TPM Alum Hunter Walker has a big scoop in Rolling Stone about the January 6th insurrection and the congressional investigation into it. But there seems to be some significant confusion about what’s actually in the report and what it means for understanding the event itself and the investigation into it. I want to be clear up front this isn’t a criticism of the piece itself. But understanding this is very important for understanding the questions of accountability and legality stemming from the whole event.
First of all, I saw many reactions to the story yesterday which treated it as a sort of smoking gun about the involvement of a number of far-right members of Congress. But at least to my understanding this part of the report was not new. Not really new at all. There are basically three parts of the story that we can distinguish for these purposes. 1) The legal/executive power attempt to overturn the election, 2) the “Stop the Steal” rally aimed at pressuring Congress and then 3) the breach of the Capitol complex which happened when then-President Trump told the rally attendees to march on the Capitol complex. But we’ve known basically from the beginning that these members of Congress were involved in 1 and 2. This has not just come out in reporting since January 6th. It was fairly open at the time. Indeed, most of these members were either present or actually spoke at the rally.
To the best of my knowledge there’s nothing in the report that explicitly ties these members of Congress to the decision to storm the Capitol complex. There are many references to additional information the cooperating sources plan to provide. So perhaps there’s additional, specific information there. But here’s why this is important and important not so much about this report but for understanding the whole situation.
If we’re looking for a specific smoking gun where Paul Gosar or Mo Brooks says, “Hey, once you get there, storm the barricades and beat up the cops who try to stop you and take the members of Congress hostage” we’re all being way too literal about what happened here and basically making an argument in advance that lets most of the key players off the hook.
The big plot was to overturn the results of the election. The President and his congressional allies were working on that at the DOJ and in Congress. They also planned a big rally in the Capitol to menace and overawe members of Congress. They got them riled up at the rally and then literally told them to march on the Capitol. They knew there were various rightist paramilitaries in that crowd – Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, etc. They knew they had told them that Congress was stealing the election from Trump and that they should go to Capitol Hill and make them stop. My best guess is that people like Trump and Mark Meadows didn’t want to know all the details of precisely what was going to happen once the mob got to the barricades. But that’s really always how these things work.
We already appear to have reporting that Bannon knew and was trying to foment the kind of siege that actually occurred. And we can see pretty clearly that this was the plan because the reaction to the storming of the Capitol complex from folks like Bannon and indeed Trump himself wasn’t dismay or outrage but glee. That’s what they were looking for. This remains perhaps the most important part of the whole investigation: the period of hours in which Trump gleefully watched his supporters try to hunt down the members of Congress and indeed Trump’s Vice President and refused efforts to calm the situation or order federal troops to stop the assault on the Capitol.
The defenders of the Jan 6th insurrection want to argue that the rally was just like any other example of Americans exercising their right to peaceful protest. No different from the March on Washington or the Women’s March in the first days of Trump’s presidency. The only problem was when individuals decided to break down the barricades and … well Trump and Paul Gosar and Mo Brooks … well, that wasn’t their fault. Who could have predicted, etc.?
To the best of my knowledge this report doesn’t change the facts on this basic issue. But we are fools if that’s what we’re looking for. Or if that is the standard we’re applying to this inquiry.