Wednesday, February 28

Opinion | Jan. 6 panel just dropped a big hint. They’d better have the goods.

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Little by little, the House select committee examining the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection attempt is moving toward a more sweeping account of those fateful events that indicts not just Donald Trump but large swaths of the GOP as well.

At the core of this expanding focus lie several questions: How deep into the GOP did the insurrection attempt really reach? How much Republican culpability can the committee really establish? And how far will Republicans go to cover up Trump’s corrupt and possibly criminal conduct?

On Thursday afternoon, the committee dropped another big hint about its investigative direction. It called on a House Republican to divulge what he knows about tours that Republicans might have led before Jan. 6, supposedly giving people who stormed the Capitol an advance look at their target.

In a letter to Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), the committee’s co-chairs, Reps. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) and Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) indicate they want to talk to him.

“Based on our review of evidence in the Select Committee’s possession, we believe you have information regarding a tour you led through parts of the Capitol complex on January 5, 2021,” their letter says.

The key there is the committee’s claim it has “evidence” that such a tour actually did happen. That’s a pretty big assertion.

In the past, Republicans have angrily denied any role in giving participants in the insurrection tours of the Capitol complex before the storming. Those denials have been unequivocal.

The allegation that such tours did occur was first raised a week after the attack by Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.). She suggested vaguely that she had personally witnessed “members of Congress who had groups coming through the Capitol” on Jan. 5.

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Sherrill described this as “reconnaissance for the next day, those members of Congress that incited this violent crowd.” In a subsequent letter, Sherrill and many other Democrats amplified the charge, claiming to have witnessed GOP-led “tours” of “outside groups in the complex” who “appeared to be associated” with the subsequent Jan. 6 rally.

That’s some pretty loaded language, suggesting GOP lawmakers essentially helped violent insurrectionists case the joint.

That prompted sharp denials from Republican members. In response, Republicans on the House Administrative Committee said, staff was tasked with reviewing security footage in the two days before Jan. 6. According to a GOP aide, there was nothing to the Democrats’ allegation: “There were no tours, no large groups, no one with MAGA hats on.”

Yet now the letter from the Jan. 6 committee flatly states: “The Select Committee’s review of evidence directly contradicts that denial.” It’s an extraordinary allegation from the committee — one you’d hope it wouldn’t make without an airtight reason to.

The letter is silent on a key question, though: whether the committee has evidence Republican lawmakers knew they were giving tours to people who would go on to attack the Capitol and try to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power.

Regardless, all this again suggests that the committee appears to be going big in its efforts to establish that the insurrectionist plot reached far beyond Trump and his inner circle and into the Republican Party.

The committee has suggested it has evidence that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) knows more about Trump’s state of mind on Jan. 6 than McCarthy has let on. It has suggested that other Republican lawmakers were neck-deep in the scheming to corrupt state officials. It has suggested they worked to corrupt the Justice Department in service of Trump’s coup attempt. And it has suggested they might have tried to seek presidential pardons in advance.

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There is already a good deal of evidence that some GOP members do know more than they’ve told us; their likely refusal to testify constitutes a coverup on Trump’s behalf. Yet many public signs coming out of the committee hint that it has established that this story, including the involvement of GOP lawmakers in the plot, is much bigger than we know.

It would be a fiasco, not just politically for Democrats but also for the country’s efforts to reckon with the insurrection attempt, if those intimations turned out to be more lurid than the truth. If committee members are going to drop hints like these, one hopes they have the goods.

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