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The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

Where the Jan. 6 committee is spending its money

The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

Good morning, Early Birds. This newsletter will not subject you to April Fools' Day jokes. Tips: Thanks for waking up with us.

In today’s edition: Theo talked about Ukraine with former Trump Pentagon official Elbridge Colby ... Marianna Sotomayor looks at why House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is speaking out about GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn ... Ukraine will resume peace talks with Russia online on Friday as more Mariupol residents are expected to evacuate  ... but first, a dispatch from our colleague Tom Hamburger on the Jan. 6 committee ...

On the Hill

The Jan. 6 panel has hired seasoned prosecutors and outside investigative firms

A review of the money spent by the House Jan. 6 committee underscores the aggressive nature of its investigation, which includes the hiring of veteran prosecutors and outside investigative firms, as well as how it stands apart from similar congressional inquiries.

The committee has already spent $2.5 million and is on pace to spend $9.3 million by the end of December, with most of the costs generated by personnel expenses and payments to outside contractors, according to an analysis of the latest available congressional disbursement reports.

By contrast, the select committee created in 2014 to investigate the attack on the U.S. Consular Office in Benghazi, Libya, spent less — over $7.8 million dollars — over a two-and-a-half-year period, with nearly all of that amount on personnel. 

One expert on congressional spending said he sees the Jan. 6 panel’s work as representing a new trend on Capitol Hill.

  • “This signifies a new era in congressional investigations that leverages the combined power of seasoned investigators with the latest technology to allow the committee to review more documents than ever and to recreate a digital trail of evidence,” said Keith Ashdown, a veteran congressional investigator, now with the Moonlight Foundation, a watchdog group.

The personnel roster is remarkable, Ashdown said, because of the deep experience of members of the staff of about 50, which includes a couple of former U.S. attorneys and several former assistant U.S. attorneys. He also noted the hiring of contractors providing “investigative services” listed in disbursement reports.

One of the firms is A1C Partners of Davidsonville, Md., which received $122,500 in December, according to a House Administration Committee report. On its website, A1C describes itself as delivering “advisory services, intelligence analysis … support for mission critical federal programs at the intersection of law enforcement and intelligence.” A committee staffer said the company is “an open-source research firm doing intelligence analysis” for the panel.

The committee’s aggressive posture has drawn criticism from lawyers representing individuals subpoenaed before the panel and from congressional Republicans who claim the panel seems more focused on prosecution than traditional legislative fact finding.

Committee members defend their approach as necessary and say they are determined to produce a detailed account of Jan. 6 events that will inform policy and legislative proposals.

Still, panel members aren’t shying away from the possibility they will make criminal referrals, including regarding former president Donald Trump.

In December, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) used language directly from U.S. criminal statutes to question Trump’s activities. “Did Donald Trump,” she asked, “through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress’s official proceeding to count electoral votes?”

In the agencies

"This is exactly the same kind of rhetoric that helped lead to Vietnam"

Six questions for … Elbridge Colby: We chatted with Colby, who served as a deputy assistant secretary of defense in the Trump administration from 2017 to 2018, about what President Biden's gotten right and wrong in Ukraine. This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity from two conversations.

The Early: How do you think President Biden has handled the Ukraine crisis overall?

Colby: The fact that an invasion of Ukraine happened is a tremendous indictment of American policy. Clearly, it's been a consistent goal over several administrations to avoid this outcome. I have to say I find it somewhat untoward or off-putting that there's a sort of celebratory element to how things have gone, because this is a product of a tremendous failure.

I do think the Biden administration since the invasion has handled some things well, some things less well. Certainly working with European allies is a strong suit of theirs. I also think, unlike some fellow Republicans, that the administration's caution about the potential for escalation is in order. In some ways, it's actually to Putin and the Kremlin's advantage if the United States is too aggressive, because that will allow Russia to frame the conflict as fundamentally about sort of a civilizational struggle between NATO and Russia.

The Early: When you say the war is an indictment of American policy, which policies are you referring to?

Colby: If we think about the alternate history — if the Ukrainians weren't fighting so bravely and capably, and the Russians were only materially facing sanctions and international opprobrium — I think the Russians would be at [Ukraine’s] western border. So I think it's a wrong lesson to say the sanctions and the international condemnation are what's really material here. What's really material and central is the Ukrainians defeating a Russian invasion. So that tells me the critical flaw was not arming them sufficiently.

I also think, at a more macro level, that Biden’s now-infamous comment about a “minor incursion” gave a sense of calculability. I would have preferred a Nixon-, Kissinger-, Eisenhower-type thing, which is pretty scary — like, not sure what these people are up to — but also a willingness to potentially negotiate on some of the critical political issues. 

