DONALD TRUMP’S NEW CLOTHES
During the Watergate hearings, Senator Howard Baker, famously defined the scope of committee’s job.
It was just after John Dean had testified for two days, implicating Richard Nixon in the cover-up of the burglary of Democratic Headquarters, including Nixon’s knowledge and orchestration of the payment of illegal “hush money” intended to subvert the Federal investigation into what had occurred.
Senator Baker framed the central question this way: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”
The January 6 Committee’s session last Thursday presented exactly the same question, in a different and far more ominous context: Using the testimony of Trump’s advisors, cabinet members and family members, it became abundantly clear that Trump knew, as early as election night, that he had lost the election. Within a week or so, he knew that Biden had won fairly, without any significant evidence of fraud, election misconduct or official negligence.
There is some reason to wonder whether Trump understood what he was being told: Famously narcissistic and incapable of admitting error in any context, some think that Trump may have closed his mind off to the possibility that he’d been fired. Instead of listening to the people in government who were charged with analyzing the results and delivering bad news, Trump built up a coven of sycophants who told him what he wanted to hear, and who took the bogus “voter fraud” claims through dozens of court proceedings where the claims were heard and uniformly rejected for lack of evidence. Rudy Giuliani lost his law license because of these shenanigans.
Every losing presidential candidate is crushed by defeat. Every one except for Trump sucked it up and conceded. Al Gore’s concession after the abysmal winner-picking decision in 2000 by the US Supreme Court is perhaps the strongest example of any candidate’s reverence for the Constitution over personal grievance.
Trump is the “B-side” of that record. Despite his oath of office, he has pursued personal grievance and has ripped up the Constitution in the process. There is nothing more fundamental to our rule of law than the prescribed methods for assigning power to each of the three branches of government.
There are, it seems, two possibilities concerning Trump’s mental state: 1) He has gone completely off his rocker and, like some sequestered and jilted Dickensian character, he simply cannot understand what people have repeatedly told him about the election. 2) He fully understands what happened and is deliberately refusing to abide by the Constitution because he is a fascist, intending to hold onto (or regain) power without the constraints of the Constitution.
If the latter, he deserves to be prosecuted for fomenting insurrection, fraud, perhaps treason as well. If the former, he can plead insanity as a defense to the charges brought against him. (I can’t wait to see how long it will take for any lawyer recommending that defense to get fired.)
The presentation by the January 6 Committee sets a much deeper context for what happened at the Capitol: The bloody insurrection was only part of a much broader conspiracy, by Trump, his “Four Seasons” legal team — and in their fealty to him, most of the Republican Congressional delegation — to overturn the results of a legally conducted federal election. The focus on whether Trump’s words that morning amounted to incitement (they did) and whether Trump’s refusal to call off his supporters was criminally negligent (it was) misses the much more urgent point. There was — and is — a conspiracy to overturn the government of the United States. If the Constitution can be ignored on its most fundamental precept — election of a Government by the People — then nothing else matters.
(The Republican Congress may be compared to the townspeople in “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” They all could see, plain as day, that the emperor was naked, but having been told that anyone saying as much would be considered a fool, they played along. Liz Cheney is anything but juvenile, but her truth-telling is akin to the courageous boy who called out the emperor’s nakedness. She has called out Trump’s naked ambition and treason.)
So, in addition to demonstrating what the “president knew and when he knew it,” it is just as crucial to demonstrate the criminal complicity of his enablers, including Kevin McCarthy. Based on what I saw on Thursday night, I believe that this Congressional committee is up to the task.
Merrick Garland better be.