MR. CAPEHART: Good morning. I’m Jonathan Capehart, opinion writer for The Washington Post. Welcome to Washington Post Live and our look at January 6th one year later, co-produced with the “Capehart” Podcast. A year ago tomorrow, after a rally on the Ellipse that featured then President Donald Trump imploring his supporters to quote “stop the steal” by marching to the Capitol to convince then Vice President Mike Pence to ignore his constitutional duty that day, to simply count the certified electoral votes from the states in order to keep him in power, those supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. Not since the British set fire to the iconic building in 1814 have the Capitol been breached.
Among the members of Congress trapped in the House Chamber that awful day was Congressman Jamie Raskin, Democrat from Maryland, who was still mourning the suicide of his beloved son six days earlier. He recounts those two horrific events in his moving new book "Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy." And joining me now is the author of that book, Congressman Jamie Raskin. Welcome, Congressman.
REP. RASKIN: Thank you for having me, Jonathan. I’m delighted to be with you.
MR. CAPEHART: So, Congressman, it’s been a year since you and your wife, Sarah Bloom, lost your son Tommy. How are the two of you and your two--your two daughters doing?
REP. RASKIN: Well, it’s a day-to-day struggle to, you know, recover some sense of equanimity in our lives. But we're not drowning in agony and grief so much that we can't talk about Tommy anymore. We are able to talk about him without crying, which is an important step forward. And we miss him sharply and intensely every single day. But we have a big family with lots of cousins and uncles and aunts, and we have tons of friends and a great community. And I've got the greatest constituents in the world. So, we're surrounded by a lot of love. But thank you for asking, Jonathan.
MR. CAPEHART: You know, part one of your book is all about Tommy. Your love for him is as palpable as your heartbreak over his death. And you write about his suicide with aching honesty. Why was it important for you to do that?
REP. RASKIN: Well, it's the story of his life. And I didn't want his whole life to be defined by it, but it was a part of it; it was the very end of it. And you know, if there's any way that it could help anybody else, then that would be all to the good. Tommy was, as his little sister Tabitha put it, above all utilitarian. He wanted to increase the maximum good for the maximum number of people and animals, all sentient beings. And so, if this helps one person--and we think it's already helped some people because we've been hearing from them--then it's all to the good that we've been public about it and we've been honest about it, and I don't think Tommy would have it any other way.
MR. CAPEHART: From reading the book--and I'm not quite done, I'm almost there--but in the big chunk that I've read already, it's clear Tommy was your best friend, your north star on a lot of things, particularly on doing what's right, wasn't he?
REP. RASKIN: Well, I describe him as my greatest student and also my greatest teacher eventually, because the pupil certainly surpassed the teacher in so many ways. I mean, Tommy was a moral and political and legal philosopher, and he had an extraordinary precociousness of understanding. I remember, we have a close friend who actually lived in our basement apartment named Ali Nathan, who's now a federal judge. And Ali was clerking for Justice Stevens, and she took Tommy down to Justice Stevens’ chambers to meet him. And they were on the way down, and Tommy was just six or seven years old. And she started talking about how much she loved Justice Stevens and what a great justice he was. And Tommy said, yeah, but what do you think about his dissenting opinion in Texas versus Johnson? Because Tommy said, even Justice Scalia got that right, that you can't put someone in jail for flag desecration, which is just a thought crime. And then Ali said, well, I think Justice Stevens said that allowing someone to desecrate a flag is like allowing someone to desecrate the Lincoln Memorial. And then Tommy said back to her, as Ali reported to us, well, we only have one Lincoln Memorial, but we all have our own flags, so people can do with their flags what they want. So, he was really brilliant.
But what was most exceptional about him was his heart. He just had a perfect heart. And he felt the pain and the suffering of the entire world, and of course, of the animal kingdom, too. He was a zealous vegan. But he was not a guilt tripping, politically correct vegan. He was just someone who said we can live without slaughtering animals for protein, especially in the age of impossible burgers and beyond sausage. And he converted more people to not eating meat, including people in our family, than anybody I've ever met.
