Jan. 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol. Photo courtesy of Tyler Merbler.

RICHMOND – As the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection continued its series of public hearings with the bombshell testimony of another witness Tuesday, many of the Republican lawmakers from Virginia who previously supported former President Donald Trump’s push to challenge the results of the 2020 presidential election either try to avoid discussing the panel’s findings or remain unimpressed and convinced that the election had been stolen. 

Del. Dave LaRock, R-Loudoun County.

Del. Dave LaRock, R-Loudon County – one of three state legislators who in early 2020 signed a letter asking then-Vice President Mike Pence to nullify Virginia’s certified election results – still stands by his move that cost him and his colleagues several committee assignments in the Virginia House of Delegates. “There continue to be serious concerns about the integrity of our elections,” LaRock said in an email Monday. 

But Virginia Reps. Ben Cline, R-Botetourt County, Bob Good, R-Campbell County, and Morgan Griffith, R-Salem – who all objected to the certification of the election of President Joe Biden – did not respond to several attempts at seeking their comment on the testimony and evidence presented by the committee since holding its first public hearing on June 9, ignoring questions on whether the revelations have changed their views that the election was stolen. 

“The Republican silence that the country is hearing over Jan. 6 speaks louder than anything. It is unwise to try to defend the indefensible, and most Republicans appear to recognize that,” said Stephen J. Farnsworth, a political scientist at the University of Mary Washington. “The evidence collected by the committee points to many avenues of possible criminal prosecution regarding the former president and his team, and the committee is not done yet.”

Farnsworth said that lawmakers are walking a fine line between coming to terms with the committee’s findings and not wanting to alienate their base. Different polls show that roughly 70% of Republican voters don’t see Biden as the legitimate winner of the presidential election. And according to a Yahoo News/YouGov survey  from June 10-13, 61% of Republicans believe Trump acted appropriately on Jan. 6, and 59% said they don’t believe the attack was part of a conspiracy to overturn the election. 

“Republican elected officials don’t want to offend their base and risk their future political prospects, so silence is the wise course of action. It also prevents you from having to do a 180-degree turn as the evidence against the former present continues to be more damaging,” Farnsworth said.

Formed July 1, 2021, the bi-partisan committee – Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger  are the two lone Republicans on the panel – has interviewed more than 1,000 people, including several members of Trump’s inner circle, and examined more than 125,000 documents. An initial proposal to form a bicameral commission had failed due to a filibuster from Republicans in the Senate.

At Tuesday’s hearing, which had been scheduled on short notice due to “recently obtained evidence,” Cassidy Hutchinson, the former aide to Trump’s ex-Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, testified that an enraged Trump lunged at a Secret Service agent who wouldn’t take him to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and told staff Vice President Mike Pence deserved chants from rioters calling for him to be hanged. Hutchinson also said that Trump told staff on the day of the attack that he didn’t care if rioters had weapons and told the Secret Service to remove the devices they used to screen protestors for hidden weapons that day.

At the time of this article’s publication, neither Cline nor Good or Griffith had publicly commented on the most recent hearing.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner. Courtesy of senator’s office.

Democrat Mark Warner, one of the two U.S. senators from Virginia, said in an email Tuesday that the select committee “continues to shed light on one of the darkest times” in the nation’s modern history. “It is undeniable that our democracy was under attack on Jan. 6 and that every vote against certifying the election was a blow to the foundations our country was built upon. As public hearings continue, it is my hope that Americans – regardless of party affiliation – can approach these findings with an open mind, and consider the evidence and the facts,” Warner said.

And Warner’s Democratic colleague, Sen. Tim Kaine, said it was “sad, but not surprising,” that Virginia House Republicans would ignore the “compelling evidence” produced by the Jan. 6 hearings. “Every Republican Congressman from Virginia voted to overturn the election results even after the vicious attack,” Kaine said in an email. 

U.S Sen. Tim Kaine. Courty of Kaine’s office.

