As Hearings Expose Coup Plot, Expect Fireworks Between Trump And Pence
This week the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol will commence its public hearings on Thursday, June 9 at 8 p.m. ET beginning what will be a month-long presentation of evidence that congressional investigators have compiled through extensive interviews with key witnesses to the violent insurrection incited by former President Donald Trump.
Hearings will be televised and streamed online and will feature live witness testimony, new and unseen video footage, and previously-recorded interviews with members of Trump’s innermost circle and reportedly, members of his family including his daughter Ivanka Trump, son-in-law-turned-White House adviser, Jared Kushner, and others.
On the path to this moment, investigators have amassed over 125,000 pages of records and hundreds of hours of deposition. Many records were obtained voluntarily, while others were only secured after hard-fought but critically victorious legal battles against Trump and his entourage of lawyers, campaign and administration staff, so-called “alternate electors,” and other allies like right-wing conspiracy theory peddlers and members of extremist hate groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers.
Committee investigator, constitutional scholar, and Representative Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, described the probe’s findings to this Daily Kos reporter recently:
“The insurrection is only comprehensible when you understand that it was unleashed as a way to assist this political coup, this inside political coup. Donald Trump and his entourage had been looking for ways to overthrow the 2020 presidential election results for months.”
The hearings begin June 9 at 8 p.m. ET. The next hearings will be held at 10 a.m. on June 13th, 15th, 16th, and 21st. The final anticipated session will unfold on June 23rd at 8 p.m. ET.
For the first hearing, the violence that exploded at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 will be put into whip-sharp relief as the committee is expected to introduce the broad strokes of a plot that its members say was orchestrated by the former president to stop the nation’s transfer of power after he lost the popular and Electoral College vote to Joe Biden in 2020.
Other hearings will zero in on how that plot was navigated including through the use of bogus electors in key battleground states. It is expected that the committee will explore the nuances behind the concerted pressure campaign foisted on then-Vice President Mike Pence to stop the counting of votes by Congress on January 6 despite a lack of constitutional authority to do so.
Trump’s private conduct in the White House on the day of the insurrection, which reportedly included him vocalizing support for those clamoring to “Hang Mike Pence,” will also come under the magnifying glass.
As a result of the Jan. 6 attack, five people died. Hundreds of police officers were assaulted. More than $1 million in damages were inflicted to the Capitol building alone. The committee, as it has made clear since its inception, does not have the power to prosecute anyone, It only has the power to investigate and legislate.
A final report with legislative recommendations will be issued this September.
What those recommendations will look like exactly is uncertain for now, but the committee has said repeatedly over the last 11 months that its plan is to beef up all available legislative firewalls against would-be usurpers of the nation’s peaceful, democratic process.
Important to note is that a criminal referral of Trump by the committee to the Department of Justice has not been ruled out as of yet.
The department has slogged through its own January 6 investigation for more than a year, arresting over 800 people for a sprawling number of crimes including seditious conspiracy. It has also opened up a number of grand juries—special or otherwise—to weigh indictments for key Trump-tethered figures.
The DOJ recently refused to indict Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows and aide Dan Scavino for contempt of congress following their respective defiance of initial subpoenas. The decision was announced late Friday and left committee chairman Bennie Thompson and vice-chair, Liz Cheney, “puzzled.”
“If the department’s position is that either or both of these men have absolute immunity, from appearing before Congress because of their former positions in the Trump administration, that question is the focus of pending litigation,” Thompson and Cheney said in a June 3 statement.
U.S. prosecutors did, however, indict Steve Bannon, Trump’s short-lived White House strategist as well as Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro.
Meadows cooperated in part, giving the committee a plethora of text messages and other correspondence, only some of which has been made public prior to the hearings. Those messages demonstrated how Meadows was at the center of a storm of election fraud conspiracy and legally dubious strategies proposed to keep Trump in office well after his defeat.
Meadows was also the touchstone for an onslaught of panicked presidential allies, who, records have revealed, begged for Trump to quell the violence during a staggering 187-minutes of silence from the Oval Office as the mob raged, lawmakers fled and blood was spilled.
