The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans lied about the need for a Jan. 6 commission. There is a lot it already uncovered.

Reps. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) and Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) serve as the chair and vice chair of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Among Republicans’ many feeble excuses for nixing a bipartisan commission on the Jan. 6 insurrection was the notion that there was nothing more to learn about that day. As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) put it this past May, “It’s not at all clear what new facts or additional investigation yet another commission could actually lay on top of existing efforts by law enforcement and Congress."

It’s never a good look to make assurances that there is nothing to find out about a secret plot to overturn an election. But McConnell’s statement was also absurdly wrong. It is hard to recount all that we have learned from the House select committee’s investigation on Jan. 6. Thanks to the committee’s work, for example, we discovered:

  • The president and assistant attorney general Jeffrey Clark schemed to involve the Justice Department in a plot to invalidate the election;
  • An executive order was drafted to allow the federal government to seize voting machines;
  • Seven states put forth fake slates of electors;
  • Then-President Donald Trump was reportedly in contact with a team led by Rudolph W. Giuliani, John Eastman, Boris Epshteyn and Stephen K. Bannon, who set up a post at the Willard hotel working to delay certification of electoral votes; and
  • Republican members of Congress sent texts to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows concerning the plan to engage the Justice Department or to prevent Congress from counting the electoral votes.

Moreover, the cooperation the committee has received from Trump administration officials, including former attorney general William P. Barr, means we might get unique insight into the effort to discredit mail-in ballots well in advance of the election. This will be essential, especially because one party is actively attempting to create a false account of events.

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Even before the select committee’s anticipated hearings take place, it has provided a more complete perspective on the insurrection. Far from a single effort to overturn the election results by inflaming a mob, this was a multipronged coup attempt involving arguably dozens of officials in the federal government and state governments. The unwillingness of the participants to blow the whistle in real time — including those who resigned quietly — should shock and dismay Americans.

Part of the Jan. 6 committee’s mandate is to uncover the details and extent of the plot with an eye toward fixing the institutions and rules that Trump and his team tried to exploit. In addition to identifying those potential reforms, there also is particular interest in knowing which former officials balked at facilitating a coup (e.g., U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia Byung J. Pak, acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen) and which eagerly participated in the seditious plot. The public should know who betrayed their trust and deserves the opprobrium of their fellow Americans, even if their actions are not subject to prosecution.

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McConnell and the rest of Trump’s enablers in the Republican Party would like nothing better than to blur distinctions between enablers, passive viewers and conscientious public servants. The aim of the MAGA whitewash is to insulate from blame the legions of Republicans who knew better but nevertheless condoned or participated in a jaw-dropping plan to overturn a democratic election outcome.

Perhaps that’s because once the extent of the plot and the identities of all the participants (and silent eyewitnesses) are known, the public might conclude that there is something fundamentally corrupt and un-American about the Republican Party that is not confined to a loopy president and a few deranged aides. And that is a critical reason to allow the Jan. 6 committee to do its work.