The dramatic revelations on Monday — which came at a special House January 6 committee hearing called to recommend Meadows be held in contempt of Congress — should end the gaslighting of America by supporters of former President Donald Trump who argue the insurrection was no big whoop.
It was. And even Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Trump Jr. knew it.
Our understanding of January 6 has changed. That Trump ignored even these allies and let the riot unfold should be damning.
That his enablers at Fox have decided to forget the riot happened is even worse.
“To know the right thing — and to even call on Trump, in the moment, to do the right thing — and then spend the next 11 months pretending publicly like you didn’t? Gross,” writes CNN’s Chris Cillizza.
What happens next? There will be more revelations that come from this committee. It’s looking into the seemingly coordinated effort to throw out electoral votes, including by members of Congress. It’s charting potential coordination between rally organizers and the White House.
These are facts the public needs to know. But there’s also the nagging reality that whatever the committee produces may not lead to any real accountability other than public shame.
For Trump, who is shameless and already twice survived impeachment, that’s perhaps not such a high price. But there may be few options to do more than correct the record.
Could Trump be charged with a crime?
Rep. Liz Cheney, the Wyoming Republican who serves as vice chair of the January 6 committee, said Monday the panel needs to talk to Meadows in part to answer a key question about Trump.
“Did Donald Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress’ official proceedings to count electoral votes?” she asked.
That made CNN legal analyst Elie Honig’s “prosecutorial ears perk up.”
“It almost seemed like she was reading right out of the statute book,” Honig said Tuesday on CNN’s “New Day.”
Cheney’s language was very similar to the law of the land, which includes those terms: “corruptly … obstruct, or impede … proper administration of the law.”
“One of the important things the January 6 committee can do is make a criminal referral over to DOJ, saying, ‘Hey, DOJ, we believe there may have been crimes here,'” Honig said. But he added that the ultimate decision is up to Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice.
Prosecutors have used the federal obstruction law — the actual charge is “obstruction of an official proceeding” — to charge hundreds of the Capitol rioters. Cheney’s use of that language is a lob over to the DOJ that maybe some government officials, perhaps including Trump, could be guilty of it, too.
A Trump-appointed federal judge, Dabney Friedrich, threw out a challenge to the validity of that charge by two Capitol rioters last week.
Is there any indication Trump will be charged with a crime?
It would be a far different matter for the Justice Department to charge Capitol rioters than it would be for the department to charge a then-sitting President or his closest aide.
Recall that one reason Trump wasn’t charged with a crime as a result of the Russia investigation is the Justice Department’s belief that presidents can’t be indicted for most crimes.
Trump is no longer president, obviously. The US also has a long tradition of not pursuing political prisoners because a democracy requires political freedom. Although in Trump’s case, that freedom allowed him to try to overturn the democracy.
His potential next run for the White House, in 2024, makes accountability for the insurrection that much more important.
Trump survived a political prosecution, twice, in impeachment proceedings. Should he now face criminal proceedings as well?
I went back to Honig to follow up on this.
“There’s nothing in the public realm that indicates DOJ is criminally investigating Trump or other powerful people around him relating to January 6,” Honig said.
He added that if there was an ongoing investigation, you’d usually see some evidence of it — reporting in the media, subpoenas, the convening of a grand jury. None of that is known to be happening right now.
Not a peep. Which means it’s probably not happening. At least not yet.
That doesn’t mean what the House committee is doing isn’t worthwhile. Trump survived impeachment for the Russia investigation, but certainly the process damaged him.
His legacy will forever be tied to the insurrection, and that could make his inclusion on the ballot in 2024 toxic for Republicans.
Taking over the next election at the very local level
While Democrats and a few Republicans search for accountability for the insurrection, Trump loyalists are thinking ahead, trying to get more control over ballots in the coming elections.
CNN has reported on a new generation of election officials who don’t believe in the results of the last presidential election.
Sara Murray and Jeremy Herb wrote: In Michigan, for instance, several new Republican appointees to county canvassing boards who have said they wouldn’t have certified the 2020 election are replacing the GOP members who did certify the election result. One appointee in Macomb County urged Trump after the election to invoke the Insurrection Act and suspend the Electoral College meeting to set up military tribunals to investigate claims of election fraud.
In Pennsylvania, there was a coordinated campaign to put Trump-friendly Republicans, including one who attended the January 6 rally, into election-related positions at the hyperlocal precinct level. They ran candidates and won races with just a few hundred votes.
Trump has personally endorsed secretary of state candidates in various states — meaning those who would play an important role in administering elections.
Trump ally Steve Bannon isn’t talking to the January 6 committee, but he’s openly planning to create a constitutional crisis — another one, that is, since Trump already tried to overturn one election.
“We’re taking over the Republican Party through the precinct committee strategy. We’re taking over all the elections,” Bannon said on an episode of his “War Room” podcast last month, according to Murray and Herb.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of three November and we’re going to decertify the electors,” he continued. “And you’re going to have a constitutional crisis. But you know what? We’re a big and tough country, and we can handle that, we’ll be able to handle that. We’ll get through that.”