Three revelations this week by the January 6 Committee outside of its regular hearings have left Washington stunned and have breathed new life into calls for inquiries into sitting Congressmembers and the wife of a Supreme Court justice.
The possible implications of this can’t be overstated.
The Capitol Tour Given by a Congressman Right Before the Riot
The first revelation brought a member of Congress directly into the question of who helped plan and orchestrate the deadly attack, raising the specter that it indeed may have been an inside job.
The Committee released surveillance video footage showing Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA) giving a tour of the Capitol complex to a group of people on Jan. 5, 2021, the day before the attack. One of those men later marched on the Capitol and made violent threats on social media against specific Democratic leaders.
“There’s no escape, Pelosi, Schumer, Nadler. We’re coming for you.”
The tour reportedly was several hours long and took place at a time when the facilities were closed to the public because of Covid-19 restrictions. Members of the group were captured on security footage taking pictures and videos of hallways, staircases, and security checkpoints.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren of the January 6 Committee said in an interview that the group had videotaped the tunnel from the Rayburn building to the Capitol, which was the same tunnel used by House members to evacuate the building, and also had filmed the stairwell that led into the Ways and Means Committee Room in which 100 or so members of Congress had taken shelter from the rioters.
From the outset, Democrats such as Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) have demanded investigations into “reconnaissance tours” that they saw Republican members of the House give people in the days leading up to the attack. Those demands appear finally to be bearing fruit.
They persisted despite Rep. Loudermilk filing an ethics complaint last year against Sherill and nearly three dozen other Democrats for allegedly using false claims against him in order to “accuse their colleagues of treason for political gain.”
Rep. Loudermilk previously has made adamant denials of his involvement, but his story has been shifting considerably of late.
At first, he denied ever having given any tours at all.
Then last month, the Committee asked him in a letter to appear voluntarily before them, stating they had evidence that he had led a tour around the complex, contradicting the claim by Republicans that no such tours had taken place. At that point, Loudermilk admitted that he had brought a tour into parts of the Capitol complex but stated the visit was harmless and involved a “constituent family with young children.”
Loudermilk cited a statement by the Capitol police chief, who purportedly had reviewed the footage and seen only a “visit by constituents.” That letter noted, in an obfuscating way, that the group had not entered the Capitol or its tunnel system.
While technically true, the group was clearly and visibly taking pictures of the tunnel and of stairways, things that tourists normally aren’t very interested in. One of the group members appears to have been using several different cellphones to take pictures.
Earlier this week, the Capitol police doubled down on their assertion that the tour was innocuous, stating in a letter that they had reviewed the video surveillance and “do not consider any of the activities we observed to be suspicious.” That letter made headlines, in a manner that recalls the pre-casting of the Mueller report by former Attorney General Barr, allowing the narrative first to be that Loudermilk had done nothing wrong. Conservative papers like the Wall Street Journal demanded apologies from the Democrats.
But then, on Wednesday, in response to what Rep. Lofgren described as the “weird letter” from the Capitol police chief, the Committee publicly rolled the tape of the tour showing tour group members, including the one who had made the threats against Democratic leaders. Loudermilk was left scrambling, now claiming that the tour he led only took pictures of “the little trains” and a “golden eagle sconce”—quite specific details for a tour that he first said never happened.
As an aside, Loudermilk may be trying to split hairs by claiming he never gave a tour of the “Capitol” because he was only taking people to see the offices and buildings around the Capitol, which not only feels slippery but seems a strange and otherwise quite boring thing to show “tourists.”
The tour of adjacent buildings should ring some alarm bells. Investigators are presently looking into the “1776 plan” that was given to Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, who is now charged with seditious conspiracy to overthrow the government by force. That plan had listed several of the same buildings, which the people in Loudermilk’s “tour” apparently had been casing, as targets for armed insurrectionists to seize on the day of the riot.
Whether that is a coincidence or it begins to connect other dots remains to be seen. There are also other group tours that were given by other Congressmembers, and tapes of those tours have yet to be released or discussed publicly.
