By Jessie Seigel / Washington, D.C.
Last Thursday (Oct. 13) was billed as the final hearing of the House Select Committee Investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, but it ended with a big cliff-hanger: the subpoena—by unanimous vote—of former President Trump for both his testimony and his documents. We appear to be only at the end of this show’s first season, with a huge hook enticing us to “stay tuned” for what may come next—assuming that, after the midterm election, there is opportunity for a second season.
Building towards the subpoena climax, the committee members’ closing statements reconstructed, fact by fact, Trump’s central role in the multipart conspiracy to overthrow the 2020 election, culminating in the January 6 attack.
Emphasizing that the committee’s investigation has been about facts, not politics, Chairman Bennie Thompson (Democrat; Miss.) pointed out that the committee’s evidence has come overwhelmingly from Republican witnesses: Republican state officials and legislators; electors; the chair of the Republican National Committee; senior Trump DOJ appointees; Trump’s White House staff and close advisers; Trump’s White House counsel; and even members of his own family.
Vice Chair Liz Cheney (Republican, Wyo.) charged that Trump had contrived a plan well before the election to claim it was stolen if he lost, and that the former president sought out Rudy Giuliani and others to help spread that lie.
Cheney also asserted that Trump was “better informed about the absence of widespread election fraud than almost any other American” because everyone from his campaign experts to his DOJ officials to at least 61 courts that ruled against him on this issue had told him so. Yet Trump “made the conscious choice to claim fraudulently that the election was stolen, to pressure state officials to change election results, to manufacture fake electoral slates, to attempt to corrupt our Department of Justice, to summon tens of thousands of supporters to Washington.”
Cheney’s statement was backed by prior evidence recapped by her fellow committee members, as well as much additional evidence.
The New Evidence
The committee obtained from the National Archives a pre-election draft statement, written for Donald Trump by Tom Fitton of the conservative Judicial Watch activist group, on October 31, 2020, declaring, “we had an election today – and I won.” The Fitton memo specifically proposed that only the votes counted by the Election Day “deadline” would matter. Of course, there is no Election Day deadline for vote counting. As Zoe Lofgren (Democrat; Calif.) pointed out, everyone knew that ballot counting would lawfully continue past Election Day.
Lofgren showed a video of Steve Bannon, the former Trump White House strategist and outside advisor, speaking to associates from China a few days before the election. In the video, Bannon said straight out: “And what Trump's going to do is just declare victory, right? … but that doesn't mean he's the winner, he's just gonna say he's a winner. The Democrats — more of our people vote early that count. Theirs vote in mail, and so they're going to have a natural disadvantage and Trump's going to take advantage of it.” Bannon added, “If Trump is losing by 10:00 or 11:00 at night…he’s gonna sit right there and say they stole it.”
Bannon said it. And a few days later, Trump did it. On election night, before all votes could be counted, Trump declared victory and called for ongoing vote counting to stop. And in his usual pattern of accusing his opponents of what he himself does, Trump claimed that to continue vote counting constituted “a fraud on the American public.”
This evidence shows that Trump’s so-called victory speech was part of his premeditated plan to declare victory regardless of the actual result of the election.
Adam Kinzinger (Republican, Ill.) presented evidence that Trump privately acknowledged to a number of individuals (including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, White House assistant Alyssa Farah, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and his senior aide, Cassidy Hutchinson) that he had lost the election even while publicly yelling foul.
Hutchinson testified on video about an instance in which Trump said to Mark Meadows in her presence, “something to the effect of, I don’t want people to know we lost, Mark. This is embarrassing. Figure it out. We need to figure it out. I don’t want people to know that we lost.”
In addition, Adam Schiff (Calif. Democrat) and Pete Aguilar (Calif. Democrat) presented disturbing new evidence that, contrary to claims made under oath, the Secret Service and F.B.I. had prior knowledge of the attack on the Capitol.
