase the price for the Republicans who support it. Pelosi hinted at how her political strategy will play out in a statement from her press office on Monday.

“This week, House Republicans are proving once again that they stand with the insurrectionists – not with our law enforcement,” the release said.

The willingness of Cheney and Kinzinger to join the committee, meanwhile, will allow Pelosi at least the opportunity to claim the panel is bipartisan. McCarthy lashed out at the two rebel GOP lawmakers whose defection underscores the extent in which vast sectors of the House Republican Party have abandoned democracy in a way that would shock the GOP’s most revered past leaders.

He called Cheney, one of the most-staunch conservatives in the House, and Kinzinger, an Iraq war veteran, “Pelosi Republicans.” Cheney responded that the new name was “pretty childish” – a comment echoed by her colleague from Illinois.

“It’s childish. We’re doing big things right now. We’re getting to the answers of the worst attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812,” Kinzinger said Monday. He added that he would be willing to hear testimony from his fellow Republican members of the House – like Jordan – on what their role was on January 6.

“I want to know where the facts lead, and if that includes members that had a role in organizing or that they knew or that tried to cover up. That’s important,” Kinzinger said.

Underscoring how the House GOP has split over January 6 – and the radical company McCarthy is keeping by opposing an investigation – four pro-Trump members will counter-program Tuesday’s committee opening.

Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert and Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar will highlight what they say is the plight of January 6 “prisoners.” Such terminology, referring to criminal suspects being held as part of a legal investigation into their alleged role in the riot, emphasizes the extreme road that the GOP has taken in support of Trump.

The contrast between the two events could undermine Republican claims to always be the party of law and order, justice and support for the police. This could be noted by suburban voters who deserted Trump’s cause and helped cost him the election. But it’s unlikely that it will cost the ex-President his almost mystical connection with his supporters – that could convince him to pursue another run for the presidency in 2024.

After all, if two impeachments and the truth about an election that was not stolen did not break through, it’s unlikely that a select committee appointed by Pelosi will – as important as it undoubtably is.