MR. CAPEHART: Including you, as I--as I learned in the book. Tommy's funeral was on January 5th, actually a year ago today. And the power of his life and what he believed in is what helped guide you through a big assignment you had a year ago tomorrow. When Tommy took his life, you were putting the final touches on your strategy and what you were going to say during the proceedings to count the electoral votes and the expected objections on January 6th. And you write on page 112, "By the time January 6th arrived, we had been preparing for the counting of the electors for months. Our preparations had started as far back as May 2020." You were ready for everything, from the bullying of--bullying of state election officials to the possibility of Pence throwing the election into the House of Representatives. But you write, "We had prepared for everything, everything, that is, except everything that was actually about to happen." You addressed the House floor where you quoted President Abraham Lincoln. Then what happened?
REP. RASKIN: Well, the thing that we had not counted on was the eruption of mass street violence that would invade the Capitol and shut down the counting of electoral college votes, and for the very first time in American history interrupt the peaceful transfer of power through the counting of the Electoral College votes. So, I had, I think, like a lot of my colleagues, placed what was going on outside the building in one compartment, and then what was going on inside the building in a different compartment. And we were ready for every possible parliamentary maneuver and overture, but what we didn't see was the fascist street violence being unleashed against us, being coordinated with this attempt to perpetrate a political coup and deprive Joe Biden of his rightful majority in the Electoral College. He'd gotten 306 electors. And of course, the coup part of the operation was designed to try to lower his total by getting Pence to reject and singlehandedly nullify electors coming in from Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Georgia.
MR. CAPEHART: How concerned were you during the insurrection? How concerned were you for your personal safety and your colleagues’ safety and also for your daughter and son-in-law’s safety who were also in the House Gallery at the time?
REP. RASKIN: Well, I was above all concerned for Tabitha and for Hank, who's married to our older daughter, Hannah. They had tried to convince me not to go in, and I said, look, it's a constitutional duty. It's a constitutional function. We have a very slender majority. People were dropping like flies because of COVID-19, and I said the speaker needs me. You know, I live closer to the Capitol than any member of Congress except for Eleanor Holmes Norton, the non-voting delegate for D.C. So, I said I've got to be there, but why don't you come? And they decided to come with me after asking me would everything be okay, because Trump's inviting his followers to come to Washington? And I said, yes, this is the Capitol. And I had a very specific image in mind of June 2nd, when Black Lives Matter assembled on June the 2nd the day after Trump and Barr had unleashed that police riot in Lafayette Square. And I had this image of this phalanx of National Guardsmen and women standing there armed on the steps of the Capitol. I thought to myself, of course we'll be safe. And of course, I was wrong about that.
MR. CAPEHART: You know, after the insurrection, Speaker Pelosi named you the lead impeachment manager in Trump's second impeachment. You are now a member of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, which is the official name of the January 6th Select Committee, which has been more publicly active since Thanksgiving. And so I want to run through a bunch of things that have happened over the last few weeks, starting with what happened yesterday. The committee sent a letter to Fox News’ Sean Hannity asking him to voluntarily cooperate with the committee. You're a constitutional law professor. Do you have any qualms about sending a letter to a member of the press?
REP. RASKIN: None whatsoever? I mean, Jonathan, if you were witness to a car accident on your way to work at The Washington Post, you would be called as a fact witness. That doesn't mean that they can get into your correspondence with secret sources on political articles you're doing. But if you're a fact witness, you're a fact witness, whether or not you're a firefighter, a truck driver, or a reporter for The Washington Post or Fox News. And so he's a fact witness to an attempt to overthrow the presidential election and overthrow the constitutional processes of the United States. So, he's got an obligation to come and testify just like everybody else does.
MR. CAPEHART: And if he doesn't come in to testify, you would support a subpoena to compel him to testify.
