Individualism vs. The Common Good

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

August 27, 2021

America is in a watershed moment. Since the 1980s, the country has focused on individualism: the idea that the expansion of the federal government after the Depression in the 1930s created a form of collectivism that we must destroy by cutting taxes and slashing regulation to leave individuals free to do as they wish. 

Domestically, that ideology meant dismantling government regulation, social safety networks, and public infrastructure projects. Internationally, it meant a form of “cowboy diplomacy” in which the U.S. usually acted on its own to rebuild nations in our image.

Now, President Joe Biden appears to be trying to bring back a focus on the common good. 

For all that Republicans today insist that individualism is the heart of Americanism, in fact the history of federal protection of the common good began in the 1860s with their own ancestors, led by Abraham Lincoln, who wrote: “The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves—in their separate, and individual capacities.”

The contrast between these two ideologies has been stark this week.

On the one hand are those who insist that the government cannot limit an individual’s rights by mandating either masks or vaccines, even in the face of the deadly Delta variant of the coronavirus that is, once again, taking more than 1000 American lives a day. 

In New York, where Mayor Bill de Blasio has required teachers to be vaccinated, the city’s largest police union has said it will sue if a vaccine is mandated for its members. 

In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott on Wednesday issued an executive order prohibiting any government office or any private entity receiving government funds from requiring vaccines. 

In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has also forbidden mask mandates, but today Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper ruled that DeSantis’s order is unconstitutional. Cooper pointed out that in 1914 and 1939, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that individual rights take a back seat to public safety: individuals can drink alcohol, for example, but not drive drunk. DeSantis was scathing of the opinion and has vowed to appeal. Meanwhile, NBC News reported this week that information about the coronavirus in Florida, as well as Georgia, is no longer easily available on government websites.

On the other hand, as predicted, the full approval of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration has prompted a flood of vaccine mandates.

The investigation into the events of January 6, when a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, also showcases the tension between individualism and community. 

Yesterday, after months in which Republicans, including former president Donald Trump, called for the release of the identity of the officer who shot Capitol rioter Ashli Babbitt, Capitol Police officer Lieutenant Michael Byrd, the 28-year veteran of the force who shot Babbitt, gave an interview to Lester Holt of NBC News

Right-wing activists have called Babbitt a martyr murdered by the government, but Byrd explained that he was responsible for protecting 60 to 80 members of the House and their staffers. As rioters smashed the glass doors leading into the House chamber, Byrd repeatedly called for them to get back. When Ashli Babbitt climbed through the broken door, he shot her in the shoulder. She later died from her injuries. Byrd said he was doing his job to protect our government. “I know that day I saved countless lives,” Byrd told Holt. “I know members of Congress, as well as my fellow officers and staff, were in jeopardy and in serious danger. And that’s my job.”

The conflict between individualism and society also became clear today as the House select committee looking into the attack asked social media giants to turn over “all reviews, studies, reports, data, analyses, and communications” they had gathered about disinformation distributed by both foreign and domestic actors, as well as information about “domestic violent extremists” who participated in the attack.

Representative Jim Banks (R-IN) immediately responded that “Congress has no general power to inquire into private affairs and to compel disclosure….” He urged telecommunications companies and Facebook not to hand over any materials, calling their effort an “authoritarian undertaking.” Banks told Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson that Republicans should punish every lawmaker investigating the January 6 insurrection if they retake control of Congress in 2022.

Biden’s new turn is especially obvious tonight in international affairs. The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, a country we entered almost 20 years ago with a clear mission that became muddied almost immediately, has sparked Republican criticism for what many describe as a U.S. defeat. 

Since he took office, Biden has insisted on shifting American foreign policy away from U.S. troops alone on the ground toward multilateral pressure using finances and technology.

After yesterday’s bombing in Kabul took the lives of 160 Afghans and 13 American military personnel, Biden warned ISIS-K: “We will hunt you down and make you pay.” 

Tonight, a new warning from the State Department warning Americans at the gates of the Kabul airport to “leave immediately” came just before a spokesman for CENTCOM, the United States Central Command in the Defense Department overseeing the Middle East, announced: “U.S. military forces conducted an over-the-horizon counterterrorism operation today against an ISIS-K planner. The unmanned airstrike occurred in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan. Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties.”

