The House Select Committee investigating Donald Trump’s criminal conspiracy to end our democracy delivered a withering opening argument last night. At least that’s how it looked to this former prosecutor.
The committee dramatized its first act with previously unseen video of the January 6 mob’s attacks on law enforcement; powerful testimony from Caroline Edwards, a courageous, injured Capitol police officer who described a “war scene” in which she was “slipping in other people’s blood”; and a few well-placed bombshells. More on them in a moment.
Here are four elements of the committee’s compelling “opening statement”:
First, the violent January 6 attack on Congress was exactly what Trump intended and signaled to his extremist supporters. After Vice-President Mike Pence refused to violate his constitutional duty of certifying Joe Biden’s electoral victory, violence was Trump’s only remaining route to keeping himself in power.
Second, Trump’s militant followers understood the goal. The Proud Boys and Oath Keepers came with a battle plan that bypassed Trump’s Ellipse speech and focused immediately on reconnaissance and overwhelming police to stop the certification.
Third, not only were Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud bogus, but he knew it, or at minimum, chose to blind himself to the falsity of his claims.
Fourth, the January 6 violence is just the tip of the conspiracy’s iceberg. The evidence of the fuller conspiracy will be laid out in hearings to come.
Here’s a sampler of the committee’s evidence in support of each point.
As to the first—Trump having intended the violent insurrection to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election—the committee wove together four evidentiary threads:
- Trump’s mob-boss style “signaling” his extremist followers, including both his infamous “stand back and stand by” message to Proud Boys in his September 2020 presidential debate and his December 21, 2020 tweet inviting supporters to Washington on January 6, promising that it “will be wild.”
- Videotaped testimony from several of those arrested for invading the Capitol who said they had received Trump’s message loud and clear, feeling that he had “personally asked for them to come.”
- Evidence that when the violent Capitol invaders began chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” Trump said to an aide, “Maybe our supporters have the right idea”; and
- Trump’s failure for three hours to ask his supporters to leave the Capitol, which they did immediately upon his request.
As to the second point—that the militants did not come to hear a speech, but rather went straight to reconnaissance and attack—that was the direct testimony Thursday night from Nick Quested, the filmmaker embedded with those extremist groups.
Regarding point three—that Trump knew or was willfully ignorant that his election fraud claims were bogus—the committee showed tape of Trump Attorney General William Barr testifying that on three occasions after the election, he met with Trump and told him that his claims of a stolen election were “bull__,” “crazy stuff” and a “great disservice to the country.”
The bombshell was Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, on tape saying that she believed Barr . . . and by implication, not her father.
Reflect for a moment on how that testimony might affect a DC jury’s deliberations on Trump’s criminal intent should he be indicted for conspiring to defraud the United States. Ivanka Trump believing that there was no stolen election does not automatically mean that Donald Trump believed it and therefore corruptly intended to overturn an election that he knew to be legitimate. But it sure doesn’t help him.
And her testimony and Barr’s on the subject weren’t all. The committee showed video of a Trump campaign lawyer Alex Cannon confirming that he, like Barr, had found no evidence of widespread ballot fraud. Cannon testified that when he reported that to Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Meadows responded: “So there’s no there there.”
Fourth, as to the committee’s evidence of the entire, sprawling conspiracy, Vice-Chair Cheney described it as having seven parts:
- Trump’s massive effort to undermine trust in the election.
- His corrupt attempt shortly before January 6 to replace Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen with Jeffrey Clark, who was ready to support Trump’s false election claims.
- His relentless pressure campaign against Vice President Pence to reject or delay the electoral certification.
- His pressing state officials to change election results.
- The Trump campaign-led fake elector scheme, with Republicans in multiple states creating false electoral slates and transmitting bogus certifications of those slates to Congress.
- Trump summoning the insurrectionists to DC.
- His long delay asking them to go home.
The committee will share further evidence of each part in the hearings to come.
One other bombshell merits mention. Cheney said the committee had evidence that Representative Scott Perry (R-PA), who connected Jeffrey Clark to Trump and lobbied for Clark’s elevation, asked Trump, before he left office, for a pardon.
Nice to see signs of a Trumpist official with a sense of guilt.