The Case Against Donald J. Trump
It was a criminal conspiracy
“I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible. There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.” — Liz Cheney
Well, that was remarkable. But will it matter?
Morning Shots reached out to our colleagues for their reactions to last night’s prime-time hearing by the House January 6th Committee:
In Thursday’s hearing, the House January 6th committee clarified a shift in the incitement case against former President Trump. The attack on the Capitol wasn’t really provoked by Trump’s speech on Jan. 6. It was provoked by his tweet three weeks earlier.
The committee’s chairman, Bennie Thompson, pointed out that on the morning of Jan. 6, members of the Proud Boys began moving toward the Capitol before Trump began his speech near the White House. Rep. Liz Cheney, the committee’s leading Republican, summarized the evidence: “The attack on our Capitol was not a spontaneous riot. Intelligence available before January 6th identified plans to ‘invade’ the Capitol, ‘occupy’ the Capitol, and take other steps to halt Congress’ count of Electoral Votes.”
Trump’s allies think this evidence undermines the case against him. Minutes after the hearing ended, Sean Hannity boasted that Cheney “admitted tonight ... that the violence on Jan. 6 was not spontaneous. She said it. It was not the result of the president’s speech. Instead, she points out it, was pre-planned.”
But there’s no contradiction between the planning and the incitement. In her opening statement, Cheney traced the planning to a meeting three weeks before the attack:
“On Dec. 18, 2020, a group including Gen. Michael Flynn, Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani, and others visited the White House. They stayed late into the evening. We know that the group discussed a number of dramatic steps, including having the military seize voting machines and potentially rerun elections. ... President Trump met with that group alone for a period of time before White House lawyers and other staff discovered the group was there and rushed to intervene.
“A little more than an hour after Ms. Powell, Mr. Giuliani, General Flynn and the others finally left the White House, President Trump sent the tweet on the screen now, telling people to come to Washington on January 6th. ‘Be there,’ he instructed them. ‘Will be wild!’
“As you will see, this was a pivotal moment. This tweet initiated a chain of events. The tweet led to the planning for what occurred on January 6th, including by the Proud Boys who ultimately led the invasion of the Capitol and the violence that day.”
Thompson said Trump’s tweet, issued early in the morning of Dec. 19, “energized individuals from the Proud Boys and other extremist groups.” In a video presented during the hearing, Marcus Childress, an investigator for the committee, said extremists perceived the tweet as a “call to arms.” He noted that a day after the tweet, the Proud Boys created a “command structure” to plan operations in Washington on Jan. 6. And the committee showed video-recorded statements in which Jan. 6 defendants and convicts credited the former president:
“Trump asked us to come.”
“He asked for us to come to D.C.”
“Trump has only asked me for two things: He asked me for my vote, and he asked me to come on Jan. 6.”
“I know why I was there, and that’s because he called me there.”
“He personally asked for us to come to D.C. that day. And I thought ... if this is the only thing he’s going to ask of me, I’ll do it.”
That’s a direct line from Trump’s words to the ensuing violence, affirmed by the perpetrators themselves.
So, yes, the committee’s evidence undermines the original theory that Trump’s speech on Jan. 6 caused the attack. But it bolsters the case that he’s guilty of incitement.
After last night, it doesn’t matter if Liz Cheney loses her congressional primary. There are 535 Members of Congress and none will have so forcefully and single-handedly bent the historical record toward justice as she did last night.
The January 6 Select Committee would not exist without Cheney, meaning there would be no hearings, no future report, and no future recommendations about how to stop another coup and attack on the Capitol. Without Cheney, there would not be a shred of accountability for what Trump, his political enablers, and the rioters did that day. Let that sink in.
Under Cheney’s guidance, a congressional committee has laid out a seven-part conspiracy on behalf of the president to overthrow an election. Maybe the Democrats would have done something similar, but judging from Chairman Bernie Thompson’s opening last night, I’ll take my bets on Cheney doing the heavy lifting. Last night she put all the elements of a multi-pronged conspiracy on, potentially, Attorney General Merrick Garland’s plate. She did it. Not Thompson or Jamie Raskin.
Per her opening statement, Cheney outlined that the hearings would focus on the following. Read it and tell me that she wasn’t 100 percent right in sacrificing her leadership position and risking her congressional seat to get the following information, as documented by well-credentialed national security professionals, prosecutors, and former Trump officials, on congressional record and out in public:
Trump’s misinformation campaign provoked the violence on January 6th.
Trump corruptly planned to replace the Attorney General of the United States so the U.S. Justice Department would spread his false stolen election claims.
Trump pressured Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to count electoral votes on January 6th.
Trump corruptly pressured state legislators and election officials to change the results.
The Trump campaign and other Trump associates instructed Republican officials in multiple states to create intentionally false electoral slates, and transmit those slates to Congress, to the Vice President, and the National Archives, falsely certifying that Trump won states he actually lost.
Trump summoned a violent mob and directed them, illegally, to march on the U.S. Capitol.
Trump failed to take immediate action to stop the violence and instruct his supporters to leave the Capitol.
For all the talk about hiring professional TV consultants and producing a slick, 21st century show for a presumably restive audience, the first night of the January 6 committee’s hearings was not that. It was a hearing, and that proved to be a key part of its emotional wallop.
The contrast between the savagery of the mob, and the orderly, legally-constituted procedures of a congressional committee was stark. When Chairman Thompson would introduce films or other evidence with the words “Pursuant to rule 7-462, I will now introduce . . .” the audience was reminded that procedures, rules, and laws painstakingly assembled over centuries were exactly what Trump was attempting to overturn with his goons.