Biden’s strike on ISIS-K demonstrated the nation’s over-the-horizon technologies that he hopes will replace troops. Even still, the administration continues to call for international cooperation. In a press conference today, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby responded to a question about U.S. control in Afghanistan by saying: “It’s not about U.S. control in the Indo-Pacific. It’s about protecting our country from threats and challenges that emanate from that part of the world. And it’s about revitalizing our network of alliances and partnerships to help our partners in the international community do the same.“

Meanwhile, this afternoon, news broke that the Taliban has asked the United States to keep a diplomatic presence in the country even after it ends its military mission. The Taliban continues to hope for international recognition, in part to claw back some of the aid that western countries—especially the U.S.—will no longer provide, as well as to try to get the country’s billions in assets unfrozen.

A continued diplomatic presence in Afghanistan would make it easier to continue to get allies and U.S. citizens out of the country, but State Department spokesman Ned Price said the idea is a nonstarter unless a future Afghan government protects the rights of its citizens, including its women, and refuses to harbor terrorists. Price also emphasized that the U.S. would not make this decision without consulting allies. “This is not just a discussion the United States will have to decide for itself.… We are coordinating with our international partners, again to share ideas, to ensure that we are sending the appropriate signals and messages to the Taliban,” he said.

Evacuations from Afghanistan continue. Since August 14, they have topped 110,000, with 12,500 people in the last 24 hours. 

Perhaps the news story that best illustrates the tension today between individualism and using the government to help everyone is about a natural disaster. Hurricane Ida, which formed in the Caribbean yesterday, is barreling toward the U.S. Gulf Coast. When it hit western Cuba today, it was a Category 1 storm, but meteorologists expect it to pick up speed as it crosses the warm gulf, becoming a Category 4 storm by the time it hits the U.S. coastline. The area from Louisiana to Florida is in the storm’s path. New Orleans could see winds of up to 110 miles an hour and a storm surge of as much as 11 feet. Louisiana officials issued evacuation orders today. 

The storm is expected to hit Sunday evening, exactly 16 years after Hurricane Katrina did. But this time, there is another compilation: this is the very part of the country suffering terribly right now from coronavirus. Standing firm on individual rights, only about 40% of Louisiana’s population has been vaccinated, and hospitals are already stretched thin.

Today, President Biden declared an emergency in Louisiana, ordering federal assistance from the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to the region ahead of the storm, trying to head off a catastrophe. The federal government will also help to pay the costs of the emergency. 

Early days of Taliban takeover: International Aid money dries up

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

August 18, 2021

It is still early days, and the picture of what is happening in Afghanistan now that the Taliban has regained control of the country continues to develop.

Central to affairs there is money. Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, with about half its population requiring humanitarian aid this year and about 90% of its people living below the poverty line of making $2 a day.

The country depends on foreign aid. Under the U.S.-supported Afghan government, the United States and other nations funded about 80% of Afghanistan’s budget. In 2020, foreign aid made up about 43% of Afghanistan’s GDP (the GDP, or gross domestic product, is the monetary value of all the goods and services produced in a country), down from 100% of it in 2009.

This is a huge problem for the Taliban, because their takeover of the country means that the money the country so desperately needs has dried up. The U.S. has frozen billions of dollars of Afghan government money held here in the U.S. The European Union and Germany have also suspended their financial support for the country, and today the International Monetary Fund blocked Afghanistan’s access to $460 million in currency reserves.

Adam M. Smith, who served on the National Security Council during the Obama administration, told Jeff Stein of the Washington Post that the financial squeeze is potentially “cataclysmic for Afghanistan.” It threatens to spark a humanitarian crisis that, in turn, will create a refugee crisis in central Asia. Already, the fighting in the last eight months has displaced more than half a million Afghans.

People fleeing from the Taliban threaten to destabilize the region more generally. While Russia was happy to support the Taliban in a war against the U.S., now that its fighters are in charge of the country, Russia needs to keep the Taliban’s extremism from spreading to other countries in the area. So it is tentatively saying supportive things about the Taliban, but it is also stepping up its protection of neighboring countries’ borders with Afghanistan. Other countries are also leery of refugees in the region: large numbers of refugees have, in the past, led countries to turn against immigrants, giving a leg up to right-wing governments.

