Trump’s Jan. 6 enablers in Congress can now exhale
20 December 2022
The House select committee investigating the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, concluded its work on Monday, releasing part of its report on its findings and a clutch of referrals to the Justice Department for possible criminal investigation. It also released a less explosive set of recommendations: that four members of Congress should be investigated by the House Ethics Committee for failing to comply with the committee’s inquiry.
With that, the door apparently closed on one of the most titillating aspects of the riot, that members of Congress might have been somehow directly involved in the day’s violence. But the door also seems to have closed on another aspect of the post-election period: accountability for members of Congress who eagerly worked to assist Donald Trump’s effort to retain power despite his election loss.
That group had already sidestepped one mechanism for accountability. As The Washington Post reported last week, nearly every member of the House who voted in opposition to recognizing electors from Arizona or Pennsylvania in the hours after the riot — trying to effect through their votes what the mob had been trying to achieve through force — were reelected in last month’s midterm elections. In fact, there’s no obvious evidence that they suffered any political effect for their participation in the effort to block those electors.
But not all of those members of Congress were equivalently invested in preserving Trump’s power. A smaller group, generally closer to the caucus’s rightmost fringe, worked directly with outside groups on promoting the idea that the 2020 election had been stolen and worked with the White House on boosting Trump’s bid to derail his election loss.
Reporting from Talking Points Memo indicates that more than 30 Republican members of Congress communicated with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to offer moral or structural support for Trump’s effort. They passed along unfounded claims of fraud, sent messages of encouragement to the president or, at times, called for a more forceful response to block Joe Biden’s inauguration. In many cases, those legislators were also amplifying false claims about the election to their supporters.
On Nov. 4, 2020, the day after the election, the Twitter account of Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) was flagged 19 times for sharing false or baseless claims about the election results. She continued to make similar claims in the months that followed; she continues to do so to this day. Greene also participated in a briefing at the White House about the election results (despite not yet serving in Congress) on Dec. 21, 2020, along with a number of other House Republicans including Reps. Mo Brooks (Ala.), Brian Babin (Tex.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Paul A. Gosar (Ariz.), Andy Harris (Md.), Jody Hice (Ga.), Scott Perry (Pa.) and Jim Jordan (Ohio).
Organizers had planned a series of events centered on Jan. 6 in the weeks before the Capitol riot. One, scheduled for Capitol Hill just as the counting of electoral votes began on that day, was put together by fringe activists working under the “Stop the Steal” banner. The lead organizer, Ali Alexander, identified Greene as a friend who was engaged in trying to prevent Biden’s inauguration.
He also claimed that Biggs, Brooks and Gosar had been involved in planning his event. Alexander is not a trustworthy source of information, and the Capitol Hill rally never materialized as planned. (Greene denied involvement in planning an event, as did Biggs and Brooks. Gosar has not addressed the claim.) A potential lineup of speakers submitted with the group’s permit application, though, lists Greene, Gosar, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and others as speakers. Another organizer of the combined event program for the day (including Trump’s speech) offered a similar list of elected officials as having participated in the discussions: Biggs, Boebert, Brooks, Gosar and Rep.-elect Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.).
(In the immediate aftermath of the Capitol riot, there was an enormous amount of attention paid to tours of the Capitol complex given by Republican legislators in the days before the riot. There’s no evidence that this was nefarious; it appears to have been primarily a function of unlucky timing.)
These details, though, distract from the broader effort to bolster Trump’s rhetoric. The post-election period offered Republican leaders a choice: build political capital with right-wing voters by siding with Trump’s obviously false and baseless claims of fraud or challenge the sitting president’s rhetoric — including by refusing to amplify it. The elected officials listed above had no qualms about sharing misinformation about the election. In fact, their messages to Meadows often indicate that they may actually have believed the quickly debunked claims they were spreading. Even on Jan. 6 itself, Greene and at least one other elected Republican tried to blame the riot on the political left.
While we talk about the House select committee as being focused on the Capitol riot, the committee’s work covered much of the post-election effort by Trump to retain power. The preliminary report released on Monday explores not only the immediate triggers for the riot but also other parallel efforts by Trump and his allies to keep him in office.
Which makes the committee’s limited condemnations of other elected officials more notable. Despite those legislators having been actively involved in the broader effort and serving in positions that require an oath of fealty to the Constitution, the committee offered only formal objections over the failure of four legislators — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Biggs, Jordan and Perry — to comply with the committee’s requests for information. Instead of doing so, several of them were explicit in casting the committee as illegitimate or partisan, intentionally weakening the potency of the committee’s work.
It’s unlikely that the Ethics Committee will offer much of a slap on the wrist, if any, particularly since that bipartisan committee will soon be chaired by a Republican. Those members of the House who amplified Trump’s false claims, worked to assist with his efforts to retain power, voted to block electors from Arizona and Pennsylvania and then blocked or minimized the investigation undertaken by their colleagues will simply continue to serve in Congress.
On Jan. 3, they will once again take a sworn oath to defend the Constitution, as they did on the same day two years prior.