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Republicans’ Jan. 6 counterprogramming filled with falsehoods

<i>Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images</i><br/>
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Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

By Holmes Lybrand, Tara Subramaniam, Marshall Cohen and Daniel Dale, CNN

On the day a House select committee held its first public hearing to glean facts about the January 6 attack at the US Capitol, some Republican lawmakers continued to deceive the public about both the attack and its aftermath.

Republican members of Congress made false or misleading claims at press conferences and in TV appearances on Wednesday, all part of their counterprogramming for the nationally televised House hearing that featured searing, emotional testimony from four police officers who responded to the attack.

One GOP press conference was held by the party’s House leadership and a second was held by a group of right-wing members of the House caucus.

The deceptive claims were nothing new. Multiple Republicans have tried for months to rewrite the history of January 6 — downplaying what happened, floating baseless conspiracy theories, and inaccurately blaming Democrats. But their Tuesday remarks were particularly notable coming so soon before and after the captivating testimony of the four officers who faced the Capitol mob.

Here is a fact check of some of claims the lawmakers made on Tuesday.

Republicans minimizing January 6

In an interview with Fox News, Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana — who was blocked by Speaker Nancy Pelosi from serving on the committee investigating the Capitol riot — was asked about those who promoted the narrative that January 6 was a non-violent protest.

“I have yet to meet a Republican in Congress who has minimized and doesn’t believe that what happened on January 6 was serious,” Banks said.

Facts First: Several Republican members of Congress have worked to downplay the events of January 6 and rewrite the facts of what happened.

Senator Ron Johnson has called the Capitol riot “by and large…a peaceful protest” and has said January 6 was “not an armed insurrection and it was, by-and-large, peaceful.”

Republican Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia compared parts of the riot to a “normal tourist visit” saying that TV footage of the insurrection “showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes taking videos and pictures.”

Former President Donald Trump, arguably the leader of the Republican party, has significantly downplayed the events of January 6, telling Fox News in March that there was “zero threat” from the rioters and that the rioters were “hugging and kissing the police guards.”

Instead of downplaying the violence at the hands of Trump supporters that day, other Republicans have falsely claimed Antifa spurred the riot, that the FBI was secretly involved, that the rioters were not Trump supporters and that a police officer executed one of the rioters.

‘Nonviolent’ rioters locked up as ‘political prisoners’

Right-wing figures — including many who tried to overturn the 2020 election — have pushed the false narrative that tons of Trump supporters are being detained as “political prisoners” in the wake of the January 6 insurrection, and they claim the Biden Justice Department is responsible.

A group of House Republicans pushed this misleading narrative at a press conference Tuesday outside the Justice Department, held shortly after the House committee hearing wrapped up.

“There are disturbing reports that some of these prisoners are being abused and held in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day,” claimed Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, an outspoken defender of the January 6 rioters. “These are not unruly or dangerous, violent criminals. These are political prisoners who are now being persecuted and bearing the pain of unjust suffering.”

Facts First: It’s true that some rioters have complained about their jail conditions. But court records easily debunk Gosar’s lie that these defendants are “nonviolent.” Of the 550 rioters facing charges, only a few dozen are in jail, and most of them are charged with violent crimes.

Regarding the several dozen rioters who are behind bars — they ended up there after a federal judge reviewed the evidence, heard arguments from the Justice Department and the rioters’ attorneys, and ultimately decided that they were too dangerous to release into the community .

Pretrial detention is rare, and defendants are innocent until proven guilty. It wasn’t entirely clear if Gosar was talking about all the incarcerated rioters, or just those in solitary confinement. But almost all of the January 6 defendants who are still in jail were charged with assaulting police, bringing weapons to the Capitol, posting death threats, or conspiring with extremist groups.

There are also rioters who the Justice Department wanted to lock up but who were released after a detention hearing. This includes some rioters charged with violent crimes or conspiracy, who were released and put on house arrest. These cases debunk the GOP-backed false narrative that the Biden-era Justice Department is unilaterally incarcerating Trump supporters en masse.

A few of the Capitol rioters have argued in court that federal prosecutors are targeting them solely because of their pro-Trump views. One judge already rejected this theory. Similar arguments in other Jan. 6 cases are still pending, though they appear unlikely to succeed.

Downplaying the number of violent rioters

During his speech, Gosar claimed “nearly 200” of “nonviolent” Capitol rioters are behind bars.

At the press conference, Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs also cited recent testimony from FBI Director Chris Wray to describe the pro-Trump crowds and minimize the presence of violent rioters.

Citing Wray’s comments, Biggs said there was a massive throng of people outside the Capitol, a “much smaller group that entered the Capitol,” and then claimed the smallest and most violent subset was “a very small group that attacked the Capitol police and vandalized the Capitol.”

Facts First: These Republicans are misleadingly playing loose with the numbers. They exaggerated the number of rioters who are still in jail, and undercounted the number of rioters who got violent. While Biggs didn’t specify how many people he considers to be a “very small group,” roughly one-third of all Capitol rioters facing federal charges have been charged with assaulting police.

