Crime of the century comes into sharper focus
House panel details vital elements of criminal case against Donald Trump
We are living through a pivotal moment without precedent.
For the first time in American history, an ex-president is facing the serious possibility of criminal indictment for acts he committed while in office, thanks to the House Select Committee on the January 6th attack on the Capitol.
When writing about this moment, historians of the future can hardly avoid using the words “Trump” and “coup” and “crime” in the same sentence.
The jury is, obviously, still out. But in the court of public opinion, the case is playing better than any episode of Perry Mason or an entire John Grisham novel.
Whether any minds will be changed by the stunning revelations in the public hearings of the Select Committee (watched on TV by millions) remains to be seen.
But the global debate they’ve already sparked is one for the history books. And, it’s a dramatic masterpiece!
The most unlikely hero of ex-President Donald Trump’s denouement so far is no other than Republican Congresswoman Rep. Liz Cheney.
Before you jump to conclusions, let me remind you that she has a pedigree that stinks like a rotten fish.
Who could forget that her dad, Dick “Cant-Shoot-Straight” Cheney (who ran the country while the hapless “W” was the nominal president), used lies and fake intelligence to drive the US straight into the ditch of the 2003 Iraq War – the biggest foreign policy blunder in American history, and one from which it has never recovered.
Long before the public hearings began, Liz Cheney had shown her mettle. She never bought into the “Big Lie,” voted in favor of impeachment, and was outspoken in her conviction of the ex-president’s guilt. It cost her a GOP House leadership position, but immeasurably raised her profile – and it was certainly a profile in courage.
Once the cameras started rolling, Dick Cheney’s progeny was undoubtedly the star of the show during the televised public hearings of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the US Capitol.
As soon as Chairman Bennie Thompson handed her the gavel during the opening minutes of the first hearing, Cheney spoke in modulated tones, unemotionally, directly to the American people, and precisely on point.
“Tonight I am going to describe for you some of what our committee has learned and highlight initial findings you will see this month in our hearings,” she began.
“As you hear this, all Americans should keep in mind this fact: On the morning of January 6th, President Donald Trump’s intention was to remain President of the United States despite the lawful outcome of the 2020 election and in violation of his Constitutional obligation to relinquish power. (emphasis added)
“Over multiple months, Donald Trump oversaw and coordinated a sophisticated seven-part plan to overturn the presidential election and prevent the transfer of presidential power. In our hearings, you will see evidence of each element of this plan.”
In a slickly produced, 20-minute multimedia presentation including hitherto unseen, stunning video of the events of January 6, Cheney proceeded like a practiced attorney to lay out the prosecution's case.
Her language was redolent of a courtroom drama, but it was clearly understandable to us untrained viewers.
“Over a series of hearings in the coming weeks, you will hear testimony, live and on video, from more than a half dozen former White House staff in the Trump administration, all of whom were in the West Wing of the White House on January 6th,” Cheney said.
“You will hear evidence that President Trump refused for hours to do what his staff, his family, and many of his other advisors begged him to do: immediately instruct his supporters to stand down and evacuate the Capitol…”
“You will also hear about plots to commit seditious conspiracy on January 6th, a crime defined in our laws as ‘conspir[ing] to overthrow, put down or destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to oppose by force the authority thereof.’ ”
Note the deliberate legalese: the words “testimony,” “crime” and “evidence,” “seditious conspiracy” and other terms were repeated throughout her presentation. Her intent was unmistakable.
Cheney was building a legal argument for a criminal indictment of the 45th president of the United States.
In the two subsequent hearings, the Select Committee has delivered on Cheney’s promises! The evidence is mounting and irrefutable. There are still more hearings to come.
In case Cheney’s intent was too subtle for viewers, about halfway through her presentation she segued into a video clip of discredited former Attorney General Bill Barr – one of the ex-president’s chief enablers up until the December, 2020 day he resigned in disgust and in disgrace.
Barr was giving a deposition under oath, so even he could not prevaricate. The video quickly zeroes in on the money quote, which has been replayed endlessly as if on a continuous loop through mass media and on social media.
“I repeatedly told the President in no uncertain terms that I did not see evidence of fraud, you know, that would have affected the outcome of the election,” Barr testified.
“I saw absolutely zero basis for the allegations, but they were made in such a sensational way that they obviously were influencing a lot of people. (emphasis added)
“I told him that it was crazy stuff and they were wasting their time on that and that it was doing great, great disservice to the country…
“I made it clear I did not agree with the idea of saying the election was stolen and putting out this stuff, which I told the president was bullshit.”
Not even The New York Times blushed at Barr’s use of a locker-room expletive.
To add an exclamation point to this knockout blow, Cheney immediately followed up with a video clip that must have felt like a direct hit on the ex-president’s solar plexus!
“Many of President Trump’s White House staff also recognized that the evidence did not support the claims President Trump was making,” Cheney said.
“This is the President’s daughter [Ivanka], commenting on Bill Barr’s statement that the Department found no fraud sufficient to overturn the election … (cut to video)
“Question: How did that affect your perspective about the election when Attorney General Barr made that statement?
Ivanka: It affected my perspective. I respect Attorney General Barr so I accepted what he was saying.”
Not even the ex-president’s closest relative and confidant could stomach his “Big Lie.” There is much more and you can read it yourself in the transcript of her entire presentation.
In the days that followed the first Select Committee hearing, pundits and pontificators flooded the news and social media with an avalanche of analysis and commentary on the blockbuster event.
It was difficult to sift through the clutter to find a something unique. First principles helped: go to someone you trust.
In its forthright simplicity and precise targeting, few could rival Donald Trump, American Monster by The New York Times’ columnist Maureen Dowd.
A Washington-based op-ed writer for 27 years, Dowd is not a newcomer to covering presidential scandals. In 1999, she won a Pulitzer Prize for her series of columns on the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky affair.
Comparing ex-President Trump to Frankenstein’s monster, Dowd wrote:
“Our monster’s malignity stems from pure narcissistic psychopathy — and he refuses to leave the stage or cease his vile mendacity,” she said in her inimitable style.
“It never for a moment crossed Donald Trump’s mind that an American president committing sedition would be a debilitating, corrosive thing for the country. It was just another way for the Emperor of Chaos to burnish his title.”
Dowd echoed the sentiments of many others, but she rose to the occasion with memorable descriptors (“vile mendacity,” “Emperor of Chaos”) few can match. Her prose is more akin to poetry than punditry.
Like a chorus across the media landscape, she also picked up on the clear intent of the hearing: to establish the basis for a criminal indictment of the ex-president.
She saved her best zinger for last:
“In his dystopian Inaugural speech, Trump promised to end ‘American carnage.’ Instead, he delivered it. Now he needs to be held accountable for his attempted coup — and not just in the court of public opinion.”
From the outset but absolutely obvious by the end of the third hearing on Thursday, it was clear that one of the principal targets of the Select Committee was the Department of Justice and the Attorney General Merrick Garland.
In a news conference on June 14 Garland confirmed that he and his staff were paying close attention.
“I am watching, and I will be watching all the hearings, although I may not be able to watch all of it live,” Garland said. “But I will be sure that I am watching all of it. And I can assure you that the January 6 prosecutors are watching all of the hearings as well.”
Legal analysts monitoring the proceedings have repeatedly said that a key element of any criminal case against the ex-president will hinge on whether it can be proved he knew his “Big Lie” about the stolen election was false but fraudulently repeated it … and still is today.
The ex-president has hidden behind the claim that “he believes” what he is saying. The Select Committee has presented multiple witnesses, most from his inner circle of trusted advisers and his family who testified that on many occasions they tried to tell the ex-president he was wrong.
Most devastatingly was the evidence by his former Attorney General Barr, who testified that he told Trump his election claims were false, “without merit” and “based on complete misinformation.”
To establish fraudulent intent, in criminal cases prosecutors try to argue the accused showed “willful blindness.” It’s used when a suspect intentionally attempts to avoid the facts to prevent criminal liability.
Barr demolished this defense when he testified that “there was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were” on the part of the ex-president. In other words, he was willfully blind.
In different words other witnesses at the second and third hearings reaffirmed this point. The ex-president did not care to hear the truth; he just changed the subject.
By the end of the week, the case for willful blindness had been thoroughly established.
Constitutional crisis avoided – barely!
By the time the third hearing ended on June 16, two stunning revelations had brought into sharp focus the criminal case being detailed by the Select Committee.
The first came from retired Appeals Court Judge Michael Luttig, one of the most highly respected conservative jurists in the US legal firmament.
“I believe that had Vice President [Mike] Pence obeyed the orders from [the then-president] … that declaration of Donald Trump as the next president would have plunged America into what I believe would have been tantamount to a revolution within a constitutional crisis in America,” Luttig said. “[It] would have been the first constitutional crisis since the founding of the Republic.”
The second revelation was that the chief architect of the illegal plot to overturn the election, lawyer John Eastman had – after the riot – requested a presidential pardon.
This was tantamount to an admission of guilt. He knew he had legal jeopardy, because he had probably committed a crime.
What made the three hearings to date so successful was primarily their unusual format. Instead of each committee member posing questions of the witness, just one was delegated the responsibility at each hearing.
This allowed for continuity of the questions and the building of a narrative that told a compelling story of how the events unfolded. Live testimony was interspersed with video clips of the actual events on Jan. 6 and previously obtained video depositions from the key players.
It was a tightly scripted show for the ages.
With more hearings promised, the case for a criminal indictment is likely to grow even stronger.
The evidence for this was reported late Thursday when the Department of Justice repeated its request for transcripts of all the interviews held by the House Select Committee.
The world is waiting with obvious anticipation for the next installments of what has become a gripping, true-life crime drama.
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