What I am learning from the January 6 committee hearings
In the oral commentary, I focused on the first of two criminal conspiracies being revealed by the work of the January 6 Committee. The one that gets the most attention relates to the fomenting of the riot on January 6, itself – which was the basis for Trump’s second impeachment. However, I had not been aware of the first conspiracy --- one that began the minute Trump started to lose the election in November. I learned about it listening to the November 13 hearing.
Listening to that hearing, I started to revisit my thinking about how to talk to someone currently brainwashed by Trumpism.
Some listeners might recall that a while back, I presented a commentary on how to “talk to” a friend or relative who believes the Trump lie that the 2020 election was stolen. My main point was to try to get the person to explain how the cheaters pulled it off and what the evidence is. I went into a lot of detail, urging that people listen a lot and not “argue” but merely ask questions.
Before observing the June 13 hearing, I had thought I was pretty well versed in the “story” of the January 6 insurrection. I “knew” that it was a blatant attempt to overthrow our system of government --- you know the one where elections determine who takes office and the people charged with processing the results of elections do so with honesty and professionalism? The idea was if they could drive the members of Congress into hiding by occupying the Capitol, then Congress could not vote to certify the electoral college results on January 6. Failing to certify the electoral college results that day might mean that the US government would find itself in uncharted territory, perhaps leading to the election of the President being thrown into the House of Representatives. The method of electing a President in the House, according to the Constitution, involves each STATE getting one vote and though the Democrats have the majority in the House, they do NOT control a majority of State delegations. (California gets one vote. So does Montana. Republicans control 26 of the 50 state delegations.). I had thought that fomenting the insurrection on January 6 was basically the whole story.
Well, I was wrong. I have learned a lot from the two days of hearings. I learned that there are TWO SEPARATE conspiracies being investigated by the January 6 Committee (and hopefully the Department of Justice and Grand jury as well). The one I’ve been most focused on was the possible connection between the Trump campaign and the violent insurrectionist riot on January 6. What I learned about during the June 13 hearings was a different conspiracy which is probably connected to the one that fomented violence on January 6 (in the person of Donald Trump) but which has different memes and players associated with it. This conspiracy began early -- when Trump’s advisers tried telling him that on election night the early Republican leads were what election experts call a “red mirage.”
Chris Stirewalt, the chief election expert at Fox News (who was fired for doing his job and [correctly] predicting that Biden would win Arizona) explained that because Republican voters have started shying away from early voting and voting by mail, they tend to vote on election day registering early majorities for Republicans when the vote counting begins. Vote counting turns to mail-in ballots when all the same day votes are counted. BEFORE the mail-in votes (which are favored more by Democrats and Republicans) are counted, it “looks like” the Republicans are ahead --- but it’s a “mirage” which is how the experts got the term “red mirage.”
[For Stirewalt’s story, see Margaret Sullivan, “Chris Stirewalt lost his job at Fox News. But he knows he was right. The politics editor behind the Arizona call in 2020 that enraged Trump brought his journalism bona fides to the House Jan 6. Hearing.” Available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/media/2022/06/13/chris-stirewalt-fox-news-jan-6-hearing-trump-arizona/]
The people who worked on Trump’s campaign told him it was ridiculously early to declare victory because lots of votes remained to be counted --- and these routinely increase Democratic numbers. (Meanwhile, Guiliani had told Trump to just declare victory – and that was what Trump sort of did the day after election day when he said “we want voting to stop.” By the way, that statement is a “tell.” Trump knew he would lose if they counted every vote!)
By November 7, enough votes had been counted ty make it clear that Biden had won. Trump’s aides then had the un-enviable task of telling him that he had lost. Over the next two months, they had to continually tell Trump that all the efforts to find voter fraud had been fruitless. (I knew the charges of voter fraud were ridiculous as a result of all the Court cases but the fact that these people in Trump’s inner circle were telling him this was not made public at the time.)
