For anyone that cares about the fate of our country now, or in the future, this was one busy week in Washington D.C.! While the Supreme Court was busy making our country less safe and rescinding a Constitutional right for the first time in our history (while threatening to continue to eliminate more in the future), the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol (commonly referred to as the J6 Committee) continued its hearings. Yesterday was the fifth in the series, and at least to this observer, the most compelling of them all. Which is saying something as each has been ever more riveting than the previous ones and they continue to boggle my mind with the audacity of the ex-president’s attempted coup.
While we were aware of seemingly isolated events in real time in late 2020 and early 2021, the J6 Committee is able to connect the disparate dots into a comprehensive explanation of the attempted coup following the 2020 election. What seemed to me at the time as a series of egotistical bloviating statements, coupled with wild and preposterous claims by unprofessional and clueless attorneys acting simultaneously with unscrupulous election officials and elected officials in key swing states can now be described as a preposterous, but highly coordinated, well-executed series of conspiratorial schemes to decertify the presidential election to keep the former guy in office. For the first time in our history (there seems to be a lot of that these days), a losing president refused to conduct a peaceful transfer of power to his successor and tried to retain power for himself. The ongoing hearings reveal just how close we came to losing our Republic.
Many an amateur historian wondered how the democracies in Italy and Germany could lead to dictatorships in the 1930s. We now know how it happens because we came oh so close to having it happen here. A charismatic leader creates a cult-like following and then finds people within the system that are willing to do anything to gain power for themselves in support of the would be autocrat. Based on yesterday’s sworn testimony, we now have a poster boy for those that would overthrow our way of life. His name is Jeffrey Bossert Clark, an Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ). While his is a Senate confirmed position, he is relatively low on the hierarchy to be known to the average member of the public. He is now known far and wide as the man who was willing to stage a coup within DOJ in order to help the now ex-president stay in power. (As a side note, he was the subject of a pre-dawn visit by federal agents on Wednesday executing a search warrant to confiscate electronic devices for investigation into their possible use in a criminal enterprise.)
Mr. Clark worked a behind the scenes deal with the defeated president to become the Acting Attorney General of the United States. As was abundantly clear during yesterday’s testimony, Mr. Clark had no experience, expertise, or ability to run the DOJ. What he did have was the willingness to send out a bogus, deceitful, and unscrupulous letter to officials in Georgia and other states insinuating that the DOJ was investigating election fraud. Which was a lie. (Seemingly, the best way to find a place in the ex-president’s inner circle is the ability to unabashedly and unashamedly tell bold faced lies.)
His involvement seems like the “smoking gun” demonstrating the ex-president’s intent, ability, and effort to undo the free and fair election that gave President Joe Biden the presidency by roughly 7 million votes.
The then president continued to push the actual Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen and Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue to send out the letter mentioned above. For days and in multiple conversations they explained that they had investigated every claim of fraud or improper election activity and there was nothing that impacted the outcome of the election. It was a free and fair election. As he testified yesterday, and in Mr. Donoghue’s contemporaneous hand written notes provided to the J6 Committee, Mr. Donoghue and Mr. Rosen explained that they could not “just change the outcome of an election. It doesn’t work that way.” The now ex-president responded “I don’t expect you to do that. Just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican Congressmen.“
(In yesterday’s proceeding, sworn testimony from at least two sources included the fact that Republican Representatives Mo Brooks (ALA), Matt Gaetz (FL), Louie Gohmert (TX), and Scott Perry (PA) asked for “blanket pardons” before the 2021 Inauguration. Additionally, it is believed that Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA) asked for one. There was also a request for blanket pardons for “every Congressman or Senator who voted to reject the Electoral College vote submissions of Arizona and Pennsylvania.” aka the Sedition Caucus. Anyone that continues to support him now, knowing what we know with who knows what other gasp inducing revelations to come, is a traitor to the ideals of our nation.)
