Donald Trump is counting on the fact that most Americans aren’t reading the House Jan. 6 report — I am an exception — and don’t really care what’s in it.
The four criminal charges the committee recommended in 845 pages — obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to make a false statement, and assisting an insurrection — don’t capture the chaos that led to this moment.
Of course, every American charged with a crime should be presumed innocent in a court of law. And yet I’m not the only Trump critic who wonders if the feds should not prosecute the 45th president because it would put the former president front and center when fans and haters alike are ready for him to fade away.
Here’s what I learned from the report, which I should note was produced by an overwhelmingly Democratic committee joined by outgoing Reps. Liz Cheney, R-Wy., and Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill.
The base believes Trump won in 2020 in part because the base thinks that Trump believes he won in 2020. The report documents the many times that Trump was informed that his claims of fraud were bogus, but he repeated them anyway.
For example, Trump signed “a knowingly false representation” to a federal court in a case involving Georgia, wrote U.S. District Court Judge David Carter.
“I have no doubt that an aggressive DA or US Atty someplace will go after both the president and his lawyers once all the dust settles on this,” wrote Trump lawyer John Eastman.
“The emails show that President Trump knew that specific numbers of voter fraud were wrong,” wrote Carter, “but continued to tout those numbers, both in court and in public.”
Former aide Hope Hicks told the committee that Trump was skeptical when his credibility-challenged attorneys claimed “massive influence of communist money through Venezuela, Cuba, and likely China” in the U.S. elections. Later, as he talked with Powell, who had linked Dominion voting machines to Venezuela, he muted the phone so that he could say of Powell’s remarks, “This does sound crazy, doesn’t it?”
Don’t feel too bad for Powell. Her legal team responded to a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion with the argument that reasonable people would not accept her statements “as fact but view them only as claims that await testing by the courts through the adversary process.”
Crazy-car attorney John Eastman, the report noted, “all but admitted that (his plan) didn’t work” and likely would fail 9–0 if before the Supreme Court.
“Team Normal” was the phrase former campaign manager Bill Stepien used to distinguish professional aides from the Trump “Clown Car” — a phrase created by former Attorney General Bill Barr. As Trump continued to push his Big Lie, Team Normal — Barr, Stepien — stepped back and the Clown Car took the lead.
A former Trump official told New York Magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi, “There were always weird people around him, but the more normal people disappeared, and all he’s surrounded by are the cuckoo birds.”
I covered the Trump White House. I know that most staffers were normal people.
As Trump was trying to push DOJ lawyers to act against their instincts and put a sycophant at the helm, department lawyers threatened to quit and leave the department a “graveyard.”
Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue told Trump, “Mr. President, these aren’t bureaucratic leftovers from another administration. You picked them. This is your leadership team. And what happens if, within 48 hours, we have hundreds of resignations from your Justice Department because of your actions?”
In the end, Trump had to give up the fight to avert a mass walkout.
But first the likes of “body man” — read: nonlawyer — John McEntee wrote a one-pager that argued that the vice president “has substantial discretion to address issues with the electoral process.”
As someone who covered the Trump White House for all four years, I am struck by all the many one-time staffers who refused to parrot the Big Lie. For the most part, their names aren’t well-known outside the Beltway, but they started out with enthusiasm, rooted for the boss to win in 2020, and probably never thought the day would come when the Trump base would dismiss them as traitors and RINOs. And yet Trump’s insistence on pulling everyone behind his Big Lie brought them to this moment.
After Jan. 6, 2021, the love was gone. When I visited the White House, the press office was a ghost town. In the lower press office — a once bustling hub of young aides with promising futures before them — desks were empty. Likewise, the more prestigious upper press office had become a cavern.
Katrina Pierson captured the turn of events when she texted campaign bigfoot-lookalike Brad Parscale after he claimed to be shocked that a woman died during the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Pierson responded, “You do realize this was going to happen.”
Mark Corallo, a public relations consultant who worked in the Justice Department under Republican Attorney General John Ashcroft, told me that he didn’t read the report and considered the exercise “grossly partisan.”
“I have a great idea,” Corallo said of Trump, “ignore the dude.”
“He’s never going to be president again,” said Corallo, “and the more we talk about him, the more life we give him.”
Corallo argued, “The guy in the Viking Hat” — that would be Jacob Chansley, who also was carrying a six-foot spear and was sentenced to 41 months in prison — “was not going to overthrow the United States government.” The U.S. military never would let that occur, he said confidently.