I particularly liked the detailed testimony of one Richard Donoghue, who served as Acting US Assistant Attorney General from December 2020 to January 2021. He described giving information to Trump about why this or that charge by the crazies --- Sidney Powell, Rudy Guiliani, Peter Navarro --- had been refuted. [See “Donoghue testifies he debunked multiple election allegations Trump presented to him.” Washington Post, June 13, 2022, available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/politics/donoghue-testifies-he-debunked-multiple-election-allegations-trump-presented-to-him/2022/06/13/cd906d98-d18c-4e65-89a2-d9527ae9bcf8_video.html]
Donoghue said Trump would accept his specific argument refuting this or that specific charge but then Trump would say, “But what about this?” Former Attorney General Barr told the committee it was like playing “Whack-A-Mole” with Trump. Trump kept jumping from one far-fetched charge to another.
But the Donoghue and Barr testimonies are very important. They show Trump was learning the charges from his Guiliani, etc clown car about widespread voter fraud were groundless – and that he had accepted that information as it was presented to him. Nevertheless, Trump went ahead anyway and raised over TWO HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS from his supporters to finance efforts to supposedly STOP THE STEAL --- a “steal” he knew did not exist. (As of this month, that haul has ballooned to $390 million.)
[It appears to me that the only really “good” defense strategy to get Trump out of being convicted of a crime is to argue that he was “so stupid” that he didn’t really understand that his aides were refuting the charges of widespread voter fraud. There is actually a legal concept that says, “willful ignorance” is no excuse. Anyone skeptical of what I have written here, check out this Law Review article: Alexander F. Sarch, “Willful Ignorance, Culpability, and the Criminal Law.” St. John’s Law Review (vol 88, No. 4) Winter, 2014, available at https://scholarship.law.stjohns.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=6696&context=lawreview]
With over 60 Court cases failing completely, this conspiracy became focused on attempting to get State Legislatures to send alternative slates of electors to Congress and then to get members of Congress to refuse to accept the certified results from those same states. As January 6 approached there was a mounting effort to get Vice President Pence to refuse to count votes from those so-called disputed states. Those steps plus raising money to create a fund that was supposed to fight the steal but which were spent elsewhere lead me to say it sure looks like a conspiracy to defraud --- those who gave money to Trump to “stop the steal.” It also looks like a conspiracy to obstruct the normal functioning of government.
[On the fraudulent raising of money for what the Trump campaign called an “official election defense fund” which never existed, see Kenneth Vogel and Rachel Shorey, “Trump Sought Donations for a Fund That Didn’t Exist, Jan. 6 Panel Says” The New York Times (June 16, 2022): A15, available under a different title at: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/14/us/politics/trump-fundraising-jan-6.html ]
IN TALKING TO YOUR friends who still buy Trump’s lies, you might ask them why all these Republican appointees who wanted Trump to win, (Donoghue, Barr, officials in his campaign like Stepien, Jason Miller, etc.) would suddenly turn a blind eye to blatant voter fraud. If the fraud was so “out there” as people like Guiliani, Powell, Navarro (and of course Trump) keep asserting, why couldn’t these Republicans see it? Wouldn’t they WANT to find enough voter fraud to get their guy to win?
Isn’t the simplest answer that these folks were doing their jobs and telling Trump the truth? And that he willfully refused to do the right thing and concede. Instead, he launched that first conspiracy --- one that encouraged many too many people to believe that the election had been stolen.
I urge everyone – check out the testimony of Barr and Donoghue and others. It should be available on re-runs of the June 13 hearing as well as shorter youtube clips.
This is serious stuff. Polling data indicated that there is a sizeable group within the Republican Party who are interested in actually learning the truth about January 6. Hopefully, a lot of them have been watching. For the rest of us, I urge we become really knowledgeable and then share that knowledge. The future of our Republic is at stake. In state after state, people who buy Trump’s big lie are running for Secretary of State and Governor and for the Legislature. All of these could be sites of REAL efforts to steal the next election. The January 6 Committee is revealing their playbook. We came damn close in 2021 --- a few strategically placed Republican office holders willing to break the rules and break the law and the Presidential election might have been thrown into the House of Representatives. All supporters of the big lie running for office, especially those running for Secretary of State and Governor must be defeated in November.
[I promise to return with a discussion of how the second conspiracy – to violently assault the Capitol itself --- may be connected to the first.]
Michael Meeropol is professor emeritus of Economics at Western New England University. He is the author with Howard and Paul Sherman of the recently published second edition of Principles of Macroeconomics: Activist vs. Austerity Policies
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