Last week, during a select committee hearing on January 6, the star witness warned that Donald Trump was still a “clear and present danger” to American democracy. The Texas Republican Party just showed why, emphasizing the urgent need for a House probe into the US Capitol attack in 2021.
Over the weekend, members of the Texas GOP passed a resolution rejecting the 2020 presidential election’s official results and designating Joe Biden as “acting President.”
The move showed the ongoing power of Trump‘s election fraud claims, as well as how they have become the new doctrine of large swaths of the party, who have rejected democracy since it failed to deliver their desired outcome in 2020.
The Texas GOP’s actions are far from isolated. Pro-Trump candidates are running around the country on the false premise that the previous presidential election was stolen. Some may be in charge of the next one in 2024. Republican state legislatures have passed legislation that makes vote more hard and makes it easier to influence election results.
Republican leaders in the House of Representatives are whitewashing the history of Trump’s assault on “one person, one vote” by attacking the January 6 committee, hoping to ride his falsehoods back to power.
It’s amazing how a lie about voter fraud, spread by a President so eager to keep power that he’d go to any length, including insurrection, has resulted in so much chaos and fallout.
Whether or not the House committee succeeds in convincing the Justice Department to investigate Trump and his associates for probable criminal charges, its task is not limited to what happened 17 months ago. It’s crucial in laying a foundation of truth for future US elections, which are already being attacked by ex-supporters Presidents in states like Texas.
What the committee has established
While the committee has presented detailed evidence and shocking disclosures about Trump’s instigation of the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, it is really telling a very simple story — about one man’s involvement.
In the three televised sessions so far this month, the committee appears to have established the following truths as it nears the end of its investigation.
- The attack on the Capitol was real and vicious, however, Trump and his supporters downplay it. Moreover, many of the rioters believed that they were acting directly on the then-president’s wishes and responded to his statements.
- Trump was repeatedly told by top White House officials and campaign aides that he had lost the election and that there was no widespread fraud. But every time one conspiracy was debunked, he latched on to a new, more extreme one.
- Trump relentlessly bullied then-Vice President Mike Pence to sign up to the legal fantasy that he had the power simply to reject the election result and hand his boss a second term as he presided over Congress’ certification of the vote. Trump was told the scheme was illegal but pushed Pence to implement it anyway. (Pence did not.)
- On Tuesday, the committee is expected to expose a new front in Trump’s attempt to steal the election, focusing on his efforts to overturn Biden’s election victories in the key swing states of Georgia and Arizona.
In choreographed hearings featuring never-before-seen footage and evidence, the committee painted a picture of presidential abuses of power. It has largely made its case by depending on sworn testimony from former Trump campaign and White House officials who, for the most part, did not openly criticize the ex-President while in office.
There has been an effort to paint Trump as a giant con artist who has deceived and exploited his followers, such as when the committee revealed how Trump’s election defense fundraising was spent on other topics. This strategy is supported by the inclusion of testimony from former Attorney General William Barr, who termed Trump’s claims of a mass conspiracy to steal the election “bullshit.”
Despite the fact that the first prime-time televised hearing drew around 20 million viewers earlier this month, there are few signs that the hearings will be a massive cultural event on the scale of the Senate Watergate hearings half a century ago, which transfixed the nation and helped lead to President Richard Nixon’s decision to resign.
Furthermore, any political fallout from the hearings could be hidden by more pressing issues facing Americans, like as record gasoline prices, increasing inflation, and the pandemic’s continuing complications.
Trump was repeatedly told his schemes were not justified or legal
So far, the hearings have given a compelling picture of a President who lost reelection fairly and squarely and then pushed policies that he was repeatedly told were illegal. The strength of the committee’s evidence, which makes Trump’s 12-page reply look weak, raises a major question: how should Trump be held accountable?
The House investigation does not have the power to issue criminal indictments, but it has put a lot of pressure on Attorney General Merrick Garland, who will have to decide whether to pursue what would be a highly contentious prosecution against a former President and a potential candidate for president in 2024.
A congressional hearing is not a court, and evidence submitted in what is essentially a political process may not meet the same rigorous standards as evidence provided in a prosecution. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s decision to withdraw his remaining candidates from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s committee after she rejected two of them has resulted in little meaningful cross-examination of witnesses.
This has made it impossible to judge the testimony’s credibility and assess whether witnesses have exculpatory material that differs from the committee’s favored narrative and may be asked by defense lawyers to help Trump.
Prosecutors would also have to prove intent to a jury in any criminal case against Trump, meaning that the former President knew what he was doing was illegal and went ahead with it anyway. This is why the panel has focused on testimony from witnesses who consistently stated that Trump lost the election and that his plan to have the election tossed in his favor in Congress was illegal.
The committee is implying that it would be impossible for Trump to be unaware that he was breaking the law. However, proving intent can be difficult, which could be one reason why Garland decides not to prosecute Trump, especially given the political consequences of any failed attempt to call him to account.
Another member of the panel, Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin, said over the weekend that accountability can come in two ways — through criminal activity or in a broader political sense. “That’s the real project,” Raskin said on NBC‘s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “Telling the truth to the people so we can make decisions about how to fortify democratic institutions going forward.”
This goal shows how the investigation is more than just a look back at what happened in the past. It also aims to reveal Trump’s whole election confidence game in order to derail his supporters’ efforts to tarnish future elections. It’s a major task. The threat has been growing even as the hearings have been going on.
The most recent example is the radicalization of the Texas Republican Party. It also contributes to the perception that Trump’s threat is far from over, leading retired Judge J. Michael Luttig, a renowned conservative, to deliver a chilling warning last week.
“A stake was driven through the heart of American democracy on January 6, 2021, and our democracy today is on a knife-edge,” Luttig told the committee.
“Almost two years after that fateful day … Donald Trump and his allies and supporters are a clear and present danger to American democracy.”