House Democrats kick off probe of Jan. 6 attack on Capitol
Sixteen agencies have until Thursday to turn over all communications regarding the Jan. 6 attack in compliance with a congressional inquiry
By Colin Woodard
Portland Press Herald, Maine
WASHINGTON — Sixteen agencies across Washington have until Thursday to turn over all communications regarding the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol in compliance with a sweeping congressional inquiry launched last month by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the heads of seven House committees and several subcommittees, including Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine.
The documents were requested March 25 in nearly identical letters sent to a wide range of entities including the White House, FBI, Pentagon, National Guard, Capitol Police, intelligence agencies and the Department of Homeland Security. Pingree joined six Democratic House leaders in signing letters to the Interior secretary and U.S. Park Police in her role as chair of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees them.
"I think it's all too easy for people to forget what happened or to not want to have revealed the dark underside: how long it took to get a response and that members of Congress were actively engaged in trying to overthrow the results of an election," Pingree said in an interview with the Press Herald. "I don't think we can just sweep this under the rug."
The letters, dispatched by seven House committees, represent an escalation in the majority Democrats' effort to investigate the Jan. 6 attacks by a mob summoned by former President Donald Trump that sought to overturn the results of the 2020 election by disrupting the ceremonial examination of the certified Electoral College vote. Some rioters said they intended to find and kill Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence.
The letters were sent after Pelosi was unable to secure Republican cooperation to launch an independent commission to examine the attack, which resulted in the deaths of five people, including a Capitol Police officer, and ended the United States' track record of always having had a peaceful transfer of power. The commission was to have been modeled after the bipartisan 9/11 commission co-chaired by the former Republican governor of New Jersey, Tom Keane, and longtime Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton of Indiana.
Republicans objected to an inquiry that would focus on the Jan. 6 attack rather than political violence generally. "What are the other things that happened as well?" House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, asked Politico. "With Antifa, and others, I think there should be a lot of investigations."
Sen. Susan Collins, the only Republican member of Congress from New England, told the Press Herald via email that she believed an investigation was warranted and that she strongly supported a nonpartisan probe modeled on the 9/11 commission.
"There are still many unanswered questions about the violence that occurred at the Capitol on Jan. 6," Maine's senior senator said. The investigation, she added, "should build on the joint hearings held by the Senate Rules Committee and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to examine the events leading up to the attack. I also agree with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner's call for a review of the intelligence failures prior to the riot."
Maine's junior senator, independent Angus King, said in a written statement that he had participated in two recent Senate hearings examining the Jan. 6 attacks and concluded the violence at the Capitol was far worse than initially thought and "could have been far, far, worse if not for the bravery and quick-thinking of the Capitol Police and other law enforcement personnel."
King said it is essential that the country "address the dangerous effort to undermine the American voter's faith in our elections" and that he will continue to work with colleagues in both parties to "ensure that we get the answers we need and enact the changes required to strengthen our democracy."
Rep. Jared Golden, the Democrat representing Maine's 2nd District, told the Press Herald he supports an investigation and would prefer it took the form of a nonpartisan 9/11-commission-style process.
"These things sometimes fall victim to politics and point scoring rather than actually getting factual answers and learning what we can do to prevent instances of things like this in the future and respond to them if they occur," Golden said. "I think everyone can look at the narrative that Trump spun about the election being stolen and his being ultimately responsible for what happened on Jan. 6. But I worry a misdirected review driven more by political interests could actually distract from who is most responsible."
The new House inquiries demand all relevant documents and messages held by the various agencies from Dec. 1 to Jan. 20.
The Justice Department has charged more than 300 people in connection with the storming of the Capitol, and the letter that House leaders sent to that department said they would be "happy to work with you to ensure that the document requests in this letter do not interfere with ongoing investigations and prosecutions."
The committees involved in the new probe are the Judiciary, Oversight, Armed Services, House Administration, Appropriations, Homeland Security and Intelligence committees — each of which has oversight of one or more of the 16 federal entities, including District of Columbia police.
Pingree's spokesperson, Victoria Bonney, said the congresswoman hoped the documents would shed light on who was involved in the attack so they could be held accountable. "The documents will likely contain sensitive info — such as law enforcement records — so we do not expect that all of the info will be made public," Bonney added via email.
Pingree is also among 54 Democratic co-sponsors of a resolution, HR 25. directing the House Ethics Committee to investigate the so-called " Sedition Caucus" — the 147 Republican members of Congress who voted to undo the results of the 2020 election by blocking the certification of the Electoral College votes of Georgia and other key swing states. (Golden is not among the co-sponsors.)
The resolution directs the committee to investigate whether the members "violated their oath of office to uphold the Constitution or the Rules of the House of Representatives" and whether they should therefore be removed from office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This clause, enacted in the aftermath of the Civil War, prohibits anyone from serving as a U.S. senator or representative or holding any other civil or military office if they "have engaged in insurrection or rebellion" against the U.S. government "or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof."
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