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Opinion Kevin McCarthy reveals exactly how the GOP House will protect Trump

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. (David Becker for The Washington Post)

As Republicans prepare to take over the House, they clearly see one of their highest missions as transforming the lower chamber into Donald Trump’s 24/7 personal shield against accountability. They are signaling plans for “investigations” next year designed chiefly to discredit revelations about Trump’s effort to destroy U.S. democracy.

Democrats can get ready for this now. The Jan. 6 select committee probing Trump’s insurrection can release the maximum amount of investigative material before Republicans take over next month, making it harder for them to distort its findings. As Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), a committee member, told me: “Releasing all of it is important.”

Just how important was emphasized this week, when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) tipped his hand about GOP strategy in a way that passed largely unnoticed. In a letter dripping with a contrived, ominous tone, the man who hopes to be speaker instructed committee chair Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) to “preserve all records collected and transcripts of testimony taken,” suggesting Republicans intend to scrutinize those findings in the majority.

The letter made news, even though the committee is already required by law to preserve all records and transcripts. The GOP majority will have access to all those records no matter what the committee publicly releases.

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But buried in the letter is a cryptic reference with ugly implications for what’s to come. McCarthy wrote that Republicans want those materials preserved “with an eye toward encouraged enforcement of 18 USC 1001,” with no further comment.

What does that mean? Well, that statute criminalizes lying to Congress. From that, I think, we can glean what might be one of the House GOP’s coming schemes: Dig through transcripts and other material to twist committee findings into “proof” that key elements of the anti-Trump testimony were deceptive, or even perjury.

That could function as a pretext to haul witnesses back for another grilling from Republicans. This would be deliberate spectacle: By publicly flogging witnesses who most damaged Trump, Republicans would provide grist for right-wing media to claim the most damning revelations had been decisively discredited, no matter what the facts show.

NYU law professor Ryan Goodman, who has closely tracked the Jan. 6 investigation, agrees Republicans have tipped their hand. “They appear to be devising a tactic to try to undermine testimony, to the end of satisfying Trump and the far-right parts of the party,” Goodman told me.

As Goodman noted, Republicans don’t even have to grill witnesses again (which could backfire with sympathetic ones such as former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson). They could simply cherry-pick from full transcripts in ways designed to distort their actual testimony.

“There’s no reason to think they will faithfully examine the transcripts,” Goodman said. “They’ll quite likely selectively use quotes just to create the appearance of contradictions or false statements.”

Of course, there’s plenty of devastating witness testimony to try to distort. Former Justice Department officials testified that Trump pressured them to manufacture the appearance of fraud. State officials testified that Trump pushed them to corruptly help subvert his loss.

And former White House lawyers and aides testified that Trump pressured his vice president to obstruct the election’s certification in Congress on Jan. 6, 2021. They also recounted fearing Trump had incited the mob to finish that job through violence, and that Trump deliberately did nothing when the mob attacked.

To see why targeting all this is critical for Republicans, note that one of those witnesses, former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, has been ordered to testify before a grand jury in connection with the Justice Department’s criminal investigation of Trump’s 2020 insurrection efforts.

That investigation is now being overseen by a special counsel, Jack Smith. As Goodman notes, McCarthy’s hint that Republicans will “reveal” that Jan. 6 witnesses perjured themselves shows how they’ll try to counter the special counsel’s investigation, which is plainly growing more serious.

“Whether intentional or not,” Goodman told me, “these efforts could muddy the waters of the special counsel’s investigation, at a minimum in the mind of the public.”

This is the context in which the Jan. 6 committee must now decide what it will release publicly. It will also release a final report whose findings will be part of the national discussion deep into next year — findings that Republicans will also try to muddy up.

Lofgren said the committee is acutely aware of the need to avoid giving Republicans an opening to claim materials are being withheld. When pressed, she insisted full transcripts and other materials will be released, with narrow exceptions such as personal information (like cellphone numbers) and law-enforcement-sensitive information.

“We’re going to put it all out,” Lofgren told me, noting that this is the “common understanding” of the committee. Withholding information from the public, she said, would give Republicans “an opportunity to selectively edit and distort.”

The GOP strategy here is obvious. Yet some news organizations have already begun to describe the coming GOP push as a “counter-investigation” into what the Jan. 6 committee found. That language invests GOP intentions with an aura of seriousness they simply have not earned.

If those efforts do reveal themselves as transparent bad-faith smears designed to discredit the committee’s revelations — as seems extraordinarily likely — media accounts shouldn’t describe them with lofty terms such as “counter-investigation.” It will be critical to convey their true intentions to the public with total clarity.

We can predict exactly how the GOP House will seek to protect Trump. McCarthy has essentially told us so himself.

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