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Opinion Republicans would only hurt themselves by not participating in Pelosi’s Jan. 6 select committee

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) arrives at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on June 24. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Republicans rightly worry that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) proposed select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol riot will descend into a partisan, anti-Donald Trump witch hunt. But the best way to minimize the chances of that happening is to participate in the investigation.

Pelosi’s committee will be firmly in Democratic control. She will appoint eight of the group’s 13 members. While she has stated that she is open to including a Republican among her eight appointments, that still leaves seven Democrats directly accountable to her to run the show. No one can doubt where that will lead. So why should Republicans participate at all?

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They should do so for a number of reasons. First, and most important, participating in the commission will allow them to act as a defense counsel would at a criminal trial. The five Republican members can object to unreasonable questions at depositions, ask witnesses their own questions and make their own requests for lines of inquiry and witnesses. All of this would allow them to build an alternative case, if the facts permit, to a Democratic narrative. If Democrats refuse to let them pursue lines of inquiry, Republicans can rightly argue that the committee is more interested in partisan points-scoring than the truth.

Participating in the investigation also allows Republicans to combat the inevitable pre-report leaking in real time. The 2019 impeachment investigations were riddled with leaks of snippets of testimony that were clearly designed to move public opinion before Republicans had a chance to question witnesses in public. There’s no reason to think that won’t happen again, but GOP participation means that they will have someone in the room to know what really happened. Democrats will drive this train, but being a passenger on it means Republicans can let the wider public in on its course well before it arrives at the station.

Republicans would be wise to push for a thorough investigation into what Capitol Police knew about plans to turn Trump’s rally into a riot before Jan. 6. The police force was clearly ill-prepared to control the angry crowd, and their failure is ultimately what allowed a raucous gathering to turn into a dangerous situation. Trump may have assembled the kindling and lit the match, but police failure is what let the fire escape. The old Watergate standby questions — what did they know, and when did they know it? — should be posed to anyone in authority over the police force’s preparations for and actions on that day.

It’s doubtful that the two parties’ commissioners will agree on what caused the riot, given the extreme partisanship on both sides. That provides another reason for GOP participation: the ability to craft a minority report providing their explanation for what happened. Only participation will give them access to all the facts and interviews the committee will assemble, which will be indispensable for providing a thorough presentation of the Republican case. They should not expect that it will be given equal weight or even be treated fairly by many commentators. But it will be prominently featured by conservative writers and media personalities, and that will be crucial in the battle for public opinion after the majority report is released.

It’s sad that one has to treat a commission investigating a serious event as a political spectacle. But that’s what our politics has come to. Trump’s continuing intransigence and high favorability ratings among Republicans lock the GOP into a defense of the indefensible. Democratic hatred toward Trump remains off the charts, locking that party’s lawmakers into a never-ending assault on the man and his party. Politics always evokes passions and is never a gentlemanly pursuit. Today’s hatreds are excessive even by that standard and cause more harm to our democracy than any minor change in voting laws.

But lawmakers — Republicans included — must deal with the world they live in rather than the one they wish they lived in. That means they should actively participate in Pelosi’s commission — at best to find the truth, at worst to defend themselves against the inevitable onslaught.