House GOP flirts with Jan 6 extremism

House Republicans don’t want to talk about Jan. 6. They also can’t stop talking about it.

Sometimes GOP lawmakers insist they are not interested in reigniting an attack that is political poison for the party outside of deep red zones. But at other times, some Republicans have fueled narratives that mistakenly blame the attack on police, Democrats or far-left agitators — or downplay the violence on Capitol Hill. The latter approach has seen a notable rise in recent times.

And it’s not just far-right conservatives who belong to this group — some House GOP leaders and key committee heads have shown they’re willing to flirt with the fringe without an outright embrace. Chairman Kevin McCarthy shared security video from that day with far-right media figures who downplayed or fueled inaccurate portrayals of the attack.

Yet they are also combating some of those same false conspiracy theories and preparing to focus on at least one area of ​​bipartisan concern: Capitol security vulnerabilities, many of which remain unresolved since the attack. Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), who was vetted by the Jan. 6 select committee for a tour of the Capitol complex he gave Jan. 5, 2021, warns allies against automatically accepting certain statements.

“You wouldn’t believe how many experts there are out there on January 6, who know exactly what happened because they read about it on the internet,” said Loudermilk, who leads the GOP watch. on the attack and on the Democratic Party. led the January 6 panel.

Loudermilk’s comments underscore the reality for House Republicans. While most admit privately, if not publicly, that January 6 was the work of a violent mob, they have a political calculus to consider: a sizable faction of their party is determined to rewrite the history of the day.

On top of it all, former President Donald Trump is vehemently defending the rioters and continuing false claims that he won the 2020 election. Federal and Georgia prosecutors are investigating his efforts to overturn the election and may bring charges later this year.

Trump isn’t interested in making the balance any easier for Republicans: His promise to pardon a slew of Jan. 6 defendants is a feature of his campaign commentary, where he remains the frontrunner for the nomination of the left in 2024.

Still, House Republicans aren’t fully toying with Trump. For now, they’re giving January 6 a sideways hug more than a bear hug.

McCarthy sums up the half-hearted embrace. He angered some right-wing allies this year by defending a Capitol police officer’s decision to shoot a Jan. 6 rioter who tried to enter a room adjacent to the House chamber. But it also provided exclusive access to thousands of hours of security footage for former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who used the film to belittle and distort the actions of police officers.

“Speaker McCarthy promised that House Republicans would investigate the security breaches that day and provide transparency to the American people. Former Speaker Pelosi and her special committee set bad precedent after bad precedent, including releasing selected clips for partisan purposes,” a spokesperson for McCarthy said in a statement that did not address the dynamic. of the conference around January 6.

“For two years, we heard no concerns when footage was used by Democrats, the media and Pelosi’s daughter for her HBO documentary,” McCarthy’s spokesperson added, declining to be identified by her name and referring to Nancy Pelosi’s daughter filming her mother and other party leaders on January 6.

Some of McCarthy’s most trusted committee chairs took a similar approach to the California Republican, eschewing the more extreme efforts demanded by the far-right flank, but still winking at some of their concerns. .

For example, no committee has pursued baseless claims that Ray Epps, who rioted on January 6, was acting as an undercover government agent. And GOP leaders have shunned a far-right fervor to subpoena and investigate some members of the Jan. 6 panel, to examine misrepresented allegations about Pelosi’s handling of Capitol security or to dig deeper into the treatment by the judges of more than 1,000 criminal cases arising from the attack.

Notably, no committee chair or party leader has participated in the biggest platform House Republicans have given to the Jan. 6 defendants so far: Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Joined by a handful of others from the conference’s right flank, hosted an event last week with former Trump acting assistant attorney general Jeffrey Clark, those charged in connection with Jan. 6, members of the family of the accused and allies.

The event featured a veritable kitchen sink of conspiracy theories as well as repeated false claims, including that the 2020 election was “stolen” and that the January 6 committee “tampered” with the video.

But the Jan. 6 defendants, their attorneys, and some GOP lawmakers have called on Republicans to push further.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said investigating the Justice Department’s handling of the Jan. 6 lawsuits should be one of the “top priorities” of a judiciary subcommittee charged with investigating the case. to investigate allegations of GOP bias against conservatives in the federal government. government.

She presented articles of arraignment against the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia who took the initiative to prosecute the mob members. Meanwhile, Gaetz introduced a resolution to censure Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who headed the now-closed riot select committee. Both efforts have single-digit numbers of cosponsors at this time.

Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) recently released a broader report accusing the FBI of artificially confusing the number of investigations related to Jan. 6. The report and a subsequent hearing also included testimony from whistleblowers who had lost their security clearances due to improper actions related to Jan. 6.

One of the whistleblowers, Steve Friend, and several members of the Freedom Caucus were invited to speak at a retreat hosted by the conservative Center for Renewing America, where Friend is a senior fellow, shortly before the hearing , according to research by the progressive group Accountable. US which was provided exclusively to POLITICO and confirmed via the Chamber Disclosure Forms.

Jordan also sent new letters related to Jan. 6, one requesting more information about the FBI’s investigation into pipe bombs found near the Capitol on the day of the attack and another expanding an investigation into sharing. recordings with federal investigators.

But these efforts constitute only a small part of its collective and thorough investigations.

The oversight committee organized a visit to the DC prison to investigate allegations of “disparate treatment” of about two dozen inmates linked to Jan. 6 – nearly all of whom were jailed or detained for violence against police. But Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) did not attend the tour, which was led by panel member Greene.

Democrats in attendance said the GOP lawmakers and detained rioters treated each other as allies and friends.

Some Oversight Committee members recently brought up Jan. 6 in a hearing with testimony from Graves and DC Mayor Muriel Bowser — but the session was framed as dealing with broader issues of crime and governance.

There’s a reason behind the conference’s actions to dodge these issues: A wide swath of House Republicans consider spotlighting the Jan. 6 investigations a terrible political strategy.

Loudermilk has largely led the GOP’s most focused January 6 dive so far. He received a copy of the Capitol Police radio transmissions from the day and met privately with former law enforcement officials to discuss security issues. The Loudermilk subcommittee, according to McCarthy’s spokesperson, will also soon be rolling out “additional access” to view Capitol security footage.

Still, Loudermilk set off alarm bells among Democrats when he pushed DC police to reveal how many undercover officers were in the crowd during the attack. The letter agrees with, but does not specifically mention, claims by some defendants on January 6 that plainclothes agents or the government itself may have fomented the riot.

But Loudermilk says he won’t lend his subcommittee’s imprimatur to some of the more egregious misrepresentations.

“We just want to follow the facts, not hyperbole or some kind of conspiracy theory, so our interest is right: what is the truth?” he said.

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