REP. RASKIN: Well, I don't want to get into specific cases. And I'm going to assume that like the vast majority of people, I think more than 98 or 99 percent of the people who we've been interested in talking with, he will do the right thing, not just his legal duty, but he will enjoy the civic honor of being able to help his government learn how to defend itself against coups and insurrections in the future. And from what I can tell of the text conversations that he was involved in, he was very concerned and anxious about the direction that Donald Trump and Steve Bannon and the gang were going on January 6th.
MR. CAPEHART: You know, one of the things that's come out in recent days is the number of people who have come forward voluntarily to the Select Committee, the numbers, the thousands of documents that you've received from people voluntarily. Have you been surprised not by the number of people who have come forward, but by who those people are who have come forward voluntarily?
REP. RASKIN: Well, most people in America are constitutional patriots, like Liz Cheney, who now is, you know, the textbook example of a constitutional patriot, someone who places their loyalty and allegiance to the Constitution and to the country above their own political party and their own narrow political ambitions. The shocking thing is that we have an entire political party now under the spell and sway of one guy, and we have a modern political party that's not acting like one. It's acting like an authoritarian religious cult of personality outside of the constitutional order. They don't accept basic precepts of our Constitution. They don't accept the outcomes of our elections, even when 62 different federal and state courts have upheld our elections and rejected every claim of electoral fraud and corruption that they've tried to throw at us. So that's the disturbing thing. But most people are constitutional patriots, and will do the right thing. And that's whether they're Democrats or Republicans or independents. And I think that the GOP political leadership is now a minority, and a shrinking minority in the country in terms of their willingness to walk the plank with Donald Trump.
MR. CAPEHART: You mentioned Congresswoman Liz Cheney. She is the vice chair of the January 6th Select Committee. So, I’m going to jump ahead to the questions I had and talk about her and some of the things that she's doing. Before the end of the year, during one of the hearings, she read aloud text messages that had been sent in from Fox News personalities and from other people, members of Congress. And then she said that this was the key question before the committee: Did Donald Trump through action or inaction corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress's official proceeding to count electoral votes?
You're a constitutional law professor, as I've mentioned before. Has that question been answered for you? Have you seen evidence that Trump engaged in criminal wrongdoing that day? Because what she was--what she was--that question is actually a specific felony statute she was reading.
REP. RASKIN: Well, let's start with this. I have no doubt as one of the impeachment managers and as someone who voted successfully to impeach Donald Trump, that he committed a constitutional crime when he incited violent insurrection against the union. And I have no doubt. I think the evidence was overwhelming, unrefuted and irrefutable that he intended to incite an insurrection and all of the violence that transpired on that day. That itself was an interference with the joint session of Congress meeting to count and receive Electoral College votes. And for the first time in American history, we were interrupted and broken up for a four- or five-hour period. And it is again a sign of people's constitutional patriotism that we insisted upon going back in and counting those Electoral College votes.
And Vice President Pence was a constitutional patriot on that day when he refused to leave the grounds and said I'm not getting in that car when the Secret Service was trying to get him to leave the Capitol campus. He said he would not leave until the Electoral College votes were counted.
In any event, you're asking the more specific statutory question of whether Donald Trump could be prosecuted under the federal statutory offense of interfering with this essential governmental proceeding. And I will reserve final judgment until we have all of our hearings and until we write our report. But Chairman Thompson has said we're not going to let anybody off the hook for anything. We want to get to the bottom of this. We want to determine to what extent there were individual actions that violated the law and to what extent there were conspiracies afoot to shut down the lawful processes of Congress, essentially to shut down the government and seize the presidency. And you know, if you're interested, I'll give you my general sense of what I think was taking place on that day.
MR. CAPEHART: We've got 10 minutes, and I know what you think was taking place, I think, because I've been--because I read it. I've read it in your book. But I want to push you one more time, because one of the things that the committee is doing is, in addition to investigating what happened, you're also looking at legislative fixes that that you discover.
