Since last year, Republicans have increasingly signaled how they plan to exact vengeance on those who’ve tried to make them and their leader, Donald Trump, pay any price for the coup attempt following the 2020 election. For his part, the twice-impeached former president has his own wish list of conspiracy theory-fueled ideas for how to get even—and he has personally pushed other GOP figures to commit to them.
According to three people familiar with the matter, Trump has privately told GOP lawmakers, congressional candidates, and operatives in recent months that Republicans on Capitol Hill should be prepared to launch a full-blown investigation to “get to the bottom of” how FBI agents supposedly caused violence and mayhem on Jan. 6. The theory that the feds somehow orchestrated or caused the rioting at the Capitol is groundless, but it has nevertheless been embraced in influential spheres of Republican politics, in Trumpland, and in right-wing media and online culture. The appeal, of course, lies in the attempt to shift obvious blame off of the 45th U.S. president and conservatives.
In these conversations, the sources recounted, Trump was emphatic that this should be a priority for GOP lawmakers next year, assuming that Republicans take back the House and Senate after the 2022 midterm elections—and regain all the aggressive oversight and subpoena powers that come with a majority.
Currently, liberals in the Democratic-controlled House are wielding those powers on the Jan. 6 committee, which is still investigating the deadly Capitol riot and the preceding Trump-led efforts to nullify Joe Biden’s 2020 election win. “The [former] president wants the same thing, but for his version of the history,” one of these sources, who’s spoken to Trump about this several times, said.
And Trump’s friends on the right are more than happy to back him up.
“If you’re going to have an investigation into [Jan. 6], then let’s have an investigation,” former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), who also served as a Trump surrogate, said on Sunday. “Why is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi off-limits? Why can’t you get all the records in a timely manner? I’d like to see all the FBI informants they were working with, Republican or Democrat, let’s take a look. What was known [before the riot] by the FBI, and why wasn’t it acted on?… It would be good to have that after-action review…Go ahead and put it all on the table.”
Trump’s behind-the-scenes push on this underscores how, a year after the Capitol assault, the Republican Party’s mainstream players have coalesced around a clear strategy: to punish the people probing Trump’s anti-democratic efforts, elevate conspiracy theory over actual accountability, and exculpate the Trumpist perpetrators as fully as they can get away with.
The formula has become one of the biggest factors driving Trump’s own enthusiasm for the 2022 midterms, as well as for the next presidential contest in 2024, when he hopes for a rematch against President Biden. Further, the ex-president’s calls for revenge, and renewed push to “investigate the investigators,” has now cemented itself as one of the right’s guaranteed applause-lines, as the GOP campaigns to end Democratic control in official Washington.
“If I run and if I win [in 2024], we will treat those people from January 6th fairly,” Trump told the crowd at his Texas rally on Saturday night. “If it requires pardons, we will give them pardons because they are being treated so unfairly.”
During that same event, the former president made appeals to his supporters that were similar to those made leading up to the Jan. 6 riot, telling his fans that “if these radical, vicious” prosecutors or investigators “do anything wrong or illegal, I hope we are going to have in this country the biggest protest we have ever had…in Washington, D.C., in New York, in Atlanta, and elsewhere, because our country and our elections are corrupt.”
Trump’s comments come amid a pattern of rhetorical escalation among his MAGA allies and Republican politicians. The demands for retribution have gotten so routinely and casually extreme that some of these conservative luminaries aren’t satisfied with stopping at the mere dangling of possible pardons.
They’ve embraced the openly authoritarian threat of imprisoning officials who they don’t like, and who they feel have spent too much time bothering Trump and his associates.
In a Fox interview last week, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who informally advises Trump, said, “I think when you have a Republican Congress, this is all going to come crashing down and the wolves are going to find that they are now sheep, and [officials investigating Jan. 6], they’re the ones who are in fact, I think, going to face a real risk of jail for the kinds of laws they’re breaking.”
Gingrich did not specify what “kinds of laws” he supposedly thinks these investigators and lawmakers might be breaking, but that of course didn’t stop other conservative candidates and pro-Trump fellow travelers from jumping on the lock-them-up bandwagon.
“Speaker @newtgingrich is correct,” tweeted John Gibbs, a Trump-endorsed congressional candidate in Michigan. “That’s why if I’m elected…I’ll make sure those who abused their office to target political opponents via the J6 committee, are held accountable.”
In an interview last week with former Trump White House strategist Steve Bannon, Rep. Matt Gaetz predictably joined the chorus, as well, telling Bannon, “You know what, Newt’s right! We are going to take power. And when we do, it's not going to be the days of Paul Ryan and Trey Gowdy where the Republicans go limp-wristed, where they lose their backbone, and they fail to send a single subpoena.”
Whether the GOP follows through on these promises to try to imprison their political opponents for investigating Republicans’ coup d'état attempt is, at best, murky. However, the right is already showing that they are more than willing to punish these investigators, if and when they can.
After all, some Republicans aren’t waiting for the 2022 elections to be over, and have started doing it, anyway.
The New York Times reported last week that “the top staff investigator on the House committee scrutinizing the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has been fired by the state’s new Republican attorney general from his position as the top lawyer for the University of Virginia, from which he was on leave while working on the congressional inquiry.”
The fact that the office of the new Virginia AG, Jason Miyares, insisted that the sacking was not retaliation for the Jan. 6 probe did not impress Democratic state lawmakers.
“This is purely payback for Jan. 6—there is no other reason that makes any sense,” Scott Surovell, a Democratic member of the Virginia Senate, told the Times. “In our state, we normally leave those decisions to the school’s board of visitors and president.”
Regardless, there was one person who was clearly pleased with the sudden firing.
According to a person with direct knowledge of the matter, when former President Trump learned of the news last week, “he was delighted,” and “he said he wants to see more of this.”