But Cline and Griffith’s efforts in aiding the election challenges date back even further. Both lawmakers were among a group of 126 members of the House of Representatives to sign an amicus brief in Texas v. Pennsylvania – a lawsuit filed in December 2020 in the U.S. Supreme Court contesting the outcome of the election.

The court tossed out the suit, stating in an unsigned order that Texas had “not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its elections.” But the Virginia Mercury reported at the time that Griffith had called the brief “well-written and persuasive.”

Rep. Ben Cline, R-Botetourt County. Official photo.

Just a few weeks later, on the eve of the Jan. 6 vote to certify Biden’s election in a joint session of the House of Representatives U.S. Senate, Cline said in a statement that he objected to the Electoral College certification process, citing concern that “rules and procedures established by the state legislatures were deliberately changed by a number of individuals, including governors, secretaries of state, elections officials, judges, and private parties.”

Good, who was first elected to Congress on Nov. 4, 2020 – in the same election during which American voters ousted Trump – had not even taken his oath of office when in December that year he appeared at a pro-Trump rally in Washington, D.C., where supporters of the former president protested the Supreme Court’s rejection of Texas v. Pennsylvania. Speaking at the event, Good claimed that the election had been stolen by Democrats. 

Rep. Bob Good, R-Campbell County. Official portrait.

Before joining Cline and Griffifth in their vote against certifying the election of President-elect Biden on Jan. 6, Good stated that “the American people have voiced their concerns about the unprecedented volume of mail-in voting, and violations of longstanding state laws that may have resulted in fraud in the 2020 general election.” Good also voted against legislation awarding Congressional Gold Medals to members of the U.S. Capitol Police and the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department for protecting lawmakers during the storming of the Capitol.

One day after the attack on the Capitol, Good said in another statement that “the lawlessness that broke down our Capitol doors is a reminder of how sacred our duty is to uphold the rule of law.” 

He reiterated his unproven claims of election fraud while also looking ahead: “This is about more than the 2020 presidential election; it is about all future elections and Congress doing its constitutional duty to ensure election integrity and to not accept electoral submissions from states with sufficient evidence of fraud, which warrants full investigation, as well as states where legislators did not ensure the law was followed or ensure the integrity of their elections.”

Many Republicans, including former Attorney General Bill Barr, Trump’s campaign manager and his own daughter Ivanka, have testified under oath that no evidence of fraud exists that could change the election results. And courts in about 60 lawsuits concluded the same.

On Jan. 12, five days after his vote against certifying Biden’s election, Good struck a more unifying tone in a press release condemning widespread calls for Trump’s impeachment or the envokement of the 25th Amendment, which would have allowed for the departing president’s premature removal from office. 

“On January 20th we will have a peaceful transfer of power, as has been our tradition in this country for over 200 years,” Good said. “Moving forward with the 25th amendment or impeachment of a president just days before he plans to leave office will not bring the country together, but further divide us. Since House Democrats have decided to move forward with this unprecedented, divisive approach, I urge President-elect Biden to stand up and prove that he truly does want to ‘unify’ and ‘heal’ the nation, and disavow House Democrats’ efforts to once again try and remove President Trump.”

Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem. Official portrait.

Neither Good nor Cline or Griffith formally weighed in on the committee’s findings, but in December, Good, after voting against a House Resolution to hold former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in contempt for his refusal to cooperate with the Jan. 6 committee, called the panel’s efforts “a partisan witch hunt” that “needs to stop.”

And Cline, in an interview with Harrisonburg’s WHSV-TV on June 15, dodged the question when asked about Barr testifying that there had been no widespread election fraud: “We’re not seeing the cross-examination of witnesses. What we’re seeing is an echo chamber designed by Nancy Pelosi essentially to arrive at a preconceived conclusion,” Cline said. “The Jan. 6 commission is an echo chamber, and we’re only going to hear that testimony that the Jan. 6 commission wants us to hear.”