I’m not as sanguine about what might have been. Then-Vice President Mike Pence spent hours in the Capitol loading dock as the crazies stormed the Capitol. He refused Secret Service entreaties to get into a car because he feared agents would ignore his orders — he wanted to stay on the premises so that he could certify the electors’ vote — so they could move him, his wife, Karen, and daughter, Charlotte, out of harm’s way.
Trump was safe in the West Wing, slamming Pence for lacking “courage” while Pence stayed in the same building where a hopped-up mob wanted to destroy him.
Pence stayed so that he could recognize state electors on Jan. 6. (It turns out that the vote was not completed until the wee hours of Jan. 7.)
I cannot help but wonder: what would have happened if the vice president’s motorcade had left the Capitol? Would a Pence exit have been seen as a green light for the faithful to storm what they saw as America’s Bastille?
So while I understand the instinct to cross one’s fingers and hope Trump simply fades away, I say: Never forget.
As one Trump Georgia campaign official said afterward, he felt “angry” because “no one really cared if — if people were potentially putting themselves in jeopardy.” We were just “useful idiots or rubes at that point.”
As for Trump, he showed his usual disregard for those around him when he tried to persuade the Secret Service to allow supporters who might be armed onto the Capitol Mall after he urged the crowd to “fight like hell” as he pointed toward the Dome.
One-time Special Assistant to the President Cassidy Hutchinson testified that Trump told agents, “I don’t f**ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the f**ing (magnetometers) away. Let my people in.”
In a disaster movie, Trump would be the character who claws between mothers and children for a seat on the lifeboat.
When Trump first assumed office, I naively waited for the moment when the billionaire would realize the awesome responsibility of the presidency and calibrate his behavior accordingly. I hoped that America would see the president who delivered a strong first State of the Union address to atone for his “American carnage” inaugural address.
That hope was dashed in May 2017. After Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, his press team maintained that Trump fired Comey based on a recommendation by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein based on Comey’s public mishandling of an FBI probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Within days, Trump told a different story when he told NBC News’ Lester Holt that he was going to fire Comey regardless of what the DOJ recommended.
The moment revealed that Trump was ready to destroy the meticulously groomed reputations of his appointees for a fleeting moment’s satisfaction. To spend time in Trump’s orbit is to feel used up and kicked to the curb.
Trump gratuitously jabbed other public servants for just doing their jobs. Trump and Giuliani wrongly accused Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss by name of tampering with the vote count. The asymmetry of the situation was breathtaking — the most powerful man in the world used his position to target two African-American election workers who had to go into hiding because of the president’s gratuitous lies.
If there’s one victory Trump can claim, it is destroying public faith in the election system. A September Monmouth University poll found that nearly a third of Americans — including six out of 10 Republicans — believe Joe Biden won the election because of fraud.
Evidence? Giuliani famously said, “We’ve got lots of theories, we just don’t have the evidence.”
Barr called the phenomenon “Whac-A-Mole” — with Trump claiming fraud or abuse in one state one day, then averting attention to another venue the next, with no public resolution. Trump’s cascading charges didn’t need proof, they only needed to sow doubt.
In the years since 2000, when then-Vice President Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College, states have developed multiple strategies to make voting more convenient. Think early voting, automatic registration, and ballot harvesting. The sad result may be that more people think Biden won due to foul play.
And Biden’s not the guy who told Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, “I just want to find 11,780 votes.” That was Trump talking.
The Big Lie has paid dividends for Trump. For a while, the Republican National Committee sent out fundraising letters that were not fact-checked to raise dollars ostensibly to fund Trump’s legal challenges. The RNC had three of its largest 2020 fundraising days right after the election, for the “Official Election Defense Fund,” which the report notes wasn’t an official election defense fund.
The effort raised some $250 million after Trump lost. Trump must be laughing all the way to the bank.
Some 842 Americans have faced federal charges for illegally taking part in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Many will end up behind bars, yet the former president who urged them on is a free man, safely ensconced in Mar-a-Lago, and raising buckets of money to bankroll his grift. He also is running for president. It just doesn’t seem fair — because it isn’t.
Alyssa Farah Griffin
Debra J. Saunders is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Chapman Center for Citizen Leadership. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
READ DIVERSE OPINIONS: