Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American
November 1, 2021
In the weeks after the January 6 insurrection, one of the things that struck me as an odd political calculation was how quickly Republican lawmakers fell back into line behind former president Trump. Anyone watching could see that the information about Trump’s involvement in that insurrection that would come out by, well, right about now—about a year before the midterm elections—was going to be bad.
And here we are, and yes it is.
Today the Washington Post published a long report about the events before, during, and after January 6, compiled by a team of more than 25 reporters and additional staff who reviewed video and court transcripts, followed social media posts, and interviewed more than 230 people. The report lays the blame for January 6 on Trump and warns that we are in a fight for the survival of democracy.
The report is horrific, full of images, tapes, and timelines of a far more violent attack on our government than has previously been put together. It shows how very close the insurrectionists came to getting their hands on then–Vice President Mike Pence, who Trump told them was the architect of their disappointment.
What might have happened is the stuff of nightmares.
The report concludes: “Trump was the driving force at every turn as he orchestrated what would become an attempted political coup in the months leading up to Jan. 6, calling his supporters to Washington, encouraging the mob to march on the Capitol and freezing in place key federal agencies whose job it was to investigate and stop threats to national security.” It notes that the former president did not make any effort to stop the attacks until it was clear they wouldn’t succeed, and that lawmakers assumed he was backing the rioters.
The report lays out how, on January 6, Trump and his loyal lawyer John Eastman, the author of the infamous memo outlining a six-point plan for overturning the 2020 election, continued to try to steal the election even as rioters were running amok in the Capitol. As then–Vice President Mike Pence and his family were hiding for their safety from the mob, Eastman blamed Pence for the insurrection, saying that if he had only done as the memo suggested, the riot wouldn’t have happened.
Then, when Congress resumed to count the certified ballots, Eastman argued that the delay in debate caused by the insurrection meant that Congress had run out of time to count the certified votes, as established by the Electoral College Act, so that the election should be thrown back to the states.
The Washington Post report places the insurrection into context: “The consequences of that day are still coming into focus, but what is already clear is that the insurrection was not a spontaneous act nor an isolated event. It was a battle in a broader war over the truth and over the future of American democracy,” it says. “Since then, the forces behind the attack remain potent and growing.”
The Washington Post series raises a lot of questions. It notes both that FBI officials ignored a lot of red flags before January 6 and that Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, whom Trump put into office immediately after the election after firing Defense Secretary Mark Esper, refused to approve the use of the D.C. National Guard to defend the Capitol for more than two hours after Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund requested help.
Other news from the weekend suggests that there are things Trump does not want us to know about the insurrection. This weekend we learned that he is trying to block the National Archives and Records Administration from giving to the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol information that includes call records from that day, information about visitors to the White House around then, and so on: material that is generally a matter of public record. Only the current president can invoke executive privilege, and President Joe Biden has declined to do so over these materials.
An older story involving the former president is also suddenly in the news. In October 2016, four computer scientists noticed unusual activity between the Trump organization; Russia’s Alfa Bank, which was connected to the Kremlin; and Spectrum Health, a Michigan-based healthcare organization connected to the DeVos family. The computer folks took their information to the FBI, which was already engaged in its own investigation of the ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. The story got folded into all the other material about the campaign and its ties to Russia, and was largely forgotten.
Then, earlier this month, a special counsel appointed by Trump’s Attorney General William Barr to investigate the Russia investigation indicted a cybersecurity lawyer for lying to the FBI. In the indictment, Special Counsel John Durham accused those computer scientists of advancing a story they did not believe in order to hurt Trump’s 2016 presidential bid.
The computer scientists have come out swinging. They reject the idea that they were advancing a political attack and maintain that the weird connections they saw did, indeed, show coordination between Trump and the Russian-based Alfa Bank. They believed there was enough evidence to open a criminal investigation. They have accused Durham of misrepresenting their debates over the material, and they say their evidence is solid and reproducible.
It is this mess to which Republican lawmakers have tied themselves.
The Washington Post suggests that they made that calculation in the immediate aftermath of January 6 because Trump continued to command his base and they worried about being primaried from the right if they didn’t support Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen. And so they acquitted him in his second impeachment trial and supported the “audits” of state election results that had already been proved secure.
But that leaves a circle to be squared.
Winning a primary by staking out turf as a Trump supporter would mean losing in the general election… unless state legislatures fixed elections so that Republicans would win, no matter who the Republican candidate happened to be.