Lock Him Up
June 16, 2022
Television ratings for the first two hearings by the House Select Committee about the January 6 riot at the Capitol Building reached Super Bowl numbers. But minds aren’t shifting, politically, and Donald Trump’s popularity remains, according to polling and recent primary results. This obviously leads to cynicism that the entire exercise is useless in terms of bringing about justice, but the “show runner”, House Republican Liz Cheney, promises evidence and testimony that will prove that the “Stop the Steal” election narrative was fiction, Trump knew this, and plotted to overthrow the 2020 election. If the Committee pulls this off, the only viewing audience that counts — prosecutors at the Department of Justice — will lay criminal charges of seditious conspiracy against Trump and some members of his “Team Crazy”. They have already done so against leaders of the thugs who stormed the Capitol Building on January 6 and they are closely watching these hearings and poring over its findings.
Like any spectacle, there are off-base expectations and perceptions — on both sides of the aisle. This Committee is neither a grand jury nor a court nor, on the other hand, simply a partisan circus. Its task is to inform the public and put forward information, without cross-examination or contrary evidence, then recommend remedial action or not. Facts are put forward, along with sworn statements. As for politics, unfortunately, the committee is lopsidedly Democrat which has opened it to criticism that it’s a Kangaroo court out to get The Donald.
Here’s the background to its formation. Democrats and some Republicans wanted to create an independent commission, modelled after the 9/11 investigation, composed of unelected persons such as retired public officials, military leaders, and academics. But that initiative was sabotaged by Republicans, so the House proceeded with a Select Committee, such as Watergate’s, which is aimed at examining the circumstances and players involved in January 6 events. Designed to include both parties equally, only two Republicans agreed to sit on it out of nine members.
But any accusations of bias are irrelevant because virtually the entire body of evidence about shenanigans is being provided by documents from, and first-hand testimony by, Republicans and members from Trump’s inner circle, including his daughter, Ivanka. So far, these demonstrate that the President’s allegation of rampant election fraud was concocted, or a Big Lie. For starters, Republican election lawyer Benjamin Ginsberg told the Committee “it [the election] was not even close”. Then Trump’s own Attorney General Bill Barr, and lawyer Alex Cannon, testified that there was no evidence of widespread election fraud or that the election was stolen. Ivanka said she concurred with Barr.
Barr’s testimony on camera has been particularly damning. “I made it clear [to Trump] I did not agree with the idea of saying the election was stolen and putting out this stuff, which I told the President was bull@#$!...I thought that if he really believes this stuff, he has become detached from reality. There was never an indication he was interested in what the actual facts were,” he said adding that Trump’s claims that some voting machines were manipulated was “nonsense. [It was] crazy stuff, wasting their time and doing a great disservice to the country”.
Barr eventually quit on December 14 over the “stop the steal” claptrap, but the hearing heard how Trump and his White House crew pushed on by trotting out fake narratives and initiating hopeless legal actions to try and overturn results. Thus far, what the House Selection hearing has established is significant: That Trump’s electoral fraud allegations were not backed up with evidence and he knew it. A Big Lie. Legally, that demonstrates he was either a) incompetent or b) intent on creating a false narrative to overturn the election, which constitutes a criminal offence.
“Barr’s testimony revealed Trump knew he was lying,” said conservative lawyer and activist George Conway on CNN. “It didn’t matter whether it was true. He also did it [claimed fraud would happen] way before the election … because he was planning to claim fraud if he lost and said so. Proving the Big Lie is the first step to proving a criminal case of conspiracy to commit sedition. For that [sedition conspiracy] you need a meeting of minds and use of deception or fraudulent practices for an unlawful or corrupt purpose or improper purpose [disruption of the orderly transition of the Presidency].”
Put another way, the Justice Department could bring seditious conspiracy charges if prosecutors accept the hearing’s findings and if its evidence proves that two or more people agreed to use force to delay the execution of a law or to overthrow the government. If that happens, Mr. Trump’s defence lawyers might argue that while he may have wanted to delay certification of the election, he did not ever formally agree with someone else to use “force.”
That’s why the next hearings will be critical to examine whether he and others worked together to bring about a lethal riot to overthrow the system. Upcoming hearings will sketch out the former President’s alleged “insurrection” maneuvers: Trump’s attempt to upend the Department of Justice and unseat the Acting Attorney General who refused to quash legitimate votes; his pressure on Vice President Mike Pence to illegally refuse to certify certain electoral votes on January 6 to stop the transition of power; his attacks against state officials, such as Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, to disallow enough votes to overturn results; the White House plot to organize and summon a mob to storm the Capitol Building and, finally, a hearing that will portray "a moment-by-moment account of the attack itself told by witnesses inside the White House as to how Trump refused advice from his allies and aides to stop the attack or to summon police and military assistance,” according to Vice Chair Liz Cheney.
Trump’s lawyers may defend him by saying, in essence, he was so nuts that he believed his own election lies. But no one can hide behind “deliberate ignorance”. An NBC News analysis pointed out that a judge can “instruct a jury that it can find that a defendant acted knowingly if the defendant was aware of a high probability that something was true but deliberately avoided learning the truth.”
But to prove criminal fraud prosecutors need to establish intent. For instance, were Trump’s speeches raising electoral fraud allegations well before the election laying the groundwork for the Big Lie and insurrection? Were threats by his team against Republican detractors an indication of intent? Did his refusal to consider contrary evidence or advice constitute intent? Was his incendiary speech on January 6, and tweet urging people to march on the Capitol Building, aimed at inciting violence that day?
The House Select Committee is also looking at possible financial fraud involving the raising of a quarter of a billon dollars, based on the Big Lie, solicited by Trump’s team to fix the system which went, instead, into his political PAC. “Millions of fundraising emails claimed the left wing mob was undermining the election,” said House Committee member Zoe Lofgren. “They said `step up and fight back’. Some $250 million was raised. In fact, 30 minutes after the last email, the Capitol was invaded and millions was handed out to organizations run by Trump officials.”
The Committee has performed a worthwhile service, but the problem is that America is badly broken, thanks to the atomization of society by social media and an Internet which publishes hate, propaganda, fraud, and the musings of crazy people that are then weaponized by politicians. This means that, even if charges are recommended, then laid and result in conviction, Trump’s fiercest followers will simply regard this as another example of abuse by the Deep State and Fake News conspiracy — a myth that he’s perpetuated for years.
Trump’s most twisted legacy is that he has laid the groundwork for the rampant nihilism that allows, and will continue to allow, public figures to escape accountability or punishment. This is why his base continues to slavishly follow him despite two impeachments — one for obstruction of justice and Russian skulduggery that led to several criminal convictions and the second for inciting the insurrection. Both failed to win in the Senate and both failed to find overwhelming favour in the court of public opinion.
By comparison, an identical Select House Committee in 1973 investigated the Watergate break-in. It was watched by Americans in huge numbers and, when it established wrongdoing, the country united in outrage. This resulted in a bipartisan consensus and a public outcry that led to Richard Nixon’s resignation. He negotiated a pardon, but several of his aides went to the slammer. Today, however, Trump and his gang trample norms, laws, regulations, and morality with impunity, based on the watchword of his mentor, the late Roy Cohn, who was counsel to the odious Joseph McCarthy as well as the New York mob: “I don’t want to know what the law is, I want to know who the judge is”.
Unfortunately, Trump’s judge is an American society comprised of divided and wayward people.