Republicans can ‘shut down’ the Jan. 6 investigation, but Democrats don’t have to oblige them
Assuming they survive the new year with their razor-thin House majority intact, Republicans have promised to shut down the bipartisan investigation into the deadly insurrection incited by Donald Trump and enabled by several of their own colleagues at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. This is in keeping with a pattern of Republicans attempting to thwart investigations into acts of treachery against this country committed by members of their party, most notably (by way of recent historical example) being the lies spread by the George W. Bush administration in the run-up to the colossal trillion-dollar folly known as the War on Iraq.
One option for Democrats is to refer the Jan. 6 committee findings to the Senate where they still retain control, presumably allowing that body to set up its own Select committee. It is not clear whether the Senate would have any appetite for such an effort. But there is actually precedent for House Democrats to keep such investigations alive (to a degree), even in the face of stiff Republican obstruction.
That precedent was set in 2005 by the late, former Congressman John Conyers under conditions far less favorable than those which Democrats could expect to encounter now. At a time when the sheer magnitude of Bush’s Iraq malfeasance was only beginning to sink in with the public, Conyers’ effort to unveil the true motivation for that war and the deceptions invented to justify it was bound to meet with unified Republican resistance, even ridicule. That is exactly what happened, but Rep. Conyers simply decided to push back.
At that time the Republican-dominated House understood its role well: to shut down and hide from the public any evidence that the war—a war only beginning to reveal its ineptitude both in execution and strategy—was premised wholesale on bald-faced lies concerning the supposed “threat” the Iraq regime represented. So, when Conyers, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, proposed an investigation impugning the very rationale for the war, he was met with predictably monolithic Republican obstruction: There would be no “hearings,” they told him. The American people would be forced to swallow Bush’s stated justifications, and that was that.
So, banished by Republican House leaders to a basement (described as little more than a “closet”) in the bowels beneath the Capitol, Rep. Conyers simply conducted a hearing on his own. His primary subject was the infamous Downing Street Memo, a document generated by British intelligence which had recorded for posterity a version of the Iraq war far different than was being sold by the Bush administration to the American public: specifically, that intelligence and facts about the war were being “fixed” to conform to the administration’s pre-existing policy.
As summarized by C-Span in its archival coverage of Conyers’ hearings:
Rep. John Conyers, Jr., and other Democrats hold a public meeting concerning the “Downing Street Memo” and pre-war intelligence on Iraq. Witnesses attending the meeting talked about the documents, the Bush administration policy planning following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, intelligence estimates on Iraqi weapons programs, and public statements made b[y] officials prior to the announcement of military action against Iraq. Members also talked about refusals by Republican leaders to acknowledge the pre-war planning and reluctance to investigate the matter in oversight hearings. The meeting was held in HC-9 rather than the normal Judiciary Committee hearing room due to Republican objections that the meeting was not an official hearing.
Conyers’ hearings depended wholly on the voluntary cooperation of witnesses. He lacked the subpoena power afforded to “official” House committees and thus had no power to compel testimony. He had no funding. His hearing, termed a “meeting,” was gleefully attacked by the mainstream media (including, notably, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post, who, in a column he now doubtlessly regrets, mocked Conyers’ efforts even as American soldiers were getting their limbs blown off thanks to a virulent Iraqi insurgency that would soon completely alter the course of the war). And members who attended were routinely harassed by then-Speaker Denny Hastert, who scheduled pointless floor votes for the sole purpose of pulling Democrats out of the meeting. Nevertheless, Conyers persisted.
As it turned out, the Downing Street Memo was quite genuine; its authenticity and veracity have never been seriously challenged. But a public airing of it was very inconvenient, particularly to House Republicans who were facing the following year what ultimately proved to be an electoral Democratic tsunami driven primarily by public opposition to the war in Iraq. As it turned out, Conyers was on the right side of history; two years after his “basement” hearings, he became the chairman of the House Judiciary committee.
The point in this example is that our elected Democratic representatives are not children who can be ordered by a bullying faction of gerrymandered Republicans what they can or cannot “investigate.” Even lacking the subpoena power attendant to a formal inquiry, they are empowered by their position (and their oaths) to represent the interests of the American people. And right now, investigating the commission of a felonious act of sedition against the very seat of American government is in Americans’ interests, not something to be swept under the rug simply because the speaker’s gavel has temporarily changed hands.
The people who committed this heinous crime against the Republic are de facto seditionists and their professed loyalty to this country is forfeit. There are plenty of stones still unturned in this saga, plenty of witnesses out there still to come forward with their stories, plenty of texts, photographs, and phone calls still unexamined, and it is imperative that the full scope of their acts continue to be investigated, regardless of who happens to control the House.
There is absolutely no reason that an informal, ad hoc committee, similar to Conyers’ from nearly two decades ago, cannot be formed to continue the investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection. It will be derided on Fox News and right-wing media, but those entities have done that throughout the entire process. Such a committee can initiate inquiries, it can call witnesses, and it can continue to collect evidence.
As Republican Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger will have departed, it will not include any Republicans—an appropriate response to the actions of the GOP leadership in shutting down the parent investigation. The presumed House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has even “warned” members of the Select Committee to “preserve” their records, presumably as some sort of thinly veiled threat to Democrats for daring to investigate the perfidious actions of his colleagues. Well, Democrats should oblige him, by adding as much to the cache of evidence already obtained.
Donald Trump has already declared his intention to once again pursue the presidency. A spineless and thoroughly corrupted Republican party still stands ready to support him, acting as if the events of Jan. 6 had never happened, as if the treacherous fact of their joint collaboration to disenfranchise the majority of the American electorate in 2020 didn’t matter.
But it did matter. And Democrats should never allow them to forget it.
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