Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American
March 3, 2022
In the midst of all the news stories that have taken the headlines, the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol has continued its work. Today, in a lawsuit, it told a judge that the committee “has a good-faith basis for concluding that the President and members of his Campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States.”
The filing also said that a “review of the materials may reveal that the president and members of his campaign engaged in common law fraud in connection with their efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.” One of the emails it released to support the filing indicated that Trump legal advisor John Eastman knew those delaying the electoral count were breaking the law.
The January 6th committee is investigating the events of January 6, 2021, to see what changes in the law, if any, should be in place to make sure what happened on January 6 cannot happen again. It cannot charge anyone with a crime, although it can make a criminal referral to the Department of Justice, which the department will then consider. Today’s statement makes it seem likely that the committee will be making such a referral.
Former acting solicitor general Neal Katyal told MSNBC: “This is as deadly serious as it gets, seditious conspiracy.”
The filing was in a case over whether Eastman, the author of the memo outlining how then–vice president Mike Pence could use his role in the counting of electoral votes to overturn the election, can refuse to turn over about 11,000 pages of emails and documents to the committee. Eastman wants to withhold them, saying they are covered by attorney-client privilege. But he has not been able to establish that Trump was his client, and, further, attorney-client privilege cannot be invoked to cover a crime.
Also today, in a case concerning whether the Oath Keepers, who stormed the Capitol on January 6, engaged in seditious conspiracy, Joshua James of Alabama pleaded guilty. According to CBS News congressional correspondent Scott MacFarlane, who is following all the January 6 cases, James agreed that he tried to disrupt the peaceful transfer of presidential power and that Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes had a “plan” for accomplishing that disruption. In the plea deal, James said that “Rhodes instructed James &..conspirators to be prepared, if called upon, to report to the White House grounds to secure the perimeter & use lethal force if necessary against anyone who tried to remove President Trump.”
Meanwhile, the Russian attack on Ukraine continues to escalate. Today, United States ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield confirmed that Russia has used cluster munitions and vacuum bombs, which are prohibited under the Geneva Conventions establishing limits to deadly weapons, in Ukraine.
A million refugees have now crossed the border to get out of Ukraine. People are also fleeing Russia as its economy collapses and Russian president Vladimir Putin persists in turning the country into a global outcast. Russian-American journalist Julia Ioffe wrote: “Friend after friend fleeing Russia. Five today alone. The best and the brightest, the journalists who were telling people the truth about their country—gone. Emigres, like the white Russians of a century ago. Putin is destroying two countries at once.” Russian authorities have started to crack down and refuse to let people leave.
In both the U.S. and Russia in the last several years, anti-democratic leaders have sought to impose their will on voters, and the similarities between those impulses make them unlikely to be independent of each other.
On July 27, 2016, even before the Republican National Committee changed the party’s platform to weaken the U.S. stance in favor of Ukraine in its struggle to fight off Russia’s 2014 invasion, U.S. News & World Report senior politics writer David Catanese noted that senior security officials were deeply concerned about then-candidate Trump’s ties to Russia.
July 27 was the day Trump referred at a news conference to his opponent and then–secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s emails that were not turned over for public disclosure from her private server and said: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing, I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” (We know now that Russian hackers did, in fact, begin to target her accounts on or around that day.)
Former secretary of defense Leon Panetta, who served under nine presidents, told Catanese that Trump was “a threat to national security,” not only because of his call for help from Russia, but because of his suggestion that he would abandon the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) if he were elected and, as Catanese put it, “his coziness toward Russian President Vladimir Putin.”
Former National Security Advisor Thomas E. Donilon also expressed concern over the hack of the Democratic National Committee by Russian operatives, and said that such an attack mirrored similar attacks in Estonia, Georgia, and, most prominently, Ukraine. He called on officials to confront Russian leaders publicly.
Cybersecurity expert Alan Silberberg told Catanese that Trump looked like an ally of Putin. “The Twitter trail, if you dig into it over the last year, the Russian media is mirroring him, putting out the same tweets at almost the same time,” Silberberg said.
“You get the sense that people think it’s a joke,” Panetta said. “The fact is what he has said has already represented a threat to our national security.”
Putin’s attempt to destroy democracy in Ukraine militarily has invited a reexamination of the cyberattacks, disinformation, division, attacks on opponents, and installation of puppet leaders he used to gain control of Ukraine before finally turning to bombs. This reexamination, in turn, has led journalists to note that those same techniques have poisoned politics in countries other than Ukraine.
Over the weekend, British investigative journalist Carol Cadwalladr warned that we are 8 years into “The first Great Information War,” a war sparked by Putin’s fury at the removal of his puppet Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 from the presidency of Ukraine. Putin set out to warp reality to confuse both Ukrainians & the world. The “meddling” we saw in the 2016 election was not an attempt to elect Trump simply so he would end the sanctions former president Barack Obama had imposed on Russia in 2014 after it invaded Ukraine. It was an attempt to destabilize democracy. “And it’s absolutely crucial that we now understand that Putin’s attack on Ukraine & the West was a JOINT attack on both,” she wrote.
Today in The Guardian, political and cultural observer Rebecca Solnit wrote a piece titled “It’s time to confront the Trump-Putin network.”