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Opinion Distinguished person of the week: He sounded the alarm and lowered the boom on the GOP

J. Michael Luttig, a retired federal judge who served as an adviser to Mike Pence, testifies before the Jan. 6 select committee on June 16. (Susan Walsh/AP)
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The House Jan. 6 committee’s members and staff deserve praise for their masterfully executed hearings made for the YouTube era. Among the most gripping moments last week was the appearance of former judge and respected conservative lawyer J. Michael Luttig, who advised Mike Pence in the lead-up to Jan. 6.

Luttig stands apart from the many other lawyers who enabled the Trump crew and failed to alert the public before the Jan. 6 insurrection. He serves as a reminder of the professional and constitutional obligations of lawyers in public service and of all citizens’ duty in a democracy to avoid a collapse of the American experiment.

Luttig’s written statement Thursday began with an ominous line: “A stake was driven through the heart of American democracy on January 6, 2021, and our democracy today is on a knife’s edge.” For those who want to move on, Luttig warned, “The settlement of this war over our democracy is necessary to the settlement of any war that will ever come to America, whether from her shores or to her shores.” And he made clear it’s up to Republicans to end it: “Though disinclined for the moment, as a political matter of fact only the party that instigated this war over our democracy can bring an end to that war.”

One can only hope the Justice Department is as clear-eyed as Luttig in pursuing the defeated former president. Luttig described the crime: “Knowing full well that he had lost the 2020 presidential election, the former president and his allies and supporters falsely claimed and proclaimed to the nation that he had won the election, and then he and they set about to overturn the election that he and they knew the former president had lost.”

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During his appearance before the Jan. 6 committee on Thursday, Luttig delivered in slow and methodical fashion the airtight argument demonstrating that the scheme from chief insurrectionist plotter John Eastman had no historical or legal justification. He explained that the Constitution gives the vice president no role in certifying electoral votes beyond opening the ballots in the presence of Congress. He declared, “I would have laid my body across the road before I let the vice president overturn the 2020 election.” The failure of so many in Donald Trump’s orbit to do the same remains a stain on their records they cannot erase.

Luttig reminded the country that if not for Pence’s stalwart refusal to knuckle under to Trump, the United States would have been “plunged" into “a revolution within a constitutional crisis.” Indeed, testimony from other witnesses suggested that Eastman was comfortable with the possibility that his plot might result in violence.

At the close of Thursday’s hearing, Luttig said almost with trepidation: “Donald Trump and his allies and supporters are a clear and present danger to American democracy.” He explained that is “not because of what happened on Jan. 6 but because they have told us they plan to do it again”; it’s because the coup attempt never ended. “The former president and his allies are executing their blueprint for 2024 in open and plain view,” he said.

No more effective or damning admonition has been delivered about Trump and his party. Coming from a conservative judicial icon who was considered for the Supreme Court by past GOP presidents, his warning should carry great weight.

For advising the former vice president, for thoroughly rebuking Trump’s legal enablers and for warning the country of the ongoing danger to the country posed by Trump and his minions, we can say, well done, Judge Luttig.

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