Canada and Britain are each taking an additional 20,000 Afghan women leaders, reporters, LGBTQ people, and human rights workers on top of those they have already volunteered to take, but Turkey—which is governed by strongman president Recep Tayyip Erdogan—is building a wall to block refugees, and French President Emmanuel Macron asked officials in Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey to prevent migrants reaching their countries from traveling any further. The European Union has asked its member states to take more Afghan refugees.

In the U.S., the question of Afghan refugees is splitting the Republican Party, with about 30% of it following the hard anti-immigrant line of former president Donald Trump. Others, though, especially those whose districts include military installations, are saying they welcome our Afghan allies.

The people fleeing the country also present a problem for those now in control of Afghanistan. The idea that people are terrified of their rule is a foreign relations nightmare, at the same time that those leaving are the ones most likely to have the skills necessary to help govern the country. But leaders can’t really stop the outward flow—at least immediately—because they do not want to antagonize the international community so thoroughly that it continues to withhold the financial aid the country so badly needs. So, while on the streets, Taliban fighters are harassing Afghans who are trying to get away, Taliban leaders are saying they will permit people to evacuate, that they will offer blanket amnesty to those who opposed them, and also that they will defend some rights for women and girls.

The Biden administration is sending more personnel to help evacuate those who want to leave. The president has promised to evacuate all Americans in the country—as many as 15,000 people—but said only that we would evacuate as many of the estimated 65,000 Afghans who want to leave as possible. The Taliban has put up checkpoints on the roads to the airport and are not permitting everyone to pass. U.S. military leaders say they will be able to evacuate between 5000 and 9000 people a day.

Today, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark A. Milley tried to explain the frantic rush to evacuate people from Afghanistan to reporters by saying: “There was nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days.” Maybe. But military analyst Jason Dempsey condemned the whole U.S. military project in Afghanistan when he told NPR’s Don Gonyea that the collapse of the Afghan government showed that the U.S. had fundamentally misunderstood the people of Afghanistan and had tried to impose a military system that simply made no sense for a society based in patronage networks and family relationships.

Even with Dempsey’s likely accurate assessment, the statement that U.S. military intelligence missed that a 300,000 person army was going to melt away still seems to me astonishing. Still, foreign policy and national security policy analyst Dr. John Gans of the University of Pennsylvania speculated on Twitter that such a lapse might be more “normal”—his word and quotation marks—than it seems, reflecting the slips possible in government bureaucracy. He points out that the Department of Defense has largely controlled Afghanistan and the way the U.S. involvement there was handled in Washington. But with the end of the military mission, the Defense Department was eager to hand off responsibility to the State Department, which was badly weakened under the previous administration and has not yet rebuilt fully enough to handle what was clearly a complicated handoff. “There have not been many transitions between an American war & an American diplomatic relationship with a sovereign, friendly country,” Gans wrote. “Fewer still when the friendly regime disintegrates so quickly.” When things started to go wrong, they snowballed.

And yet, the media portrayal of our withdrawal as a catastrophe also seems to me surprising. To date, at least as far as I have seen, there have been no reports of such atrocities as the top American diplomat in Syria reported in the chaos when the U.S. pulled out of northern Syria in 2019. Violence against our Kurdish allies there was widely expected and it indeed occurred. In a memo made public in November of that year, Ambassador William V. Roebuck wrote that “Islamist groups” paid by Turkey were deliberately engaged in ethnic cleansing of Kurds, and were committing “widely publicized, fear-inducing atrocities” even while “our military forces and diplomats were on the ground.” The memo continued: “The Turkey operation damaged our regional and international credibility and has significantly destabilized northeastern Syria.”

Reports of that ethnic cleansing in the wake of our withdrawal seemed to get very little media attention in 2019, perhaps because the former president’s first impeachment inquiry took up all the oxygen. But it strikes me that the sensibility of Roebuck’s memo is now being read onto our withdrawal from Afghanistan although conditions there are not—yet—like that.

For now, it seems, the drive to keep the door open for foreign money is reining in Taliban extremism. That caution seems unlikely to last forever, but it might hold for long enough to complete an evacuation.

Much is still unclear and the situation is changing rapidly, but my guess is that keeping an eye on the money will be crucial for understanding how this plays out.

Meanwhile, the former president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, has surfaced in the United Arab Emirates. He denies early reports that he fled the country with suitcases full of cash.

Did military and intelligence leaders have no inkling of Taliban takeover?

