On Tuesday, the nation heard incredibly compelling testimony about the pressure placed on state and local officials by Donald Trump in an attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election. As Brandi Buchman reported, the testimony showed how Trump personally leaned on these officials, how his bullying opened both them and their families to threats, and how Trump was at the center of a scheme to subvert democracy using a slate of fake electors in multiple states.
Tuesday’s testimony was only the latest in a series of hearings in which the public has seen new information about events on Jan. 6. In those hearings, the House select committee has been working backwards. They started by showing the violence of the assault on the Capitol. Then they showed how Trump recruited white supremacist groups like the Proud Boys to his cause. Then how Trump and his legal team concocted a fictional narrative about voting fraud. Tuesday was the first day dedicated to Trump’s efforts to make that plan reality.
If it seems familiar, it’s because what the select committee is doing is what the prosecution does at every murder trial: Show the jury a body on the ground, identify the weapon, then prove who was wielding the knife. They’re giving the nation the body of the crime, the tools enlisted to make it happen, and both motive and means of execution.
And now Republicans are sorry. Not sorry that Jan. 6 happened—sorry that they didn’t corrupt the select committee when they had the chance.
Over at Punchbowl News, there’s a feeling from Republicans that, horror of horrors, the committee is doing a good job. That is, they’ve put together convincing evidence and the presentations to the public have been convincing. Republicans “won’t admit it openly” but in private, they’re fretting over how the committee has created a “blistering portrayal of former President Donald Trump’s refusal to accept defeat following the 2020 elections” and the steps Trump took to overturn the results. And, as happens on almost every occasion, Republicans are looking for the most important thing in any crisis situation: someone to blame.
We talk to expert Brandi Buchman about everything you need to know for the Jan. 6 committee, hearings, and investigation on Daily Kos' The Brief podcast
It can’t be Trump, because as Lindsey Graham made clear, they’re all terrified of Trump. They love that little frisson of terror they get at the mere mention of his name.
So the finger of blame seems to be pointing at the guy who had the chance to turn this committee into an absolutely ineffective, watered down, good-people-on-both-sides farce, but passed up that opportunity: House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Just over one year ago, Republicans in the Senate filibustered a bill to create an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate Jan. 6. As Laura Clawson reported at the time, Democrats made “huge concessions” concerning the makeup of the committee and limits of the investigation in an effort to address concerns expressed by Republicans. It was enough to get 35 House Republicans on board, but in the Senate only six Republicans were willing to go along, and a smirking Mitch McConnell led the filibuster to halt an investigation into crimes that were then only four months in the past.
A month later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi handed McCarthy the outline for the current select committee, giving him the opportunity to appoint Republican members. McCarthy might have chosen to take it seriously, but he didn’t. Instead he promptly picked Reps. Jim Jordan and Jim Banks, both of whom McCarthy knew would be sought as witnesses for direct involvement in the Jan. 6 conspiracy.
When Pelosi rejected this attempt to knee-cap the committee, McCarthy had a list of literally hundreds of Republicans to choose from. He might have saddled the committee with any of a number of cynical old hands or hard-charging MAGA freshmen, either of which could have served to turn every session in the committee into the kind of “where is Hunter Biden’s notebook?” madness seen during Trump’s impeachment hearings.
Every public hearing, if there even were public hearings, could have been subject to lengthy diatribes about Benghazi and demands that they subpoena the grandkids of Hugo Chavez. Republicans could have done what Republicans do in defense of Trump: Throw up smokescreens, erupt in faux outrage, and use up committee time making regular statements about how the whole investigation was “a witch hunt.”
Only McCarthy didn’t do that. Refused his first choice of sleeveless wrestling shower guy, McCarthy decided that he wouldn’t name anyone at all, leaving Pelosi the opportunity to select Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger from the very short list of Republicans who were not willing to crown a game show host as America’s king.
Now, as that committee wades into Trump with one punch to the gut after another, Republicans are coming to the consensus that it was McCarthy who screwed this up. That consensus includes Trump.
Trump: “I think in retrospect [McCarthy should’ve put Republicans on] to just have a voice. The Republicans don’t have a voice. They don’t even have anything to say. … “I think it would’ve been far better to have Republicans [on the panel]. [Jim Banks and Jim Jordan] were great. They were great and would’ve been great to have them. But when Pelosi wrongfully didn’t allow them, we should’ve picked other people. We have a lot of good people in the Republican Party.”
This is a trial at which Trump has refused to testify and done everything he possibly can to keep all the others involved in the conspiracy from raising their right hand. And the truth is that every Republican in Washington, D.C., and Mar-a-Lago thought McCarthy had done the right thing at the time, because “illegitimate witch hunt” was a well-established theme they could sell to Trump’s base.
Except Trump’s base isn’t watching the committee hearings. Everyone else is. And Trump is discovering that when you’re on trial for attempting to murder democracy, refusing to put on a defense isn’t a great strategy.
Expect the “blame Kevin” chorus to only grow louder. After all, “scapegoat” is McCarthy’s dedicated role.