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The January 6th Investigation Gets Closer to Donald Trump

The January 6th Investigation Gets Closer to Donald Trump

The congressional attempt to expose any direct role that Donald Trump and his top associates played in the January 6th assault on the U.S. Capitol is intensifying. The House select committee investigating the attack issued subpoenas this week to 16 former Trump Administration and campaign officials. This included the former White House adviser Stephen Miller, and Kayleigh McEnany, former press secretary. Trump’s attempt to prevent his associates from testifying before the committee was rejected by a federal judge. This included his former strategist Steve Bannon. Experts suggested that the judge’s decision could lead AttorneyGeneral Merrick Garland to criminally charge Bannon for refusing testify. This would be a step that might encourage others to cooperate. The committee threatened to make a contemptuous remark against Trump’s former White House chief-of-staff Mark Meadows, who was with him for hours on January 6th.

Meanwhile, in a speech in New Hampshire, Liz Cheney, the committee’s vice-chair and one of the few Republicans daring to challenge Trump while seeking reelection, said that the nation is “confronting a domestic threat that we’ve never faced before: a former President who’s attempting to unravel the foundations of our constitutional republic, aided by political leaders who have made themselves willing hostages to this dangerous and irrational man.” She added, “Political leaders who sit silent in the face of these false and dangerous claims are aiding a former President who is at war with the rule of law and the Constitution.”

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The political reality, though, is that Trump’s hold on the Republican Party remains iron. A recent Morning Consult / Politico poll found that sixty-seven per cent of Republicans want Trump to run for President in 2024, a slight increase from several months ago. Similar numbers were found in other surveys. “The Republican nomination would likely be his for the taking,” Nathaniel Rakich and Mackenzie Wilkes wrote on FiveThirtyEight. “He remains extremely popular among Republicans.” And opinion polls suggest that three-quarters of Wyoming Republicans plan to oppose Cheney when a Trump-backed candidate challenges her in the 2022 primary. Hours after Cheney’s speech, Trump declared, in trademark Orwellian fashion, “She is a threat to Free and Fair elections,” adding that the 2020 election had been stolen from him in “the Crime of the Century.”

The situation is unprecedented. An ex-American President refuses to admit that he lost the election. He launched a public campaign to remove the state election officials who declared his defeat from office. He uses the same lies and rhetoric that incited violence on January 6th. And this week an independent review alleged that thirteen former Trump Administration officials–including Meadows and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner–campaigned illegally for him in the final weeks of the 2020 election. It’s increasingly clear to many observers that Trump plans to make every attempt to insure that he or an acolyte wins the 2024 election at any cost. On Wednesday, a hundred former national-security officials, Republicans and Democrats–including Christopher Krebs, the former director of the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity agency, who was hired and fired by the Trump Administration–published an open letter to Congress, warning that partisan interference, intimidation campaigns, and disinformation are rapidly undermining American democracy. “Sadly, that moment has arrived.” “Sadly, that moment has arrived.”

Democrats focus on the fact that, among Americans as a whole, Trump remains broadly unpopular, with fifty-three per cent viewing him unfavorably and forty-one per cent seeing him favorably. The numbers for Biden are not much better. Only 50% approve of his performance and only 33% disapprove. While political analysts and legal experts lose sleep over Trump’s continued claims that he won in 2020, most Americans, according to Gallup polling, see COVID, the economy, and poor leadership as the country’s three most important problems. Only one percent of respondents mentioned the need for reform in election law. If Republicans win control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections, they would almost certainly disband the January 6th committee and end its investigation.

Members of the committee vow to achieve results before then. The panel will produce a complete account of Trump’s actions, and propose laws to prevent future Presidents influencing the Electoral College vote count. In a court hearing last week, Douglas Letter, a lawyer for the committee, said that investigators are seeking White House documents dating back to April, 2020, to help determine whether Trump engaged in a months-long effort to discredit the results if he lost. “We believe that this all may tie in with. . . Letter stated that the fomenting of it, creating a groundswell feeling that this election would be tainted.” The committee’s communications director Timothy Mulvey told me that most witnesses are cooperating. “Even among former Administration officials,” he said, “very few have flatly refused to comply with a subpoena.” He added, about Trump’s legal attempts to block the investigation, “The former President’s aim is to delay and impede our probe, but the committee’s work will nonetheless continue to move forward quickly.”

Stephen Gillers, a professor of law at New York University, said that Attorney General Garland may wait for higher courts to rule on Trump’s legal claims, but he believes that Garland will eventually prosecute Bannon. Gillers suggested that even if Bannon is not charged this week, those subpoenaed might be encouraged to wait out the investigation. “Garland knows that,” Gillers said, adding, “Everything we know about his devotion to the rule of law makes me confident that he will not allow that to happen.”

Ilya Somin, a libertarian legal scholar at George Mason University, predicted that the higher courts will uphold the committee’s right to subpoena individuals significantly involved in the events leading up to January 6th. “It seems to be a no-brainer that Congress should have the right to subpoena witnesses,” he said. This includes those who “played an important role in an attack against Congress.” Somin is skeptical that the investigation by Trump’s committee will yield conclusive evidence. He said that sedition is difficult to climb unless the committee uncovers new, dramatic information. The country’s apparent intractable polarization is the bigger political challenge. The January 6th probe, like the Trump impeachment trials, may only serve to exacerbate existing divisions rather that help them. He said, “Barring some shocking revelation, I’m unsure it will fundamentally alter anything.”

Cheney, in her speech, said that the country is in “a time of testing” and implored political leaders to recognize the fragility of American democracy. “Will you defend our Constitution?” Will we stand up for truth? She asked, “Will we put our duty to our oath over partisan politics?” “Or will you ignore the danger, ignore it, accept the lies, and allow the liar to take control?” she asked. This question is not open to interpretation. There is no middle ground when it comes to this moment.” She is correct that America is continuing its drift towards authoritarianism, but it is not inevitable.

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