The vast majority of insurrectionists facing criminal charges have been released from jail shortly after getting arrested. More than 550 people have been charged, according to CNN’s latest tally. Only a few dozen have been detained before trial [ibid to internal database]– and definitely not 200, like Gosar claimed.

Biggs’ rhetorical breakdown underplayed the subset of rioters who got violent that day. It’s true that thousands of Trump supporters flocked to Washington, DC, for Trump’s speech at the Ellipse, and many of them remained peaceful and never got anywhere near the Capitol. Only about 800 people breached the complex, according to estimates from law enforcement officials.

But his claim that only “a very small group” of rioters in the Capitol were violent is misleading.

About 515 rioters were charged within six months of the attack, and roughly 33% were charged with assaulting or resisting police, or assaulting reporters, according to the Justice Department .

In addition, about 13% of the 515 rioters were charged with destruction or theft of government property. But some of these defendants overlap with the group of rioters charged with assault.

Pelosi and committee assignment

In a GOP news conference Tuesday morning designed to push back against the House Select Committee hearing on the Jan. 6 riot, Republicans criticized Pelosi for rejecting two of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s five picks to serve on the committee.

Banks, one of the members Pelosi rejected, claimed that the Speaker “cherry picked the members to serve on this committee.”

“She’s prewritten a narrative. Only members who will stick to her talking points are allowed to serve on this committee,” Banks said.

Facts First: This is misleading. McCarthy chose five Republicans to serve on the committee and Pelosi rejected two of those choices, Reps. Banks and Jim Jordan of Ohio. McCarthy then withdrew his three other choices, Reps. Rodney Davis of Illinois, Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota and Troy Nehls of Texas. Nehls, along with Jordan and Banks, objected to the certification of the 2020 presidential election.

The House created this committee after Senate Republicans blocked the independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 riot in late May, 54 to 35.

In a statement on her decision, Pelosi wrote that “With respect for the integrity of the investigation, with an insistence on the truth and with concern about statements made and actions taken by these Members, I must reject the recommendations of Representatives Banks and Jordan to the Select Committee.” Pelosi did not elaborate on why, specifically, those two members were rejected.

Both Banks and Jordan have spread the false narrative that Pelosi was responsible for security failures on Jan. 6. Last Wednesday Jordan said “the Speaker was the “only one” who could explain the lack of “proper security presence at the Capitol that day.” Banks tweeted the same day, “@SpeakerPelosi, why did you block the National Guard from protecting the Capitol?”

McCarthy has criticized this decision, calling it an “abuse of power” and saying that “Pelosi has broken this institution.” The minority leader withdrew his other three choices and Pelosi has appointed two Republicans to the committee, Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, both of whom voted to impeach then-President Trump following the Jan. 6 riot.

January 6 security

An hour and a half before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol was set to convene for its first hearing, House Republicans held a news conference Tuesday morning fighting against the hearing, focusing specifically on criticizing Pelosi.

During the news conference several prominent Republicans promoted the false narrative that Pelosi was solely responsible for the security on Jan. 6.

“There’s questions into the leadership within the structure of the speaker’s office, where they denied the ability to bring the National Guard here,” McCarthy said.

House Republican Whip Steve Scalise said there were questions “about why Speaker Pelosi didn’t make sure that Capitol Police had all the tools they needed to be prepared for that day.”

Rep. Elise Stefanik, the number three Republican in the House, said “Nancy Pelosi bears responsibility, as Speaker of the House, for the tragedy that occurred on Jan. 6.”

Facts First: The Speaker of the House is not in charge of Capitol security. That’s the responsibility of the Capitol Police Board, which oversees the US Capitol Police and approves requests for National Guard assistance.

Jane L. Campbell, president and CEO of the US Capitol Historical Society, told CNN that “the Speaker of the House does not oversee security of the US Capitol, nor does this official oversee the Capitol Police Board.”

Pelosi also cannot unduly influence who is appointed to the Board, which consists of the House and Senate Sergeants at Arms, the Architect of the Capitol and the Chief of the Capitol Police.

The Sergeants at Arms are elected and must be confirmed by their respective chambers and the Architect must be confirmed by both chambers of Congress. And according to testimony from the former Capitol Police chief Steven Sund, Pelosi was not involved in the decisions made ahead of Jan. 6 regarding the National Guard. In his testimony before the Senate in February, former US Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund said that he approached both Sergeants at Arms on the House and Senate side on Jan. 4 to request the National Guard through an Emergency Declaration from the Capitol Police Board.

His request, according to Sund, was not approved. Instead, the Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael C. Stenger “suggested I ask (the National Guard) how quickly we could get support if needed and to ‘lean forward’ in case we had to request assistance on January 6,” according to Sund’s testimony.

Following the events of Jan. 6, the US Capitol Police announced it was working “with Congressional oversight and the Capitol Police Board to obtain the authority to immediately request National Guard assistance if needed without having to wait for board approval.”

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