The Early: You tweeted that Biden's rhetoric in his speech in Warsaw last week framing the conflict as a battle "between democracy and autocracy, between liberty and repression” was “very ill advised." Why do you think that's the case?

Colby: I don't think it's either the policy or the rhetoric that's going to advance American interests. President Reagan was castigated for calling the Soviets an “evil empire.” I mean, I think it was an evil empire. But a lot of his critics weren’t saying that Russia wasn't evil. They were saying, this is extremely dangerous rhetoric when we're dealing with a superpower potential confrontation. In the Cold War, there was an appreciation of the risks. If I'm thinking about what's in the interest of the American people in light of a very dangerous circumstance, I think what we really need is [a] stable balance of power. And that is not a battle between democracy and authoritarianism.

It is funny, because there's a lot of positive talk about the Cold War these days — and I would have been a hawk on the Soviet Union, I think — but people are forgetting about Vietnam, and the hell of the Cold War, and how dangerous it was. This is exactly the same kind of rhetoric that helped lead to Vietnam. It turns every confrontation into a highly pressurized situation.

The Early: You wrote in a Post op-ed last year that the “Biden team seems to be betting that democracies will align in a global struggle against” authoritarianism. Are you saying you think they're sort of misreading the room?

Colby: They are reading the room in northern and western Europe. If you're thinking about the room as we should be — the most important room is Asia — it's not good. There's been a lot of castigating of India for taking a position that's consistent with [its] traditional interests. I personally would hope that India would condemn Russia's opprobrious invasion. But on the other hand, if our priority is China, and India is one of the two most important members of our coalition along with Japan, we've gotta be working with them. 

The Early: You served in the Trump administration. How do you think Trump would be handling the war in Ukraine if he was president?

Colby: The facts are that this invasion did not happen under President Trump. And we can speculate as to why, but that is the most important piece of information. The Russians had recapitalized their military by the late 2010s. [Invading Ukraine] was not beyond their capacity. They just decided not to do it. If I go back to this kind of Eisenhower-Nixon model, I think President Trump in a lot of ways had a similar approach. I mean, the Trump administration was the one to provide Javelins to the Ukrainians.

The Early: That's true, but Trump was also impeached for withholding military aid to Ukraine, and he often had warm words for Putin. Does that give you any pause about how Trump would handle this situation?

Colby: High diplomacy is not a matter of always saying exactly what you feel. In the case of Ukraine, providing things like the Javelins made a lot of sense. A country that's willing to fight for itself should be supplied. But whether the Ukrainians are happy about something is not the critical issue. The fact that [former German chancellor] Angela Merkel didn't like Donald Trump is not the fundamental criterion. The fundamental criterion should be: Do we see more collective effort towards shared goals?

The campaign

McCarthy tries to navigate splintering divide among House Republicans

McCarthy’s moves:Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) was called into a private meeting with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) this week to discuss his outlandish accusation that prominent political players had invited him to orgies and done ‘a key bump of cocaine’ as he watched,” our colleagues Marianna Sotomayor and Paul Kane report.

  • “McCarthy has hosted similar private meetings after other Republican members aligned with former president Trump stole attention away from his agenda — for example, when two members recently addressed a white nationalist event — but this time, he did something different: He talked openly about it.”
  • “McCarthy has made clear that he believes the pathway to regaining the majority requires Republicans to present a united front and keep the public focused on the Democrats’ intraparty fights rather than those within his own party.”
  • “But there’s a splintering divide among House Republicans between staunch Trump allies who tend to offend more than legislate and members who have grown restless over McCarthy’s lack of an upper hand with the former group.”

From the courts

Back to the drawing board: “A New York judge on Thursday struck down the state’s new congressional and legislative maps as defying a voter-backed constitutional amendment that aimed to end partisan gerrymandering, dealing a blow to Democrats hoping to hold onto their fragile majority in the House this November,” our colleague Colby Itkowitz reports.

Bonus: How redistricting is shaping the 2022 U.S. House map. By The Post’s Adrian Blanco, Kevin Schaul and Ashlyn Still.

The Media

Weekend reeeads: 


#OTD in 2013

The White House had a little April Fool’s Day fun with help from Kid President, aka 9-year-old Robby Novak whose videos have gone viral on the Internet. (Video: The Washington Post)

What does first lady Jill Biden have up her sleeve, today? 🤔

Thanks for reading. You can also follow us on Twitter: @theodoricmeyer and @jaxalemany.