Donald Trump is growing increasingly irritated with the House panel investigating the January 6, 2021, riot as it lifts the curtain on some of its findings with public hearings that have garnered gavel-to-gavel cable coverage – much to the annoyance of the TV-obsessed former President.
Tucked away at his Bedminster golf club, Trump has spent the past week venting his frustrations to nearly anyone who will listen. He has also taken his complaints about the committee on the road, lashing out at the congressional panel during a speech to conservatives in Nashville last Friday.
“I don’t understand why Kevin didn’t put anyone on the committee,” Trump has recently griped to those around him, according to a GOP source with direct knowledge of the comments – a reference to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s decision to boycott the select committee after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected two Republican members he originally chose to sit on the panel.
Trump’s growing frustration with the absence of any hard core supporters on the select committee – which has given the panel uninterrupted air time and deprived Republicans of the ability to cross-examine witnesses in real time – is just the latest example of how the public hearings have gotten under his skin. The former President has previously complained about his lack of allies on the committee, though he has become especially exasperated over the last week with his inability to preemptively respond to the committee’s findings without knowing what the panel plans to reveal during each hearing.
Trump has also publicly and privately lashed out at former Vice President Mike Pence, whose chief of staff Marc Short and former top White House lawyer Greg Jacob have both been featured prominently in the select committee hearings, putting an unflattering spotlight on the pressure campaign Trump directed at Pence and others as he desperately attempted to stay in power.
And while Trump has been pleased by the counter-programming effort being waged by his Capitol Hill allies in conservative media and on social media, he has still felt the need to take matters into his own hands. He reacted to the committee’s first prime-time hearing earlier this month with a lengthy 12-page rebuttal bashing the probe into the deadly Capitol riot and devoted much of his 90-minute appearance at the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority conference last week to slamming Pence and the committee’s two Republican members – Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.
As the former President contemplates launching another presidential bid – potentially before the midterm elections – he has also become hyper-sensitive to how the hearings are being received by viewers and voters alike, according to multiple Republicans close to Trump. The stakes are high: the investigation could not only cast Pence, one of his potential 2024 rivals, in a positive light as investigators underscore the former vice president’s role in preventing a constitutional crisis, but it could also foreshadow potential legal trouble for Trump, who is already grappling with multiple legal battles unrelated to his role in January 6.
Stuck in this high pressure atmosphere, Trump has started to direct his anger at people both inside and outside his orbit, from McCarthy and Pence to his former chief of staff Mark Meadows and Attorney General Bill Barr.
‘We have no representation on this panel’
One of Trump’s chief complaints as of late has centered on the lack of Republican representation on the committee – Cheney and Kinzinger, who were both appointed by Pelosi, are ardent Trump critics. McCarthy chose five Republicans for the panel, but Pelosi, in an unprecedented move, vetoed Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana and Jim Jordan of Ohio from serving on the committee since they supported efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
Not only has Trump privately vented about McCarthy opting to withdraw his remaining picks for the panel, but Trump also took that grievance public in a recent radio interview, though he did not mention McCarthy by name.
“Unfortunately, a bad decision was made,” Trump told conservative talk show host Wayne Allyn Root. “This committee was a bad decision, not to have representation on that committee. That was a very, very foolish decision because you know, they try and pretend like they’re legit, and only when you get into the inner workings you say, ‘what kind of a thing is this? it’s just a one-sided witch hunt.’”
“We have no representation on this panel. We should certainly have some Republicans, real Republicans … We have nobody on that panel who can fight back,” Trump said earlier in the interview. “In a way, the Republicans should be ashamed of themselves.”
The thinking among some of Trump’s advisers – and even among a handful of far-right Republicans on Capitol Hill – is that it was a mistake to not have any GOP lawmakers inside the room pushing back in real time or providing insight to the former President and rest of the GOP conference as to what investigators planned to highlight in public hearings. Had Republicans been on the committee, they could have asked tough questions of witnesses, made procedural motions to disrupt the flow of the hearings, and would have had some advance knowledge of the subpoenas, taped depositions and other evidence collected by the panel.
CNN previously reported that Trump was caught off guard by seeing his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner appear in a video clip during the first televised hearing, even though he knew they had both spoken with the committee. The former President complained to aides at the time that his daughter’s testimony was taken out of context and deliberately included to embarrass him, according to a person close to Trump.
Some Republicans have also questioned whether a bipartisan commission to investigate January 6 would have been a better outcome for Trump and the GOP. At McCarthy’s direction, GOP Rep. John Katko of New York hammered out a deal on a commission that would have required both parties to agree on subpoenas, forced the commission to finish up its work by the end of last year, and prevented any current politicians from serving on the investigative body.
But McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell both opposed the commission, which ended up failing in the Senate and led Pelosi to establish a select committee instead.
One GOP source called the move a “tactical error.”
