The GOP’s Jan. 6 committee dilemma: Disband it, or turn it on Dems?

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A faction of pro-Trump House Republicans is escalating calls to preserve Democrats’ Jan. 6 select panel — but use it to serve their own purposes. Not all of the conference is convinced.

The idea of keeping the Capitol riot committee alive if the GOP retakes the majority this fall, with a wildly different focus, has high-profile fans on the right. Freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) said it would be “asinine” for a GOP majority to disband the panel, and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has called for using it to pursue unfounded theories about the Justice Department’s involvement in the Jan. 6 attack.

But interviews and public comments from a dozen House Republicans reveal a split about how a potential GOP-led chamber should handle the remnants of the select committee. Reshaping it into a political cudgel against Democrats, as compelling as it might sound to some conservatives, will take time and focus from a party that wants to pursue its own policy agenda should it vault back to power as expected.

“I’m probably in the camp of: Just let it go away. I don’t want to waste our time dealing with it anymore,” said Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas).

As a practical matter, the Jan. 6 committee will dissolve at the end of the current Congress, and any effort to revive it would need to be incorporated into the next Congress’ package of rules — or by a subsequent resolution supported by House leaders. And some House GOP leaders and members expect they’ll allow the committee to simply fade away, or that they’ll use their own unilateral select committee powers to pursue a less overtly pro-Trump probe than the former president’s congressional allies might want.

“There won’t be one,” said Georgia Rep. Drew Ferguson, the GOP’s chief deputy whip, when asked what would happen to the select panel under a Republican majority. “I don’t think it’d be called the Jan. 6 committee,” quipped Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), a member of the House Freedom Caucus.

Regardless of whether the committee is revived in the GOP’s image, some Republicans are signaling they would use their investigative powers in the majority to attempt to pin specific blame for the siege of Congress on Speaker Nancy Pelosi. That claim relies on the false premises that she either is singularly in charge of Capitol security or played a role in operational planning for the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

In fact, Hill security is handled by the House and Senate sergeants at arms, in coordination with the Capitol Police chief — not at Pelosi’s direction. She has repeatedly emphasized that chain of command in the aftermath of the attack, and that she played no role in their planning for that day.

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has himself spurned a request from the select committee to share details of his interactions with Trump on Jan. 6 — when he pleaded with Trump to send aid to the Capitol and rejected the then-president’s suggestion that the attack was an Antifa false flag. McCarthy has bristled at the panel’s efforts to obtain phone records from Trump allies and warned telecom companies that “a Republican majority will not forget” if they complied with the committee.

Republicans close to McCarthy say the future of the Jan. 6 committee is in his court.

“When Republicans are in the majority, and Kevin McCarthy is the speaker, that’s probably a conversation for another day,” said Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), who has quietly led an effort to craft a GOP counter-report to the Jan. 6 investigation. “I’m not aware of what his intention is.”

Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), the party’s top member on the committee with jurisdiction over Capitol security, said: “Look, it’s gonna depend upon what Leader McCarthy wants.” Davis was one of McCarthy’s picks to sit on the select committee before he decided to boycott the panel over Pelosi’s refusal to seat two other Republican selections — Banks and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said in a brief interview that Republicans have had “a lot of internal discussions” about how they would run the House if they take power, noting that they will have more specific conversations “in time.”

While no final decision has been made about the Jan. 6 investigation, one senior House Republican said there’s no “need to continue a committee.”

“I expect it will just go away,” the member said, speaking candidly about the panel’s future on condition of anonymity.

While House Republicans ultimately voted against establishing a bipartisan Jan. 6 commission, they were largely united in their opposition against the Pelosi-led House select committee. The speaker’s decision to reject two of McCarthy’s picks added further animosity to their stance.

But several Republicans said they expect a GOP counter-investigation into the insurrection to emerge in one form or another, should they reclaim the House. Ferguson suggested the party could probe security problems. Davis said the committee he’s in line to lead, if he survives a competitive primary, could undertake a review as well.

While the panel’s demise at the end of the year has often seemed a foregone conclusion, Trump’s biggest backers in the House have begun floating another idea: refashioning it into a weapon to pursue baseless claims about government involvement in the riot. Doing so would allow conservatives to use the House’s procedural weapons against Pelosi, whom Trump has also increasingly blamed — without basis — for security breakdowns that enabled his supporters to breach the Capitol.

“There are so many questions that are unanswered that people would like to have an answer to when it comes to Jan. 6,” said Cawthorn, who spoke at the pro-Trump rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol.

Gaetz has taken a vocal role in calling for a similar approach.

“I don’t think we can disband the Jan. 6 committee,” said the Floridian, who faces a federal sex trafficking investigation, in an episode of his podcast that aired on the anniversary of the Capitol attack. “I think we have to take over the Jan. 6 committee.”

Republicans like Gaetz and Cawthorn say the committee should focus on Capitol security. In fact, the current select committee has examined those questions as one of the five major aspects of its inquiry.

Post-Jan. 6 reviews have found lapses in the Capitol Police’s intelligence operation and a general lack of preparedness for a direct attack on the building.

Questions about what to do with the select committee have sometimes included an even more extreme consideration: whether to attempt political retaliation against Democratic members of the panel. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, a McCarthy ally, suggested last month that committee members should be worried about being thrown in jail.

“I think when you have a Republican Congress, this is all going to come crashing down,” Gingrich said on Fox News. “And the wolves are going to find out that they’re now sheep and they’re the ones who are in fact, I think, face a real risk of jail for the kinds of laws they’re breaking.”

Few sitting members of Congress have echoed Gingrich’s view, but it has drawn the fury of members of the Jan. 6 panel themselves, such as Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).

“That’s the language of authoritarianism,” Raskin said.

Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.

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