The select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol held its first hearing Tuesday, and Republican lawmakers took the occasion to demand justice — for the terrorists who took up arms against the U.S. government on that terrible day.
“These are not unruly or dangerous, violent criminals,” Rep. Paul Gosar (Ariz.) proclaimed at a news conference outside DOJ headquarters. “These are political prisoners who are now being persecuted and bearing the pain of unjust suffering.”
Rep. Louie Gohmert (Tex.) speculated that “we have political prisoners here in America.”
They distributed copies of a letter alleging the Jan. 6 defendants had been denied “potentially exculpatory evidence” and subjected to “cruel and unusual punishment.” Their supporters waved signs proclaiming “Free the Jan. 6 Political Prisoners,” and “Jan. 6 Was an Inside Job.”
The lawmakers, ironically, had to cut short their defense of the insurrectionists, because demonstrators disrupted them with heckling, whistleblowing and signs (“Traitors Sit Down”).
The half-dozen lawmakers, including Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, made explicit what has become more obvious by the day: Republicans stand with those who attempted a violent coup on Jan. 6. And it’s not just the wingnuts. House Republican leaders held a news conference before the hearing, blaming Jan. 6 not on seditionists but on Capitol Police and, particularly, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
With the Capitol Dome behind her, Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), the House Republican conference chair, proclaimed: “The American people deserve to know the truth: that Nancy Pelosi bears responsibility, as speaker of the House, for the tragedy that occurred on Jan. 6.” Stefanik charged that Pelosi “doesn’t want a fair or bipartisan investigation.”
Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, one of the saboteurs House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy had tried to place on the select committee, announced that Capitol Police “weren’t trained” adequately and that “Nancy Pelosi is ultimately responsible.”
The Republican whip, Steve Scalise (La.) repeatedly accused Pelosi of a “coverup” about Jan. 6. And Rep. Troy Nehls (Tex.) denounced fellow Republicans Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), for serving on the select committee. “Those Pelosi Republicans aren’t interested in the truth,” he alleged. “We’re interested in the truth.”
Right. Seven of the eight Republicans standing there had voted down an independent, bipartisan commission negotiated by the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee. And now they claim Pelosi is the one blocking a fair, bipartisan investigation? All this while faulting the Capitol Police, who at that very moment shielded them with a ring of officers, barriers, vehicles and a canine unit.
Had the GOP leadership been watching the hearing instead of spinning yet another conspiracy theory, they would have seen what it means to put country before party. Cheney, at the hearing, warned that without accountability for Jan. 6, “this will remain a cancer on our constitutional Republic. . . . We will face the threat of more violence in the months to come and another Jan. 6 every four years.”
She challenged her colleagues: “Will we be so blinded by partisanship that we throw away the miracle of America? Do we hate our political adversaries more than we love our country?”
Police testified about their grievous injuries, the ferocious violence and racism of the armed attackers, and their fears that they would die that day defending democracy. Police officers, and lawmakers, wept. D.C. police officer Michael Fanone, beaten and tased by the mob, expressed astonishment at “those elected members of our government who continue to deny the events of that day,” including “those very members whose lives . . . I was fighting so desperately to defend.”
But a number of Republicans expressed more sympathy for the attackers. “There are Americans all over this country who are being harassed, who are being targeted by law enforcement!” Gaetz, at the news conference outside the DOJ, said of the insurrectionists.
Rep. Andy Biggs (Ariz.) insisted that it was “a very small group that attacked the Capitol Police.” What really concerned Biggs was “how are these individuals being treated?”
The insurrectionists’ allies grew anxious as more hecklers arrived and unfurled signs calling them racists, rapists and traitors and “Pedophiles for Trump.”
“Wrap it up,” a worried staffer told the lawmakers. “We got to get out.” They fled to waiting vehicles, one of which sped off the wrong way on 9th Street NW. It swerved in front of oncoming traffic onto Pennsylvania Avenue amid a hail of honking horns.
What were they afraid of? These protesters were nonviolent — unlike the Jan. 6 terrorists with whom Republicans now side.
Bennie G. Thompson: We have started investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Nothing will be off-limits.