REP. RASKIN: Yes.
MR. CAPEHART: And so is the committee looking at a law that makes it clear that obstructing the electoral vote count in Congress is a crime subject to stiff penalties?
REP. RASKIN: Well, I think that that it is clear today that that is against the law. I think that's already a crime. But, you know, certainly I'm willing to entertain arguments that now because of Donald Trump, we need a specific and explicit statute spelling it out. I'm skeptical of that argument, but I'm willing to entertain that argument, because I do think it's already a crime. But look, there might be a full panoply of different criminal penalties that needs to be established today for the rash of new violent offenses that were committed on January 6th. And I'm willing to look at just the full waterfront of both rules, changes in the House and the Senate, and legislative changes for criminal and civil offenses against the union.
MR. CAPEHART: You mentioned Chairman Bennie Thompson, Congressman Thompson from Mississippi. He has said that several versions exist of the video the White House finally released of Trump that day on January 6th to get his supporters to leave the Capitol. The committee has requested them from the National Archives. What do you believe those other videos may show?
REP. RASKIN: Well, look, I think that the original video was damning enough for what it showed was Donald Trump engaging in really extreme and outrageous incitement. You know, "We don't give up. We never give up. A different set of rules operates when they're engaged in fraud, when they're stealing it. You’ve got to fight and fight like hell, take the gloves off," et cetera, et cetera. I mean, you know, this is textbook incitement within the constitutional definitions offered by the Supreme Court.
But I think that we will see more of that. I would love to get a complete video recording of that insurrection tailgate party they threw over there with Mark Meadows, where everybody was drinking and eating sausages and hot dogs and having a grand old time as our police officers were getting the daylights beaten out of them, getting hit over the head with steel pipes and Confederate battle flags and Trump flags, and having fire extinguishers thrown at them. I mean, this was the most massive attack on law enforcement and police in our lifetimes right a few blocks away from the president and his entourage, and they did nothing about it. So they can spare me all of their phony fraudulent talk about how they--how they support the police. They certainly don't. The only time you hear about them supporting the police is when one bad cop goes out and beats up a Black suspect. That's when they suddenly began posing as big defenders of the police.
MR. CAPEHART: Not going to get an argument from me on that. Congressman, will the committee subpoena Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio and Congressman Scott Perry of Pennsylvania if they do not voluntarily cooperate with the committee?
REP. RASKIN: I have no idea what we will do. We certainly have the authority to do that under Article One where we set the rules of our own chambers, where we gain the authority to discipline our own members all the way up to expulsion, as well as censure and admonishment.
But even more precisely, Jonathan, the Speech and Debate Clause says that members of Congress shall not be questioned about misconduct in their official capacity outside of Congress. So that's why the Speech and Debate Clause protects our speech from being subpoenaed in a federal court, for example, but it doesn't, by very implicit indication, protect us against being subpoenaed or called to task for our actions within Congress itself. And that, of course, is the basis for the Ethics Committee, which calls members of Congress all the time on pains of penalty to come and testify.
MR. CAPEHART: Right, the Ethics Committee, which is a nice segue to the next question I was going to ask you, and that is, will those two members of Congress or any other members of Congress who are asked to voluntarily cooperate don't do so, will they be held in contempt of Congress if they defy a subpoena that they might get?
REP. RASKIN: Well, again, that would be fully within our power, but I don't want to prejudge any particular case, especially when we're talking about something heavy like contempt of Congress. That's serious business. I know Donald Trump's friends would like to normalize that. They wish that hundreds more people would follow Steve Bannon and Roger Stone and these, you know, Batman villains that they've got in just giving the finger to Congress. But most people have respect for the people's representatives and the authority of Congress. The Supreme Court has said we have the exact same authority as Congress to enforce our orders in a judicial or quasi-judicial proceeding as a court does in its own proceedings.
MR. CAPEHART: Does the committee have evidence about current members of Congress aiding or abetting, or who were in touch with those who participated in the riot?
