When retired federal Judge J. Michael Luttig said at Thursday’s blockbuster hearing of the Jan. 6 House committee that "Donald Trump, his allies and his supporters are a clear and present danger to our democracy,” it served as yet another hair-on-fire warning that the former president and those around him have no fealty to the rule of law or democratic traditions.
Trump was told that Pence had no constitutional standing to hand the election to Trump and his attempt to do so would break the law. But that didn’t stop him.
In Republican-dominated state legislatures around the country, new laws based on Trump’s false claims about electoral fraud are making it more difficult to vote, and in particular, to cast mail-in ballots. More than 100 Republicans who’ve repeated Trump’s lies about the 2020 election have won GOP primaries. Even this week, Republican election officials in New Mexico refused to certify a local election over bogus concerns about the use of Dominion voting machines, which Trump and his supporters wrongly vilified.
Even more dismaying is that none of Trump’s aides who rejected his lie and his plot have done so publicly. The committee showed video testimony from Jason Miller, a Trump campaign adviser, dismissing Eastman’s legal theories as "crazy" — but the committee also showed his appearance on Fox News on Jan.5, demanding that Pence stop the certification.
The House Jan. 6 committee is holding its fourth public hearing on Tuesday, June 21 at 1 p.m. ET. Get expert analysis in real-time on our liveblog at msnbc.com/jan6hearings.
Those around Trump either told him what he wanted to hear or enabled his fantasies. Even as he continued to spread misinformation and tell his supporters that the 2020 election had been stolen from him, they said nothing. They only talked after they were subpoenaed.
Earlier this week, we heard from the committee that Trump was told multiple times that his claims about a stolen election were not true and that he had lost the 2020 election fairly and squarely. But that didn’t stop him, and hasn’t stopped him from repeating the lie over and over again.
On Thursday, the committee presented evidence that Trump was told multiple times, including by Vice President Mike Pence, that his efforts to get the vice president to stop the certification of electoral votes on Jan.6 would not fly. Trump was told that Pence had no constitutional standing to hand the election to Trump, and his attempt to do so would break the law. But that didn’t stop him, and he continued to publicly and privately pressure Pence up through Jan.6.
On the morning Congress was to meet to certify the results, according to evidence the committee presented Thursday, Trump, in a heated phone call with Pence, called him a “wimp” and a “pussy” for refusing to do what he asked. Trump went to the Ellipse that day and further admonished Pence in public.
As the insurrection was unfolding, Trump tweeted, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our country and our Constitution, giving states a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands truth!” From all appearances, that electronic communication from Trump only seems to have further antagonized the rioters attacking the Capitol.
To Luttig’s point about allies and supporters, Trump didn't act alone. His top legal adviser and enabler, John Eastman, continued to push his harebrained legal theory that Pence could stop the certification even after virtually every member of the White House staff, and Pence’s own chief of staff and counsel, told him it was a no-go.
White House lawyer Eric Herschmann said he told Eastman “you’re going to cause riots in the streets.” Eastman allegedly shrugged and said America has witnessed such violence before.
According to Thursday’s testimony from Pence’s legal counsel, Greg Jacob, Eastman acknowledged that his plan would violate the Electoral Count Act and, thus, break the law. Jacob said Eastman also acknowledged that the Supreme Court would reject his legal reasoning, likely unanimously.
In video testimony to the Jan. 6 committee, White House lawyer Eric Herschmann said he told Eastman “you’re going to cause riots in the streets.” Eastman reportedly shrugged and said America had witnessed such violence before.
Even after Trump’s supporters had trashed the Capitol building, Jacob testified, Eastman was still lobbying Pence’s staff to have the vice president stop the certification.
And then, in what is perhaps the most telling and gobsmacking moment of the hearing, the committee acknowledged the existence of an email Eastman sent to Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani asking to be placed on a list of individuals to be pardoned by Trump.
The duplicity is stunning. Trump and Eastman understood full well that what they were proposing was illegal, could lead to violence and would fundamentally undermine American democracy.
Apparently, they didn’t care.
When his plan fell apart, Eastman also beseeched the president to grant him a pardon so he couldn’t be held accountable for his actions.
Trump continues to beat the drum of the big lie by lying to his supporters and demanding that Republican officeholders accept his lunacy or face his political wrath.
Rather than reject Trump’s cascade of lies — as the overwhelming majority of Trump’s White House aides and the vice president did at the time — Republicans continue to enable Trump’s assault on American democracy.
In short, as Luttig suggests, the dangers represented by Trump — and the cowardice of those who have allowed him to take a stronghold over the Republican Party — remain clear and present. None of this was inevitable. It’s the result of weak men and women who remained silent.