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Opinion | What Trump's anger at Kevin McCarthy really says about Jan. 6

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With the Jan. 6 House select committee hearings continuing to dominate the news, Republicans are growing increasingly uneasy as they watch damning revelations pour forth about Donald Trump's extraordinary corruption and mounting exposure to potential criminality.

And they've decided their problem isn't Donald Trump.

It's Kevin McCarthy.

In recent days, Trump has angrily criticized the House minority leader and California Republican for botching GOP strategy toward the hearings. This has emboldened GOP lawmakers to vocally criticize McCarthy, mainly over his early decision to pull all of his GOP choices from the committee.

But there's a hidden baloney factor to this story that shouldn't slide by without challenge. Republicans are claiming McCarthy's misstep has deprived them of the chance to challenge the committee's revelations and mount an effective defense of Trump.

Yet this claim is itself a pernicious form of spin. It's meant to imply that the story the committee is telling is somehow one-sided, that there exists an alternate set of facts being suppressed by Democrats, one that would weaken the revelatory force of what we're learning about Trump and his co-conspirators.

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What's really irritating Republicans is that they've been deprived of the opportunity to pollute the media environment and muddy up the harsh truths coming to light with obfuscation, misdirection and lies.

This becomes obvious if you read what Trump and Republicans are actually saying. The second-guessing of McCarthy is becoming big news — see here, here and here — and the stories all note that Trump's anger at McCarthy is increasingly shared by GOP lawmakers.

"It was a bad decision not to have representation on that committee," Trump said this week. He also raged that the committee's "biased and hateful" witnesses are indicting him "without even the slightest cross examination." He added: "Republicans should be allowed representation!!!"

After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) nixed two of McCarthy's choices for the committee last summer — they were Trumpist arsonists plainly bent on sabotage — McCarthy yanked his remaining three choices, even though Pelosi approved them. That left Pelosi's choices of Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) as the only two Republicans.

Egged on by Trump's frustration, some Trump-allied Republicans argue that McCarthy should have left those three on the committee. One Republican says they could have "defended the hell" out of Trump, making for a "totally different debate." Some privately complain Republicans have no insight into the committee's internal workings.

But in a way, this hints at the deeper truth about the whole affair. Many — or even most — Republicans have simply ruled out the option of grappling straightforwardly with what Trump did. So their only response is to suggest that the force of these revelations derives from the GOP failure to counter them factually and procedurally.

But this is just more deception. All it really means is that, had they been on the committee, they would have tried to clutter those revelations up with endless gaslighting.

If Trump-allied Republicans were on the panel, what would they have said and done? Trump wants "representation," and Republicans say they would have "defended" him. But what does this really mean?

Would they have said Trump wasn't actually informed that the scheme he was pressing for was illegal? That he really believed he had won in 2020? That he didn't know the mob was violent before pointing it like a howitzer at his vice president? That he actually believed exactly enough ballots could be "found" in Georgia to allow him to prevail by precisely one vote?

Here's a better guess: Because the case against Trump on those fronts is so strong, Republicans on the committee wouldn't have even tried to "defend" him against it. Instead, they would have engaged in endless obfuscating antics.

We know this, because they're essentially telling us so. One Republican now says that if he were on the committee, he'd make a big issue out of Pelosi's supposed security failures at the Capitol, which is just rank misdirection and utter nonsense.

Meanwhile, the lament that Republicans lack insight into the committee's inner workings is just another way of saying they'd engage in procedural sabotage, such as claiming Democrats are distorting or suppressing witness testimony, a trick Trump allies have used before.

When you watch a witness such as the Republican state House speaker in Arizona testify about Trump's corruption, you can be certain Republicans don't actually want to "cross examine" such figures in any meaningful sense, or genuinely believe it would be helpful to Trump.

If you doubt this, remember: We were told before the hearings that Trump allies would "counter-program" them. Yet they've been largely silent. If there were a genuine fact-based defense available to them, we'd be hearing it.

Everyone is entitled to a defense, of course. But we are not required to pretend there is an alternate, possibly exonerating set of facts that is being suppressed when there isn't one.

The very suggestion is itself more gaslighting. And because news accounts don't state this plainly, coverage of Trump/GOP criticism of McCarthy unwittingly advances GOP spin about this supposed alternate story that isn't being told.

The Jan. 6 insurrection

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection is holding a series of high-profile hearings this month. Find the latest here.

Congressional hearings: The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol has conducted more than 1,000 interviews over the last year. It's sharing its findings in a series of hearings starting June 9. Here's what we know about the hearings and how to watch them.

The riot: On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. Five people died on that day or in the immediate aftermath, and 140 police officers were assaulted.

Inside the siege: During the rampage, rioters came perilously close to penetrating the inner sanctums of the building while lawmakers were still there, including former vice president Mike Pence. The Washington Post examined text messages, photos and videos to create a video timeline of what happened on Jan. 6.

Charges: Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and four lieutenants have been charged with seditious conspiracy, joining Oathkeepers leader Stewart Rhodes and about two dozen associates in being indicted for their participation in the Capitol attack. They're just some of the hundreds who were charged, many of which received punishments substantially lighter than what the government requested.

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