Liz Cheney’s dignified yet devastating indictment of Donald Trump was worthy of the finest trial lawyer. She outlined what the committee’s evidence would show – that Trump attempted to stage a coup in seven stages that included subverting the Department of Justice, state legislatures, and the Electoral College – walked through the evidence, and unflinchingly confronted the stakes. Republicans who want to minimize the events of that day will throw up chaff, but everyone else will be brought face to face with the reality that our 45th president was a sociopath who, when told that his mob was chanting “Hang Mike Pence” responded with “Maybe Pence deserves it.” Another telling detail – while Pence was kept safe for three hours in an underground facility, Trump never once asked about his welfare or attempted to contact him.
Perhaps the most effective moment of the entire hearing was the use of Trump’s own voice, superimposed over the video of his horde flaying police officers and crushing people underfoot, telling an interviewer in July, 2021 “The crowd was unbelievable and I mentioned the word ‘love,’ the love in the air, I’ve never seen anything like it. Too much spirit and faith and love, there was such love at that rally . . .”
People demand something new. “After all this anticipation, they better deliver the goods,” one commentator warned on Thursday. There was something new. As Chairman Thompson noted, after more than 200 years of the peaceful transfer of power; after every single president accepted the will of the voters, Donald Trump did not. That was new.
All honor to Liz Cheney, who is prosecuting a sober and serious case against Donald Trump and the extremist groups who love him. And who attacked the Capitol on January 6th to keep him in office—despite Trump losing a free and fair election.
The hearings are giving us lots of new specific information, but none of it fundamentally changes what we have known for a long time about what happened that day. What it does do—at least for me—is refresh my rage at the entire Republican apparatus that has worked so tirelessly to memory-hole the events of January 6th. Showing us the horrors of the days are a reminder of what elected Republicans—save the few who voted for impeachment—are willing to tolerate and justify in the name of partisanship and political power.
All the Conservative, Inc. types on Twitter, cynically yawning and saying some version of “nothing to see here” or “we already know this,” are some of the most grotesque actors in our politics. They are people who absolutely know better. Who understand the difference between other kinds of protests—even very damaging ones—and a coordinated attempt to overturn an American election.
To their everlasting shame, elected Republicans knew Donald Trump was lying about the stolen election. And 147 of them voted against certifying the election anyway. None of these people made a direct appearance at the hearing, but Liz Cheney made sure they didn’t go unmentioned:
“I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible. There will come a time when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”
I have no idea whether tonight’s January 6th Select Committee hearing changed any minds, or even opened some. I don’t know what effect this first primetime hearing, or the subsequent ones, will have on American politics in the months and years ahead. I wish I were more confident they will help strengthen the guardrails of American democracy. But I am open to the possibility that the hearings will have little practical effect. Churchill’s great speeches in the 1930s made little difference in the short term.
One can’t guarantee an effect. One can’t control if one makes a difference.
What one can do is act in a way that makes one’s fellow citizens proud. That is what the House January 6th Committee did tonight. And that is what Liz Cheney in particular did tonight.
And, finally, I have some random thoughts:
There are dazzling details. Liz Cheney methodically laid out the case and teased future revelations: “Aware of the rioters’ chants to ‘hang Mike Pence’, the president responded with this sentiment: ‘Maybe our supporters have the right idea’. Mike Pence ‘deserves it.’”
And this: "Multiple other Republican congressmen also sought Presidential Pardons for their roles in attempting to overturn the 2020 election."
The call is coming from inside the house. The hearing opened with testimony from one Trump insider after another: Bill Barr, Jason Miller, Ivanka (!), Jared…
“Over a series of hearings in the coming weeks you will hear testimony, live and on video, from more than half a dozen former White House staff in the Trump administration, all of whom were in the West Wing of the White House on January 6,” Cheney said in her opening statement.
It was a seditious conspiracy that involved a violent attack on the Capitol. Watch this:
Mar-a-Lago was not a happy place last night. Trump seemed especially triggered by Bill Barr’s testimony, and lashed out on his “TruthSocial” platform:
Bill Barr was a weak and frightened Attorney General who was always being “played” and threatened by the Democrats and was scared stiff of being Impeached. How do you not get impeached? Do nothing, or say nothing, especially about the obviously RIGGED & STOLEN Election or, to put it another way, THE CRIME OF THE CENTURY! The Democrats hit pay dirt with Barr, he was stupid, ridiculously said there was no problem with the Election, & they left him alone. It worked for him, but not for our Country!
And there goes Ivanka under the bus:
The testimony from the cops will be powerful (again).
"I couldn't believe my eyes," [U.S. Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards] recalled of the scene, which she compared to a war zone. "There were officers on the ground. They were bleeding, they were throwing up ... I saw friends with blood all over their faces, I was slipping in people's blood. I was catching people as they fell. It was carnage, it was chaos. I can't even describe what I saw."
The Trump/GOP is not bothering to refute the evidence that is piling up. Instead, the playbook seems to be to (1) delegitimize the committee, (2) change the subject by talking about other things—BLM, inflation etc. This may be a “savvy” political play, but it is also a tell. Some things can’t be defended; they can only be ignored.
Unfortunately, the people who most needed to see the testimony and watch the videos were probably ensconced in their media safe spaces, like Fox News, which did not carry the hearings.
But the short-term politics matter less than the historical/legal record that is being created.
Kevin McCarthy is a dolt. The refusal of the Trump/GOP to participate in the committee meant that they were shut out of last night’s hearing. They had a chance to make their case, but chose instead to sulk. As last night’s evidence unfolded, that decision looked more and more like an act of supreme political malpractice.
Liz Cheney is a boss.