Capitol attack hearings: if Republicans did nothing wrong, why were pardons sought?

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Getty Images

When the House select committee investigating the Capitol attack revealed the evidence that showed Republican members of Congress sought preemptive presidential pardons after January 6, one of the most striking requests came from Congressman Mo Brooks.

The request from Brooks to the Trump White House came in an 11 January 2021 email – obtained by the Guardian – that asked for all-purpose, preemptive pardons for lawmakers involved in objecting to the certification of Joe Biden’s election win.

Brooks in the first instance sought preemptive pardons for “every Republican who signed the Amicus brief in the Texas lawsuit” that sued then-vice president Mike Pence to unilaterally decide whether to certify Biden’s win in certain battleground states.

The Alabama congressman also recommended in the email to former Oval Operations coordinator Molly Michael that Donald Trump issue pardons for “Every Congressman and Senator who voted to reject the electoral college vote submissions of Arizona and Pennsylvania”.

Brooks was one of at least a half dozen Republican congressmen who sought pardons immediately after the Capitol attack. It came after Trump “hinted at a blanket pardon for the Jan. 6 thing for anybody,” the head of White House presidential personnel John McEntee testified.

But the request from Brooks stands out because he explicitly outlines two groups for whom he was seeking preemptive pardons, opening a window into his thinking and potentially revealing for what conduct he worried that they might have been guilty of a crime.

The reference to the Texas lawsuit is revealing since that suit pushed Pence to commandeer the ceremonial congressional certification to overturn the results of the 2020 election – which the select committee has argued amounted to a violation of federal law.

Meanwhile, the reference to Arizona and Pennsylvania is notable since the objections to those states occurred after the Capitol attack, which, seen with Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani asking senators to keep objecting to stop Biden’s certification, could suggest further corrupt intent.

Brooks has rejected the notion that the pardon requests showed any consciousness of guilt, saying in a statement that he feared Democrats would prosecute and jail “Republicans who acted pursuant to their Constitutional or statutory duties under 3 USC 15”.

The statement referred to the statute governing the congressional certification of the presidential election, at which members of Congress are permitted to raise objections to the results in any of the states.

But the trouble with Brooks’s statement remains that if he truly believed that Republicans were engaging in only lawful activity on January 6, then he could defend that conduct in court – without the need for a pardon.

The select committee at the hearing also showed testimony by Cassidy Hutchinson, a top former aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who said House Republicans Louie Gohmert, Scott Perry, Andy Biggs and Matt Gaetz also expressed interest in pardons.

Hutchinson recalled that House Republican Jim Jordan did not directly ask for a pardon but did ask whether Trump was going to give them to members of Congress, and that House Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene expressed interest to the White House counsel’s office.

The testimony by Hutchinson and McEntee and other top White House aides showed that at the very least, Republican members of Congress were concerned about potential legal exposure over their roles in Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

And the accounts, delivered under oath to the select committee, showed the extraordinary and brazen inquiries by some of Trump’s top allies on Capitol Hill to use the power of presidential pardons for their own political and personal ends.

“I think the American public understands folks asking for pardons generally feel they did something illegal,” select committee member Pete Aguilar told CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday morning of the preemptive pardon requests.

Gohmert had brought the Texas lawsuit while Perry had played a role in Trump’s efforts to pressure the justice department to reverse his election defeat in battleground states. Biggs and Gaetz had strategized with Trump about objecting to Biden’s certification.

The Republican members of Congress accused of seeking preemptive pardons near-universally rejected the allegations.

Gohmert denied making a request for a pardon. Perry said in a statement that he “never sought a presidential pardon for myself or other members of Congress”. Biggs said Hutchinson was “mistaken” and Greene accurately called Hutchinson’s testimony hearsay.

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