The drama surrounding the work of the Jan. 6 committee ramped up Friday with the news that former Trump adviser Peter Navarro had been indicted on two charges of contempt of Congress.
The charges, each of which carries a maximum penalty of a $100,000 fine and one year of jail time, stem from Navarro’s refusal to cooperate with the House panel’s inquiries.
The new twist comes as the panel moves to the cusp of beginning public hearings. The first such event is due for Thursday.
Navarro, who on Friday initially announced his intention to defend himself, blasted the committee’s work and the manner in which he was arrested.
During his court appearance, he complained, “Who are these people? … This is not America. I mean, I was a distinguished public servant for four years, and nobody ever questioned my ethics. And they’re treating me in this fashion.”
Shortly afterward, speaking to reporters, he said he had been “intercepted” en route to Tennessee and placed in handcuffs and “leg irons.” He also sought to suggest his plight was simply an outgrowth of his support for former President Trump.
“They are not coming for me and Trump. They are coming for you,” he said, going on to detail the approximately 74 million people who voted for Trump at the 2020 election.
In fact, Navarro has been at the fore of propagating false theories of election fraud. He was also the leading proponent of a strategy known as the “Green Bay Sweep,” which was intended to reverse the election’s result.
Navarro’s next court appearance is scheduled for June 17, by which time the public hearings of the Jan. 6 panel will be well underway.
The effectiveness of those hearings will be judged according to two quite different criteria — the substantive information that is uncovered and the likely political effect.
On one hand, the importance of an investigation to look at such a serious assault on American democracy seems self-evident.
Back in April, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the committee, promised that the public hearings would “really blow the roof off the House.”
“This was not a coup directed at the president,” Raskin added in his remarks at a Georgetown University event. “It was a coup directed by the president against the vice president and against the Congress.”
On the other, there is deep skepticism, even among those who are supportive of the committee’s work, that the hearings will move the political needle.
That skepticism is rooted in the reality that there is plenty already known about the insurrection.
Trump was impeached 17 months ago for his role in inciting the riot. Given that a significant minority of the overall population — and a large majority of Republicans — continues to hold a favorable view of the former president, there is no obvious reason to believe the hearings will change their mind.
“Nothing they come up with is going to shift Trump or Trump’s base,” said Allan Lichtman, a professor of history at American University who authored a 2017 book making the case for the then-president’s impeachment.
“Look at all the things that have come out, and, if anything, Trump’s approval has ticked upward, not downward.”
Lichtman argued that critics of the former president are being overly optimistic in believing that the impact of the forthcoming hearings could be analogous to the Watergate hearings in 1973 and 1974 that transfixed the public and culminated in former President Nixon’s resignation.
In today’s hyperpolarized media and political environment, he added, Trump and his supporters will simply “say it’s a witch hunt” — and largely escape political consequence.
Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, took a similar view.
“The hearings will give a lot more depth and sense of intentionality in terms of what the public knows,” he said. “Having that on the record and having more knowledge is a good thing. Whether it affects anything politically is pretty dubious. So much of it happened in front of everyone’s eyes.”
Democrats can at least hope that the hearings will focus public attention on Trump, the insurrection and the complicity of other Republicans in it. Such subjects are more favorable terrain for President Biden’s party than current troubles such as inflation, soaring gas prices and a baby formula shortage.
But Republicans will go all-out to blast the committee, just as Navarro did on Friday.
The only other person indicted for refusing to comply with a subpoena in similar circumstances — former Trump chief strategist Stephen Bannon — used his initial court appearances in a similar way, promising that his charge would end up being “the misdemeanor from hell for Merrick Garland, Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden.”
With Navarro and Bannon indicted and the public hearings looming, another act in the insurrection drama is about to begin.
But most of the public has already made up its mind as to who are the heroes and the villains.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.