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Opinion: Americans deserve answers about the Jan. 6 riot

How much did the president and rally organizers know about the potential for violence? Why did the president wait so long to speak?

In the nearly nine months since Jan. 6, federal agents have managed to track down and arrest more than 600 people across the U.S. believed to have joined in the riot at the Capitol.
Insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump scale the west wall of the the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.
Jose Luis Magana, Associated Press

Congress may be incapable of investigating political wrongdoing in a manner that is devoid of politics. But when an investigative body made up of politicians uncovers pertinent facts, those deserve an accounting.

The House Jan. 6 committee is in possession of texts from allies and friends of former President Donald Trump, apparently sent to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, urging him to get the president to do something to stop the rioting at the Capitol.

The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., sent some of these, including one saying,“He (the president) has to lead now. It has gone too far and gotten out of hand.”

Fox News host Laura Ingraham wrote, saying, “Hey Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home … this is hurting all of us … he is destroying his legacy.”

Even Sean Hannity wrote to Meadows, saying, “Can he make a statement? … Ask people to leave the Capitol.”

Nearly a year has passed since that day. It has been a year of obfuscation, rationalization, historical revisions and excuse-making. For some, it may be difficult to remember the raw emotions of that day, or the anger many felt while watching mobs force their way into the Capitol as Congress was in session to ratify the 2020 election. It may be hard to remember the makeshift gallows and the calls to hang then-Vice President Mike Pence.

In an editorial that afternoon, we noted a photo showing “lawmakers hiding behind seats as Capitol police, with guns drawn, tried to defend the doors to the House Chamber.”

Then we added this observation: “Not everybody agrees with the outcomes in a democracy, but the United States has a proud history of defeated parties peacefully conceding for the good of the nation. Now we see what the opposite is like: Mobs storming the halls of liberty, while the president is strangely quiet.”

Five people died in that riot, and an estimated 140 law enforcement officers were injured. Some members of the Senate, including Utah’s Mitt Romney, came perilously close to coming face-to-face with the mob.

The president remained silent for two hours, finally issuing a video that reaffirmed his belief that the election was “fraudulent,” followed by a message telling rioters to go home and affirming his love for them.

Also concerning are a text message to an organizer of the Jan. 6 rally and an email offering assurances that the National Guard would be on hand to protect Trump supporters.

Now, after already releasing a great deal of information to the committee, including the texts and emails, Meadows is refusing to cooperate further, causing the House to vote to recommend criminal contempt charges against him. A legal battle is likely to ensue.

There is no denying the political makeup of the Jan. 6 committee. It is composed of seven Democrats and two Republicans, and both Republicans, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, voted in favor of articles of impeachment against Trump following the riot. Many other Republicans refused to vote in favor of establishing the committee.

But the American people, whose Capitol was desecrated that day, deserve answers. What did Meadows, the president and organizers of the “rally” on Jan. 6 know in advance about what might happen? How much did the president know while the riot was underway? Did Meadows relay the concerns that were being texted to him? Why did the president wait so long to respond?

These questions go beyond politics. Government by the people, in the world’s most important democracy, must never again be endangered by an angry mob. To ensure that, facts must be accounted for, and accountability must be exacted.