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

August 16, 2021

According to an article by Susannah George in the Washington Post, the lightning speed takeover of Afghanistan by Taliban forces—which captured all 17 of the regional capitals and the national capital of Kabul in about nine days with astonishing ease—was a result of “cease fire” deals, which amounted to bribes, negotiated after former president Trump’s administration came to an agreement with the Taliban in February 2020. When U.S. officials excluded the Afghan government from the deal, soldiers believed that it was only a question of time until they were on their own and cut deals to switch sides. When Biden announced that he would honor Trump’s deal, the process sped up.

This seems to me to beg the question of how the Biden administration continued to have faith that the Afghan army would at the very least delay the Taliban victory, if not prevent it. Did military and intelligence leaders have no inkling of such a development? In a speech today in which he stood by his decision to remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan, President Joe Biden explained that the U.S. did not begin evacuating Afghan civilians sooner because some, still hoping they could hold off the Taliban, did not yet want to leave. 

At the same time, Biden said, “the Afghan government and its supporters discouraged us from organizing a mass exodus to avoid triggering, as they said, ‘a crisis of confidence.’” He explained that he had urged Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chairman Abdullah Abdullah of the High Council for National Reconciliation to clean up government corruption, unite politically, and seek a political settlement with the Taliban. They “flatly refused” to do so, but “insisted the Afghan forces would fight.”

Instead, government officials themselves fled the country before the Taliban arrived in Kabul, throwing the capital into chaos.

Biden argued today that the disintegration of the Afghan military proved that pulling out the few remaining U.S. troops was the right decision. He inherited from former president Donald Trump the deal with the Taliban agreeing that if the Taliban stopped killing U.S. soldiers and refused to protect terrorists, the U.S. would withdraw its forces by May 1, 2021. The Taliban stopped killing soldiers after it negotiated the deal, and Trump dropped the number of soldiers in Afghanistan from about 15,500 to about 2,500. 

Biden had either to reject the deal, pour in more troops, and absorb more U.S. casualties, or honor the plan that was already underway. “I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said today. “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves. We spent over a trillion dollars. We trained and equipped an Afghan military force of some 300,000 strong—incredibly well equipped—a force larger in size than the militaries of many of our NATO allies…. We gave them every tool they could need. We paid their salaries, provided…close air support. We gave them every chance to determine their own future.  What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.”

“It is wrong to order American troops to step up when Afghanistan’s own armed forces would not. If the political leaders of Afghanistan were unable to come together for the good of their people, unable to negotiate for the future of their country when the chips were down, they would never have done so while U.S. troops remained in Afghanistan bearing the brunt of the fighting for them.”

Biden added, “I’m left again to ask of those who argue that we should stay: How many more generations of America’s daughters and sons would you have me send to fight…Afghanistan’s civil war when Afghan troops will not?”  

The president recalled that the U.S. invaded Afghanistan almost 20 years ago to prevent another al Qaeda attack on America by making sure the Taliban government could not continue to protect al Qaeda and by removing Osama bin Laden. After accomplishing those goals, though, the U.S. expanded its mission to turn the country into a unified, centralized democracy, a mission that was not, Biden said, a vital national interest.

Biden, who is better versed in foreign affairs than any president since President George H. W. Bush, said today that the U.S. should focus not on counterinsurgency or on nation building, but narrowly on counterterrorism, which now reaches far beyond Afghanistan. Terrorism missions do not require a permanent military presence. The U.S. already conducts such missions, and will conduct them in Afghanistan in the future, if necessary, he said.

Biden claims that human rights are central to his foreign policy, but he wants to accomplish them through diplomacy, economic tools, and rallying others to join us, rather than with “endless military deployments.” He explained that U.S. diplomats are secure at the Kabul airport, and he has authorized 6,000 U.S. troops to go to Afghanistan to help with evacuation.

Biden accepted responsibility for his decision to leave Afghanistan, and he maintained that it is the right decision for America. 

While a lot of U.S. observers have quite strong opinions about what the future looks like for Afghanistan, it seems to me far too soon to guess how the situation there will play out. There is a lot of power sloshing around in central Asia right now, and I don’t think either that Taliban leaders are the major players or that Afghanistan is the primary stage. Russia has just concluded military exercises with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, both of which border Afghanistan, out of concern about the military takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban. At the same time, the area is about to have to deal with large numbers of Afghan refugees, who are already fleeing the country. 

