Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich has predicted that members of the House Select Committee investigating the Capitol riot on 6 January last year could be jailed if the GOP takes control of Congress after the midterms.
“You’re going to have a Republican majority in the House and a Republican majority in the Senate,” Mr Gingrich told Fox News on Sunday.
“All these people who have been so tough and so mean and so nasty are going to be delivered subpoenas for every document, every conversation, every tweet, every email because I think it’s clear that these are people who have just been running over the law pursuing innocent people, causing them to spend thousands and thousands of dollars in legal fees for no justification,” he added.
Mr Gingrich said the committee was “basically a lynch mob and unfortunately, the attorney general of the United States has joined that lynch mob and is totally misusing the FBI, and I think when you have a Republican Congress, this is all going to come crashing down”.
More than 750 people have been charged in relation to the Capitol riot so far. At least 165 have pleaded guilty to various crimes. The Justice Department has estimated that between 2,000 and 2,500 people entered the Capitol on that day.
Contrary to Mr Gingrich’s remarks, several judges have complained that federal authorities have been too lenient towards 6 January defendants, NPR reported.
“The Justice Department remains committed to holding all Jan. 6 perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law — whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said earlier this month. “We will follow the facts wherever they lead.”
Responding to the judges’ criticism, he said: “A necessary consequence of the prosecutorial approach of charging less serious offences first is that courts impose shorter sentences before they impose longer ones.”
As of the beginning of this month, around 70 defendants had been sentenced, with about 30 getting prison time.
Mr Gingrich added that “the wolves are going find out that they’re now sheep and they’re the ones who I think are going to face a real risk of jail for the kind of laws that they are breaking”.
Princeton University history professor Julian Zelizer wrote in his book Burning Down the House that Mr Gingrich “liked to present himself as a big-idea man” but that “the truth is that his contributions as a partisan tactician were far more important than anything he did in terms of policy”.
Mr Gingrich served in the House from 1979 to 1999, and as speaker from 1995 until 1999.
Mr Zelizer argues that US politics started to become more polarized in the period from January 1987 to March 1989 as Mr Gingrich rose to power.
“Gingrich made his biggest impact on the GOP by defining what partisanship should look like and by expanding the boundaries of what was permissible in the arena of congressional warfare,” he added and noted that Democratic Speaker Jim Wright, who was ousted in 1989, told C-SPAN that DC was becoming a “less civil government, it’s becoming more polarized and it’s becoming more vicious”.
“Gingrich was not responsible for growing partisan polarization on … Capitol Hill, but he legitimated ruthless and destructive practices that had once been relegated to the margins,” Mr Zelizer wrote.
Maryland Representative Jamie Raskin told MSNBC earlier this month that the 6 January committee is planning on holding public hearings throughout the year.
“We’ll tell the story of each dimension of this attack on American democracy. The American people have not yet seen all of the evidence laid out in this way. So we’re going to have hearings for the American people, which I hope will seem somewhat like the Watergate hearings did, in that they will be a daily occurrence so people can follow the unfolding narrative,” he said.
“[W]e’ll give America a report and Congress a report about what happened and what we need to do to strengthen our resiliency against future authoritarian attacks like this,” he added.