Jan. 6, 2021, was madness. Without a proper account of that day, the stain of its violence and betrayal, already indelibly etched into the national history, could continue to spread, shading and infiltrating every institution low and high until finally, this ‘great experiment’ collapses in on itself in a heap of dingy authoritarianism.
For the last several weeks, the Select Committee Investigating the Jan. 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol presented its findings on the insurrection incited by former President Donald Trump now more than a year ago.
He is the only American president ever impeached for this betrayal, making him uniquely offensive since his actions obliterated the core of what the Constitution demands of presidents above all else when they take the oath: its faithful preservation and defense.
So much of what happened on the way to Jan. 6 unfolded in public.
Trump said long before Election Day if he lost, it was because the election was rigged. Many of his personal attorneys and members of his administration spent weeks promoting or defending wild conspiracy theories of voter fraud at press conferences, on podcasts, on the radio, or on television. This continued unabated even after the nation’s Attorney General and heads of the nation’s intelligence networks confirmed to Trump in public—and in private, as the committee showed at length this summer—that his fraud claims lacked credibility entirely.
It was an all-out assault of disinformation and propaganda aimed at convincing the American public he was not defeated after a single term in the White House where his tenure and popularity were regularly marred by the cruelty of his policies and the consequences of his own actions, like impeachment for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Trump’s speech at the Ellipse on Jan. 6 was a tirade but it was also an open invitation to his most devoted followers to help him retain power by force despite losing the 2020 election popularly and by way of the Electoral College. And when the debris, blood, sweat, urine, and feces were finally cleared away from the Capitol after the mob stormed it, Trump’s second impeachment followed.
The case was, as Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., told Daily Kos during an interview this week, “made almost completely with facts from the public record, and the statements and actions Trump made.”
“It was overwhelming,” Raskin said. “Although the incitement was plain to see and the violence was bloody and fresh on people’s minds, what we did not have was the detailed account of the president’s step-by-step effort to orchestrate a political coup against the election and essentially set aside Joe Biden’s seven-million-vote victory.”
Now, that “detailed account” has been presented to millions of Americans.
An average of 13 million broadcast viewers watched per hearing day, according to Nielsen, hearing evidence at each juncture about how Trump: 1) worked to overturn the election results by promoting a lie; 2) attempted to install his allies at the Justice Department when legal avenues to assert his victory were defeated; 3) advanced a fake elector strategy to pressure the vice president to stop Congress from certifying the count; 4) invited a crowd he understood to be armed to march to the Capitol with him during the Joint Session of Congress; and 5) abandoned his sworn duty to protect the United States by sitting idly for nearly three hours while ignoring pleas for help as a mob erected a gallows, issued calls to hang the vice president and Speaker of the House, stormed the halls of Congress and attacked hundreds of outnumbered police officers with a barrage of lethal weapons.
During its two primetime sessions alone, a cumulative 30 million (or more) broadcast viewers heard this evidence—and then some.
Raskin told Daily Kos in April he hoped the hearings would become a way of arming the American public with the tools of “intellectual self-defense against the authoritarian and fascistic policies that have been unleashed in this country.”
”These hearings have been so devastating for Trump and his followers because they have shown everyone exactly every effort he undertook to overturn the election and the Constitutional order. And almost all of it was based on evidence brought forth by Republican witnesses,” Raskin said by phone this week.
That is true, despite what disinformation may be flowing out from right-wing platforms.
The testimony during the hearings overwhelmingly featured Republican lawyers, judges, political commentators, election attorneys, Trump-appointed U.S. Attorneys, a Republican city commissioner, and a Trump campaign manager, to name but a few.
”I think [the hearings] have moved the whole spectrum of public opinion closer to the facts of what actually happened. These people who were already convinced of Donald Trump’s culpability now have a lot more evidence to corroborate their initial convictions,” Raskin reflected.
“Those who were on the fence have been moved to reject the ‘Big Lie’ and to doubt the continuing efforts to undermine the reality of Biden’s victory. Those who were in Trump’s camp as true believers have begun to melt away at the margins even though many of them are still holding firm. It does not look like a promising scenario for those who continue to want Donald Trump to be the central figure of American politics,” he said.
A Morning Consult/Politico poll released this week found that the hearings may not have shaken loose many of Trump’s most fundamental supporters, but the share of unaffiliated or independent voters in the U.S. that believe the former president is responsible for the insurrection has increased significantly. And almost more importantly, those independents who held “favorable views” of Trump have continued to dip, too. Many independents are indicating they will vote for a Democrat in November.
If the Justice Department will not make it so that Trump is unable to hold office, at the least, this should be a small comfort: the hearings have manifested an even greater number of Americans who believe there is good reason to vote against a person, or persons, who would incite a deadly insurrection.
