Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Fitzgerald, the newest member of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation, says he doesn’t know who is responsible for last week’s riot at the U.S. Capitol and called for an “absolute top-to-bottom” investigation.
President Trump during a speech at the Jan. 6 Washington rally ahead of the riot told his supporters they had to “fight like hell and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” He also told them to go to the Capitol and to “never concede.”
Fitzgerald said in the wake of Trump supporters storming the Capitol while he was in the House chamber, he has reviewed footage of the speeches given byTrump and others at the rally. But after that review, he said it was “hard for me to believe right now that that entire crowd was somehow fired up just by the speeches of the day to take that action.”
“I think he definitely fired up that crowd in a way that some people may have believed he meant, ‘Go to the Capitol and intimidate.’ And if that’s the way those people perceived it, that’s troubling,” the Juneau Republican, an early supporter of Trump, told a WisPolitics.com virtual event Thursday. “But I still think it was more about don’t do physical harm.”
He also said he believed based on experience attending Trump rallies in the state that 99 percent of the president’s backers are “very good people.”
“They’re such great people that supported the president and they would come together for these rallies and they’re normal Wisconsinites that feel like he speaks to them,” he said.
Fitzgerald, the former Senate majority leader who received criticism for the way Republicans quickly pushed through Act 10 measures affecting public employee unions, said even in the wake of the riot, he didn’t support what he called a “snap impeachment that was not something that went through proper channels.”
“I think for many Republicans, it was an easy vote because we know that the legwork wasn’t done and the investigation didn’t happen,” he said. He also defended his vote against certifying Electoral College votes in two states on Jan. 6, saying he questioned the way the contest was administered both in Wisconsin and across the country because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The leeway that was granted to the many different levels of those that administer elections was affected by the pandemic,” he said. “I still believe as we sit here today that the full results of the election that happened, whether it was at the legislative level, congressional or statewide, the numbers were affected directly by decisions made at other levels.”
Those levels, Fitzgerald said, included clerks, the state Elections Commission and the court system.
“The question is whether or not they lived up to the statute and if they didn’t live up to the statute, there had to be a judge somewhere that said, ‘I’m going to accommodate the pandemic,'” he said. “But that’s not a decision for them to make and that’s the most frustrating thing.”
While conceding that President-elect Joe Biden won last fall’s election, Fitzgerald suggested absentee votes were not properly vetted.
“There was a significant shift statewide in the amount of ballots cast and those ballots for the most part came out of absentee voting,” he said. “I think you can say right now that those guidelines — some of the clerks exceeded statute and legislative intent when they made those decisions.”
He acknowledged his own victory was among those that was affected, saying 77,000 more votes were cast in his election than previously. But he added he didn’t think “it necessarily would have changed the outcome.”
Still, he said Trump’s legal team “completely fumbled the ball” on the cases they brought in state and federal courts.
“I think they completely dropped the ball and were making arguments that quite honestly couldn’t be substantiated,” he said. “From a legal perspective, they did not focus on the pandemic, they did not focus on the impact that had on elections and they were talking more about individual ballot stuff.”
A follow-up WisPolitics.com event will feature a Democratic member of the congressional delegation.