If GOP Leaders Are Innocent, Why Sabotage the Insurrection Commission?

Republicans aren’t afraid of partisan grandstanding. They’re afraid of what a real investigation might uncover about their involvement in the January 6 assault.

One of the more interesting and disturbing aftermaths of the insurrectionist attack on the Capitol on January 6th was the uncharacteristically confused nature of the conservative media response. Conservative talking heads and election officials simultaneously tried to blame leftists and Antifa for the assault while also downplaying its severity and claiming the insurrectionists were just patriots, protesters, and tourists. They tried to claim that the rioters were outside the mainstream of Republican thought and action while also voting themselves to overthrow democracy and hand the presidency back to the man who sent the rioters to the Capitol in the first place.

Huge questions remain unanswered about the involvement of Republicans at all levels of government in the assault, from Congressmembers and staffers all the way up to Cabinet and Pentagon officials and, of course, the former president himself. The FBI has been tightlipped about its investigations, and so far, the only charges made have been against the low-level pawns who entered the building. Former President Trump was, of course, impeached for incitement of insurrection–but, of course, impeachment is an inherently political process, and the Senate trial called no witnesses and conducted no investigations. Rumors have swirled around specific Congressmembers’ actions immediately prior to and on the day of the event. No satisfactory accounting of Trump and his inner circle’s actions has been made.

Yet Republicans insist that they had no real involvement in the day’s violence. At worst, they say, it was just a rally that got a little out of hand–with the blame falling solely on those who entered the building.

It’s curious, then, that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other Republican leaders feel they need a strategy for the House inquiry into that dark day. It’s odd that only six GOP Senators voted with Democrats to create a commission to look into it. It’s interesting that McCarthy is threatening his own members with expulsion from their other committee assignments if they participate in the House process. Certainly, Republicans will claim that it’s a partisan witch hunt. But if it is partisan, it is only because their refusal to cooperate made it so.

And after all, if there’s nothing to hide, what is there to fear?

Greg Sargent deftly explains the trap that McCarthy finds himself in as he decides which members of his caucus should be part of the process. Suppose he appoints moderates who remain furious with Trump over his continued lies about the election and his role in fomenting the insurrection. In that case, the Californian will have fewer allies to sabotage the commission. But suppose he nominates the sort of hardline extremists who backed Trump’s actions throughout. In that case, they may themselves become embarrassing targets of the inquiry–and it would serve as a reminder that they, too, attempted to overthrow democracy with their floor votes no less surely than the rioters did by force of arms.

McCarthy can’t appoint too many Republicans who will treat this service as such — as defending the Constitution — because it will invest the proceedings with a gravity that McCarthy cannot allow.

Meanwhile, not appointing anyone would show the GOP to be uninterested in any accounting…

It’s hard to see how McCarthy can avoid appointing Republicans who themselves fell somewhere on that spectrum. Yet if he appoints Republicans who treat the committee’s mission with the weight it deserves, that will also pose a huge problem. His lack of any obvious way forward itself illustrates how deeply implicated the GOP is in the very horrors that the committee is designed to illuminate.

It hardly needs to be said that McCarthy isn’t afraid of Democrats highlighting the actions of Trump’s deluded and violent thralls who broke into the Capitol that fateful day. That much is already well known to all but the most diehard Newsmax viewer. They are afraid of what subpoenas might uncover about coordination and conspiracy by those who were already in the building or in the White House that day.

And as Trump and his allies continue to instigate a slow-rolling insurrection attempt against democracy–an insurrection of which January 6th was only an inflection point–it is crucial to discover just how deep the tendrils of that day’s events ran among GOP leadership.

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David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.