I last interviewed Rep. Jamie Raskin in October 2020, before the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Our conversation was about the guardrails that the Constitution has in place to stop a tyrant from taking power.
There was no mystery about then-President Donald Trump’s position in public. He had spent months vowing fraud would be overwhelming in the impending election. When he took the stage for the very first night of presidential debates with now President Joe Biden, Trump told the world he would not accept any outcome he believed was rigged.
In the days since then, the Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol was formed and it has unearthed staggering evidence that Donald Trump, the nation’s 45th president, not only incited a mob to a bloody insurrection but perpetrated a fraud on the American public so that he could pull off a coup that would install him into the White House against the will of millions of voters and the Electoral College.
Telling the story of Jan. 6 is a formidable task and the passing months have revealed increasingly critical nuances and contours emerging from that day’s chaos.
There is evidence of a crime. A federal judge has agreed with the select committee on that count and over the course of a contentious battle for key documents, a judge determined that, at the very least, the “illegality of the plan” orchestrated by Trump and his attorney John Eastman—the architect of a strategy pressuring Vice President Mike Pence to certify bunk electors—was “obvious.”
Trump and his attorneys stoked claims of bogus election fraud for months and with Eastman, Trump engaged in a “coup in search of legal theory,” Judge David Carter wrote just a month ago.
Judge David Carter Ruling_Trump Eastman by Daily Kos on Scribd
And yet there is still so much more to come.
There are questions that must be aired out about this attempted coup and its abettors.
When the committee finally resumes its public hearings, which it says will be in May or June, Rep. Raskin told Daily Kos they will be hearings unlike anything Americans have seen come out of Congress.
“We believe every American has the right to observe and participate in this. I believe based on what I have seen over the last several months, these hearings will be not just important but mesmerizing to the public,” Raskin said. “Everybody needs to be equipped with the means of intellectual self defense against the authoritarian and fascistic policies that have been unleashed in this country.”
So far, the probe has released limited information about its findings and it has navigated the course of its investigation with deft yet disciplined transparency, despite regular attacks and goading from those perched atop some of the highest branches of power in Congress like House Minority Leader and Trump ally Kevin McCarthy.
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The panel of seven Democrats and two Republicans has largely established its intent and findings on the public record through its court filings and subpoenas and from House meetings on Capitol Hill, where they have forwarded criminal contempt of Congress referrals for members of the Trump White House who have obstructed their investigation.
Those referrals for officials like former chief of staff Mark Meadows, ex-adviser Steve Bannon, and others now live with the Department of Justice, a body ensconced in an entirely separate yet similarly painstaking investigation of the Capitol attack, its catalysts, and alleged conspirators.
“The events of Jan. 6 were breathtaking,” Raskin said by phone, taking a moment to gather his thoughts before considering the scope of what lies ahead.
A daunting amount of information will be parsed, prioritized, and presented from the 800-plus interviews the panel has conducted and the thousands of pages of records it has secured from a wide array of players spanning the Trump White House to the Trump reelection campaign to extremist right-wing activists and others.
That doesn’t even mention everything that was also sourced from the National Archives following Biden’s waiver of executive privilege over presidential records Trump sought to hide.
That bid by Trump, taken all the way to the Supreme Court, ultimately failed to keep documents like White House call logs hidden and more of Trump’s presidential records continue to flood the committee now.
RELATED STORY: Let’s talk about the White House call logs from Jan. 6
But until the hearings play out, the public is left to grapple with important information in bits and pieces as investigators occasionally and, likely strategically, highlight portions of their findings at a schedule of their choosing.
Speculation swirls around the committee’s work on a fact-based narrative it is crafting for hearings and that is to be expected.
There are inherent difficulties in this unprecedented undertaking.
“Well, people still have not yet fully understood the distinction between the violent insurrection and the attempted coup. Even with the insurrection, even within the insurrectionary violence, a lot of people think that this was just a rowdy demonstration that got out of hand,” Raskin told Daily Kos.
And of course, Trump. Raskin added, is “out there telling people his mob greeted officers with hugs and kisses.”
“So there’s a lot of confusion about what took place. And I think people will come to understand that this was a premeditated and coordinated violent attack on Congress and the vice president in order to thwart the counting of electoral votes,” Raskin said.
“But the insurrection is only comprehensible when you understand that it was unleashed as a way to assist this political coup, this inside political coup. Donald Trump and his entourage had been looking for ways to overthrow the 2020 presidential election results for months,” Raskin said.
What the public hearings will do is tell the story of “every step in that process,” he explained.
“And it is a harrowing and gripping and utterly sobering story rooted in the events of the day and the weeks before it,” he added.
RELATED STORY: Tick-tock: A timeline of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol
Millions of Americans have seen footage of rioters beating police, scaling the walls of the nation’s Capitol building, and doing so in everything from homemade to high-grade tactical gear and with makeshift or professional-grade weapons in tow.
Millions of Americans have heard the calls of people shouting for the execution of Pence or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as the melee erupted. Many people saw the gallows erected by Trump’s supporters on the Capitol lawn.
