The Capitol riot committee: Why Republicans won’t be able to ‘unring this bell’

The Capitol riot committee: Why Republicans won’t be able to ‘unring this bell’
Republicans are running out of options to stop the Jan 6 panel’s work, John Bowden writes

Despite a snowstorm that drew one of the largest highways in the mid-Atlantic to a crawl for more than a day, lawmakers are already trickling back to Capitol Hill as Congress gets back to work.

At the top of Legislative Branch’s agenda is the work of the House select committee investigating January 6, which resumed its work this week by issuing a request for voluntary cooperation from Sean Hannity, one of several Fox News hosts revealed to have begged the White House chief of staff to spur Donald Trump to action during the riot.

The committee made that formal request on Tuesday, signalling that while other work of Congress may be slow to make progress, the select committee’s work is showing no sign of slowing down or changing course.

That spells bad news for supporters of former President Donald Trump, who are quickly running out of tricks in their efforts to stymie the committee from making more damaging revelations and uncovering more of the minute-by-minute details of the day in question.

Those who want to see the committee’s work thwarted now generally have two avenues upon which to hope for salvation: The slim chance that the Supreme Court will side with Mr Trump and prevent Congress from obtaining the former president’s records, or the long-shot chance that the committee’s work will continue into 2023, allowing Republicans a chance to terminate the panel should they retake the chamber.

Both of those scenarios are unlikely, according to Norman Eisen, who served as special counsel for the House during Mr Trump’s first impeachment trial.

The odds that the Supreme Court, even with three justices appointed by Mr Trump himself, will side with the former president are slim, Mr Eisen predicted. The chances that Republicans will be able to stall the committee through other means are even slimmer.

“There is no way the Supreme Court is going to rule that Trump has control over these documents,” Mr Eisen told The Independent.

“[W]ith hearings beginning at the end of March or in April, and the interim report to come in the summer, the committee will…be at a natural point where Congress and the country begins to focus on the outcome of their work, which is legislative changes and perhaps criminal referrals to federal and state authorities,” he said.

The chances of the committee’s work being affected by the 2022 midterm elections are quite low, Mr Eisen contended. That’s good news for Democrats, considering the uncertainty around their party’s midterm prospects as well as the impending retirement of Rep Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the panel. Rep Liz Cheney, the other Republican, faces a Trump-backed primary challenger but is favoured to win reelection thanks to her name recognition and history in the state. Republican members of Congress, who voluntarily withdrew from the panel last year, have complained that the committee should not have congressional authority due to its membership not including any submissions from House GOP leadership. One lawmaker famous for supporting Mr Trump’s falsehoods about the 2020 election has even gone as far as to pretend to be the committee’s ranking member, despite not sitting on the panel and having never attended a meeting.

Richard Barnett, a supporter of US President Donald Trump sits inside the office of US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Given the history of investigations into Mr Trump in recent years, liberals’ skepticism that the panel could result in actions of real significance is understandable. The long-watched investigation headed by Robert Mueller, the Justice Department’s special counsel, famously failed to result in any sort of real consequences for the former president other than minor convictions for a few of his allies on a slew of financial crimes and charges of lying to investigators.

The urgency of the issue surrounding consequences that Mr Trump could face is also given special urgency from the fact that he remains the widespread favourite to win the 2024 GOP nomination, and has teased a second White House bid practically since the day he left office.

While the committee’s findings may not have a direct effect on the 2022 midterms, Mr Eisen expressed confidence that Mr Trump himself or his closest allies could be held liable for the riot and the criminal obstruction of Congress’s duty to certify the election results, as well as other state-level charges. Such developments could widely reshape the 2024 GOP primary field, should Mr Trump’s vice grip over the GOP base be weakened by the panel’s revelations or criminal proceedings.

“Yeah, I think that there is a plausible set of possible criminal violations…such as obstruction of a congressional proceeding,” Mr Eisen said, adding: “I think there’s a substantial chance of getting a referral chance against him or others.”

He also threw cold water on the idea that members of Congress thought to be material witnesses to the riot, such as Rep Jim Jordan, could employ legal maneuvers to hide their own communications with Mr Trump’s team from the committee, given Democratic control of the chamber.

“The House has internal disciplinary measures that it can use. And it has successfully compelled testimony from members before,” Mr Eisen said.

The investigation is unlikely to result in action that bars Mr Trump from seeking office again, though he could potentially face a prison sentence were he to be tried and convicted of obstructing Congress. The real question for lawmakers on the panel is whether any potential revelations about the former president would be sufficient to break his stranglehold on the GOP, or at least make his brand toxic enough among moderates to dissuade him from seeking office in 2024.

The January 6 committee’s work and the upcoming ruling from the Supreme Court on abortion rights are likely to reshape the midterm season for 2022, presenting a unique and possibly advantageous battleground for Democrats as they head into the midterm season.

A generic ballot tracking poll from Polling USA appeared to illustrate that reality this week as it showed Democrats regaining ground in polling of Americans’ desired choice for the party controlling both houses of Congress amid a major dip in support for the GOP.

Similar polling from The Economist/YouGov indicates that Democrats have held an edge over GOP politicians on generic ballots for several months, even given Mr Biden’s underwater approval ratings and disputes among Democrats in Congress that have delayed the passage of his signature legislation.