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Jan. 6 Committee Chair Bennie Thompson May Compel Trump, McCarthy To Testify

Bennie Thompson sits in the House gallery while other members of Congress lie on the floors of the gallery or hide beneath their chairs during the insurrection
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on July 1, 2021, that Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., will chair the U.S. House Select Committee on the January 6th Insurrection. Thompson, top right, sat in the House gallery on Jan. 6 where he and fellow members sheltered while rioters attempted to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

U.S. House Rep. Bennie Thompson will lead a congressional select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced today.

“January 6th was one of the darkest days in our nation’s history, with five people killed, 140 members of law enforcement physically harmed and countless more seriously traumatized,” she said in a statement today. “It is clear that January 6th was not simply an attack on a building, but an attack on our very democracy—an attack on the peaceful transfer of power.”

Thompson, who also chairs the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee, told CNN today that he would consider calling former President Donald Trump and Republicans who communicated with him at the time of the insurrection to testify.

“I think we need to have access to all available information. Part of what we plan to do is hire some of the best people who can help us get access to that kind of information,” the Mississippi congressman told CNN. “… If we need to get it by request or by subpoena, I’m not reluctant to do that either.”

Jan. 6 Committee Based On Benghazi Probe

Republicans who voted against an earlier attempt to create an independent, non-partisan Jan. 6 commission, have accused Pelosi of creating a “partisan” investigation with the new select committee. The speaker will appoint all 13 members, including five after “consultation” with Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. The committee’s structure mirrors the one Republicans devised when they created their Select Committee on Benghazi in 2014 to investigate Hillary Clinton’s response to the 2012 Benghazi consulate attack.

“It had been our hope to establish a bipartisan, independent national commission, but there is no prospect for that commission at this time,” Pelosi said today.

Along with Rep. Thompson as chair, Pelosi announced seven other appointments to the committee today, including six Democrats and one Republican, Rep. Liz Cheney. CNN reported this morning that McCarthy has threatened to strip other House committee assignments from members who agree to an appointment to the Jan. 6 committee. 

Nancy Pelosi sits at a table with Bennie Thompson and the other Jan. 6 Select Committee members she picked
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced her first eight appointees for the House January 6 Select Committee, including its chair, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., along with six other Democrats and Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming. She planned to add five more members to the committee after consulting with Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. She is seen meeting here with the initial eight members with Thompson seated to her right on July 1, 2021. Photo courtesy U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The Republican minority leader denied those reports today even as said he was “shocked that (Cheney) would accept something from Speaker Pelosi,” referring to the speaker appointing Cheney to the Jan. 6 select committee.

“I don’t know in history where someone would go get their committee assignments from the Speaker and expect to have them from the conference as well,” The Hill reported McCarthy saying today.

In a statement today, Cheney said “our oath to the Constitution, our commitment to the rule of law, and the preservation of the peaceful transfer of power must always be above partisan politics.” She called the insurrection “the most serious attack on our Capitol since 1814.”

“That day saw the most sacred space in our Republic overrun by an angry and violent mob attempting to stop the counting of electoral votes and threatening the peaceful transfer of power,” the Republican congresswoman said. “What happened on January 6th can never happen again. Those who are responsible for the attack need to be held accountable and this select committee will fulfill that responsibility in a professional, expeditious, and non-partisan manner.”

Thompson May Call McCarthy To Testify

When McCarthy came out against the failed independent commission that Rep. Thompson negotiated, he said Pelosi was “(wasting) time playing political games.” But CNN reported in May that McCarthy was “concerned” that a commission could call him to testify under oath about conversations he had with Trump on the day of the Capitol attacks

In his interview with CNN today, Thompson did not rule out the possibility of calling or compelling McCarthy to testify.

Kevin McCarthy holds a thumb up while Trump points at the camera
U.S. House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, seen here with former President Donald Trump during a 2020 campaign event, reportedly told other Republicans that he is worried he may be called to testify about his conversations with Trump on Jan. 6, 2021. In an interview with CNN on July 1, 2021, Rep. Bennie Thompson said he would consider calling on McCarthy to testify or subpoenaing him. Photo courtesy Rep. Kevin McCarthy

Thompson said today that the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol began work this morning and that U.S. Capitol Police officers who were there during the attack will likely be the first to testify.