Well, there certainly have been a lot of allegations about that. But I hesitate to opine on it, Jonathan, just because I haven't studied each of those cases, but those are things that we definitely have to look at. I mean, you know, both Chairman Thompson and Vice President Cheney have been adamant that nobody gets a free pass here in terms of rendering their testimony to us. We are an investigative committee that's just trying to assemble the facts of what happened under House Resolution 503. That's our charge, assemble the facts of what happened and then make recommendations about what we need to do to fortify American democracy going forward so this nightmare never takes place again.
MR. CAPEHART: And you meant Vice Chair Cheney, but I understand the slip, saying vice president.
REP. RASKIN: What’d I say?
MR. CAPEHART: You said Vice President Cheney, but there was a Vice President Cheney, her dad.
REP. RASKIN: Ah, okay.
MR. CAPEHART: So totally understandable.
REP. RASKIN: Yes.
MR. CAPEHART: Congressman, does the committee have enough solid evidence to ask Donald Trump to voluntarily cooperate?
REP. RASKIN: Well, look, we have enough evidence for anybody who was in the vicinity, and Donald Trump was right at the heart of that. I mean, we already have robust, bicameral, bipartisan majorities that have established as a legislative and constitutional fact that Donald Trump incited the insurrection. He continues to try to whitewash it and sanitize it today when he goes out and says that his followers greeted the police with hugs and kisses, which is presumably how dozens and dozens of them ended up in the hospital that day.
But look, we invited him to come and testify in the impeachment trial. He was whining about due process. We said the heart of due process is the right to be heard. Come and be heard. You can testify for as long as you want. But being the snowflake that he is, he was willing to put his followers’ lives on the line, and several people died that day. But he wasn't even willing to come out and either speak for them or against them. He let his lawyers come and denounce the insurrection and saying, oh, that had nothing to do with Donald Trump. You're not going to hear anything positive about them from us. And then after the trial is over, when he beat the constitutional spread and narrowly escaped conviction, then he goes out and predictably embraces the insurrection and tries to turn these people into heroes.
MR. CAPEHART: We've got less than two minutes left. And I have to ask you this, because there’s lots of the questions about whether the committee will subpoena Donald Trump to testify. I want you to put your constitutional law professor hat on, leave aside--leave out the personality. Are there any constitutional qualms you might have about the committee subpoenaing a former president of the United States in this type of investigation?
REP. RASKIN: None whatsoever. First of all, we don't have an office in our constitution of former president of the United States. You're a former president, you're a former governor, you're a former legislator, you're a citizen like everybody else. We have no kings here, much less do we have former kings? So, if he's got evidence in a criminal or civil trial--and I think some of those are taking place in New York to offer--he's got to go and produce it like every other citizen. If he's got evidence related to what we're doing, then, if we call him, then he's got to come and offer it.
And you know what, Jonathan, we shouldn't even be talking this way about a president or former president. Can you imagine any other former president of the United States--I'm talking from George Washington to John Adams to Thomas Jefferson to Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Eisenhower, George W. Bush, Barack Obama--who wouldn't step forward to talk to a commission investigating a violent attack on the U.S. Congress in attempt to overthrow our election? If he had nothing to do with it, he's got nothing to hide. If he's got something to do with it, well, then come and tell us why you think what you did was justified. What a snowflake. What's he hiding from?
MR. CAPEHART: Congressman Jamie Raskin, member of the January 6th Select Committee, author of "Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy." Thank you so much for coming to Capehart and Washington Post Live. And on this day of all days, condolences to you, Sarah, and your entire family.
REP. RASKIN: Thank you very much, Jonathan. That means a lot to me.
MR. CAPEHART: And thank you for joining us. To check out what interviews we have coming up, head to WashingtonPostLive.com. Once again, I’m Jonathan Capehart, opinion writer for The Washington Post. Thanks for watching “Capehart” on Washington Post Live.
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