As he oversees Jan. 6 panel, U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger says Trump’s ‘total disregard for the Constitution and his oath will be fully exposed’

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Illinois Republican U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger took aim Thursday at former President Donald Trump as the six-term congressman headed up questioning on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Though both are Republicans, Kinzinger has been an ardent Trump critic for years and, as he oversaw the committee’s fifth hearing, the congressman from Channahon took the lead in questioning witnesses whose testimony tried to show Trump pressured the Justice Department to help him overturn the 2020 presidential election.

“Today, President Trump’s total disregard for the Constitution and his oath will be fully exposed,” Kinzinger said.

Kinzinger questioned former Justice Department officials, who told the committee that Trump tried to enlist them to back his unfounded claim there was widespread voter fraud in the election against Joe Biden.

When the Justice Department officials told Trump they wouldn’t go along with his plan, the president considered naming a new attorney general who would, several officials testified. They also said they threatened to resign and said many other Justice Department lawyers would join them.

Kinzinger leveraged his position as one of just two House Republicans on the nine-member panel to argue to others in the GOP that Trump’s move to “get the Department of Justice to put the stamp of approval on the lies” was particularly dangerous.

“I want to take a moment now to speak directly to my fellow Republicans,” Kinzinger said during his opening statement at the hearing. “Imagine the country’s top prosecutor, with the power to open investigations, subpoena, charge crimes and seek imprisonment, imagine that official pursuing the agenda of the other party instead of that of the American people as a whole. If you’re a Democrat, imagine it the other way around.”

An Air Force veteran, Kinzinger said he got into politics with the commitment ”that if we are going to ask Americans to be willing to die in service to our country, we, as leaders, must at least be willing to sacrifice our political careers” if necessary.

Kinzinger then lauded a group of Justice Department lawyers for risking their own careers by threatening to resign rather than go along with Trump’s plan in early January 2021 to appoint Jeffrey Clark as attorney general because Clark would bolster Trump’s false election claims.

“Presidential pressure can be really hard to resist,” Kinzinger said. “Today we’ll focus on a few officials who stood firm against President Trump’s political pressure campaign.”

Though Trump didn’t follow through on naming Clark, his attempt showed the facts of the election loss “were clearly just an inconvenience,” Kinzinger said.

“President Trump tried to erase his loss at the ballot box by parachuting an unqualified man into the top job at Justice. It was a power play to win at all costs, with no regard for the will of the American people,” Kinzinger said.

Also during Thursday’s hearing, Kinzinger oversaw the playing of video clips that showed investigators interviewing former White House staff about several Republican members of Congress seeking presidential pardons in the waning days of the Trump administration.

“The only reason I know to ask for a pardon is because you think you’ve committed a crime,” Kinzinger said.

Testimony in four prior hearings by the committee focused on Trump’s behavior and that of his administration in the run-up to the attack by a crowd that supported his attempt to overturn the election results.

While Trump and his supporters have labeled the panel a “witch hunt,” Kinzinger and the other Republican on the committee, U.S. Rep Liz Cheney of Wyoming, have also drawn praise for being the only GOP officials taking part. But Kinzinger said his participation has recently prompted a death threat.

Kinzinger, who is not seeking reelection, posted on Twitter Sunday a copy of a letter he said was sent to his wife at their home. It reads, in part, “although it might take time, he will be executed,” and warns Kinzinger’s wife that she and their 5-month-old son “will be joining Adam in hell too.”

Accompanying the picture of the letter, Kinzinger called out Republicans and their allies on Twitter: “Addressed to my wife, sent to my home, threatening the life of my family. The Darkness is spreading courtesy of cowardly leaders fearful of truth. Is (this) what you want @GOP? Pastors?”

The Jan. 6 committee has held four prior hearings this month exploring different aspects of the riot and Trump’s role in provoking it.

Speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation” after the committee held its first hearing, Kinzinger said he didn’t think Trump believes he beat Joe Biden, only to have the election stolen.

“If you truly believe the election was stolen then, if the president truly believed that, for instance, he’s not mentally capable to be president,” Kinzinger said. “I think he didn’t believe it. I think the people around him didn’t believe it. This was all about keeping power against the will of the American people.”

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Kinzinger was nominated for the committee last summer by Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He was one of 10 Republican House members who voted to impeach Trump following the Capitol attack.

Pelosi tapped Kinzinger after House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy pulled all five of his proposed Republican members from the panel. McCarthy did so after Pelosi vetoed Republican Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jim Banks of Indiana, who Pelosi said could not render independent judgment because of their past support for Trump.

Republicans have since labeled the hearings a partisan sham despite Kinzinger and Cheney taking part. Trump himself has called it “a one-sided witch hunt,” and in a recent interview said it was “a bad decision” for McCarthy to withdraw all the Republican members from the committee.

In response to Trump’s comment, Kinzinger tweeted Monday evening, “This is honestly, the best thing I’ve seen all week! Nice work (McCarthy)! … when you grow an alligator in the bath tub don’t be surprised when it gets out and eats your face.”

Kinzinger announced last fall he wouldn’t seek a seventh term to the House after Illinois Democrats approved a new congressional map that put him in the same district as four-term Republican U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood of Peoria. LaHood has been a strong Trump supporter and the new district leans rural Republican.

jebyrne@chicagotribune.com