Ginni Thomas Was Communicating with John Eastman
The second bombshell from the January 6 Committee concerns Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The January 6 Committee revealed that it was in possession of email correspondence between Ginni Thomas and lawyer John Eastman, the author of the January 6 strategy to overturn the election.
The substance of that correspondence is not yet known, but spokespersons for the Committee stated that it shows Thomas’s efforts to overturn the election were more extensive than previously known. The Committee has now formally invited Ginni Thomas to appear before it to answer questions, and she has responded that she is eager to clear up “misconceptions.”
This is noteworthy precisely because Eastman is in very hot legal waters himself after a federal judge found that he and Donald Trump likely committed two federal crimes of obstructing a Congressional proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Because a conspiracy can sweep up anyone else who also agreed to be part of the plan, Thomas’s own involvement and communications with Eastman would be relevant to any future criminal investigation. It appears from correspondence turned over by John Eastman, which he had fought to keep from disclosure, that he had been invited to speak to a group led by Thomas known as “Frontliners.”
Ginni Thomas has long been active in conservative circles and was a strong supporter of the so-called “Stop the Steal” movement.
The Committee already has released text communications between her and former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in which she advocated the overturning of the election and called for, among other alarming things, the Bidens to face military tribunals in Guantanamo for sedition. Thomas also sent form letters pressuring state legislators in Arizona to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
To date, Thomas’s activities have received only passing scrutiny. Most of the focus has been on efforts to call for her husband to recuse himself from legal questions surrounding January 6 including the alleged criminality of the former president, given his own wife’s highly partisan and open support for the coup.
Further, John Eastman and Justice Thomas previously worked together, with Eastman serving as a law clerk for Thomas. So far, these calls for recusal have gone nowhere. This is despite the result in one case involving the turning over of presidential records, where the Court ruled 8-1 against Trump with only Justice Thomas in dissent.
Eastman Claimed to Have Insight into How SCOTUS Would Rule
To add to the mystery and stakes around the John Eastman / Ginni Thomas correspondence, The New York Times reported yesterday that, in an exchange dated December 24, 2020 with pro-Trump lawyer Kenneth Chesebro and Trump campaign officials concerning an appeal of the Wisconsin election to Supreme Court, Eastman claimed to have personal insight into the atmosphere of the Court at the time.
“So the odds are not based on the legal merits but an assessment of the justices’ spines, and I understand that there is a heated fight underway,” Mr. Eastman wrote. Four justices are needed to take up a case, and Eastman added, “For those willing to do their duty, we should help them by giving them a Wisconsin cert petition to add into the mix.”
To this, Chesebro responded using a chillingly familiar word, replying that the “odds of action before Jan. 6 will become more favorable if the justices start to fear that there will be ‘wild’ chaos on Jan. 6 unless they rule by then, either way.”
This email exchange occurred just five days after Trump issued a call for his supporters to attend a protest rally at the Ellipse on Jan. 6, 2021, “Be there. Will be wild!” Trump had written on Twitter. As the Times noted, “Mr. Chesebro’s comment about the justices being more open to hearing a case if they fear chaos was striking for its link to the potential for the kind of mob scene that materialized at the Capitol weeks later.”
It also raises a very serious question about how Eastman would have known that there was “a heated fight underway” within the Court. Did someone close to the Court or his former boss communicate that to him directly?
Was Ginni Thomas improperly conveying inside information to Eastman about the climate at the Court? Eastman has since claimed that “at no time did I discuss with Mrs. Thomas or Justice Thomas any matters pending or likely to come before the Court” and that his invitation from Ginni Thomas was to come speak to her group an give an “update on election litigation.”
The three developments, all announced in a single day, increasingly point to the notion that elected officials and people close to the highest levels of government were somehow involved not only with the illegitimate and illegal attempt to overturn the election by procedural chicanery but with the people who cased, planned and attacked the Capitol on January 6.
The Loudermilk, Thomas and Eastman stories may continue to grow, or they may turn out to be dead ends in the investigation, but it seems clear that the longer the hearings go on, the more curious and disturbing facts come to light. Taken in sum, they show that there is much still to learn about what and who lay behind the attempted coup at the Capitol.