The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion A damning Senate report on Jan. 6 shows what Republicans want to keep buried

Trump supporters attack a police barrier at the Capitol on Jan. 6. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

It’s sometimes said that history is written by the victors, but if Republicans get their way, the history of the Jan. 6 insurrection will be written largely by the perpetrators and the enablers.

That’s the takeaway from a major new Senate report on security lapses at the Capitol that was released Tuesday. While the report is well executed on that topic, it’s also notable for what it does not cover: It does not officially describe the attack as an “insurrection,” instead opting for the word “attack,” and it avoids a frank discussion of the role played by one Donald J. Trump.

In short, the only history of the insurrection that Republicans will acknowledge is one that carefully sanitizes the role in inciting the mob played by the then-president — and by Republicans themselves.

What’s more, the only permissible history for them is one that buries another profoundly consequential truth: that Trump fully intended to disrupt the election’s conclusion by inciting a mob attack on duly elected lawmakers. Republicans refuse to reckon with this event as an act of mass political violence, one in which they are deeply implicated.

House Republicans at times defended the Jan. 6 Capitol mob with false statements and said the attacks were not an insurrection during a May 12 hearing. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

What the report avoided

The scope and descriptions in the report — which bears the names of Republican and Democratic leaders on the Senate Homeland Security and Rules committees — had to undergo extensive discussions to get GOP buy-in, a Democratic aide on one of the committees says.

“To get bipartisan agreement, the language had to be carefully negotiated,” the aide told me.

The result was that the report minimized the importance of key topics. Among these were the extent of Trump’s lies about the illegitimacy of the election in the run-up to the attack, and the degree to which Trump-supporting rioters were driven by the express goal of subverting the outcome, the aide tells me.

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For instance, in the section entitled “Events of January 6,” the report carefully notes that after the networks called the outcome, Trump “continued to assert that the election was stolen from him,” without noting explicitly that this was false, or that he’d told this lie relentlessly in previous days to whip up supporters to descend on the Capitol.

The report also notes that in his remarks inciting the mob that day, Trump’s “statements focused on” the electoral count in Congress, and carefully recounts that he “encouraged his supporters to go to the Capitol.”

But the report doesn’t state outright that Trump repeatedly urged the mob to help subvert that count, or that he expressly directed the mob’s anger toward then-Vice President Mike Pence, while again calling on Pence to carry out that subversion. Instead, the report relegates Trump’s full remarks that day to the appendix, rather than rendering an official accounting of those matters.

Similarly, CNN reports that negotiators carefully avoided using the word “insurrection” for these same reasons.

To the degree the report does shed light on the depths of Trump’s lying and the rioters’ motives, it mostly transmits this via quotes and transcripts from key intelligence and law enforcement officials, rather than taking an official stand on them.

To be clear, there are understandable reasons for Democrats to undergo such negotiations to get Republican buy-in. The most important aspect of this report is its documentation of security failures and recommendations to law enforcement, which we want Republicans to endorse.

On that front, the report documents that the Capitol Police had more information indicating mobilization for a violent attack than previously known and that extensive communication breakdowns prevented that information from being acted upon. It documents numerous glaring failures of other kinds.

The report does offer new detail on the insurrectionary nature of the assault. It documents how intelligence officials collected information indicating that some attackers fully intended to terrorize lawmakers and saw themselves as a strike force overturning the election on Trump’s behalf.

But the report doesn’t meaningfully explore the deeper significance of the fact that this was not just a physical attack; it was an effort to subvert democracy through intimidation and violence, at the express behest of the president of the United States, who retains extensive GOP backing.

Nor does the report discuss the extent to which Republican lawmakers fed Trump’s lies about the election for many weeks, or the role of this in inciting the rioters, or the degree to which some GOP lawmakers themselves prompted the Jan. 6 event.

Obviously, this is in part due to the understandable decision to limit the scope of the report to security matters. But this is precisely the point: This limited scope is the only one that Republicans will allow.

Remember, when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) opposed a bipartisan Jan. 6 commission, he declared that existing investigations such as this one were sufficient. This narrow focus on security is what Republicans want.

To be fair, the Biden administration deserves some blame. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the chair of the Homeland Security committee, says he’s “disappointed” with the failure of some agencies to fully cooperate with this probe.

We need a full accounting

In the end, though, this Senate report shows how powerful a fuller Jan. 6 accounting could be. It could document in similarly compelling detail the role of Trump’s lies in inciting the insurrection and the conversations Trump might have had with other lawmakers during the attack, demonstrating his true intentions.

More broadly, a full accounting would inevitably shed light on the growing number of Republicans who have openly renounced any obligation to accept election losses as legitimate, and the overlap of that with the ongoing right-wing extremist embrace of naked political violence.

All of which, of course, constitutes exactly the accounting Republicans don’t want to see happen.

Read more:

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