But the attacks on Biden for the withdrawal from Afghanistan do raise the important question of when it is in America’s interest to fight a ground war. Should we limit foreign intervention to questions of the safety of Americans? Should we protect our economic interests? Should we fight to spread democracy? Should we fight to defend human rights? Should we fight to shorten other wars, or prevent genocide? 

These are not easy questions, and reasonable people can, and maybe should, disagree about the answers.

But none of them is about partisan politics, either; they are about defining our national interest. 

It strikes me that some of the same people currently expressing concern over the fate of Afghanistan’s women and girls work quite happily with Saudi Arabia, which has its own repressive government, and have voted against reauthorizing our own Violence Against Women Act. Some of the same people worrying about the slowness of our evacuation of our Afghan allies voted just last month against providing more visas for them, and others seemed to worry very little about our utter abandonment of our Kurdish allies when we withdrew from northern Syria in 2019. And those worrying about democracy in Afghanistan seem to be largely unconcerned about protecting voting rights here at home. 

Most notably to me, some of the same people who are now focusing on keeping troops in Afghanistan to protect Americans seem uninterested in stopping the spread of a disease that has already killed more than 620,000 of us and that is, once again, raging.

Charlottesville began a wave of violent populism that mutated into authoritarianism

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

August 11, 2021

Four years ago today, racists, antisemites, white nationalists, Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis, and other alt-right groups met in Charlottesville, Virginia, to “Unite the Right.” The man who organized the rally, Jason Kessler, claimed he wanted to bring people together to protest the removal of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from a local park. But the rioters turned immediately to chants that had been used by the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s: “you will not replace us,” “Jews will not replace us,” and “blood and soil.” They gave Nazi salutes and carried Nazi insignia, and many brought battle gear and went looking for fights. By the end of August 12, they had killed counterprotester Heather Heyer and had injured 19 others. After the governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency, the rioters went home. 

The Unite the Right rally drew a clear political line in America. Then-president Donald Trump refused to condemn the rioters, telling a reporter that there were “very fine people, on both sides.” 

In contrast, former vice president Joe Biden watched the events at Charlottesville and concluded that the soul of the nation was at stake. He decided to run for president and to defeat the man he believed threatened our democracy. Biden was especially concerned with Trump’s praise for the “very fine people” aligned with the rioters. “With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it,” Biden said, “and in that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.”  

Four years later, it is much easier to see the larger context of the Charlottesville riot. The political threat of those gangs who tried to unite in Charlottesville in 2017 recalls how fascism came to America in the 1930s: not as an elite ideology, but as a unification of street brawlers to undermine the nation’s democratic government. 

In 2018, historian Joseph Fronczak explored the arrival of fascism in the U.S. In an article in the leading journal of the historical profession, the Journal of American History, Fronczak explained how men interested in overturning Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency in 1934 admired and then imitated the violent right-wing gangs that helped overturn European governments and install right-wing dictators. 

The United States had always had radical street mobs, from anti-Catholic gangs in the 1830s to Ku Klux Klan chapters in the 1860s to anti-union thugs in the 1880s. In the 1930s, though, those eager to get rid of FDR brought those street fighters together as a political force to overthrow the federal government. 

While they failed to do so in an attempted 1934 coup, Fronczak explains, street fighters learned about the contours of fascism once their power as a violent street force was established. He argues that in the U.S., fascism grew out of political violence, not the other way around. Mobs whose members dressed in similar shirts, waved similar flags, and made similar salutes pieced together racist, antisemitic, and nationalistic ideas and became the popular arm of right-wing leaders. In America, the hallmark of budding fascism was populist street violence, rather than an elite philosophy of government.

The Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville had the hallmarks of such a populist movement. Leaders brought together different gangs, dressed similarly and carrying the emblem of tiki torches, to organize and attack the government. Rather than rejecting the rioters, then-President Trump encouraged them. 

From that point on, Trump seemed eager to ride a wave of violent populism into authoritarianism. He stoked populist anger over state shutdowns during coronavirus, telling supporters to “LIBERATE MINNESOTA,” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” His encouragement fed the attacks on the Michigan state house in 2020.  And then, after he repeatedly told his supporters the 2020 presidential election had been stolen, violent gangs attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, in an attempt to overturn the government and install him as president for another term.

