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‘I’m really angry about this’: Three years later, partisan rift widens in Congress over Jan. 6

House Republicans pledge to ramp up investigations, release of tapes

Georgia Republican Rep. Barry Loudermilk, seen here in July, chairs the House Administration Oversight Subcommittee. He is not done probing how Democrats handled their investigation of Jan. 6, he says.
Georgia Republican Rep. Barry Loudermilk, seen here in July, chairs the House Administration Oversight Subcommittee. He is not done probing how Democrats handled their investigation of Jan. 6, he says. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

What happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021? 

Three years later, that question remains unsettled in the eyes of key Republicans in Congress.

Since winning back control of the House, the GOP has sought to cast doubt on official accounts of that day, when a pro-Trump mob stormed and entered the building, injuring at least 140 police officers and causing about $2.9 million in damage. 

And now, under Speaker Mike Johnson, House Republicans plan to step up the effort. Leading the charge is Rep. Barry Loudermilk of Georgia, who wants to discredit the investigation of Jan. 6 conducted by Democrats in the previous Congress. He is also vowing to continue a project he began this fall, despite a rocky start — releasing security camera footage to the public.

“My objective is to get to the unbiased truth of what happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and enact changes to ensure it never happens again,” said Loudermilk. “The American people have a right to know what really happened, supported by facts and without political spin.”

Loudermilk serves on the House Administration Committee, which took possession of Jan. 6-related documents and footage in the 118th Congress. He chairs its Oversight subpanel.

Democrats are pushing back, accusing their colleagues of revisionist history in an election year and of playing to a Republican base that appears increasingly open to conspiracy theories about Jan. 6.

“There is nothing about this that is being done in the public’s interest,” said the committee’s ranking member, New York Democratic Rep. Joseph D. Morelle. “The public has every right to know what transpired on Jan. 6… but what’s happened since then has been the continued politicization of this — promoting far-right conspiracy theories, election disinformation and extremism. I’m really angry about this.” 

A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll published this week found that Republicans have softening views on Jan. 6 protesters and on Trump’s responsibility for the attack. A quarter of American adults and 34 percent of Republicans believe the baseless theory that the FBI organized and encouraged the storming of the Capitol.

It’s an alarming trend, many Democrats say, and a frustrating one for lawmakers who sat on the select committee that investigated the events of Jan. 6 in the previous Congress. After interviewing hundreds of witnesses and holding a series of high-profile hearings, that committee issued a lengthy final report in 2022, blaming Trump for stoking the violence and recommending criminal charges.  

“It wasn’t a tourist visit,” said Mississippi Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, who chaired the select committee, composed of seven Democrats and two Republicans. He still bristles at attempts to downplay the attack. “It wasn’t anything other than individuals who our committee found were prompted by President Trump to do exactly what they did.”

‘A partisan exercise’

There was some brief, bipartisan consensus in the immediate aftermath of Jan. 6. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were shaken after fleeing for their lives, as the attacking mob echoed Trump’s claims of fraud and tried to stop Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Many were shocked by how close the violence came to the Speaker’s Lobby outside the House chamber, where a Capitol Police officer shot and killed rioter Ashli Babbitt as she tried to climb through a shattered window. 

But in the days and weeks that followed, Republican messaging started to shift. Prominent Republicans privately condemned the mob and the president, and then publicly changed their tune

Members now describe Jan. 6 as a source of bitter and intractable division in Congress, along with the sense that their views are getting further apart over time.

That sense has only grown, some say, as Donald Trump wages his latest campaign for president and as the speaker’s gavel landed in the hands of Johnson after the messy ouster of Kevin McCarthy in October. The new speaker from Louisiana had been especially active in the push to overturn the 2020 election.

“I think the Jan. 6 committee was a partisan exercise. … I think that what we got was a biased report. I think they hid some of the important evidence. And look, we want the American people to draw their own conclusions,” Johnson said during a press conference in December.

In the last year, Loudermilk has aimed to use his perch on the House Administration subpanel to chip away at the select committee’s findings and raise doubts about its practices.

In December, Loudermilk and Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, who has helped lead the investigations into President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, announced they would probe what they described as “collusion” between the select committee and Fani Willis, the Georgia prosecutor who indicted Trump for allegedly trying to interfere with Georgia’s election results. 

In September, the committee held a hearing with former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, at which Loudermilk and other Republicans sought to shift blame to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi for security lapses on Jan. 6. 

And in June, Loudermilk said he had confirmed that plainclothes Metropolitan Police officers were in the crowd the day of the riot.

A key part of the effort going forward will be managing the public release of security footage, a move that Loudermilk acknowledged the Capitol Police oppose, citing safety risks.

Capitol Police declined to comment, but in recent court filings have detailed their attempts to limit distribution of footage from that day.

