While it’s not a sure bet, I believe the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol will succeed. And, in my view, there is only one measure of success. That is, the Department of Justice will indict Donald Trump for crimes against our nation based on the evidence the committee presents to the American people.
The country is clearly divided on whether Trump is culpable for the insurrection. Thursday’s first televised hearing was only the beginning of the committee’s effort to lay out its case that he is criminally liable. With Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy) leading the charge, it was a good initial step.
The committee’s evidence was convincing that there was a conspiracy to overturn the election. For example, it showed video of a meeting between leaders of two far-right groups, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, the night before the attack. Then Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards testified that she observed about 200 members of these groups marching to the Capitol at 10:30 the morning of the insurrection, well before Trump urged the crowd at the Ellipse to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell.”
If the “riot” was a spontaneous response to Trump’s speech, why were these right-wing groups already meeting in advance of January 6th? Why were they encountering police at the Capitol prior to Trump’s Ellipse speech? It stands to reason that they must have conspired in advance to be on the frontline of the larger attack they knew was coming.
The essential question that the committee must answer with concrete evidence in its subsequent hearings then is, to what degree was Trump involved in the effort to overthrow our government. What did Trump do or not do to advance the insurrection and with whom did he interact? As Rep. Cheney asserted, that attempt went well beyond the January 6th attack on the Capitol. In fact, it continues to this day.
Cheney explained that over the course of several months Trump had a “sophisticated seven-point plan” to overturn the 2020 election and prevent the transition of presidential power. In the next couple of weeks, the committee’s hearings will provide substantial evidence of Trump’s central role in executing his plan. When all else failed, the January insurrection was the final stab at accomplishing his goal.
Other elements of Trump’s scheme included:
- Spreading false and fraudulent information to the American public claiming the 2020 election was stolen from him,
- Replacing the Acting Attorney General, so that the Department of Justice would support his fake election claims,
- Pressuring state election officials, and state legislators, to change election results,
- Instructing Republicans in multiple states to create false electoral slates and transmit those slates to Congress and the National Archives, and
- Summoning his supporters to Washington and directing them to march on the US Capitol.
When you put this all together, it’s clear that Trump’s intent was to overturn the election and remain in power by unlawful means. In practically all criminal cases, proving the accused’s intent is a critical element in obtaining a conviction. It’s now up to the committee to present evidence in its upcoming hearings that establishes Trump’s intent beyond a reasonable doubt. If it can do that, and I think they can, Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice will prosecute Trump for crimes against the United States.
Bruce Berlin, J.D.
A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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