It is an indisputable fact that House Republicans, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, were at the very heart of former President Donald Trump's coup plot to overturn the 2020 presidential election. While more than hints and clues have pointed to their involvement ever since the January 6 insurrection, their central role emerged this past week when notes of a December 27, 2020, conversation between Trump and the acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen were disclosed.
Informed by Rosen that the Department of Justice could not and would not reverse President Joe Biden's election victory, Trump urged him to "just say the election was corrupt [and] leave the rest to me and the [Republican] congressmen." Moments later, Trump referred specifically to Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, founder of the Freedom Caucus and close associate of Mark Meadows, the former Freedom Caucus chair who left Congress to become Trump's White House chief of staff.
Jordan is so far unwilling to say whether he will testify about the insurrection if he is summoned, just as he refused years ago to assist official inquiries into hundreds of sexual assaults on the Ohio State wrestling team in which he was suspected of complicity or worse. But this time, if the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol requests his appearance, either voluntarily or by subpoena, he will have to show up or face legal consequences. So will several other members of the Capitol Hill "sedition caucus" who sought to invalidate Biden's election, including McCarthy and Arizona Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs, Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, and Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, to name a few of the most prominent.
And so will their longtime confederate Meadows, who has already been subpoenaed by the House Oversight Committee in the Rosen matter and "may face significant criminal exposure," according to the Just Security website published by New York University School of Law.
Each of these Republican myrmidons has serious questions to answer. Brooks, donning a flak jacket when he addressed the pre-riot Trumpist rally at the Ellipse on January 6 calling for "kicking ass," has claimed immunity, a justification denied by the DOJ. Boebert allegedly gave a tour through the Capitol with unknown persons later identified as insurrectionists in December and January. "Stop the Steal" organizer Ali Alexander boasted of concocting a plan to intimidate Congress from certifying the election with Gosar, Biggs, and Brooks.
Jordan was implicated in the coup effort very early, even before Election Day, when he publicly accused Democrats of planning to corrupt the balloting. In the weeks leading up to the insurrection, he plotted with Meadows and Trump at the White House; in the days afterward, he was given the Medal of Freedom by Trump in a closed ceremony there. It is undoubtedly the first time that high honor has been awarded for seditious conspiracy against the Republic.
As the Lincoln historian and former presidential adviser Sidney Blumenthal pointed out in a recent Guardian column, members of Congress possess no immunity against a subpoena from a House investigating committee. Moreover, as Blumenthal also noted, there is richly ironic precedent to summon all of these characters, voluntarily or otherwise, in the official Senate probe of John Brown's infamous Harpers Ferry raid on the eve of the Civil War. Leading that investigation was none other than Mississippi Sen. Jefferson Davis, the traitor who later served as president of the Confederacy (whose battle flag soiled the Capitol hallways on January 6.)
Harper's Ferry was the last domestic insurrection to come under congressional scrutiny — until now. Among the witnesses called to testify about the events leading up to Brown's attack were two antislavery Republican senators suspected by Davis of knowing or aiding him. And it is safe to say that Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, and other Democrats on the committee are aware of that precedent.
Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, one of two Republicans named to the committee by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has suggested that Jordan and McCarthy, both of whom spoke with Trump on January 6, should be called — and a very large and rapt television audience awaits her questioning of them.
Meadows, who spent that day and the days preceding the insurrection with Trump in the White House and knows what the former president did and didn't do, will have to face the music. It will not be the last time he's been caught in a coup. In January 2013, when he conspired with Jordan to overthrow Republican House Speaker John Boehner, he was exposed in the failed attempt. He later came to the speaker's office, according to Boehner, got down on his knees, and pleaded, "Will you please forgive me?" Meadows will undoubtedly have another opportunity to get on his knees soon.
These ultra-right Republicans are the face of an authoritarian and frankly nihilist insurgency that began its takeover of the Grand Old Party back when their model Newt Gingrich rose to power as speaker. It is no surprise that this miscreant crew now surrounds their would-be dictator Trump like a praetorian guard, or that they spearheaded his attempt to destroy democracy. But the time is rapidly approaching when they will have to answer for those actions under oath. Of course, Jordan and Meadows and Brooks and Boebert and the other members of the gang can always plead the Fifth Amendment.
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