Kinzinger gets his star turn on Jan. 6 panel

·5 min read

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), one of the most outspoken critics of former President Trump, will get his star turn on the Jan. 6 select committee Thursday when he leads the panel in laying out the case that Trump tried to pressure the Department of Justice (DOJ) into overturning the results of the 2020 presidential election.

The six-term Illinois congressman is one of two Republicans on the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, serving alongside Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the vice chair of the panel.

Both lawmakers broke with Trump in the aftermath of the Capitol riot. Since then, they have not shied away from hammering the ex-president and his top allies in the party, including their own congressional colleagues.

While Kinzinger’s prominence on the committee has been overshadowed to a degree by Cheney, who led the first hearing that laid out the panel’s case and has been a key figure in subsequent proceedings, his time at the microphone on Thursday is expected to make headlines, when the GOP congressman questions former Trump DOJ officials who rejected the then-president’s pressure campaign to keep himself in power.

Former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, former acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue, and former Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel Steven Engel are all slated to testify in-person.

The presentation will also put fissures within the GOP on full display, when the American public watches a Republican lawmaker — who has been lambasted by some and lionized by others in the party — argue that a former Republican president tried to use a federal agency to remain in power despite losing a legitimate election.

The hearing comes nearly 11 months to the day that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tapped Kinzinger to serve on the panel, solidifying the break between the Illinois congressman and a bulk of the Republican Party.

But the fracture began well before that.

On Jan. 7, one day after the Capitol riot, Kinzinger made headlines as the first GOP lawmaker to call for Trump’s removal using the 25th Amendment. The Illinois Republican said “the president caused this,” referring to the storming of the Capitol, and called Trump “unfit” and “unwell.”

“The president now must relinquish control of the executive branch voluntarily or involuntarily,” Kinzinger said.

But when the Cabinet did not invoke the 25th Amendment, and Congress decided to go down the path of impeachment, Kinzinger again made his objection to Trump known, voting to impeach the president for incitement of insurrection.

He was joined by nine Republican colleagues, including Cheney, whom he now sits beside on the dais during Jan. 6 hearings.

It was a complete reversal for Kinzinger, who joined all Republicans in opposing Trump’s impeachment in 2019 on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The congressman later said voting against Trump’s first impeachment was his “biggest regret.”

And then came his appointment to the Jan. 6 select committee. After Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) pulled all his nominees from the group as a response to Pelosi blocking two GOP lawmakers from sitting on the panel out of concern for “the integrity of the investigation,” the speaker said she was adding Kinzinger to the team.

The congressman accepted the invitation, but not without offering a veiled swipe at Trump and his allies.

The Illinois Republican said “For months, lies and conspiracy theories have been spread, threatening our self-governance.”

“Let me be clear, I’m a Republican dedicated to conservative values, but I swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution—and while this is not the position I expected to be in or sought out, when duty calls, I will always answer,” he added.

Since then, Kinzinger has frequently flung insults at Trump and his colleagues in Congress, describing the former commander-in-chief as “one of the weakest men that I have ever seen,” and calling McCarthy a “feckless, weak, tired man.”

Republicans, however, have not ducked away from the conflict. In February 2022, the Republican National Committee (RNC) took the stunning step of formally censuring Kinzinger and Cheney for their criticism of Trump and participation in the Jan. 6 investigation.

“Nothing surprises me more,” Kinzinger said in response to the RNC’s decision.

The congressman did, however, surprise some when he announced in October, after much speculation, that he would not seek reelection this year, putting an expiration date on his 12-year tenure in the House.

In a video announcing the decision, the congressman denounced the bitter partisanship that has tainted politics.

Under new redistricting maps, Kinzinger would have been lumped into a district with Rep. Darin LaHood (R), setting the scene for a fierce primary battle.

The Illinois Republican has not yet indicated what he will do once he departs Washington at the end of the term, but in November he said “this isn’t the end of my political future, but the beginning.”

Last year he formed a new PAC, Country First, that was introduced as “a renewal of the Republican Party” and “a re-examination of the values and ideals that drew him toward the party to begin with.”

But despite next steps, Thursday’s hearing will perhaps be Kinzinger’s largest platform yet to take on the president he voted to impeach, and shed light on what the committee has described as a conspiracy Trump orchestrated to keep himself in power.

“We’re going to show what happened as the president was doing his best to basically put the Department of Justice stamp on his lies and conspiracies to embolden people,” Kinzinger told CNN on Wednesday, referring to Thursday’s hearing.

He said the presentation will show “yet another prong of what the president, the former president, tried to do to take away — no matter who you voted for, to take away your vote.”

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