(WASHINGTON) — From legal action to name-calling, former President Donald Trump continues to try to discredit the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol as the panel prepares to go public with its findings in prime-time on Thursday.
Committee members say they will lay out to the American people how Trump encouraged a mob of his supporters to descend on lawmakers as part of a monthslong attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election — as Trump, from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, coordinates counterattacks with GOP allies in the House, who have assumed the role of his public defenders against what he’s deemed is a “scam” investigation from the “unselect committee.”
While Trump has labeled the rioters as “a loving crowd” who were “hugging and kissing” police officers and posed “zero threat” in an interview, the committee is expected to emphasize the threat to then-Vice President Mike Pence as it seeks to capture the severity of the attack and make its case — despite Trump’s narrative.
Members of the select committee now have the challenge of making their case to the American public amid Trump’s relentless commentary riddled with false claims about the 2020 election — commentary that previously encouraged “patriots” to “fight” in Washington on Jan. 6.
Trump has maintained he carries no responsibility for the attack while deploying an arsenal of rhetoric to recast what happened and to undermine the investigation.
Here are some examples:
Branding the ‘Unselect committee’
After Senate Republicans blocked efforts last year to form an independent commission to investigate the Capitol attack, the House established a select committee last summer by a vote of 222-190. From the start, Trump used familiar attack language to mock the effort he called a “political Witch Hunt by the Radical Left Democrats.”
When the committee sent its first subpoenas to four of his administration officials last September, the former president released a lengthy statement labeling it the “Unselect Committee” of “highly partisan politicians.” He called the action “Harassment Subpoenas,” while continuing to push baseless claims that the election was stolen.
“Hopefully the Unselect Committee will be calling witnesses on the Rigged Presidential Election of 2020, which is the primary reason that hundreds of thousands of people went to Washington, D.C. in the first place,” Trump said.
And when announcing he was canceling a press conference at Mar-a-Lago on the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack, amid concerns from congressional Republicans over what he might say, Trump added in his statement, “This is the Democrats’ Great Cover-Up Committee and the Media is complicit.”
Trump continues to call the 2020 election “the Crime of the Century,” despite his own officials, dozens of recounts, and more than 40 failed lawsuits affirming President Joe Biden’s win.
GOP coordination in counterprogramming
Taking cues from the former president as it still appears to carry massive influence with his base, Republican leaders have also dismissed the work of their colleagues to match Trump’s rhetoric.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — who first said that Trump carries responsibility for the attack before making a pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago just weeks later — is scheduled to hold a news conference Thursday morning as a “prebuttal” to the Jan. 6 hearing. Though McCarthy was subpoenaed by the committee seeking information on his phone calls with Trump on the day of the attack, he did not comply.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who has slammed the committee as a “scam” for months, called the upcoming hearing “garbage” that “Americans are not going to watch” in an interview Wednesday on Fox News, which is notably not carrying the hearing in prime time.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who was with Trump in Bedminster Wednesday, said in an interview with “Breitbart News Saturday” that it’s House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who should be investigated instead, alleging the speaker “refused” to turn over security documents.
“Why? Because she is covering up, because there were concerns about security that were raised with Speaker Pelosi’s office,” Stefanik claimed. “Where are the documents? Where are the communications, Nancy? Until she does that, we know that she bears responsibility.”
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill told ABC News Wednesday, “We have no idea what Rep. Stefanik is talking about. We suspect neither does she.”
He added: “Numerous independent fact-checkers have confirmed that Speaker Pelosi did not plan her own assassination.”
While House Republican leaders have loudly backed Trump, one notable Republican — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a frequent target of Trump’s attacks — signaled his personal interest in the House committee’s work. McConnell said in an interview with Spectrum News in December, “I think that what they’re seeking to find out is something the public needs to know.”
Trump taunts committee members
Trump has taken particular aim at the only two Republicans sitting on the committee, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, whom he has taunted with his trademark nicknames, “polling warmonger Liz Cheney and Cryin’ Adam Kinzinger.”
The pair has faced relentless attacks from within their caucus for speaking out against Trump, with Cheney being removed from her No. 3 House GOP leadership post last year and both being formally censured by the Republican National Committee for choosing to investigate the attack.
“Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger crossed a line,” Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement on the censure. “They chose to join Nancy Pelosi in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse that had nothing to do with violence at the Capitol.”
Beyond calling Cheney a “smug fool” and throwing the full weight of his endorsement behind her primary challenger, Trump has also shared doctored images on his website of the lawmaker with former President George Bush’s face, teasing the images as a “must-see.”
Cheney has continued to counter the attacks with warnings for American democracy.
“We are not in a situation where former President Trump has expressed any sense of remorse about what happened,” she told CBS News correspondent Robert Costa in a Sunday Morning interview. “We are, in fact, in a situation where he continues to use even more extreme language, frankly, than the language that caused the attack. And so, people must pay attention. People must watch, and they must understand how easily our democratic system can unravel if we don’t defend it.”
Attempts to block committee
As the select committee began to seek documents for its investigation last summer, Trump announced that he would assert “executive privilege” over what he called a “partisan exercise” in order to withhold documents the committee had requested.
Then, in October, Trump announced that he was suing the committee to block the disclosure of those documents, describing the panel’s demand in a lawsuit as a “vexatious, illegal fishing expedition.”
“We will fight the Subpoenas on Executive Privilege and other grounds, for the good of our Country, while we wait to find out whether or not Subpoenas will be sent out to Antifa and BLM for the death and destruction they have caused in tearing apart our Democrat-run cities throughout America,” he said in a statement.
A federal appeals court first rejected his effort before the Supreme Court also ruled in favor of the select committee in January, allowing the National Archives to turn over Trump White House records to the committee. Only Justice Clarence Thomas dissented that he would have granted Trump’s request.
The National Archives and Record Administration also confirmed earlier this year that Trump White House documents sought by the committee recovered from Mar-a-Lago were marked classified.
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