Beginning The Reckoning

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

May 13, 2022

Today the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol issued subpoenas for testimony to five members of Congress: Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Representatives Scott Perry (R-PA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), and Mo Brooks (R-AL). The committee previously invited them to cooperate voluntarily, and they refused. The committee has evidence that these five, in particular, know crucial things about the events of January 6 and activities surrounding the attempt to overturn President Joe Biden’s election. 

McCarthy communicated with Trump before, during, and after the attack on January 6th. A recently released tape shows McCarthy claiming that Trump admitted some guilt over the attack.  

Perry tried to install Trump loyalist Jeffrey Clark as acting attorney general to overturn the election. 

Jordan was part of meetings and discussions after the election to overturn its results. He also communicated with Trump on January 6th, including in the morning, before the attack took place.

Biggs was part of the planning for January 6, including the plan to bring protesters to Washington, D.C. He also worked to convince state officials that the election was stolen. Former White House officials say Biggs sought a presidential pardon in connection with the attempt to overturn the election results. 

Wearing body armor, Brooks spoke at the January 6 rally, where he told rioters to “start taking down names and kicking ass.” Since then, he has said Trump tried to get him to help “rescind the election of 2020” and put Trump back in the White House.

Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said: “We urge our colleagues to comply with the law, do their patriotic duty, and cooperate with our investigation as hundreds of other witnesses have done.”

This is an escalation of the committee’s investigation into the attempt to keep Trump in power, and today we learned more about what Trump’s presidency meant for national security.

The Department of Justice has opened a grand jury investigation into the handling of the classified documents that ended up at Mar-a-Lago. Prosecutors have issued a subpoena to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to get the boxes of documents and have asked to interview people who worked in the White House in the last days of Trump’s presidency. A spokesperson for Trump said: “President Trump consistently handled all documents in accordance with applicable law and regulations. Belated attempts to second-guess that clear fact are politically motivated and misguided.”

We also learned more about the people Trump’s presidency empowered.

The House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, chaired by Representative James Clyburn (D-SC) and charged with examining waste, fraud, and any other issues relating to the government response to the coronavirus pandemic, issued a report today laying out how meatpacking giants got around local and state health officials trying to protect workers. 

Working with Under Secretary of Food Safety Mindy Brashears at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), who industry lobbyists boasted “hasn’t lost a battle for us,” top executives of JBS, Smithfield, and Tyson asked Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to get Vice President Mike Pence to throw his weight behind keeping workers in the plant. Less than a week later, Pence said at a press conference that meatpacking workers “need…to show up and do your job.” Industry leaders wrote a proposed executive order for Trump to issue, declaring a meat shortage and invoking the Defense Production Act to ensure that the plants continued to operate. Less than a week later, Trump issued a similar executive order.

But there wasn’t actually a shortage. Even as John H. Tyson, chair of Tyson’s board, ran full-page ads in national newspapers warning that “[t]he food supply chain is breaking” and “[o]ur plants must remain operational so we can supply food to our families in America,” U.S. pork exports were at a three-year high.

At the same time, companies asked for federal liability protection against lawsuits if workers got Covid-19 on the job. And they did get sick. Taylor Telford of the Washington Post noted that research from the University of California at Davis showed that about 334,000 coronavirus cases have been tied to meatpacking plants across the country. They have caused more than $11 billion in economic damage. Not, apparently, to the meatpacking companies, however. According to a Reuters story from December 2021, meat packers’ profits jumped 300% during the pandemic.

This story points to a larger problem of the consolidation of food production, a problem we are seeing right now in the acute shortage of baby formula in the U.S., where supplies are 43% below normal. The problem stems primarily from a recall of formula produced by Abbott, the country’s largest producer of infant formula, in its Sturgis, Michigan, factory after Cronobacter bacteria, which can cause a potentially deadly infection in infants, was found in test samples.  

Abbott has had a good run lately: in October 2019 it announced a $3 billion share buyback program to make its stock more valuable. Two years later, last October, a whistleblower warned that the Michigan plant was in need of repair, and claimed that Abbott had falsified records and hidden information from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Four months later, in February 2022, the FDA warned consumers not to use products from that facility. It is now closed, and other companies are scrambling to make up the difference. Today the administration announced it would increase imports of baby formula until U.S. production comes back to normal levels. 

It sure feels like we are beginning the reckoning of forty years of decisions, decisions that have concentrated power in a small minority and that have finally led us to the place where a congressional committee wants to talk with five members of Congress to hear what they know about the attempt to overturn an election so a Democratic president could not take office.