OPINION POTOMAC WATCH
What the Jan. 6 Panel Won’t Probe
Members look in vain for a coup plot but ignore Congress’s own security failures.
By Kimberley A. Strassel
Jan. 6, 2022 6:25 pm ET
Select committees come and go, with varying impact. The growing risk of Nancy Pelosi’s January 6 Committee is that it will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
A year after the riot, it’s a fair time to evaluate what that committee has and hasn’t accomplished since its summer creation. By its charter, the committee is assigned with investigating “the facts, circumstances and causes” of the event, as well as those “relating to the preparedness and response of the United States Capitol Police” and other law-enforcement agencies. The country would hugely benefit from a straightforward accounting of that day.
Committee members have so far met with some 300 witnesses, received thousands of documents, and subpoenaed some 50 individuals, as well as phone and bank records. The committee’s leaks, and releases of White House text messages, have provided color, while its litigation and contempt citations have kept the press in gravy.
Yet the body’s near-manic focus on Donald Trump’s culpability (the facts of which have been known for a year) has also meant it has produced little that’s new. On “Face the Nation” this week, the committee’s Vice Chairman Elizabeth Cheney waxed about the committee’s “tremendous progress,” yet cited as her only example that it now had “firsthand testimony” that “President Trump was sitting in the dining room next to the Oval Office, watching on television as the Capitol was assaulted.”
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“Six hours of paralysis: Inside Trump’s failure to act after a mob stormed the Capitol,” was a headline from a Jan. 11, 2021, story in the Washington Post, which reported the president “was too busy watching fiery TV images of the crisis unfolding” to listen to pleas from family and colleagues to intervene. Thanks to the committee we now know where Mr. Trump lounged, and how many people he ignored.
More notable is what the committee has failed to find. Members made no secret they hoped to prove a coup plot run from the White House. Yet in all its 725 prosecutions, the Justice Department hasn’t presented a scintilla of evidence supporting the hypothesis. Neither has the committee—even after 300 witnesses, or texts of the former White House chief of staff.
Twisting in the wind are the urgent issues the committee won’t explore. In a memo this week to colleagues, Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis—the ranking Republican on the House Administration Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Capitol complex—noted that the select committee, a year after the riot, is “no closer to finding out what led to the catastrophic security failure,” even as the security situation has arguably deteriorated because of Capitol Police resignations and poor morale.
What makes this failure uglier is that it looks to be political. Former Capitol Police chief Steven Sund has attested that before Jan. 6 he approached House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving about obtaining the assistance of National Guard troops on the day the electoral votes were to be counted, but Mr. Irving said he was concerned about “optics.” Mr. Sund says that during the violence he again urgently asked for troops, but help was delayed because Mr. Irving said he “needed to run it up the chain of command.” Mr. Irving disputes this version of events. One obvious way to settle it is to examine documents, and the Capitol Police have produced theirs to Republicans.
But Mr. Davis reports the House sergeant-at-arms and chief administrative officer—both of whom report to Mrs. Pelosi—have steadfastly refused to produce anything to him. Likewise, the House general counsel has stonewalled requests. The speaker’s office wields obvious control over Capitol security decisions—as evidenced by Mrs. Pelosi’s decrees on fencing or magnetometers or National Guard troops—and any legitimate investigation would start by looking at her office’s briefings and involvement in Jan. 6 security—as the top of that “chain of command.” Yet when Chairman Bennie Thompson was asked in July if the committee would investigate this, he said, “I don’t see the speaker being part and parcel” of the committee’s remit. And the committee’s given no indication it is going there.
The committee risks going down in history not as the body that brought truth to Jan. 6, but the one that—in its political zeal—closed its eyes to vital issues and left the Capitol just as vulnerable. It’s done so with shocking disregard of institutional norms and decorum. The committee has eviscerated longstanding precedents with regard to its own membership, executive privilege, member privacy, intrusive subpoenas, criminal contempt votes and First Amendment rights.
With luck, this country will never have another repeat of the Jan. 6 riots. But future Congresses and White Houses will live for decades with the recklessly low standards this committee has set. America deserves a just-the-facts account of that infamous day. By the evidence to date, Ms. Pelosi’s committee sadly isn’t going to be the one to provide it.
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Appeared in the January 7, 2022, print edition.