“It is clear that January 6th was not simply an attack on a building, but on our very democracy: an attack on the peaceful transfer of power,” Thompson said. “It is imperative that we find the truth of that day and ensure that such an assault on our Capitol and democracy cannot again happen.”

Guest Voted For Jan. 6 Commission, Against Select Committee

Earlier this year, Thompson negotiated the now-defunct bipartisan proposal for an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack. Half the members of that commission would have been chosen by Republicans and half by Democrats. 

The House passed that bill in May, though two Mississippi Republicans, Reps. Steven Palazzo and Trent Kelly, voted against it, calling it “partisan”; Republican Rep. Michael Guest voted for it along with 34 other members of his party.

“I believe the long conversations that have happened over the last few months have produced a commission that is fair and is structured to find actions that Congress can take to prevent another such attack,” Guest said in May about Thompson’s independent commission bill, which was based on the one that created the non-partisan 9/11 Commission.

“I believe the long conversations that have happened over the last few months have produced a commission that is fair and is structured to find actions that Congress can take to prevent another such attack,” Rep. Michael Guest, R-Miss., said in a statement on May 22, 2021, as he voted for an independent Jan. 6 commission. After Republicans filibustered the independent commission, he voted against establishing the House January 6th Select Committee on June 30, 2021. Photo courtesy Rep. Guest

But Republicans in the U.S. Senate, including Mississippi U.S. Sens. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Roger Wicker, filibustered the independent commission bill, blocking it. Yesterday, the U.S. House voted 222-190 to create a House Select Committee that does not require Senate approval. This time, only two Republicans backed an investigation: Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.

Last month, Rep. Guest began offering a new rationale for why he backed Thompson’s independent commission interview last month, telling conservative SuperTalk radio host Gerard Gibert that he wanted to probe whether Pelosi shared any responsibility for the Jan. 6 attack. Some Republicans have claimed that Pelosi refused National Guard assistance at the Capitol, but the Washington Post reported in March that there was no evidence to support those allegations.

“I believe that a lot of what transpired that day that Speaker Pelosi had some sort of role to play in that. … So I truly believe that, if you’re looking at an investigation, a key part of that investigation needs to be surrounding Speaker Pelosi,” said Guest, a supporter of former President Trump. “What was Speaker Pelosi’s role, and what by her being involved and having discussions, what is the level of blame that should be placed on her for what happened on Jan. 6?”

‘Fight Like Hell’

During a Jan. 6 rally just before the attack, Trump reiterated unsubstantiated claims that Democrats “stole” the election from him, urging thousands of supporters to “walk down to the Capitol.” Trump wanted to stop Congress from certifying then-President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral college victory.

“If you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore,” the former president told him. Both during the attack and in subsequent court filings, Trump supporters who participated in the attack have cited his words as their motives.

CNN reported in February that Trump, in a conversation with McCarthy while the Capitol assault was ongoing, initially rebuffed the Republican minority leader’s requests to tell his supporters to stand down.

Trump supporters carrying Trump flags and American flags scale the walls of the U.S. Capitol
Hundreds of Trump supporters violently stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an attempt to overthrow the 2020 election. The assault left five dead, including a U.S. Capitol Police officer, and 140 officers injured. Photo by Blink O’Fanaye

Hours after the Capitol assault, dozens of Republicans still backed Trump’s effort to remain in power, with Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith joining Reps. Palazzo, Guest and Kelly in voting against certifying Biden’s victory. The only Mississippi Republican in Congress to reject Trump’s coup attempt was Sen. Wicker.

“The president’s own attorney general, his head of election security, and a number of Trump-appointed, conservative federal judges all have found that, despite widespread allegations of fraud, there simply was not enough evidence to change the outcome of the election in any state,” Wicker, who served as the co-chairman of Trump’s Mississippi campaign, said in a Jan. 6 statement.

Thompson, along with a majority of the U.S. House, voted in January to impeach Trump for inciting the insurrection. The Senate failed to obtain the two-thirds majority needed to convict him, though, as most Republicans, including Mississippi’s two Republican senators, voted to acquit him. Thompson and other members of Congress filed a civil suit against Trump over the Capitol attack earlier this year.

In a statement this afternoon, Thompson said the committee will “ensure the January 6th domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol is thoroughly and properly investigated.”

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