WASHINGTON — The four hearings held in the past few weeks by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, with their clear, uninterrupted narratives about President Donald Trump’s effort to undercut the peaceful transfer of power, have left some pro-Trump Republicans wringing their hands with regret about a decision made nearly a year ago.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader, chose last summer to withdraw all of his nominees to the committee — amid a dispute with Speaker Nancy Pelosi over her rejection of his first two choices — a turning point that left the nine-member investigative committee without a single ally of Trump.
Mostly in private, Republicans loyal to Trump have complained for months that they have no insight into the inner workings of the committee as it has issued dozens of subpoenas and conducted interviews behind closed doors with hundreds of witnesses.
But the public display this month of what the panel has learned — including damning evidence against Trump and his allies — left some Republicans wishing more vocally that Trump had strong defenders on the panel to try to counter the evidence its investigators dig up.
“Would it have made for a totally different debate? Absolutely,” said Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla. “I would have defended the hell out of him.”
Among those second-guessing McCarthy’s choice has been Trump.
“Unfortunately, a bad decision was made,” Trump told conservative radio host Wayne Allyn Root this week. “It was a bad decision not to have representation on that committee. That was a very, very foolish decision.”
The committee employed more than a dozen former federal prosecutors to investigate the actions of Trump and his allies in the buildup to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
With former television producers on staff, the committee has built a narrative told in chapters about the former president’s attempts to cling to power.
As it has done so, the committee has not had to contend with speechifying from the dais about Trump’s conservative policy achievements. There has been no cross-examination of the panel’s witnesses. No derailing of the hearings with criticism of President Joe Biden. No steering the investigation away from the former president. Ultimately, there has been no defense of Trump at all.
The effectiveness of the hearings in putting Trump at the heart of the effort to overturn the election results has drawn the attention of, among others, Trump. He has made plain this week that he wants more Republicans defending him, and is displeased as the hearings play out on national television without pro-Trump voices.
The only Republicans on the committee are two who have lined up squarely against Trump: Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. They were appointed by Pelosi, not McCarthy.
McCarthy figured in July that it was better politically to bash the committee from the sidelines rather than appoint members of his party acceptable to Pelosi. He has said he had to take a stand after she rejected two of his top picks for the panel: Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana and Jim Jordan of Ohio.
Pelosi said she could not allow the pair to take part, based on their actions around the riot and comments they had made undercutting the investigation. (Jordan has subsequently been issued a subpoena by the committee because of his close dealings with Trump.) The speaker’s decision led directly to McCarthy’s announcement that Republicans would boycott the panel.
“When Pelosi wrongfully didn’t allow them, we should’ve picked other people,” Trump said in an interview with Punchbowl News. “We have a lot of good people in the Republican Party.”
Trump has grumbled openly about the makeup of the panel, according to a person familiar with his remarks. Some members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus have also privately complained about the lack of pro-Trump Republicans on the panel, the person said.
Those close to McCarthy argue that the Democrats who control the committee would most likely not have allowed his nominees much power or influence over the panel’s work.
The hearings will pick up again Thursday with a session devoted to Trump’s effort to install a loyalist at the top of the Justice Department to carry out his demands for more investigations into baseless claims of election fraud.
The panel is planning at least two more hearings for July, according to its chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. Those hearings are expected to detail how a mob of violent extremists attacked the Capitol and how Trump did nothing to call off the violence for more than three hours.
One of the Republicans whose nomination McCarthy withdrew from the committee, Rep. Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota, was a defense lawyer before being elected to Congress.
Pelosi had approved of Armstrong serving on the panel, along with Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois and Rep. Troy Nehls of Texas.
Armstrong said he had watched the hearings as the committee laid out evidence in a “choreographed, well-scripted way.”
Had he been allowed to serve on the committee, he would have tried to steer the investigation and its questions at public hearings into security failures at the Capitol, he said, echoing a line of criticism that many Republicans have tried to direct at Pelosi.
“It would be a lot less scripted. We’d ask questions,” Armstrong said. “There are real questions to be answered. My heart goes out to the law enforcement officials. They needed more people down there.”
Still, he said, he stands by the decision made by McCarthy, who is considered the leading candidate to become speaker if Republicans win control of the House in the midterm elections in November.
“I was in the room when we made that decision, and I still think it was the right decision,” he said, arguing that House Republicans had to take a stand after Pelosi removed Jordan and Banks. “I think it was the only option.”
Trump’s comments have sparked much discussion among House Republicans over whether it was the right decision.
“Everybody’s got a different opinion on that,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. “Personally, I think the leader made the right call. The minute the speaker decides who the Republican members are, it turned against the legitimacy of it.”
Rep. Daniel Crenshaw, R-Texas, said he would have preferred to see an exchange of opposing views on the panel. “Let the public see how that debate goes,” he said. “That would have been better, of course.”
But Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the attack on the Capitol and is retiring from Congress, said he saw nothing but hypocrisy and foolishness in Trump’s complaints. He noted that Trump made the strategic error of opposing a bipartisan commission, with no current lawmakers involved, to investigate the attack on the Capitol.
That commission would have had to finish its work last year. Instead, Trump’s miscalculation led to the creation of the House Jan. 6 committee, which is continuing to investigate him, Upton said.
“Trump opposed the bipartisan commission,” Upton said. “Once again, he’s rewriting history.”