Raskin would like to see the Justice Department take action publicly and more definitively before the midterms. He also knows that the timing of that announcement could draw ire, and that screeches of political impropiety are likely to come.
“But the Constitution itself regards this matter with the utmost gravity,” Raskin said. “Section III of the 14th Amendment said that people who have sworn an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution and betray it by engaging in an insurrection shall never hold federal or state office again. That is a constitutional principle.”
He continued: “It’s obviously a legitimate thing for us to be talking about. But the Department of Justice and prosecutors at other levels have to make their decisions without regard to anyone’s political plans. If people had immunity from prosecution just because they were running for office, then anybody who was suspected of a crime, any crime at all, could simply announce for political office, and then they would have legal immunity. That can’t be right,” he said.”
The committee’s debut session was a year ago this month. Police who defended the Capitol testified for the first time publicly and put a personal face on the raw, frenzied violence that most Americans only witnessed from afar.
As the months have marched on, the committee has unearthed hundreds of thousands of pages of records from the White House and elsewhere and has interviewed over 1,000 people who were directly or indirectly involved with Jan. 6. Those interviews continue. Raskin said this week the number of former Trump aides who have come forward recently are producing a “waterfall of truth.”
Attempts to stop the committee from airing its evidence have been unceasing, yet mostly unsuccessful. Those caught in the committee’s scrutiny have been unable to cast the panel as illegitimate when fighting subpoenas in court.
The committee’s work has been overwhelmingly bolstered through judicial opinions, providing an outcome that offers benefits twice over. When Judge David Carter ruled that Trump and John Eastman, the attorney who developed a six-point strategy to overturn the election, had likely engaged in a criminal conspiracy—and further that they “engaged in a coup in search of legal theory”—it set a strong precedent for Congress and upped the ante for investigations at the Justice Department.
In fact, this week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom revealed in court that the Department obtained a new search warrant to access records on John Eastman’s phone. This process has been unfolding for the last month. The home of Jeffrey Clark was also searched. Clark is the former DOJ attorney who Trump tried to install as attorney general after existing senior officials at the department refused his scheme to declare the election as false. And Clark’s underling, Ken Klukowski, is now cooperating with the DOJ’s probe into Jan. 6 in full, according to Klukowski’s lawyer, Ed Greim.
Cassidy Hutchinson, who provided some of the most shocking public testimony this summer is cooperating with the department. During the hearings, she testified under oath that Trump knew the mob was armed—“I don’t fucking care that they have weapons, they’re not here to hurt me,’” she recalled him saying—and she disclosed that her boss, Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, sought pardons in the aftermath of the insurrection. She also disclosed information about a small battery of Republican lawmakers who sought pardons in the wake of Jan. 6.
She also divulged how the president wished to go to the Capitol on Jan. 6 after his speech, offering insight into his mindset that day. When this request was rejected, his outrage was so severe, Hutchinson said, that the former president lunged at the arm and neck of a Secret Service agent driving him.
Other witnesses have refused to cooperate under subpoena, courting contempt of Congress charges and indictments like Trump ally and strategist Steve Bannon and former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro. Bannon was found guilty on two counts and faces sentencing in October. Others, like Meadows or onetime adviser Dan Scavino, have cooperated to varying degrees and managed to evade prosecution. Other Trump-world officials have invoked their Fifth Amendment rights after being subpoenaed. Committee vice chair Liz Cheney said last month, more than 30 witnesses called before the committee invoked their right against self-incrimination.
The most high profile of those figures are Eastman; Clark; longtime GOP operative Roger Stone; conspiracy theory hack and right-wing podcaster Alex Jones; and Michael Flynn, Trump’s disgraced former national security adviser.
In December 2020, Flynn publicly advocated for Trump to invoke martial law to rerun the 2020 election. He was also part of discussions with Trump and his attorneys where there was talk of the military seizing voting machines. He did not ultimately cooperate with the select committee, but in airing a five-minute clip of Flynn’s deposition, the committee allowed his silence to speak volumes.
When Cheney asked Flynn if he felt the violence on Jan. 6 was legally justified, he pleaded the Fifth. When she asked if he believed it was morally justified, he pleaded the Fifth. When she asked him if he believed in the peaceful transition of power in the United States, the retired three-star Army general pleaded the Fifth.
With each day that has passed since the committee’s first-ever hearing last July, the truth continues to pour out.
”The defense of the constitutional order and the rule of law should be something that unifies Americans across the political spectrum,” Raskin said. “Trump convinced millions of people that if your team does it, if they break the law or upend the Constitutional order, you embrace it or defend it regardless of how unlawful or criminal it is.”
