The clock is ticking on the House of Representatives’ Jan. 6 Committee, and they know it. Each day brings the country closer to the November midterms and the likelihood of a crushing Republican victory that will not only shift power in the House but end the committee.
That’s the context for the committee’s first televised hearings, which are set to begin in prime time on June 9. The committee’s television show has an obvious purpose: to restore Democrats’ waning hopes for holding control of Congress in November by an attempt to make the Capitol riot a permanent feature of American politics.
But even if the Biden administration’s disastrous conduct in office and raging inflation make that impossible, Democrats are looking beyond the midterms and hoping to somehow ensure that former President Donald Trump and as many other Republicans as they can smear as “insurrectionists” are disqualified or discredited, to help their party win in 2024.
Selling a Conspiracy Theory with Broad Implications
Their goal is to convince Americans that what happened on Jan. 6, 2021, was truly an “insurrection” comparable to the Civil War, rather than merely a disorganized and ultimately pointless riot involving a relatively small fraction of the people who had gathered in Washington to protest the 2020 election results. But it’s not only that. With their tall tale about insurrection, the Democrats and their two turncoat Republican collaborators Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) are trying to sell the country a conspiracy theory with broader implications.
The conspiracy is that the riot was plotted by the Trump White House in collaboration with a wide array of Republican officeholders, conservative commentators, and activists who were seeking to pull off nothing less than a coup d’état in which the government would be unlawfully seized by denying the presidency to Joe Biden.
This effort will involve using what they hauled in with the massive fishing expedition conducted by the committee in the last year, which included more than 1,000 interviews and more than 100,000 documents, emails and texts from a wide variety of persons, most of whom had nothing to do with the riot that was the ostensible purpose of the investigation.
Conflating Legal Battle with Mob
To make this stick, this show will be aimed at pretending that two different things are actually the same. They need to conflate a mob that had broken away from a rally in which citizens had exercised their right to protest with something entirely different. And they must use their research and the broad nature of their accusations as a way to pretend that all of this was part of a master plan for a coup.
The promise of “revelations” and “proof” of this mythical insurrection conspiracy from House Democrats and Cheney ring hollow. They are reminiscent of the same breathless claims of evidence to back up the Russian collusion hoax that were similarly put forward from 2017 through 2019. That conspiracy theory was not only debunked but ultimately shown to be a plot that amounted to an attempted coup on the part of the Hillary Clinton campaign and its collaborators — either witting or unwitting — at the FBI.
But the committee’s work over the past year betrayed the futile nature of the search for smoking guns that would prove Trump and other Republicans orchestrated the riot or were actually involved in a coup, rather than simply exploring the rapidly vanishing options for challenging the 2020 results. By casting their net so wide and seeking to subpoena a broad cast of characters who had nothing to do with the riot — including, in an unprecedented act, Republican members of Congress — they gave away the game.
A Witch Hunt
It takes a gigantic leap of bad faith to assume that pro-Trump Republicans and the White House were consciously engaged in treasonous activity as they vainly sought for mechanisms that might allow them to continue litigating charges of election irregularities. The committee has been conducting what can only be termed a witch hunt in the spirit of the worst of the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s, in which the goal is to smear political opponents under the pretense of an investigation in their involvement in a conspiracy.
The point of the effort — and the reason House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in another move with no precedent in congressional history, refused to allow Republicans to pick their own representatives on the committee, with Cheney lying about being the ranking minority member — is that the effort is transparently political rather than a legitimate inquiry into a riot that was televised live and about which there is no mystery.
But while the hearings have little chance of overshadowing inflation as an election issue, Democrats think it could help push Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice into seeking indictments against Trump and as many other Republicans as he dares, so as to take the man and the party that is beating Biden and any other Democrat in head-to-head polls about 2024.
There might be some Republicans who think Garland would be doing them a favor by a legal maneuver that would theoretically allow the GOP to nominate someone like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or others who might have an even easier path to the White House than Trump would.
Pretense of Purpose on Election Integrity
But there should be no doubt that flogging Republicans about the insurrection is not about finding putative solutions to avoid future post-election controversies, as some on the left are pretending with the committee debating proposals such as abolishing the Electoral College or other Democratic wish list items to nationalize elections.
The only reason for the committee’s work is to get an early start on re-litigating the 2024 election even before it happens by claiming that Trump and Republicans are plotting to steal it, in much the same manner as it is blaming them for the mythical insurrection. The legal case for criminalizing the act of questioning the 2020 results is nonexistent, but that won’t deter those who are determined to sell the country on the legitimacy of a political witch hunt.
The Jan. 6 Committee television show will be, like the Russia collusion hoax before it, itself an illegitimate attempt to sidestep the democratic process and ensure that Trump and other Republicans will be sufficiently hobbled by unfair charges so as to alter the outcome in 2024. Even if public opinion outside of deep blue enclaves won’t buy it, they have a not unreasonable hope that it will be just the thing to push Garland into a banana republic-style effort to jail Biden’s competition.
Jonathan S. Tobin is a senior contributor to The Federalist, editor in chief of JNS.org, and a columnist for the New York Post. Follow him on Twitter at @jonathans_tobin.
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