The Secret Service erased text messages from January 6, 2021, despite the fact those materials had already been requested by DOJ and Congress. But the committee was nevertheless able to obtain almost 1 million email messages, recordings and other electronic records.
Among the many instances of foreknowledge laid out by Schiff, the records revealed that as early as December 26, the Secret Service received information that the Proud Boys planned to march armed into D.C. and that they claimed their numbers would be large enough to outnumber the police. The source said the plan was “to literally kill people,” and begged officials to take the tip seriously.
Schiff noted that despite the clear evidence of prior knowledge, certain White House and Secret Service witnesses had testified that they had received no intelligence about violence threatening Congress and the vice-president. In other words—these witnesses lied under oath.
It is clear that the failures of the Secret Service and the F.B.I. were not a failure of intelligence or coordination, but the result of deliberately ignoring intelligence. Some in the media scratch their heads and ask why these agencies had information long before January 6 but did not act. My thought: these agencies are part of the executive branch—which was under the thumb of Donald Trump and his cronies.
Some commentators have recited: “Trump didn’t care” or “he wanted it to happen.” But those terms indicate only indifference or a wish. The evidence indicates Trump more than cared—he planned it. He directed it. The only “wanting” involved was his desire to physically join the insurrectionists so he could lead them into the Capitol as if he were Caesar crossing the Rubicon. If the senators and representatives were, as a result of the attack, largely dead, who would be left to rule without interference? Donald J. Trump.
By contrast, Speaker Nancy Pelosi—third in line for the presidency—behaved in a superbly presidential manner, putting the safety of those still in the House and Senate chambers and protection of our democracy first. When the Defense Department and Acting Attorney General Rosen refused to help in any meaningful way, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer contacted Virginia Governor Grover Norquist and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, and talked of approaching D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to coordinate help from neighboring National Guard troops and police departments.
Pelosi was, of course, furious that Trump was contemplating coming to the Capitol himself, which would have amounted to the executive branch invading and conquering the legislative branch.
Nevertheless, while facing possible death, Pelosi’s mind was firmly focused on making sure the democratic result of the election was protected. Her composure under duress was impressive. As host Stephen Colbert put it on his late-night show last Thursday—how brave to get back to work while your office is full of people trying to kill you.
The Bottom Line:
As Chairman Thompson said in his final statement, Donald Trump needs to be accountable to the American people, to answer for his actions to the police officers who put their lives in jeopardy to defend democracy, and to the millions of citizens whose votes he wanted to throw out in order to remain in power. If he is not, he or others following in his footsteps will try again.
But whether Trump will be held accountable largely depends on who controls Congress after the midterm election. If the radical right-wing Republicans obtain control of the House, they not only will end the Jan. 6 Committee’s work but will surely go on a revenge spree. They will investigate the investigators and remove them from committees without cause, and impeach President Biden. Never mind whether there are any grounds for it.
In her final statement, Cheney declared: “Our institutions only hold when men and women of good faith make them hold regardless of the political cost. We have no guarantee that these men and women will be in place next time. Any future president inclined to attempt what Donald Trump did in 2020 has now learned not to install people who could stand in the way.”
This midterm election will determine whether there will be men and women of good faith in place to stop Trumpian fascism. Those who vote only based on narrow personal issues may later find that they have no say on any issue. Voters need to think about this, whether they are already voting early or are going to the polls in person on November 8. Now it is up to us—we, the people.
Political columnist Jessie Seigel had a long career as a government attorney in which she honed her analytic skills. She has also twice received an Artist’s Fellowship from the Washington, D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities for her fiction, and has been a finalist for a number of literary awards. In addition, Seigel is an associate editor at the Potomac Review, a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books, and a dabbler in political cartoons at Daily Kos. Of this balance in her work between the analytic and the imaginative, Seigel jokes, “I guess my right and left brains are well-balanced.” More on and from Seigel can be found at The Adventurous Writer, https://www.jessieseigel.com.