But a disconnect seems to persist somehow around how severe and significant Jan. 6 was and remains.
The Pew Research Center, for example, noted this February that more than a year after the attack, fewer Americans believed Trump was responsible for the events of Jan. 6. It was a nearly 10% drop from the year before.
The study found too that people are still largely divided a year later on whether the Jan. 6 probe is even given the “right amount” of attention.
“The difficult thing is that people have a very hard time assimilating something so extreme taking place right at the heart of the Capitol. We saw a violent mob led by insurrectionary violent extremists set upon federal officers and injure and wound and hospitalize more than 150 of them,” Raskin said.
It was the first time in American history that a violent insurrection interfered with the peaceful transfer of power and counting of electoral votes.
“It nearly toppled our system of government,” Raskin added.
The idea of a coup is “radically unfamiliar” to the bulk of the American population, he noted.
“We’re just not—we just don’t have a lot of experience with coups in our own society. We think of a coup as something that takes place against a president. Well, this was a coup that was orchestrated by the president against the vice president and against the Congress,” Raskin said. “It’s what political scientists call a self-coup, not the military trying to overthrow a president but a president trying to defeat and vanquish the constitutional process in order to perpetuate his stay in office and power. Donald Trump was trying to seize the presidency for four more years.”
When Judge Carter issued his ruling about Trump and Eastman on March 28, it was a deeply important finding but it did not shift or change the committee’s trajectory, he said.
It only “solidified” the path they were on.
“It was a powerful warning to the American people about what took place,” he said.
If they missed that warning bell, however, the committee will keep ringing it.
The committee will produce its final report after the hearings are over. Raskin told Daily Kos he hopes it will be a “multimedia report” that will be both easily accessible and digestible.
It will be composed of the committee’s findings as well as recommendations for legislation that would strengthen many of the weak points in the democratic system that the Trump White House undermined or exploited.
“There’s no reason this report has to be a 500-page document written by a computer somewhere. We can write the report in such a way that it really does wake the country up to the nature of the threats that we’ve just dodged and the threats that remain,” Raskin said.
To wit, when the committee holds its public hearings, the Justice Department's prosecution of those who stormed the Capitol will keep rolling.
At the top of April, the DOJ announced it had arrested nearly 800 defendants and charged over 250 people so far with serious crimes including assaulting police and using a deadly weapon to injure an officer.
More than 248 people have entered guilty pleas, copping to misdemeanors and felony charges alike.
The most serious charges— like seditious conspiracy—have been leveled at some of the president’s most ardent supporters, namely the ringleaders and members of domestic extremist networks like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.
Trump told the latter group in September 2020 to “stand back and stand by” when asked on a presidential debate stage if he would condemn white supremacy and militia groups.
“Who would you like me to condemn? The Proud Boys? Stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what. Somebody’s gotta do something about antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem, this is a left-wing problem,” Trump said.
The dog-whistle was well received by Proud Boys and their leader Henry Tarrio.
“Standing by,” Tarrio responded on Parler. “So proud of my guys right now.”
Others, like Proud Boy Joe Biggs, took it as a direct cue to attack those opposed to Trump.
“Trump basically said to go fuck them up!” Biggs wrote.
Tarrio was indicted on March 8 for conspiracy to obstruct congressional proceedings on Jan. 6 as well as several other charges. Biggs—and many other Proud Boys—were indicted alongside him and separately.
Oath Keeper leader Elmer Rhodes's seditious conspiracy trial is currently slated for September. One of the key members in the group charged alongside Rhodes, Alabama Oath Keeper chapter leader Joshua James, has already flipped.
James admitted he was dispatched to the Capitol on Jan. 6 by Rhodes as part of an organized conspiracy to stop proceedings. James told prosecutors he was prepared to use force to keep Trump in power.
While the committee’s work and the DOJ’s work operate on entirely different tracks and timetables, Raskin said when the committee makes its case to the public, the panel won’t shy away from presenting any of the relevant details shaken loose by the DOJ.
“To the extent there are factual findings related to these cases, yes, we will be able to use those,” he said.
Juries will decide the fates of those charged with seditious conspiracy. The Justice Department will decide the fate of those the committee has referred for criminal contempt of Congress.
These are the facts.
For those cynical or skeptical about what the committee’s hearings will achieve or accomplish, Raskin offered a message for those feeling faint of heart.
Before speaking, the congressman paused for just a moment.
“Look,” he said, “For the greater part—for the duration of the human species—people have lived under tyrants and dictators and bullies and kings like Vladimir Putin and all of his sycophants around the world. Democracy, democratic self-governance is still a very fragile experiment. And democracy thrives on truth. The people need to be armed with the power that truth will give us.”
U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, who endured racial slurs and assault for hours while defending the Capitol to the brink of exhaustion told Daily Kos in a recent interview when it comes to Jan. 6: “The truth is the truth.”
If people will believe the truth when they hear it, well, he knows it is not for him to decide.
But he did have one question.
“How the hell is anyone against finding out the full truth?” Dunn said.