Jordan, however, defended McCarthy’s decision-making and said the GOP leader had no choice but to boycott the select committee after what Pelosi did. After McCarthy made the decision, Republicans on Capitol Hill were quick to rally around the move. And McCarthy used the moment as a political opportunity to paint the investigation as a one-sided witch hunt, which has become the GOP’s primary talking point.
“Pelosi knew, when she wouldn’t let the selections of the leader on the committee, she knew Kevin had no other choice,” Jordan told CNN. “You’re doing something that hasn’t been done in the history of the country, and we’re just supposed to go along with it? No.”
Still, even if most of the GOP has no regrets about McCarthy deciding to yank his remaining Republican picks from the committee, it could be problematic that Trump is second guessing McCarthy, who needs the former President’s support to become speaker one day.
And in the conservative radio interview, Trump went out of his way to make clear that he has only endorsed McCarthy for reelection but not for speaker, a position McCarthy has long had his sights on and is expected to seek if Republicans retake the House this November. People close to Trump, who wants House Republicans to aggressively investigate President Joe Biden if they find themselves in power, say he has intentionally withheld a speakership endorsement to maintain leverage further down the road.
“No, no, no. I haven’t,” Trump said, when the talk show host suggested he had endorsed McCarthy for speaker. “No, I endorsed him in his race. But I haven’t endorsed anybody for speaker.”
‘I don’t see him letting up on Mike anytime soon’
Inside Trump’s orbit, his anger towards another top Republican – Pence – has sown tension between allies who share his frustration with the visible role Pence aides have played in the public hearings and those who believe his attacks are both unwarranted and unhelpful.
If Trump’s goal is to dissuade Pence from potentially challenging him in a 2024 presidential primary, allies of the former vice president say it won’t work, noting that Pence is going to make that decision for himself and apart from Trump’s criticism. Still, Trump is expected to continue his onslaught this weekend when he appears at a campaign rally in Illinois for Republican incumbent Rep. Mary Miller, according to a GOP source close to Trump.
“I don’t see him letting up on Mike anytime soon and, frankly, the more Mike is out there doing things with clear 2024 undertones, the more he is going to make trouble for himself,” said a Trump adviser.
At the same time, some in Trump’s orbit still believe that Pence does not pose a legitimate threat in 2024, particularly if he runs against the former President.
“He has no political window,” another Trump adviser told CNN, referring to Pence’s chances of a successful presidential bid.
Pence, however, continues to walk a political tightrope. While the former vice president has not stood in the way of his former advisers testifying before the committee, he has also made a point to distance himself from the ongoing hearings, instead making a series of public appearances where he has focused on other issues like the economy and border security.
He also rescheduled a long-planned visit to Capitol Hill to meet with the Republican Study Committee on Tuesday. The hearing would have not only been awkward timing for Pence, but also would have potentially put Republicans like Banks, the head of the RSC, in the crosshairs, which most Republicans are eager to avoid.
While Pence declined an invitation to also appear in Nashville last week, he recently joined Gov. Mike DeWine in the critical battleground state of Ohio for a roundtable on oil and gas sectors and he delivered a policy-heavy speech at the University Club of Chicago on Monday, previewing his pitch to primary voters if he does seek the GOP presidential nomination. The former vice president has visited all three early voting states over the past year – some more than once – and is due to release a book about his time in the administration later this fall.
During his appearance in Chicago on Monday, Pence repeatedly implored Republicans to keep the focus on the future – a stark contrast with Trump’s almost singular focus on the 2020 election in his own public appearances.
“In the days between now and Election Day, we need you to say yes – yes to the future, yes to a future of freedom and our cherished values. And the Republican Party must be the party of the future,” Pence said.
Committee members have said they could still issue a subpoena to try to compel Pence’s cooperation with the ongoing investigation, but after last Thursday’s hearing, multiple sources familiar with the probe acknowledged that remains unlikely at this stage.
Pence, meanwhile, has offered little indication that he would testify voluntarily, either publicly or behind closed-doors, a move that would certainly escalate the currently one-sided confrontation with Trump with little political upside.
But Pence isn’t the only White House veteran caught in Trump’s line of fire.
The former President has also complained to allies about the content of text messages that Meadows provided to the committee before halting his cooperation. Messages to Trump’s then-chief of staff from his own adult children, on-air allies at Fox News, and some of his staunchest supporters on Capitol Hill have revealed just how desperate some were for Trump to condemn the violence at the US Capitol in a timely manner – and their absolute exasperation with his initial response.
Testimony from at least two former Meadows aides, Cassidy Hutchison and Alyssa Farah, has also proved critical in the ongoing January 6 probe, with Hutchison reportedly revealing in her closed-door deposition that Meadows burned papers in his office following a meeting with Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania where the two men discussed efforts to reject the 2020 election results. Perry was the first person to connect the then-President with Justice Department attorney Jeffrey Clark, who Trump considered putting in charge of the top law enforcement agency to help implement plans to overturn his defeat.