The January 6 hearings began with an assertion by committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) that Donald Trump was at the center of a conspiracy to implement a coup. The seventh hearing of the US House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, on Tuesday, has been organized with an eye toward confirming that assertion with devastating clarity. In particular, it will provide details about the former president’s participation in a December 18, 2020, White House meeting with what committee member Jamie Raskin has described as a “group of lawyers, of outside lawyers who have been denominated ‘Team Crazy’ by people in and around the White House.” At the meeting, which involved Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani, and Michael Flynn, among others, Trump’s most extreme associates plotted to overturn the will of the people. They discussed moves that are often associated with coups, such as the seizure of voting machines from states where Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden.
Then, said Raskin, Donald Trump confirmed his role as “the central figure who set everything into motion,” with a tweet that called his supporters to Washington for what would become the January 6 insurrection.
In the days and weeks before he sent that tweet, Raskin explained, Trump was growing increasingly desperate as his options for holding onto the presidency were narrowed by court rulings, the refusals of Republicans in key states to embrace his outlandish claims, and the mid-December decision by the Electoral College that Biden had won 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232. Raskin, who led the second impeachment trial of the 45th president and who is expected to lead Tuesday’s session, said that in the middle of the night on December 19, shortly after the December 18 meeting ended, “Donald Trump sent out the tweet that would be heard around the world. The first time in American history when a president of the United States called a protest against his own government, in fact, to try to stop the counting of Electoral College votes in a presidential election he had lost.”
The timeline that Raskin described draws a clear line from Trump’s rage at his defeat to his determination to reverse it.
That’s critical to the trajectory of the hearings, which have already exceeded expectations when it comes to revealing Trump’s failure to respond to the deadly coup attempt as it was underway on January 6. Now, “Trump’s treason” in the days and weeks prior to the attack on the US Capitol will be highlighted with what should be sufficient detail to damn him in the eyes of all but the most delusional Americans.
Raskin knows just how to make this case—in the moment, and for posterity.
A distinguished law professor and author before his election to the House, Raskin knows more about the constitutional conflicts that have defined American history than any member of Congress. So when he says that Tuesday’s hearing will reveal evidence of wrongdoing by Donald Trump that “cannot really be compared to anything else a president has done,” trust him.
Raskin explained over the weekend that Trump’s attempted coup involved far more serious conspiratorial activity than the scheming that ultimately forced former President Richard Nixon from office. “It makes the Watergate break-in look like the work of Cub Scouts.”
As with the Watergate inquiry, the current investigation will feature testimony from a former White House counsel. Though Trump’s lawyer, Pat Cipollone, may not be as willing a witness as was Nixon lawyer John Dean, the evidence he provides is likely to be just as devastating. Cipollone met with the committee Friday after a number of hearings in which witnesses described Trump’s lawlessness and his madness. After the lawyer’s eight-hour deposition, US Representative Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who sits on the committee, said that that Cipollone’s account “did not contradict the testimony of other witnesses.”
That’s a big deal, as the testimony in question was catastrophic for Trump.
Of potentially equal consequence was the sudden decision over the weekend of former White House adviser Steve Bannon to reverse his previous refusal to testify—even if a Bannon committee appearance would in all likelihood be as chaotic as it is weird and troublesome.
The pieces are falling in place. And they are making a case that Trump was, and is, a dangerous authoritarian who needs to be held to account, both legally and in the court of public opinion.
Trump is regularly described as the worst president in American history—even more foul than 19th-century reprobates such as Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson—and his efforts to cling to the presidency after his November 2020 defeat are justifiably understood by members of the January 6 committee as an attempted coup. Yet, because of the political cacophony that Trump and his Republican associates have created over the past seven years, even Americans who disapprove of the former president can become so distracted by the circus that they lose sight of the crisis.
We’ve all heard the Democratic Party stalwarts and cable TV pundits who complain that, no matter what the hearings reveal, the 2022 midterm elections will be decided by voters who are primarily worried about inflation, the prospect of a recession, and perhaps even a serious resurgence of the coronavirus. Those issues matter a great deal, and it is good to remember that the Watergate controversy played out against a backdrop of economic turbulence that did Nixon’s approval ratings considerable harm. But Raskin is right when he says that Trump is in a league of his own when it comes to presidential abuses of office. Tuesday’s hearing will establish the link between Trump’s antidemocratic ambitions and the coup plotting that will ultimately mark him as a traitor to his oath “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”