Witcover: Committee presents damning evidence of Trump’s role in insurrection
WASHINGTON — The House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the Capitol leaves no doubt that Donald Trump was up to his eyeballs in it. The sworn testimony of Trump campaign officials is overwhelming, and warrants criminal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.
In a practical sense, most of the evidence presented in three televised hearings was already well known by those who have followed the reporting of the last year and a half. The challenge remains reaching those Americans too distracted to pay attention or too far gone down the path of MAGA disinformation to let truth and evidence reshape their impression of events.
J. Michael Luttig, a retired federal judge and conservative stalwart, testified before the committee on Thursday, Trump and his allies remain “a clear and present danger to American democracy.” Luttig knows whereof he speaks: He personally counseled Vice President Mike Pence not to do as Trump asked and refuse to certify the Electoral College ballot on Jan. 6. For pushing back on these demands — and thereby upholding the Constitution — Pence was vilified by Trump and threatened by the rampaging crowd at the Capitol.
Trump has not backed down from the Big Lie he has repeated endlessly since election night in November 2020: that a second term was denied to him through electoral fraud. He openly talks of running again in 2024, and his acolytes in the Republican Party warn they will take revenge on those who dared to conduct this investigation of the Capitol insurrection when they next return to majority status in Congress.
For their part, the Democrats have much to worry about. With midterm elections months away, the party faces strong headwinds. Inflation continues to rage at a level not seen since the 1970s, and given the war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic still gripping the Chinese economy, supply chain and fuel bottlenecks will not likely abate anytime soon. This compounds the doldrums President Joe Biden is experiencing in public opinion polls.
Biden’s signature legislative plan, Build Back Better, had limited success, with one component bill passed but the other, more substantive bill torpedoed by two senators from the president’s own party. That, along with the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, has undercut public perception of Biden’s leadership.
However, just as Biden benefited greatly in 2020 from the fact that his opponent, Trump, was one of the most chaotic and divisive incumbents in U.S. history, he will enjoy the same benefit in 2024 if he faces the disgraced ex-president again.
Now, into the bargain, Trump will have to deal with a clear, detailed public record of his intentions and actions to overthrow a constitutional cornerstone of our democracy: the orderly transfer of power.
Shortly before the last election, on national television, Trump told the Proud Boys, a rabble of right-wing street-fighters who had already participated in extensive political agitation, to “stand back and stand by.” That exhortation struck many observers as strange, but now the nation knows exactly what he meant. Trump’s previous dalliances with violent supporters, whom he encouraged and even promised legal protection, came to fruition on Jan. 6, 2021. Several members of the Proud Boys, along with members of the right-wing militant group the Oath Keepers, stand charged with seditious conspiracy.
And that’s how things stand in the United States, the world’s first and foremost democratic republic. Will the insurrection plotters, including those at the very top, be held legally accountable? Will the GOP purge itself of Trump? Will our legislative, judicial and executive institutions stand up and preserve our constitutional order? So much hangs in the balance.
Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at email@example.com.