On Friday morning, big news hit: Democrats and Republicans in the House had reached a compromise to set up a bipartisan, independent commission that would investigate the January 6 assault on the US Capitol. For weeks, GOPers had opposed a proposal from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to establish such a body, complaining it permitted Democrats to appoint a majority of the commissioners. But last month, she pitched a new deal with equal representation. And under the agreement concocted by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, and Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), the top Republican on the panel, the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate would each get to appoint five members of the 10-person body, which will be modeled on the 9/11 commission. (The Dems will name the chair, the Republicans the vice chair.) Yet there is one big wrinkle: Though this commission will have the power to subpoena witnesses, subpoenas must be approved by either the chair and vice-chair or by a majority of the commissioners. That means the Republicans on the commission will have the power to block any subpoena.
It is not hard to envision numerous scenarios in which the commission—which would have to be approved by the Senate—could become immersed in conflict over the question of who to interview, what information to seek, and which witnesses to subpoena. After all, there is no way for the commission to do its job thoroughly without fully scrutinizing the actions of various Republicans, pro-Trump activists, the Trump White House, and former President Donald Trump himself. And if some of these potential subjects refuse to voluntarily cooperate with the commission’s investigators, the only recourse will be subpoenas. But will Republican-appointed commissioners okay subpoenas for GOP witnesses?
Let’s look at a partial list of obvious witnesses for the commission:
- Former Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.). He was Trump’s White House chief of staff at the time and can explain what was happening at 1600 Pennsylvania during the seditious assault on Congress. That includes Trump’s own actions during the riot Trump incited. (Was Trump really excited to watch the violent throng try to stop the certification of the 2020 election?)
- Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), and Mo Brooks (R-Ala.). Ali Alexander, an organizer of the pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” movement, says that he worked with this trio of Trump devotees to create an event on January 6 that would put “maximum pressure” on Congress when it was voting to certify Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. All three members should be grilled under oath. (Biggs and Brooks have denied this.)
- Ali Alexander. See above and below.
- Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). The House Republican leader reportedly had an angry, expletive-laced phone conversation with Trump during the attempted insurrection, and Trump indicated he would not call off the rioters. What truly occurred during this call?
- Kimberly Guilfoyle. On the night of January 5, according to Alexander, he spoke with Guilfoyle, a former Trump campaign official and the girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr., and he suggested she encouraged him. What exactly did she say to him? Was she conveying a message from anyone else?
- Roger Stone. Prior to the January 6 attack, Trump’s longtime adviser was repeatedly seen with people subsequently charged in the assault and accused of conspiring to mount the raid. In fact, several of them were providing security for Stone. Stone also worked to raise money for “private security” and equipment for events in Washington on January 5 and 6 that preceded the violent raid on the Capitol. (Warning to would-be commissioners: Stone was convicted of lying to Congress. His three-year-plus sentence was commuted by his pal Trump.)
- Rudy Giuliani. The one-time personal lawyer and dirt-digger for Trump—whose Manhattan home and Park Avenue office were recently raided by the FBI—gave one of the most fiery speeches at the pre-riot rally. “Let’s have trial by combat,” he urged the crowd shortly before large parts of the audience headed toward Capitol Hill.
- Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. During the riot, McCarthy appealed to Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and top aide, for help in stopping the assault, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) phoned Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, to ask for assistance. What do this royal couple of Trumpland know about what occurred in the White House while the Trump mob was ransacking Capitol Hill? Ivanka was in the Oval Office at the time.
- Kellyanne Conway. The former Trump White House senior adviser called an aide who was standing at the president’s side while the attack was under way. What did she learn?
- Kayleigh McEnany. Then the White House press secretary, McEnany was reportedly with Trump during the attack and implored him to speak out against the violence. How did Trump respond?
- Mike Pence. The former vice president was the target of some of the rioters, who called for him to be hanged. While in hiding, Pence received calls from congressional leaders who were angry the National Guard had not been deployed. According to the Washington Post, he “spoke with legislative and military leaders, working to mobilize the soldiers and offering reassurance.” He never talked to Trump during the attack. But Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, was in contact with the White House. The ex-veep should have a lot to say.
- Donald Trump. Because it was his riot.
There are plenty of other potential witnesses for a 1/6 commission. Several Republican members of Congress called White House aides during the melee and beseeched them to encourage Trump to call off the terrorists-for-Trump. Other White House officials saw what was transpiring in the West Wing during the attack. Their accounts could be valuable. Law enforcement and military officials ought to be questioned, including Chris Miller, who was the acting Defense secretary at the time. (He testified this week that he was reluctant to send in military to protect the Capitol prior to the January 6 attack because of the appearance of a “military coup.”) And leaders of assorted pro-Trump outfits—Women for America First, Turning Point Action, Tea Party Patriots, and others—who sponsored the rally that led to the insurrectionist raid should make the list.
The public deserves a complete, no-holds-bar accounting of the January 6 tragedy. But there is no way for any commission to fully uncover and report the whole truth without questioning Republicans and past and present members of Trump’s inner circle. This attack was a Trump production, and some of the most important eyewitnesses of that day are prominent Republicans and Trumpers. Should a commission be established—and it’s no done-deal yet—will Republican commissioners actually allow their gumshoes to haul in these sorts of witnesses? If not, this exercise could end up being yet another GOP assault on American democracy.