October 19, 2021

Always eager to stay in the news, former president Trump issued statements today insulting former secretary of state and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell, who passed at 84 yesterday after suffering complications from Covid-19. Trump also complained about the removal of a statue of Thomas Jefferson from the New York City Council Chamber. Unfortunately, he undermined his claim to be defending American history when he misidentified Jefferson as “a principal writer of the Constitution of the United States.” 

Jefferson was in France when the Framers were drafting the Constitution. Jefferson is the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. 

The rest of the government was dealing with the real world today, and their actions were not frivolous. 

Early this morning, the FBI raided the homes associated with Russian oligarch and aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska in New York City and Washington, D.C. Deripaska is closely associated with Russian President Vladimir Putin and worked with Paul Manafort, who directed Trump’s 2016 campaign. During that campaign, Manafort shared secret polling information with his associate Konstantin Kilimnik with the understanding that Kilimnick would give that information to Deripaska. In 2018, the U.S. government put sanctions on Deripaska, but maneuvering by then–Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) meant Congress lifted them in 2019. Just months later, Deripaska invested in an aluminum plant in Kentucky. 

The FBI did not comment on the raids.

After yesterday’s report recommending that the House of Representatives hold Stephen K. Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress for his refusal to honor a congressional subpoena, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol tonight voted to hold Bannon in contempt. 

Both committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and vice-chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) spoke before the vote. Thompson called out Bannon as the only witness who was stonewalling the committee, and he warned that the committee would not excuse anyone. “No one in this country, no matter how wealthy or how powerful, is above the law,” he said.

Republican Cheney was more pointed. She noted that Bannon appears to have had “substantial advance knowledge of the plans for January 6th and likely had an important role in formulating those plans.” She also suggested that the arguments Bannon and Trump were making “appear to reveal one thing: they suggest that President Trump was personally involved in the planning and execution of January 6th. And we will get to the bottom of that.” 

Cheney went on to “add one further thought, principally for my Republican colleagues.” “You all know that there is no evidence of widespread election fraud sufficient to overturn the election; you all know that the Dominion voting machines were not corrupted by a foreign power. You know these claims are false. Yet former President Trump repeats them almost daily.”

She asked her colleagues to “consider the fundamental questions of right and wrong here. The American people must know what happened. They must know the truth. All of us who are elected officials must do our duty to prevent the dismantling of the rule of law, and to ensure nothing like that dark day in January ever happens again.”

The issue now moves to the House floor for a vote. 

Cheney was not the only one admonishing the Republicans to put aside partisanship and stand up for the country. The Senate will vote tomorrow on whether to take up the Freedom to Vote Act, with Republicans threatening to filibuster that procedural vote. Senator Angus King (I-ME) established himself today as a key advocate of the measure, and as the Senate’s conscience. 

He reminded his colleagues that in a world of absolute monarchs, the U.S. was founded on the radical idea “that the people… are the ultimate source of power and can govern themselves through their elected representatives.” That idea “was tested at Gettysburg, Antietam, Shiloh, and the Wilderness. It was defended at Anzio, Iwo Jima, and Normandy, and was reaffirmed in 1965.”

But democracy is fragile, and it most often fails “from erosion from within.” 

The senator warned that most failed democracies start with legitimate elections, but that leaders then manipulate the system to stay in power, just as they have done recently in Russia, Turkey, Venezuela, and Hungary. In the U.S., if the new laws suppressing the vote and permitting partisans to choose their own electors over the wishes of the voters are allowed to stand, “we will be left with a downward spiral toward a hollow shell of democracy, where only raw power prevails and its peaceful transfer becomes a distant memory.”

King noted the profoundly dangerous breakdown of trust in the electoral system and called out the Republicans’ “overtly partisan attempt” to use the loss of trust as a justification to skew elections in the future. He demolished the idea that our elections are corrupted by “voter fraud,” and suggested the new election laws going into effect in Republican-dominated states are “stone-cold partisan voter suppression.”

King urged his colleagues to change course, “to pull our country back from the brink, and to begin the work of restoring our democracy as we did in the Revolution, as we did in the Civil War, and as we did in the Civil Rights struggles: first, by simply telling the truth and then by enacting a set of basic protections of the sacred right to vote.” If they will not, he said, we will lose “our identity as a people,...the miracle of self-government, and…the idea of America.”

“We are the heirs and trustees…of a tradition that goes back to Lincoln, Madison, and, yes, our friend John McCain,” Senator King reminded his colleagues. “All of them were partisans… but all shared an overriding commitment to the idea that animates the American experiment, the idea that our government is of, by, and for the people…. Now is the moment that we’re called upon to reach beyond our region, our state, our party, ourselves to save and reinvigorate the sputtering flame of the American idea.”

“Indeed,” he said, “destiny has placed us here at one of history’s fateful moments. Our response to it will be our most important legacy…. I believe we all know our responsibility, and whether we like it or not, history will record whether we, each of us, meets that responsibility.”

Notes:

https://january6th.house.gov/news/press-releases/thompson-cheney-opening-statements-select-committee-business-meeting

https://edition.cnn.com/2021/10/19/politics/steve-bannon-criminal-contempt-referral/index.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/how-a-mcconnell-backed-effort-to-lift-russian-sanctions-boosted-a-kentucky-project/2019/08/13/72b26e00-b97c-11e9-b3b4-2bb69e8c4e39_story.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/19/us/politics/oleg-deripaska-fbi-raid.html

https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4982613/user-clip-sen-angus-king

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