Analysis: January 6 committee grapples with same intractable question about Trump: How to hold him to account

Exactly seven years later, damaging to democracy, the now ex-president was still there Thursday, dominating the political scene, his savagery and extremism still threatening to tear the country apart.

In a Capitol Hill courtroom, the focus wasn’t on the anniversary of the moment at Trump Tower when the then-real estate mogul and reality TV star stood in power, but on the day in January 2021 when he nearly brought the American political system down in a corrupt effort to cling to that power.
The House Select Committee investigating the insurgency told a stunning story of Trump pressuring then-Vice President Mike Pence to illegally give him a second term in defiance of an election that he had lost. He revealed that members of a mob who had sworn to hang Pence came within 40 feet of him during the attack on the US Capitol. And making an argument that seemed to bring Trump closer than ever to the legal consequences of his attempted coup, the panel argued that he and the conservative lawyer advising him, John Eastman, knew that what they were planning was illegal, but did it anyway.

In any normal political era, such testimony would traumatize the nation to its core, make the former president a national pariah, and cause his party to disown him as a disgrace to the republic. It made the heist of the Democratic National Committee 50 years ago today and the ensuing cover-up that brought down President Richard Nixon at Watergate half a century ago seem almost quaint in comparison.

Yet it’s a measure of the way Trump has shattered political conventions, dug spiteful divisions and thrived on the confusion he stirs up that the committee’s startling revelations are unlikely to inflict a similar fate on him. It’s long been a cliché that nothing brings Trump down. Millions of Americans who believe his voter fraud is lying and prefer his side of the story are likely ignoring the House committee’s televised hearings. Trump is already the leading contender for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024. And after seven years of being beaten by his extravagance, the other half of the country may be long past the point of shock.

As the committee prepares its damning case, it is already beginning to wrestle with a fundamental conundrum that has long applied to Trump’s business and political career. How can this force of nature, which has defied accountability all its life by creating ever greater breaches of accepted behavior and the rule of law, ever be made to pay the price for its actions?

There is a growing debate in Washington over whether the former president or his cronies could face a criminal investigation by the Justice Department for their role in the insurgency once the committee ends. But the story, however, of using constitutional means and government checks and balances to break through Trump’s impunity has rarely been successful. The historic stain of two impeachments for flagrant abuse of power did not. Nor was his rejection by voters after a single term.

And while Trump is clearly angry at the dizzying account of his attempted coup painted by the committee, his instinct, as always, is to fight back. Indeed, CNN’s Gabby Orr reported the striking news on Thursday — given what’s happening in Washington — that Trump is already flailing to announce his 2024 presidential campaign ahead of November’s midterm elections. His rekindled political aspirations and unwavering popularity with grassroots conservative voters will likely be on display when he delivers a speech Friday to the Faith and Freedom Coalition in Nashville.
The ex-president’s impatience to return to the White House gave retired conservative Justice J. Michael Luttig’s blunt warning at the witness table Thursday a chilling resonance.

“Donald Trump and his allies and supporters are a clear and present danger to American democracy,” Luttig said in the hushed courtroom.

New revelations

One of the challenges for the select committee has been finding a new way to impress the horror and implications of the January 6, 2021 uprising in the minds of voters who saw much of it unfold live. on the television. He puts together a puzzle of evidence that creates a new perspective on these events and puts pressure on the Department of Justice to consider criminal prosecution.

The 16 most compelling lines from today's January 6 committee hearing

In its first televised hearing last week, the committee recreated the terror and chaos of Trump’s instigated mob attack on the Capitol and showed it was repeatedly told that its voter fraud allegations were false. But he continued, stoking supporters who besieged the building as lawmakers gathered to certify President Joe Biden’s election victory. On Thursday, the committee added more pieces to a puzzle that exposed Trump’s misdeeds like never before.

  • According to testimony from people around the then-Vice President and elsewhere in Trump’s political and campaign machine, the then-President was told that Eastman’s plan to simply have Pence declare that he had won a second term or to accept alternate lists of voters from the states was illegal. Yet he still tried to move on. It certainly ranks as one of the boldest and most damaging attempts at presidential power grabs in US history.
  • Trump’s former White House attorney, Eric Herschmann, told the committee in video testimony that Eastman told him he was willing to accept violence in order to void the election.
  • After the uprising, Eastman emailed Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and asked to be put on a list of potential presidential pardon recipients. In his own testimony before the panel, he invoked his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination 100 times, according to the committee.
  • Pence, despite his four years of genuflecting to Trump, never seriously considered following the then-president’s plan and came across as something of a hero in the committee’s presentation. His contempt for his boss and the mob allowed the American tradition of presidential power transfers to continue unbroken, even if the process was not peaceful as it had once been.

Committee Chairman: Trump’s Threat to Democracy Not Diminished

The longer the committee hearings drag on, the darker the picture of Trump’s attempt to cling to power becomes.

In another extraordinary development on Thursday, committee chairman Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, said the inquiry asked to speak to Ginni Thomas, a conservative activist who is the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. . The panel’s request follows reports on Wednesday that the committee had email correspondence between Ginni Thomas and Eastman. Ginni Thomas has come under fire for her efforts to promote lies and conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and some Democrats have accused the couple of a conflict of interest given the implications of justice responsibilities.
What to know about Ginni Thomas' link to the 2020 election reversal gambits

This latest twist in history from January 6, 2021 highlights the unusual reality of a presidency that is still rocking Washington more than a year and a half after its incumbent lost re-election. And it underscores that attempts to insulate the democratic system from its threat are always urgent. While many observers in the aftermath of Biden’s inauguration expressed satisfaction that the political system’s insurance policies against extremism held firm, Thompson is far more circumspect given subsequent events. He warned on Thursday that US constitutional governance “nearly failed” under pressure from Trump.

While no one could have seen all of this coming, the warning signs flashed as soon as Trump burst onto the political scene. On June 16, 2015, CNN political commentator SE Cupp reacted to Trump’s uproarious campaign announcement saying, “There’s no way to describe what happened.”

Seven years later, and despite the efforts of the committee, there are still none.

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