While that attempted coup was unsuccessful, the empowerment of violent gangs as central political actors is stronger than ever. Since January 6, angry mobs have driven election officials out of office in fear for their safety. In increasingly angry protests, they have threatened school board members over transgender rights and over teaching Critical Race Theory, a legal theory from the 1970s that is not, in fact, in the general K–12 curriculum. 

Now, as the coronavirus rages again, they are showing exactly how this process works as they threaten local officials who are following the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to require masks. Although a Morning Consult poll shows that 69% of Americans want a return to mask mandates, vocal mobs who oppose masking are dominating public spaces and forcing officials to give in to their demands. 

In Franklin, Tennessee, yesterday, antimask mobs threatened doctors and nurses asking the local school board to reinstate a mask mandate in the schools. “We will find you,” they shouted at a man leaving the meeting. “We know who you are.”

Rosen provides the hard evidence that attempted to overturn the election

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

August 7, 2021

[…] today’s testimony by Jeffrey A. Rosen, acting attorney general during the Trump administration, before the Senate Judiciary Committee, strikes me as being a game-changer. 

New York Times reporter Katie Benner broke the news way back in January that a relatively unknown lawyer in the Justice Department, Jeffrey Clark, worked secretly with then-president Donald Trump to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Clark was a political appointee in the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice until he was moved in September 2020 to the civil division. 

Rosen replaced Attorney General William Barr when Barr resigned on December 23, 2020. But immediately, when Rosen refused to entertain the idea of overturning the election, Trump considered firing Rosen and replacing him with Clark. Rosen and his acting deputy attorney general, Richard P. Donoghue, along with top leaders in the Department of Justice all threatened to resign if Trump made the change, and the then-president backed down.

The news that Clark and Trump were working together to overturn the election sparked congressional investigations in the House Oversight and Reform Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee. On Wednesday July 28, from the House committee, we learned that Trump had pressured Rosen daily to help him overturn the election. And we learned that Donoghue had taken notes of the calls.

On Friday, July 31, the House Oversight and Reform Committee released some of those notes. They were explosive. On December 27, Rosen said that the Department of Justice had concluded the election was legitimate and that it “can’t + won’t snap its fingers + change the outcome of the election.” Trump replied that he just wanted the department to “say the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R[epublican] Congressmen.”

The next day, Clark tried to get Rosen and Donoghue to sign off on a letter claiming that the election had been fraudulent and saying that the Georgia legislature should appoint a different set of presidential electors on the grounds that the election there was full of irregularities. 

The Justice Department had already determined that the election was, in fact, legitimate, and not marred by fraud. Donoghue responded to Clark that “there is no chance that I would sign this letter or anything remotely like this…. [T]his is not even within the realm of possibility.” Rosen wrote: “I confirmed again today that I am not prepared to sign such a letter.”

According to an article in the New York Times by Katie Benner today, Rosen has been in talks with the Department of Justice for months to determine what information he could offer without disclosing information covered by executive privilege. On July 27, the Department of Justice said it would not restrict the testimony of former officials to the House Oversight and Reform Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, and shortly after, former president Donald Trump said he would not sue to stop them from testifying. 

Clark did not comment, but in January he said that while he had “a candid discussion of options and pros and cons with the president,” all of his official communications with Trump “were consistent with law.”

According to Benner, as soon as he got the all-clear, Rosen scheduled interviews with the congressional committees and with the inspector general of the Department of Justice to tell as much as he could of what he had seen before anyone tried to stop him. He met with the inspector general yesterday, and today he talked to the Senate Judiciary Committee for more than six hours. 

Richard P. Donoghue has also agreed to testify, as have other Department of Justice officials.

What this means is that congressional investigating committees now have witnesses to Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. 

With that in mind, it’s worth noting that tonight the Senate voted 67-27 to move the bipartisan infrastructure bill forward, just hours after Trump called it a “disgrace” and warned, “It will be very hard for me to endorse anyone foolish enough to vote in favor of this deal.” And yet, 18 Republicans joined the Democrats, reflecting the reality that 72% percent of Americans support the measure and going on the record against it, as Republicans did in March with the popular American Rescue Plan, is even less attractive now than it was then.

Tonight’s vote suggests that Republicans are not all going to continue to move in lockstep with the former president. Those cracks could well widen as more and more information about his administration comes out.