Scavino cooperated with the committee in part, haggling for weeks over executive privilege concerns. Bannon and Navarro, however, flatly refused to cooperate. Bannon’s executive privilege claims started on shaky ground: at the time of the insurrection, he was years removed from Trump’s formal employ though he was still well embedded with the administration.
Navarro was officially-entrenched until the end and though he argues executive privilege should bar his compliance with the select committee, federal prosecutors disagree. Bannon goes to trial in July. Navarro’s next moves will be hashed out in court following his arrest last week.
How his case progresses will warrant close attention since prosecutors have taken the slightly unusual step of asking Navarro to not only produce records first meant for the committee but other specific communications from Trump, in particular. This could signify that Trump is under investigation by the department directly.
The DOJ has reportedly requested transcripts of the committee’s interviews as well, a resource that could bolster the department’s collection of evidence for any possible ongoing civil or criminal cases.
The witness list for the public hearings is evolving even now, as are the exact details of its presentations.
Members of Pence’s staff including counsel Greg Jacob and aide Marc Short have been invited to testify. So too has Michael Luttig and Luttig is expected to appear.
It was Luttig’s advice, as a former federal judge, that Pence relied on when Pence announced mere minutes before Congress was set to convene on Jan. 6 that he would not and could not “claim the unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not.”
Luttig is considered an expert on the Constitutional process and, crucially, the Electoral Count Act, the very legislation that his former clerk-turned-consigliere for Trump John Eastman sought to unwind when Eastman authored a memo proposing a six-point strategy to overturn the election.
As for the former vice president, he is not expected to testify.
Short and Jacob’s testimony will be useful to set the scene for the public: Both men were present for a January 4, 2021 meeting when Eastman presented the strategy to have Pence stop the count.
Other possible witnesses include Cassidy Hutchinson, a senior aide to Meadows who sat with the committee privately on multiple occasions. Legal records revealed in April that Hutchinson told investigators Meadows was warned of violence looming over Washington prior to Jan. 6.
Hutchinson testified too that several lawmakers, including Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Mo Brooks, of Alabama and Matt Gaetz of Florida, among others were integral forces n the public and private pushes to advance the unconstitutional alternate elector scheme.
Former DOJ officials Jeffrey Rosen or Richard Donoghue may also testify.
Rosen, once the acting attorney general under Trump, told oversight and judiciary committees in both the House and Senate last summer that he was pressured by Trump’s allies at the DOJ—namely, Rosen’s subordinate, Jeffrey Clark—to issue a public statement saying the FBI found evidence of voter fraud in various states. The draft was proposed during a meeting just after Christmas 2020.
Richard Donoghue, Rosen’s deputy, took contemporaneous notes from that call with Trump.
“Just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the R. congressman,” Donoghue wrote of Trump’s remarks.
When the committee’s held its first-ever public hearing last July, it heard visceral testimony from a handful of police officers who fought off the mob for hours.
Several officers injured have only recently made significant gains in their physical recovery efforts, like U.S. Capitol Police Staff Sergeant Aquilino Gonnell.
Still can’t even them out. Scar tissues prevent me from doing some range of motions. Nevertheless it’s Still progress. Three weeks ago I couldn’t do this. pic.twitter.com/kf9TucCnls— Staff Sergeant Gonell, Aquilino (@SergeantAqGo) March 25, 2022
Others are still working through the post-traumatic stress.
U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, who dealt with a barrage of racial slurs and physical attacks on January 6, has been vocal about the need for officers to receive therapy. A year after the attack, Dunn has kept up that messaging as well as demands for accountability and transparency as he continues to work on the Hill surrounded by the memories of that fateful day.
As the hearings get underway, there is counter-programming expected from the committee’s most staunch opponents.
Axios reported an exclusive scoop in advance of the committee hearings that House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy and Republican Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Elise Stefanik of New York will lead the counter-programming efforts publicly. Matt Schlapp, Trump’s onetime political director and now chairman of the powerful Conservative Political Action Committee, is reportedly in charge behind the scenes.
Jordan, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, is one of Trump’s most loyal lapdogs in Congress. During the former president’s first impeachment inquiry, the congressman used every opportunity during proceedings to throw witness interviews off track or demean their testimony.
