Calmes: The Jan. 6 committee did the country proud but it hasn’t changed our calcified politics

Senate Minority Leader Mitch “Party over Country” McConnell was wrong once again.

In the spring of 2021, McConnell blocked Congress from authorizing an independent probe into the deadly Capitol riot months earlier. Leaving it to the Justice Department, the Kentucky Republican said, “I don’t think the additional, irrelevant commission that Democratic leaders want would uncover any crucial new facts.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is not aligned with Donald Trump, moved to Plan B: a select House Committee to investigate the January 6, 2021 backstory. That McConnell and House Minority Leader “My Kevin” McCarthy forced them to do this fallback – two alleged Legislative Branch stewards opposing an investigation into an attack on Congress – is a disgrace to own.

Conversely, everyone associated with Plan B has done themselves and their country proud.

Spotted portrait illustration of Jackie Calmes

opinion columnist

Jackie Calmes

Jackie Calmes takes a critical look at the national political scene. She has decades of experience reporting on the White House and Congress.

Contrary to McConnell’s suspicion (or rather, the realization of his fears), the Jan. 6 committee has given us plenty of “new facts” at its nine televised hearings since June through Thursday’s session, which was likely to be the last. At the Department of Justice, where a criminal investigation is ongoing, these facts are called leads.

The department clearly has Trump in its sights, though it hasn’t confirmed an investigation and, to date, has been busy prosecuting nearly 1,000 rioters and coup plotters — the little fish. The House committee, to its credit, has focused on the big fish: Trump was “at the center” of the plot to overthrow the 2020 election, Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, the committee’s chair, said at the first and last hearings.

In between, his committee told the story of the first president in history, who resisted the peaceful transfer of power with a lack of clarity and focus. Its final report is not expected until after next month’s elections, but the panel has already brought coherence to a saga largely told in incoherent news reports. And with subpoena powers reporters lack and testimonies taken under oath, it has greatly expanded our knowledge.

If you doubt the committee’s contribution, just imagine if the Republicans had prevailed and the panel hadn’t been created.

The horrors of January 6, 2021 faded from memory. Republicans attempted to either airbrush the trauma or rebrand the mob scene as “a regular tourist visit” and insurgents as “patriots.” A little over a week ago, at a rally in Nevada, Trump boasted about the size of the crowd that day and said his supporters “were there primarily to protest a corrupt, rigged and stolen election.”

Prosecuting crime is the job of the Justice Department, a frustratingly mysterious and time-consuming task for Americans awaiting closure, and an accountability for Trump. The great advantage of the House Committee was to debunk its big lies with real evidence, whether they point to crimes or just abuse of office, and to do it quickly and even memorably.

We saw never-before-seen videos of the rioters, read texts and emails to and from those close to the defeated President. We now have plenty of compelling affidavits, almost exclusively from Republicans who have worked in Trump’s administration or campaign.

Everything points to proving an unprecedented assault on democracy and the rule of law: Trump plotted months before the 2020 election to claim victory. He knew he had lost but made allegations of fraud, which his advisers and numerous courts dismissed. He pressured officials in seven states to overturn their election results for Joe Biden and planned to send fake Trump lists to the Electoral College and Congress. He called on Vice President Mike Pence to prevent Congressional confirmation of the Jan. 6, 2021 election.

Eventually, in what Thompson called Trump’s “last stand,” he drew his supporters to Washington and, knowing some were armed, urged them to march on the Capitol. He then watched the chaos on television for three hours and did nothing even as the mob hunted down the next two candidates for the presidency, Pence and Pelosi.

We knew some of this before the hearings began, but it took the House committee to connect the dots: January 6 was not a one-day event, but a months-long web of conspiracy spun by the President and far too many was supported co-conspirators.

Voters now have the facts in time for the midterms, but they can still give Trump’s party control of Congress. For all the Committee’s contribution to history, its work has not changed our calcified politics.

A University of Monmouth poll released in August, wide during the committee’s hearings, found that 40% of Americans still have a positive opinion of Trump, largely due to his support from 8 in 10 Republicans. These numbers are virtually unchanged from the 2020 election. The poll found that 73% of Democrats supported charging Trump with crimes related to the riot, but 66% of Republicans opposed it.

Further evidence of the committee’s short-term political inconsistency: Most Republican candidates for Congress and major state offices still deny or question the legitimacy of Biden’s election. Many are elected first, while most of the few Republicans who condemned Trump have already lost their seats.

That includes, of course, defiant Republican vice chair of the House Committee, Rep. Liz Cheney. As she said at the first hearing, addressing those in her party who lack courage: “The day will come when Donald Trump will be gone. But your shame will remain.”

And that’s another fact for which to thank the January 6 Committee.

@jackiekcalmes Calmes: The Jan. 6 committee did the country proud but it hasn’t changed our calcified politics

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