The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

This was the week when Trump revealed all

He really did want to overturn the 2020 election, and he never meant it when he said those who broke the law on Jan. 6 should have to pay

Former president Donald Trump speaks at a rally on Jan. 29 in Conroe, Tex. At the rally, Trump said: “If I run [for president in 2024] and I win, we will treat those people from January 6 fairly. We will treat them fairly, and if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons, because they are being treated so unfairly.” (Michael Stravato/For The Washington Post)

Former president Donald Trump has told some big lies over the years. One of the biggest, it now is clear, came on Jan. 7, 2021, the day after his supporters assaulted the U.S. Capitol.

On Jan. 6, as law enforcement officers fought valiantly against an armed mob of rioters attacking the Capitol, Trump remained in the White House, silent in the face of repeated efforts by advisers, family members and allies who pleaded with him to try to call a halt to the violence.

The next day, in a videotaped address, he said, finally, that he was “outraged” by the “heinous attack” on the Capitol. “America is and must always be a nation of law and order,” he said. “The demonstrators who infiltrated the Capitol have defiled the seat of American democracy. To those who engage in the acts of violence and destruction, you do not represent our country. And to those who broke the law, you will pay.”

He didn’t mean it, as he made clear last weekend. Speaking at a rally in Conroe, Tex., he told his followers, “If I run [for president in 2024] and I win, we will treat those people from January 6 fairly. We will treat them fairly, and if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons, because they are being treated so unfairly.”

Trump’s words no longer have quite the shock value they once had. His rallies don’t command live coverage on major cable networks. Having been banned from Twitter, his never-ending statements lack the power they once might have had. It can be easy to dismiss his rantings. But it would be foolhardy to ignore what he is saying or thinking.

If Trump were a spent force in politics, what he says now would matter less. But he wants to run for president again and has a $122 million political bank account at his disposal to carry him forward. He may have lost some support among some who think of themselves as Republicans, but he still holds a grip on the Republican Party. If the 2024 primaries were held today, it is difficult to imagine him not rolling over any and all challengers.

His hold on the GOP was never more obvious than on Friday, when the Republican National Committee voted to censure Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) for their work on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. The censure resolution described the two Republicans as “participating in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”

The former president continues to claim the election was rife with fraud, despite the lack of evidence. What he is saying now provides a preview of how he might try to use his powers if restored to the Oval Office.

The Texas rally was just one event in a week in which the former president gave the country a wide-open look at what has long been assumed: that his false claims of a stolen election were much more than the complaints of a sore loser. His goal all along was to do more than disrupt the process of certifying Joe Biden’s victory. He wanted to find a way to overturn the results of the election.

The day after his Texas rally, Trump issued a statement from his Save America PAC. He took note of discussions underway in Congress to amend the Electoral Count Act of 1887, the law that governed how then-Vice President Mike Pence handled his responsibilities as presiding officer at the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress that reviewed and ratified the electoral college counts from the states.

Trump had repeatedly implored Pence to block certification of Biden’s victory. Pence told Trump he did not have the power to do so, but even at the rally preceding the assault on the Capitol, Trump was still urging Pence to do what Pence had said he could not do. Discussions about amending the act that governed those proceedings have apparently outraged the former president. Here is his statement from last Sunday:

“If the Vice President (Mike Pence) had ‘absolutely no right’ to change the Presidential Election results in the Senate, despite fraud and many other irregularities, how come the Democrats and RINO Republicans, like Wacky [Sen.] Susan Collins [R-Maine], are desperately trying to pass legislation that will not allow the Vice President to change the results of the election? Actually, what they are saying, is that Mike Pence did have the right to change the outcome, and they now want to take that right away. Unfortunately, he didn’t exercise that power, he could have overturned the Election!”

The last line of the statement is as blatant as Trump has been about his true intentions — to overturn a fair election — but it was written in such a matter-of-fact way that many who read it would give it a ho-hum, there-he-goes-again reaction: “Of course he wanted to overturn the election,” a reader might say. “So what’s new? Time to move on.”

That’s exactly the danger that continues to exist, a weariness with all of it, a desire to put those difficult moments from early 2021 in the rearview mirror. Pence, however, was not ready to ignore Trump’s wild claim. Speaking Friday at a gathering of the Federalist Society in Florida, Pence rebuked the former president as he called Jan. 6 “a dark day” in the history of the Capitol. “This week, our former president said I had the right to ‘overturn the election,’ ” Pence said. “President Trump is wrong. I had no right to overturn the election.”

Former vice president Mike Pence said Feb. 4 that he had no constitutional right to overturn the results of the 2020 election. (Video: CNN)

Friday was a day on which future battle lines were being drawn inside the Republican Party, with a handful of elected officials, including Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), standing up for Cheney and Kinzinger while so many others, symbolized by the RNC, following along Trump’s dangerous path. Other revelations during the past week provided additional reminders of just how serious Trump, his advisers and especially some of the conspiracy theorists trying to influence him were about trying to delay, disrupt and possibly overturn the election through the extraordinary use of government power. Reminders, too, of the stakes ahead.

The New York Times reported that weeks after the election, Trump asked his personal lawyer and adviser Rudolph W. Giuliani to check with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to see whether the government could legally take possession of voting machines in some key states. Giuliani was told DHS lacked such authority. Trump reportedly had raised the issue of seizing voting machines with then-Attorney General William P. Barr, who according to the Times, also told Trump the Justice Department had no such authority — and that there was no evidence of a crime in the conduct of the election.

The Washington Post reported on efforts by Trump’s outside allies, who prepared a memo calling on Trump to use the powers of the National Security Agency and the Defense Department to go through raw intelligence with the hope of showing that foreign powers had tampered with election results. “Proof of foreign interference would ‘support next steps to defend the Constitution in a manner superior to current civilian-only judicial remedies,’ ” the memo stated, according to The Post’s reporting. The words “in a manner superior” to the courts is a chilling suggestion of the use of extrajudicial powers.

The House committee investigating the events surrounding what happened on Jan. 6 continues to gather evidence, including documents from the Trump White House, and will hold public hearings later this year and issue a report after that. Expect more revelations in the months ahead.

Still strong is the belief that because it didn’t happen, it can’t happen. Yet Trump continues to reveal himself, his true motives and perhaps what he would do if he were again to become president. No one should be surprised.

The Jan. 6 insurrection

The report: The Jan. 6 committee released its final report, marking the culmination of an 18-month investigation into the violent insurrection. Read The Post’s analysis about the committee’s new findings and conclusions.

The final hearing: The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol held its final public meeting where members referred four criminal charges against former president Donald Trump and others to the Justice Department. Here’s what the criminal referrals mean.

The riot: On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. Five people died on that day or in the immediate aftermath, and 140 police officers were assaulted.

Inside the siege: During the rampage, rioters came perilously close to penetrating the inner sanctums of the building while lawmakers were still there, including former vice president Mike Pence. The Washington Post examined text messages, photos and videos to create a video timeline of what happened on Jan. 6. Here’s what we know about what Trump did on Jan. 6.