“But that’s just an appalling descent for intellectual and ethical standards in American life,” Raskin said.
“When the people [who believed the Big Lie] called for ‘Justice for Trump’ they said ‘let the people decide.’ The people voted for Biden. But Trump tried to overthrow the election, so he was impeached for doing that. And we took it to trial, and at trial, they told us then, ‘don’t deal with this through impeachment, you could prosecute him if there was a crime.’ “
“Now the Department of Justice is investigating whether there is a crime, and these same people are saying, ‘you can’t prosecute him, it’s too political!’ No matter what is done, they essentially assert that Donald Trump is beyond the reach of the law and that is a profoundly anti-democratic attitude,” he said.
One of the last battles to be waged between Trump and the truth about January 6 will very likely play out on the field of executive privilege disputes and crime-fraud exceptions where the Department of Justice, not the select committee, will lead the charge of a criminal investigation into the former president and his associates.
The Justice Department is moving at its own pace and operating mostly in stealth, but the dam seems to be breaking as more reporting now suggests the DOJ has its Jan. 6 prosecutors focused on two principal tracks: Trump’s possible orchestration of a seditious conspiracy and obstruction of a congressional proceeding and fraud.
The fraud track would stem from the fake-elector scheme and is believed to encompass the pressure campaign Trump and his allies put on officials at the DOJ to say the election was rigged and votes were fraudulently cast.
The committee’s investigation, meanwhile, is still humming as members maneuver their way through new challenges—like what to do about a batch of deleted Secret Service text messages from Jan. 5 and Jan. 6 as well as deleted texts from the same period at the Department of Homeland Security.
That department’s inspector general, Joseph Cuffari, the Washington Post was first to report on Friday, “scrapped” an effort to recover agency phones. In February, after learning that messages had been erased during a “planned” device reset, Cuffari reportedly decided to stop further review and collection of phones. He only this month notified the House and Senate Homeland Security committees of the “erased” texts. He was asked by the head of that committee, and various others 10 days after the insurrection to ensure all records and devices were preserved.
Committee chairman Bennie Thompson, as well as Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who sits on a committee that oversees offices of the inspectors general, have called on Cuffari to recuse himself from the investigation. The director of the Secret Service, James Murray, announced late Friday he would waylay his planned July 31 retirement to “ensure our agency’s continued cooperation, responsiveness, and full support with respect to ongoing congressional and other inquiries.”
This is an unsettling series of developments, Raskin admits.
“This profound mystery of the Secret Service texts and what information is being masked by their disappearance is something we are all pursuing. We are invested in finding out the truth there,” he said.
The next hearing is expected in September and the committee plans to produce an interim report around the same time. A final report will follow, but meanwhile, over the next month, he said, “everyone has loose ends that they want to follow up on.”
During the course of its probe, every member of the committee has specialized in a different facet of the investigation.
Raskin’s focus was Trump’s mobilization of the mob as well as domestic violent extremist groups like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers. and Three Percenters.
“There are still significant things that we are finding out that I want to pursue there,” Raskin said. “The same goes for the shakedown of the Justice Department, the attempt to coerce state election officials, and so forth. I would say each member has his or her continuing research agenda and then we have some things we consider major to the whole of the investigation we are pursuing.”
It has been a long year already and it is not quite yet over. As for the man at the center of the probe, former President Trump, he has yet to stop his incessant spread of disinformation about the 2020 election and is poised to take another run for the White House.
But Raskin is optimistic.
“I’m most optimistic about the fact that the vast majority of the American people do not believe in coups, insurrections, and political violence to usurp the will of the people. There is still a profound allegiance to constitutional democracy in the country,” he said.
He is not cynical, but “sobered” around other facts.
What “sobers him,” he said, is that Republican Party, even now “remains under the spell and stranglehold of Donald Trump.”
He continued: “They are using every anti-democratic device in the book to thwart majority rule; from voter suppression statutes to gerrymandering of our districts to the weaponization of the filibuster to the manipulation of the Electoral College.”
“We are in a race between the clear majority’s will and preference for democratic institutions and progress and the efforts to drag us back into some kind of anti-democratic past,” Raskin remarked.
So, then, are the people now armed with the tools of “intellectual defense” they need to resist this and other aspiring tyrants to come?
“I don’t think people will fall for any more ‘Big Lies’ or disinformation for the most part,” he said.
The lawmaker reflected: “People who have been disabused of all these notions aren’t going back. But there is an important question being tested here: whether the new propaganda systems that have grown up in the internet age can actually operate like an intellectual straight-jacket? Will millions of people really be locked into a system of lies? That’s a question that is closely connected to the future of our democracy. Democracy needs a ground to stand on, and that foundation has got to be the truth.”
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