The ex-president knew that there was no corruption, he just needed DOJ to officially corrupt itself by signing a false document to fool the American public into thinking something was amiss so that he could use his allies in the Congress to decertify Electoral College votes for Mr. Biden and throw the whole process into chaos.
It was a premeditated plan with a beginning a middle and an end to keep him in power. As the hearings continue, we now know that there were multiple avenues of corruption intended to decertify Mr. Biden’s victory and to keep the former guy in office. The insurrection on 6 January was not a random act but rather part of a larger plan to pressure Vice President Mike Pence into changing the Electoral College votes, or, should that fail, bring down the Congress and decapitate the number two and number three office holders behind the president. We shall see what else the committee brings forward, but my guess is that the intent was to create such chaos and uncertainty with the attack on the capitol as to allow the president to invoke the Insurrection Act and declare Martial Law to keep himself in power until he could rig things to keep Mr. Biden from assuming the office.
There are two things that worry me going forward.
First, unlike former president Richard Nixon, this ex-president is not going away. He continues to rile up his cult followers in the public and in elected office to pursue the Big Lie that he won the election in, as he likes to say, “a landslide.” Over one hundred successful candidates for office in this year’s Republican primaries are advocates of the Big Lie. In many ways, the events surrounding the 2020 election were a dress rehearsal for 2024. Only a few real patriots that understood and stood by their oaths to the Constitution saved the day. Next time there will be people in place that do not take their oath seriously and will be willing to do whatever it takes to put their person in office. Apparently, some people put their oath to support and defend the Constitution in the same category as checking the box for terms of service to get on a web site.
As former Republican United States Circuit Judge John Michael Luttig, a conservative’s conservative, warned in a previous J6 Committee session, that there “was a war on democracy instigated by the former president and his political party allies on January 6” when “knowing full well that he had lost the 2020 presidential election… he and they set about to overturn the election that he and they knew the former president had lost.” He then went on to say that the ex-president’s actions today create “a clear and present danger” to the future of our democracy. Words no judge states lightly.
Second, what do we do about it? The danger of indicting and sending a former president to trial, under a new president from a different political party opens an entire series of questions about what that means to the future of our country. Does it set a precedent for every succeeding administration to pursue the previous one as punishment or payback? Would we be, as Dana Milbank of the Washington Post put it, “one bunch short of becoming a banana republic?” It is scary stuff. Unprecedented in U.S. history. It could start a Civil War — taking our current cold civil war to a hot one. Unknown territory.
On the other hand, the ex-president’s actions and those of his cronies and accomplices are also unprecedented. If we believe that in these United States “no one is above the law” then why would we not prosecute him? Clearly, I am not an attorney, but to this layman’s eyes the ex-president and many of his accomplices broke the law. They tried to overthrow the government. They were willing to establish an autocracy with one-man rule. Why should that go unpunished? If ever there was a political crime in our history since THE Civil War, this it. And he is planning to do it again. He told us as much. Holy Moly! As I have mentioned in this space on many previous occasions, autocrats from Mussolini to Saddam to Trump tell us exactly what they are going to do. They do not always succeed, but they have no shame and their ego is such that they are convinced that they can get away with it. Why let a petulant bully get away with crimes just because he happens to be a former president?
Taking the emotion out of it, hard to do, at least for me, there are pros and cons whichever way DOJ decides to go. There is every possibility that however Attorney General Merrick Garland decides to pursue this, or not, it could go south and turn out very badly for our country. To me, we have too much to lose by not pursuing every legal measure available to hold the former guy accountable. It is far more dangerous to our country in the long run to turn a blind eye to the coup ring leader. After each of his impeachment trials he was emboldened to take ever more egregious actions. If he is not held accountable for an attempted coup, who knows what he is likely to try next.
I agree with Judge Luttig. He is a clear and present danger to the future of our Republic. If one believes that, then there is no question as to whether to pursue a legal remedy to hold him accountable. Do it.