By Lauren Fox, Melanie Zanona and Manu Raju, CNN
Updated: Wed, 21 Jul 2021 13:18:59 GMT
Republicans on the House's new investigative committee are gearing up for a protracted clash with Democrats over former President Donald Trump's role in the January 6 attack, with the GOP looking to turn the focus into the Capitol's lack of preparedness, Speaker Nancy Pelosi's actions and political violence more broadly in the US.
The planning is still in its nascent stages after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy spent weeks methodically selecting GOP members he believes would be best equipped to deliver the Republican counterpoint to the probe. But Republican sources and lawmakers involved in the investigation made clear that they will attempt to push the investigation into areas that Democrats may be unwilling to go.
"There's one fundamental question that I hope Democrats will actually answer and address and that is why wasn't there a proper security presence that day?" said Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio who helped the lead the effort in Congress to try to overturn the electoral results. "And frankly, only the speaker can answer that question so let's see if the Democrats bring that up."
Democrats say that the GOP is already trying to muddy the waters to focus on Pelosi, contending she's not directly in charge of the Capitol's security posture, while taking attention away from Trump's months-long effort to overturn the election, lie about the results and rile up his supporters at the January 6 rally before the deadly riot.
"Well, if you look at the charge that we have in the resolution, it says the facts and circumstances around January 6. I don't see the speaker being part and parcel to that," Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, the Democratic chairman of the committee, told CNN. "It's a free country, and people can say what they want. As to whether or not it has a place in this committee remains to be seen."
Drew Hammill, deputy chief of staff to Pelosi, responded to the GOP angle of attack, by saying, "You know your strategy is desperate when even Ron Johnson has given up on it," a reference to Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who has made significant efforts to downplay and rewrite the events of January 6.
"On January 6th, the Speaker, a target of an assassination attempt that day, was no more in charge of Capitol security than Mitch McConnell was," Hammill said in a statement. "This is a clear attempt to whitewash what happened on January 6th and divert blame."
While Pelosi has the power to veto the picks, and has not said what she will do, the newly named Republicans are expected to hold a strategy session either this weekend or on Monday in order to gear up for the committee's first hearing next week with police officers who defended the Capitol on January 6, according to multiple GOP sources.
And the GOP may lean heavily on Rep. Troy Nehls, a Republican from Texas and one of McCarthy's committee picks who is a former sheriff and military officer, as they start to craft their line of questioning and try to avoid being seen as bashing or dismissive of law enforcement.
Impeachment investigator involved with hearing prep
Democrats, too, are beginning to craft their own plans for next week's hearing with police officers, some of whom are expected to raise concerns about the efforts by some Republicans to rewrite the events of that day.
In private, Democrats have met in Pelosi's office with a top investigator who led the charge in Trump's first impeachment, Daniel Goldman, to help prepare for the hearing, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
"We're going to have to have very serious parliamentary order within the committee," said Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the Democratic lead impeachment manager in Trump's second impeachment and a member of the panel. "Obviously when we go around, people are going to be able to say what they want to say during their five minutes. But we cannot tolerate constant interruption and derailment of the purposes of the committee."
Privately, Democrats are in the throes of prep now with staff holding closed-door sessions and Zoom calls with key officers Tuesday ahead of the hearing. Members say they are spending considerable time reading prior testimony and interviews with their witnesses and others. They also say they are spending time reading indictments to familiarize themselves with more details about the alleged events that occurred in the Capitol on January 6.
"You read a lot," Rep. Peter Aguilar, a Democrat from California, told CNN about his prep.
McCarthy settled on a collection of members he viewed as emblematic of his conference, but which include three members who voted to throw out the results of the election in Arizona and Pennsylvania and two who voted to certify Biden's win. Pelosi told CNN on Tuesday that a vote to certify the election is "not a criterion" for serving on the panel, simply saying she is "considering" McCarthy's "proposals."
"They have a diverse caucus," said Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Democrat selected by Pelosi to serve on the panel. "And it's kind of hard to avoid characters -- given the diversity in the caucus."
Within hours of McCarthy making his picks public Monday evening, Republicans made clear how they viewed the panel.
"Make no mistake," said Rep. Jim Banks, the Indiana Republican whom the GOP leader selected as the ranking member on the select committee. "Nancy Pelosi created this committee solely to malign conservatives and justify the left's authoritarian agenda."
Banks added: "I will not allow this committee to be turned into a forum for condemning millions of Americans because of their political beliefs."
While most Republicans applauded McCarthy for his selections, GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois praised the selection of fellow Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, but not some of the others.
"Obviously, Jim Jordan wouldn't have been my pick, but I hope as long as they do mature work to get to the bottom that'll be good," said Kinzinger, who has emerged as a chief Trump critic. Asked about Jordan, Kinzinger added: "Well I mean I think he's made it clear that he has a preconceived notion of the outcome. And so if he's going to go into this, this process with a preconceived notion of the outcome, well, that's bad."
Sources familiar with the prep tell CNN that Republicans are ready to play defense in upcoming weeks, but are also looking for opportunities to chip away at what they view as the Democratic narrative that Trump actively encouraged his followers to challenge the election results violently on January 6 and that he was solely responsible.
"We all know that this is just about going after Donald Trump," Jordan said Tuesday. "Democrats don't want to talk about anything else. They gotta talk about this. They don't want to talk about the crime that is going up in every major urban area, they don't want to talk about the crises on the border, they don't want to talk about the fact that the price of everything is up."
On Pelosi's role, an aide familiar with the planning told CNN, "We don't know what role she played. It is legitimate to ask."
"I don't want to imply there was something nefarious ... but I think there were questions to be answered."
GOP lawmakers willing to talk to committee about Trump interactions
Democratic and Republican lawmakers say they are now in the process of interviewing and hiring staff, with the Democrats planning to name a staff director in the coming days. Thompson said they are reviewing three finalists for the job. Republicans, however, can't proceed with hiring any staff until Pelosi formally approves McCarthy's selections for the probe.
Throughout the process, Democrats have sought to downplay their probe as potentially unleashing a political circus and many said that remained the goal of the first hearing.
"My feeling is I am going to start with trusting those people there to be driven by following the facts until they prove me otherwise," Aguilar said.
Another key element of the GOP's attack plan will be to highlight political violence on the left, including last summer's protests in response to police brutality. That was a point of contention during negotiations on a proposed bipartisan commission to probe the insurrection, with Republicans demanding that any independent body include that subject area in its scope.
"The Democrats in the summer of 2020 normalized anarchy, they normalized rioting and looting," Jordan said. "So I think that's an important element that we'll have to point out."
But where the investigation goes from here remains to be seen. Democrats have made no secret that they may seek to interview some of Trump's defenders who talked with him about the effort to overturn the electoral results. And that could include Jordan.
"If they call me, I got nothing to hide," Jordan said Tuesday, indicating he'd be willing to talk about his conversations.
GOP Sen. Tommy Tuberville, the Alabama freshman who fielded a brief call from Trump while the insurrection was taking place, told CNN he'd be willing to speak with House investigators.
"I'm sure they'll call me," Tuberville said Tuesday. 'It's not a secret," he said of his call with Trump.
This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.