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Why Newt Gingrich's rant about the Jan. 6 investigation matters

It's tempting to ignore Newt Gingrich's nonsense about prosecuting members of the Jan. 6 committee, but Republicans aren't making that easy.

Plenty of Republicans have criticized the congressional investigation into the Jan. 6 attack. Plenty more have talked about ending the House select committee's probe in the event of a GOP majority next year.

But it's far more unusual to hear a Republican raise the prospect of prosecuting those seeking answers. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich did exactly that on Fox News yesterday morning, culminating a rant with these striking comments:

"I think when you have a Republican Congress, this is all going to come crashing down, and the wolves are going to find out that they're now sheep and they're the ones who are in fact, I think, face a real risk of jail for the kinds of laws they're breaking."

He did not appear to be kidding. Gingrich also neglected to mention any of the "laws" he believes the committee members are "breaking."

Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the vice chair of the bipartisan panel, responded soon after, "A former Speaker of the House is threatening jail time for members of Congress who are investigating the violent January 6 attack on our Capitol and our Constitution. This is what it looks like when the rule of law unravels."

That's more than fair given the circumstances. The larger question, however, is whether Gingrich's nonsense is better left ignored.

Admittedly, it's a tough call. Every few months, the former House Speaker will make a public appearance, say something outlandish, and receive criticism, at which point the cycle will repeat. In general, the number of headlines is limited for a reason: It's been a while since Gingrich was highly relevant.

Indeed, it's easy to forget that despite his high media profile, the Georgia Republican hasn't held elected office in nearly a quarter-century: Gingrich resigned from Congress 23 years ago this month, after his own ostensible allies turned on him.

With this in mind, it's tempting to ask who gives a darn whether Gingrich wants to see Jan. 6 investigators behind bars. Other than the occasional conservative talk show, does anyone care what the former House Speaker thinks?

Unfortunately, the answer makes a difference.

We learned last spring, for example, that Donald Trump recruited Gingrich to help craft a "MAGA" policy agenda. We learned last week that House Republican leaders recently did the same thing. The Washington Post reported on Thursday:

Senior House Republicans are putting together a list of policy pledges to run on in the 2022 elections, and they are consulting with the architect of one of their biggest historical midterm victories. Newt Gingrich, whose "Contract with America" in 1994 is linked with the GOP takeover of Congress in that midterm cycle, said he has been advising House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) on a set of policy items for Republicans to take to voters ahead of the November elections.

In other words, the public learned on Thursday that Gingrich is helping shape a House GOP policy platform, and the public learned three days later that Gingrich wants to see elected officials investigating the Jan. 6 attack incarcerated.

I'd like to see Gingrich's rants treated as little more than annoying sideshows, but Republican officials aren't making that easy.

Postscript: John Gibbs, a Republican congressional candidate in Michigan, endorsed Gingrich's rhetoric in a tweet overnight.