While Cline called the insurrection a “terrible act of violence to interfere in the Capitol” that “should have been avoided,” he also said that “the public, for the most part, has come to their own conclusions about what happened on January 6.”

But some Republicans in Virginia’s state legislature are more vocal about their beliefs that the election was stolen and that the committee’s effort is little more than political posturing. LaRock, the delegate from Loudoun, said in his email Monday that the panel’s public hearings have revealed “nothing really new or surprising.” LaRock’s legislative aide added after Tuesday’s hearing that the delegate’s position had not changed following the testimony by Cassidy Hutchinson, Meadows’ former aide.

“The committee is composed entirely of people appointed by (Speaker) Nancy Pelosi, and they’re doing everything they can to misrepresent what happened to fit the media narrative we’ve seen from the day of the event until today,” LaRock said. “They’re trying to distract from the Biden administration and Democrat-controlled Congress’ absolutely disastrous policy failures. Fortunately, the American public is more concerned about putting food on their table and gas in their car than they are in partisan witch-hunts.”

In their January 2021 letter to Pence, LaRock and two of his colleagues – Del. Mark Cole, a Republican from Spotsylvania who has since retired, and Del. Ronnie Campbell, R-Rockbridge County – urged Pence to block Virginia’s election results, arguing that the race for president, the U.S. Senate and five congressional races had “vote tallies shifted by large, late-night reporting … which do not provide the data necessary to establish the authenticity and validity of these counts.” They claimed that other serious irregularities have been shown to exist in the 2020 election.

As a consequence, Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, booted LaRock from the Transportation Committee, while Cole was removed from the Privileges and Elections Committee and Campbell lost his spot on the Courts of Justice Committee, the Virginia Mercury reported

Cole and Campbell did not return calls asking for comment for this story, but LaRock said that he never regretted his decision to sign the letter. “There were significant concerns with the conduct of the election in other states that could have changed the result, as well as unconstitutionally-enacted legislation in the commonwealth of Virginia that made the job of conducting Virginia’s elections extremely difficult and inconsistent for our local election officials, and opened the doors to fraud here as well,” LaRock said. “I feel that requesting an audit of the results in key states could have been done quickly and either found errors or increased confidence that the results were accurate.”

According to the Virginia Department of Elections, Biden won 54.11% of the votes in the commonwealth, with Trump winning 44% – a margin of more than 10% favoring the Democrat.  

Del. Wren Williams, R-Patrick County. Photo by Markus Schmidt

Del. Wren Williams, R-Patrick County, also remains convinced that the 2020 presidential election was “manipulated and rigged,” and the findings of the Jan. 6 committee did little to change his perspective. “I’m surprised that Democrats think so little of the American people that they’re giving us a reality-tv soap opera instead of actually addressing these serious problems,” Williams said in an email Tuesday.

While Williams did not become a member of the House of Delegates until 2022, he spent much of late 2020 in Wisconsin as a part of Donald Trump’s legal team challenging the state’s outcome of the election. He has since met with Trump in Florida and is one of the former president’s staunchest supporters who – had he been a Virginia delegate in 2020 – “absolutely” would have added his name to his colleagues’ letter to Pence. 

Citing his experience from Wisconsin, Williams said that “at every level we saw bureaucrats passing the buck and not doing justice by the voters, from the Supreme Court kicking cases on technicalities to the certification of the votes. I recognize that the certification happened and that Joe Biden is president, but the 2020 election was dirty and the American people know it.”

Farnsworth, the political scientist, said that politicians like LaRock and Williams are banking on Trump’s return in 2024 and a potential second term in the White House that they hope would benefit them. 

“If Trump ever comes back, the people who were loyal despite all this evidence will be amply rewarded,” Farnsworth said. “But based on the hearings so far, it seems like the better financial calculation is to short your investment in Trump’s future.”

Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at markus@cardinalnews.org or 804-822-1594.