A quick review to get us up to speed for what promises to be a fraught week, launching a fraught year.
The big story of the new year is what we will learn from the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, whose members have announced they will hold public hearings early in 2022. As the New York Times editorial board put it in the paper’s January 1, 2022, edition, “Every Day Is January 6 Now.”
The New York Times editorial board—which consists of opinion journalists who weigh in on important issues—warned that the attack on democracy we witnessed so traumatically on January 6 has not ended. It persists in ongoing threats to election officials, threats to murder opponents, and new state laws skewing elections toward Republicans.
“In short,” they wrote, “the Republic faces an existential threat from a movement that is openly contemptuous of democracy and has shown that it is willing to use violence to achieve its ends.”
The board called for Republicans to be honest with their voters and to fight their party’s extremists. It called for Democrats to end the filibuster for voting rights legislation, at least. And it called for “Americans of all stripes who value their self-government” to “mobilize at every level…to win elections and help protect the basic functions of democracy.”
There were two stories that dropped late on Friday, December 31, New Year’s Eve, that reflect on the ongoing story of the attempt to undermine our democracy.
First, former New York City Police commissioner Bernard Kerik, a high-school dropout who began a meteoric rise to prominence after working as Trump loyalist Rudy Giuliani’s chauffeur and bodyguard, delivered documents to the committee. Convicted in 2010 of tax fraud, ethics violations, and making false statements to loan officers and the federal government when being investigated for government positions, Kerik has been fiercely loyal to Trump, who granted him a full pardon in February 2020.
The documents Kerik’s lawyer delivered on Friday included a 22-page document titled "STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS PLAN—GIULIANI PRESIDENTIAL LEGAL DEFENSE TEAM.” Its subtitle was “We Have 10 Days To Execute This Plan & Certify President Trump!”
The document laid out a pressure campaign directed at “SWING STATE REPUBLICAN SENATORS—AZ, GA, MI, NV, PA, WI,” “REPULBICAN [sic] MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE, and “REPUBLICAN MEMBERS OF THE SENATE.” It laid out the false argument that the election had been stolen, offered messaging to push these false claims, and provided a list of outlets and influencers to use, including the House “Freedom Caucus” members. It called for protests around the country, including at “weak Members’ homes.”
Kerik’s lawyer also delivered a list of documents Kerik is withholding on the grounds that they are “attorney work product.” Although Kerik is not himself an attorney, the list indicates that the documents he is withholding were reviewed or written by an attorney.
The documents Kerik is withholding included a three-page letter with an eye-popping title: “DRAFT LETTER FROM POTUS TO SEIZE EVIDENCE IN THE INTEREST OF NATIONAL SECURITY FOR THE 2020 ELECTIONS.” Drafted on December 17, the letter might well refer to the plan advanced by Trump’s disgraced national security advisor Michael Flynn and then-attorney Sidney Powell in mid-December 2020 that Trump should declare martial law, seize voting machines, and “rerun” the 2020 election.
Meanwhile, the Big Lie behind this document—that our election system is hopelessly corrupt and Trump was cheated—continues to be proved false. Also on Friday, the first piece of the audit of the 2020 election in Texas, launched in September after former president Trump demanded that Texas governor Greg Abbott investigate the election in the state, came out. Friday’s report said the investigators found nothing out of the ordinary.
Today, members of the January 6 committee revealed some of what they have learned. On ABC’s This Week, committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) told host George Stephanopoulos that “we have uncovered some things that cause us real concern,” and that “[i]t appeared to be a coordinated effort on the part of a number of people to undermine the election.”
On the same program and on CBS’s Face The Nation, committee vice chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) painted a picture of Trump watching the attack on the Capitol from the private dining room in the White House, refusing to call off the rioters despite the pleas of his staff, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and even his own daughter Ivanka.
His refusal to act, Cheney continues to emphasize, was a “supreme dereliction of duty.” He was the only person who could have stopped the rioters—many of whom have since told courts that they were there because they believed he had called them to be—and he refused to act. Instead, he tweeted that Vice President Mike Pence was a coward, and made at least one phone call to a senator demanding a delay in counting the electoral votes. When he finally did release a video telling the rioters to leave, more than three hours after the attack started, Trump acknowledged that he did, in fact, know that he commanded them.
We’ll see where this goes, but to this historian and non-lawyer (!) it does seem like he’s coming perilously close to being called out for leading a conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding.
Aside from the story of what Trump was doing—or not doing—in those crucial hours, Cheney’s interviews this morning revealed that the committee has gathered testimony from those who had access to Trump during the course of January 6. She said they had “first-hand testimony” that Trump was watching television in his private dining room, as well as that Ivanka asked him to call his supporters off. The information that the committee has a window into the White House that day has got to make certain people uncomfortable.
Cheney was talking not just about the past, but also about the future. She wants “the American people to understand how dangerous Donald Trump was.” He “went to war with the rule of law.” “Any man…who would provoke a violent assault on the Capitol to stop the counting of electoral votes, any man who would watch television as police officers were being beaten, as his supporters were invading the Capitol of the United States is clearly unfit for future office, clearly can never be anywhere near the Oval Office ever again.”
Cheney had a very clear message for her colleagues: The Republican Party “can either be loyal to Donald Trump or we can be loyal to the Constitution, but we cannot be both.”