Opinion The Jan. 6 committee has provided proof of Trump’s willful deceit

Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) and Vice Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol speak during a hearing Oct. 13. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol provided a capstone to its hearings on Thursday. It might have been among the most genuinely informative proceedings in decades, with the last session offering new and powerful evidence that former president Donald Trump knew he lost the 2020 election and willfully lied to retain power.

While the committee’s vote to subpoena Trump to testify was stirring, no one should expect him to comply. These were the most important aspects of the hearing:

1

The plot to prevent a transfer of power started way in advance.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the vice chair of the committee, set the tone at the start of the hearing, stating, "President Trump had a premeditated plan to declare that the election was fraudulent and stolen before Election Day.” This included Trump’s attack on the security of mail-in ballots well before the election.

On the night of the election, Trump declared in a speech that he won and screamed about nonexistent voter fraud. That speech was planned well in advance, committee member Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) explained. A memo dated Oct. 31, 2020, explicitly set forth a plan to deny his loss. Another White House aide told the committee that the planning went back to July.

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Former vice president Mike Pence was no hero in this process. The committee reported that his team made plans not to join in premature claims of victory. Nevertheless, Pence stood mutely behind Trump as he falsely declared victory before vote counting was complete.

Trump understood that he lost, as testimony to the committee revealed. Former White House official Alyssa Farah Griffin quoted Trump as saying he couldn’t believe the outcome. Another former White House official, Cassidy Hutchinson, testified that after Trump’s infamous call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told her, "He knows it’s over. He knows he lost. But we’re going to keep trying.” He added (falsely): “There are some good options out there.”

Testimony from other Trump aides shows that they repeatedly debunked Trump’s election conspiracy theories and public statements. Yet he persisted in what Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) called “purposeful lies.”

Interestingly, the committee also found that Trump signed an order on Nov. 11 for the complete and immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Somalia and Afghanistan because he understood he would soon be leaving office. (This should prove embarrassing to Republicans who denounced President Biden for his withdrawal from Afghanistan.)

Trump planned in advance to declare fraud, knew he had not won and even made a major policy decision based on the understanding he had lost. But even if Trump legitimately thought he won, there would be no excuse for his illegal efforts to stop Congress from counting electoral votes and unleashing the mob.

2

Those around Trump told him he had to abide by court decisions.

A cast of characters in Trump’s orbit — including former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, former attorney general William P. Barr, Ivanka Trump, former labor secretary Eugene Scalia and a parade of aides — told the president he had to abide by court rulings on the election. He refused.

Again, this suggests Trump’s willful defiance. It also raises the question: Why did none of these people come forward to warn the country of his actions?

3

Trump knew violence was coming on Jan. 6. He stoked the mob regardless.

The committee revealed in earlier hearings that Trump was aware that people in the crowd who had gathered in D.C. on Jan. 6 were armed, as Hutchinson testified. He encouraged them to march to the Capitol anyway.

There were other indications that violence would break out. On Jan. 5, Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon predicted “all hell would break loose" during the electoral vote counting. The committee also found tape of Roger Stone, another Trump confidant, declaring on the day before the election, “I really do suspect it’ll still be up in the air, but when that happens the key thing to do is to claim victory. Possession is nine-tenths of the law." He added, “I said f--- the voting, let’s get right to the violence.”

Plus, although the committee was unable to retrieve deleted texts exchanged among Secret Service agents on Jan. 6, there is considerable evidence that the Secret Service and others had been warned of violence. One source told the Secret Service that the Proud Boys wanted to “literally kill people,” adding, "Please please take this tip seriously and investigate further.” It defies credulity that the Secret Service or intelligence committee would conceal this from Trump. Indeed, the agency scrambled to prevent Trump from going to the Capitol on Jan. 6.

The committee reported that some Secret Service agents denied they had such evidence. Did the Secret Service lie? The committee will investigate potential obstruction of the committee.

In any case, Trump clearly wanted to see the violence play out, as evidenced by the hours he spent on Jan. 6 watching insurrectionists storm the Capitol. He refused to act during that time despite repeated pleas by allies for him to speak out. That, too, shows his intent to overthrow the election, by mob power if necessary.

The committee shared gripping video of House and Senate members trying to get help during the attack, serving as a reminder that for a moment, Republicans realized Trump had endangered them all. Similarly, video of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) castigating Trump for his role in the attack underscores the cowardice of Republican leaders who have since promoted Trump and his fellow election deniers.

4

The threat is ongoing.

Cheney made clear if phony claims of election fraud and violence are allowed to go unpunished, we will have no democracy. “A key lesson of this investigation is this: Our institutions only hold when men and women of good faith make them hold, regardless of the political cost," she said. "We have no guarantee that these men and women will be in place next time.”

With nearly 300 Republican election deniers on the ballot this November, the hearing was a critical reminder that if we elect people who will not accept election results that do not go their way, then they will destroy democracy.

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