When McCarthy nominated Jordan to serve on one of the first iterations of the committee to investigate Jan. 6, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi—per rules of a founding resolution—refused to seat Jordan. The California Democrat also refused to seat another one of McCarthy’s picks, Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana.
Pelosi accepted other Republican nominees put forward by McCarthy but Jordan and Banks had a track record that proved too divisive to be seriously considered. Both legislators had promoted Trump’s claims of election fraud openly and vociferously. Both voted to overturn the results. Both vowed before the committee was even formed, that they would use the opportunity to explore how Democrats were to blame for security lapses on January 6. They also sought to equate the violence of Jan. 6 with racial justice protests that dotted the nation after the police killing of George Floyd.
Negotiations for the committee stretched for more than a month and included moderate Democrats and Republicans in the process.
But when Jordan and Banks were skipped over for seats on what would have been a truly bipartisan committee with five Democrats and five Republicans sharing equal subpoena powers, McCarthy abruptly ended all negotiations.
The select committee was formed not long after. This time, its resolution established it would have nine members including seven Democrats and two Republicans. The only two Republicans that would participate on the committee were Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger. Kinzinger is not seeking reelection.
As for Stefanik, her rapid ascent in the GOP will undoubtedly be underlined this month. Since her effective anointment by GOP Leader McCarthy to replace Liz Cheney as the party’s conference chair, the New York Republican has tirelessly echoed Trump’s cries of “witch hunt” whenever his conduct comes up for review or the events of January 6 are discussed.
The counter-programming will largely be a continuation of the meritless arguments and legal theories Trump’s allies have advanced in various court battles where they have sought to evade congressional subpoenas for their records and testimony. McCarthy, Jordan, Brooks, Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania have all received subpoenas from the select committee. Despite many of those same lawmakers admitting publicly to having conversations with Trump at critical times before, during, or after the insurrection, none agreed to come forward, either voluntarily or under force of subpoena.
McCarthy and the rest will staunchly defend the former president by presenting the easily-debunked argument that the committee was not properly formed and its members, as such, illegally empowered. That is not so, according to the U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts that have ruled, again and again, in favor of the committee’s standing as well as its pursuit of information relevant to its probe.
The select committee has been recognized not only as a valid legislative body but also as a properly formed one thanks to its binding resolution that was afforded the protocols necessary before a final vote in the full House of Representatives was held. The House voted last June, 222-190, to establish the select committee.
Last month, Voxobtained a copy of a strategy memo prepared by the Republican National Committee for its members and operatives to use as the January 6 hearings are underway.One goal allegedly listed was to push the message that “Democrats are the real election deniers” and that “Trump’s requests” this month to his “surrogates” should shape coverage on friendly media networks.
Though the endgame for Republicans during the hearings will largely be to deflect and distract, the committee’s sessions will be followed by a long summer with the events of January 6 still in focus: Bannon goes to trial in July to face his contempt charge and members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers facing seditious conspiracy charges (and other allegations) are slated to meet jurors in July and September, respectively.
While Trump and his cohorts are spinning, President Joe Biden is expected to keep somewhat of a distance from the spectacle of the proceedings. He waived executive privilege over Trump’s presidential records related to January 6 and on the record has been measured in his response to the select committee’s function and work. Politico reported Sunday that a former official suggested anonymously that Biden’s team would likely reconsider the hands-off approach if the counter-programming billows out of control.
At least one Republican, the former Virginia Rep. Denver Riggleman, has thrown his support behind the hearings and then some. Riggleman has been an adviser to the committee for several months.
He told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Sunday that the hearings would be a refreshing and unique change from the typical congressional committee hearing setting where Republicans and Democrats are often locked into partisan bickering and waste valuable time trying to course-correct.
“There’s not going to be a lot of partisan whining and screaming,” Riggleman said.
Rep. Raskin told Daily Kos in April that he believed the committee hearings would, at the very least, empower voters with “intellectual self-defense against the authoritarian and fascistic policies that have been unleashed in this country.”
Time, which is now running out, will tell.
Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.
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