We all expected the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot would drop an October surprise–but most of us suspected a partisan-tinged election-eve report warning about those insurrectionist Republicans (hint, hint, keep Democrats in majority).
The headlines and the tirade both accomplish the underlying political goal of thrusting Trump into the news cycle as much as possible before the November midterm elections.
Rep. Liz Cheney proposed the resolution (of course) to subpoena Trump. And, well, what she said was absolutely logical for obtaining “testimony under oath from Donald John Trump.”
“We are obligated to seek answers directly from the man who set this all in motion, and every American is entitled to those answers,” Cheney said.
Sounds entirely on the mark in theory.
The committee has fallen short of proving Trump was behind a premeditated conspiracy to send violent thugs to invade the Capitol. But what’s not in dispute is the whole darn mess would have never happened had it not been for Trump refusing to accept his election loss.
The entire investigation, from the committee’s perspective, was about Trump.
So why subpoena him now, with less than a month to go before a midterm election? The answer is self-evident and seems to expose a degree of unseriousness.
The committee held its first hearing in July 2021. Most polls predict the Republicans will win control of the House of Representatives and the committee will likely evaporate by January 2023.
That’s not to say the committee should have called Trump as its first witness. Building a case is perfectly reasonable. But these members–seven Democrats and two Republicans, all appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi–knew the clock was ticking. If they wanted to interrogate Trump–they would have issued a subpoena months ago.
The brazen political stunt is not only transparent for the timing but also because the Justice Department opted against bringing contempt of Congress charges against Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and communications director Dan Scavino. Meadows and Scavino argued that as a separation of powers issue, Trump as a former president, would have to clear them to testify on a conversation that could be subject to executive privilege.
Under the best-case scenario for Democrats, this isn’t happening.
Suppose Democrats hold onto their House majority, and the select committee keeps running into next year (minus the two Republicans). If top former presidential staff can avoid being forced to testify, then a former president will not be compelled to testify.
However, preceding the Justice Department’s decision on the two aforementioned White House officials was, of course, a House vote to hold Meadows and Scavino in contempt of Congress for not complying with a congressional subpoena.
Thus, another endgame so the committee can have some ground to say they “got” Trump. The subpoena serves as a rationale to hold another floor vote on Donald John Trump–this time for contempt of Congress. Congratulations, it’s Impeachment 3.0.
If the election goes as expected, a contempt vote cast in December before the new GOP majority is sworn in might be a parting gift by the outgoing Democratic majority to their base.
One can almost picture this when Hollywood makes the movie about the Trump-led insurrection and Liz Cheney is cast as the flawed hero (she is a Republican after all) who lost her seat to save the republic but gives the climatic floor speech casting the contempt vote.
Anyone who thinks that’ll show him hasn’t been paying attention. Trump might even use the formal rebuke as just one more victim card to play to power his 2024 presidential campaign–which might also be what Democrats are counting on.
Fred Lucas is the author of “The Myth of Voter Suppression,” and chief news correspondent for The Daily Signal.