Now that they finally have a new House speaker, some congressional Republicans are mounting an effort to question the select committee investigation into the January 6 attack that wrapped up last year. Their push is the perfect fox and the henhouse type scenario. Some of the members most loudly attempting to question the official probe — including the new speaker — played a part in elements of the conspiracy-fueled push to challenge the 2020 presidential election results that was a major focus of the investigation.
The latest calls to investigate the select committee’s work gained momentum on Friday after Johnson announced a plan to release some of the security footage of the attack that involved thousands of supporters of former President Trump storming into the U.S. Capitol building as his loss was being certified on January 6, 2021. Johnson, who became speaker late last month after weeks of contentious votes and intraparty fighting, had campaigned on a promise to air out the footage. In a statement on Friday, Johnson suggested it would “provide millions of Americans, criminal defendants, public interest organizations and the media an ability to see for themselves what happened that day, rather than having to rely upon the interpretation of a small group of government officials.”
The January 6 attack has been — like Trump’s 2020 loss — the subject of far-right conspiracy theories that suggest the hundreds of people prosecuted for their role in the attack were being politically persecuted. Along with easily disproved suggestions the crowds who brawled with police and broke through barricades that day were peaceful, there have also been thoroughly debunked claims that federal law enforcement was really behind the violence raised in the right-wing media.
Johnson’s office did not respond to a request from TPM asking if he had accepted the results of the 2020 election and whether he had seen any specific evidence that called the January 6 committee into question. His release of the footage and his suggestion there is a story people can “see for themselves” has played into the conspiratorial narratives that the pro-Trump mob everyone watched on live television was something else.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), who helped lead the select committee and has been one of the most prominent Republican critics of Trump’s efforts to falsely deny his loss, responded to Johnson’s move with some clips of her own showing the crowds fighting with police officers at the Capitol.
This is not Johnson’s first time dabbling in 2020 denialism and revisionist history. The new speaker, who will play a role in certifying the next presidential election, was among the 147 Republican members of Congress who voted to overturn the last one. In the leadup to the certification, Johnson was also among members of Congress who worked with the Trump campaign to promote baseless conspiracy theories about the results as part of an official effort to dispute the results that precipitated the violence at the Capitol.
In the weeks after the American people voted on Nov. 3, 2020, Johnson participated in legal challenges to the election and promoted debunked conspiracy theories that the results had been manipulated. In a Facebook post on Nov. 7, 2020, the day media outlets determined President Joe Biden had won the race, Johnson revealed he was coordinating with the Trump campaign on efforts to overturn the former president’s loss.
“I arrived back in northern Virginia last night and have been in legal and political strategy meetings for the Trump Campaign all day. Though the media is calling the election for Biden, they shouldn’t,” Johnson wrote. “As I write this, very important legal challenges are pending and being filed today in several states. President Trump is fighting for you, and we are fighting for him.”
After he became speaker, Johnson’s efforts to dispute the election received new scrutiny. On the night he was selected as the speaker nominee, he and his Republican colleagues literally laughed off questions about his role.
Johnson’s push to air out the security footage prompted a new round of conspiracy theories from other Republicans who worked with him to overturn the 2020 election. On Saturday, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) took to the site formerly known as Twitter to share a message from a West Virginia man who pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to the Capitol attack. The man suggested the clip showed someone “flashing a badge,” implying it was proof law enforcement was behind the violence. Lee, who did not respond to a request for comment, responded that he wanted to question the FBI director about the clip at an upcoming hearing and predicted the answers would “be 97% information-free.”
The clip Lee promoted has gained traction in far-right Jan. 6 conspiracy circles, but it has also been totally debunked. As the Bulwark noted, the footage shows a man who is not a federal agent holding a vape pen rather than a badge. It’s one of many examples of how the supposed evidence of federal involvement being promoted by the far-right just doesn’t add up.
Denver Riggleman, a former Republican congressman and Air Force intelligence officer who worked with the January 6 committee, responded to Lee with a post of his own noting his team had reviewed the evidence and found nothing to support the idea the attack was a grand conspiracy involving federal agents.
“We’ve been down this road many times (over two years now). I’ve used validated data —as Senior Tech Advisor to the J6 committee—to help GOP & Dems understand that FBI/Antifa/Deep State conspiracies are hogwash,” Riggleman wrote.
Riggleman, who co-wrote a book on the investigation with this reporter, also pointed to the text messages his team helped obtain from Trump’s former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows.
“Maybe it’s time to look at Mike Lee’s texts to Mark Meadows—again,” Riggleman wrote.
Those texts, which have been examined thoroughly here on TPM, showed the Trump White House coordinating with Lee and over 30 other congressional Republicans on efforts to overturn the 2020 election. And one of the many messages Lee exchanged with Meadows also shed light on Johnson’s participation in the push.
On Nov. 7, 2020, as the race was being called for Biden and Johnson was admittedly coordinating with the Trump campaign, messages obtained by the committee show that Lee texted Meadows some strategic ideas for reversing the former president’s loss. Lee also provided Meadows with a petition that was signed by him, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Johnson, and a slew of Republican activists:
“Dear Mr. President, We the undersigned offer our unequivocal support for you to exhaust every legal and constitutional remedy at your disposal to restore Americans’ faith in our elections. This fight is about much more than just this election. This fight is about the fundamental fairness and integrity of our election system. The nation is depending upon your continued resolve. Stay strong and keep fighting Mr. President. Sincerely, Senator Mike Lee Congressman Andy Biggs … Congressman Mike Johnson Brent Bozell, Founder and President, Media Research Center Adam Brandon, President, FreedomWorks Bill Walton, President, Council for National Policy Marjorie Dannenfelser, President, Susan B. Anthony List David McIntosh, President, Club for Growth PAC Matt Schlapp, Chairman, American Conservative Union Jenny Beth Martin, Chairman, Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund David Bozell, President, ForAmerica Tom Fitton, President, Judicial Watch Seymour Fein M.D., MRC Board of Directors.”
Lee, who did not respond to a request for comment on this story, encouraged Meadows to share the petition with Trump — and potentially publicly.
“We’re sending this as a private communication from us to him through you. We are not issuing it as a press release,” Lee wrote, adding, “Use it however you deem appropriate And if it’s helpful to you for you to leak it, feel free to do so.”
Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-GA), another Republican member of Congress whose role fighting the 2020 election was revealed by the Meadows Texts, responded to Johnson’s decision to release the security footage by asking him to go even further and to investigate the prior investigation. As she called for creating a new committee to investigate the previous one, Greene — who was billed as a speaker for one of the planned January 6 protests at the Capitol — declared there was no way Trump supporters were responsible for the violence.
“I’ve said it all along, MAGA did not do this,” Greene wrote.
That is indeed a claim Greene has been making “all along.” Text messages exposed by TPM last year show Greene was among several right wing figures baselessly advancing claims left wing anti-fascist activists were actually responsible for the violence. Before the smoke even cleared at the Capitol, the text logs indicate Greene wrote Meadows with a wild, convoluted conspiracy: “We don’t think these attackers are our people. We think they are Antifa. Dressed like Trump supporters.
The following day, as she emphasized her role as one of the members who voted to overturn the election, Greene doubled down.
“Yesterday was a terrible day. We tried everything we could in our objection to the 6 states. I’m sorry nothing worked,” Greene wrote. “I don’t think that President Trump caused the attack on the Capitol. It’s not his fault. Antifa was mixed in the crowed and instigated it, and sadly people followed.”
The text logs indicate her conspiracy was enthusiastically received by the Trump White House.
“Thanks Marjorie,” Meadows replied.