“Allowing less restricted access to the CCV (closed circuit video) system could present a dire safety risk to the Capitol and its inhabitants; even a knowledge of, for example, the location of each CCV camera might enable a bad actor to exploit vulnerabilities in the system,” wrote Thomas A. DiBiase, general counsel for the Capitol Police, as part of written testimony in a case against Capitol rioters.

Loudermilk, through a spokesperson, said each video is being reviewed for security threats before its release. But House Republicans have taken a much more liberal approach to sharing the videos than their Democratic predecessors. 

In early 2023, McCarthy gave exclusive access to then-Fox News host Tucker Carlson, whom Democrats said cherry-picked the trove of tapes to promote a false narrative of peaceful demonstrators. In September, Republicans made the footage available to journalists and defendants. And in November, a few weeks into Johnson’s speakership, they began making the footage public.

Loudermilk first announced the videos would be posted to a House Administration website, but then pivoted to Rumble, the streaming platform known for its popularity among right-wing commentators. The venue change was the result of a “bandwidth issue” on the House site, Loudermilk said.

There were several releases on Rumble through December, though just a tiny fraction of the total collection has been posted as of early January. Loudermilk said the process has been slowed by Republicans’ decision to blur attendees’ faces.

Johnson initially said editing out the faces of people at the Capitol on Jan. 6 was necessary to protect members of the crowd from the Department of Justice, a comment that was broadly condemned. 

“Aiding & abetting criminal activity,” former Illinois Republican Rep. Joe Walsh posted to X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. Johnson, through a spokesperson, soon backtracked, saying the move was to protect those in the video from harassment and non-governmental investigators.

Loudermilk said editing and posting the videos is labor intensive and the subcommittee is staffing up. Two additional staffers had been hired as of Friday, though a spokesperson would not disclose how many other positions would be added. The team is prioritizing zoomed-out footage in which individual faces aren’t distinguishable, Loudermilk said.

“It’s really just a logistical issue right now,” Loudermilk said.

‘We have to find the truth’

House Democrats, meanwhile, are questioning Republicans’ motives, while also arguing Loudermilk could be bringing personal bias to the issue.

“If they truly want to be transparent and have all of that video out in the public, why did they only release it initially to a Fox News anchor? Why are they now trying to cover up for the people that came here and committed criminal acts against the institution?” said Norma Torres, who serves opposite Loudermilk as ranking member of the House Administration Oversight subpanel.

The select committee had investigated Loudermilk for leading a tour of the Capitol complex on Jan. 5, 2021, for some people who attended Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally the next day. 

Loudermilk has repeatedly denied that he led a reconnaissance tour. And Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said in a 2022 letter to House Administration Republicans — included in a batch of documents Loudermilk later released in an attempt to clear his name — that there was no evidence of suspicious activity during the visit.

But Loudermilk, who voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election results alongside many of his Republican colleagues, has continued to cite the episode as evidence that the select committee’s work is untrustworthy, calling its investigation a “big setup” during a recent podcast appearance

“I think it is strange that you would put a person in charge whose conduct was called into question,” said Morelle. “I feel at times like this is Mr. Loudermilk’s way of exonerating himself.”

“I understand the predicament that he finds himself in. … I understand that he feels he has to defend himself,” Torres said. “But I think more than defending ourselves, we have to find the truth.”

Loudermilk, for his part, also describes his goal as a search for the truth. He has accused Democrats on the select committee of withholding documents that should have been passed to the House Administration Committee at the start of the 118th Congress, and said he will keep pursuing the issue in the new year.

Thompson has denied any wrongdoing. In a July letter to Loudermilk, he said the select committee “did not archive temporary committee records that were not elevated by the Committee’s actions, such as use in hearings or official publications, or those that did not further its investigative actions,” in keeping with guidance from the Office of the Clerk of the House.

But more troubling to Loudermilk’s detractors are his repeated suggestions that “paid instigators” or undercover operatives may have incited the crowd.

“For those individuals who purport to ‘back the blue,’ who want to make sure that this country is strong against crime, it’s just an oxymoron when you see what they’re doing with the collection of all this film and trying to promote a false narrative,” Thompson said.

Loudermilk has pointed to June testimony from Steven D’Antuono, a former head of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, as evidence. According to a transcript of the closed-door congressional interview, D’Antuono said his office had no informants in the crowd that day, though he later learned other offices did. Unclear reporting between FBI outposts made it hard to determine exactly how many. “I think it was a handful, but I’m not — I’m not honestly sure,” D’Antuono said, according to the transcript.

The FBI did not respond to a request for comment, though Director Christopher A. Wray, a Trump appointee, said the notion of FBI involvement in the attack was “ludicrous” at a House hearing in July

Jon Lewis, a research fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University who published a 2022 analysis of Jan. 6 based on thousands of court records, said he’s seen no evidence to support the claim that undercover officers may have played an instigating role and warned of the danger of such rhetoric.

“By trying to make Jan. 6 seem insignificant, overblown, or even worse, a conspiracy or a setup, it’s telling the base that the next time this happens, we will once again support you,” Lewis said.

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