The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Transcript: 117th Congress: Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.)

MS. CALDWELL: Hello. Welcome to Washington Post Live. I am Leigh Ann Caldwell. I’m an anchor here at Washington Post Live and also coauthor of The Early 202 newsletter. Thanks so much for joining us. We have such a great interview today with Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland.

Of course, we are talking to the Congressman because today is the first week of the January 6th Select Committee hearing. He is a member on that committee. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. RASKIN: Thank you so much for having me, Leigh Ann. I am delighted to be with your guys.

MS. CALDWELL: First, before we get started, I just want to remind our audience that we do take questions. So, if you have questions, go to Twitter. Tweet at us at @PostLive, and we will try to ask the Congressman your questions.

So, Congressman, as I just mentioned, today, this week, is the first hearing of a series of hearings that the January 6th Select Committee is holding. Just big picture, what can we expect on Thursday during prime time at eight o'clock?

REP. RASKIN: Well, I think you will see a comprehensive introduction and overview of the findings that will be laid out over the course of the month of June, and we are going to tell the story of a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 presidential election and block the transfer of power. So this is an extraordinary and unprecedented event in our history. I mean, you really have to go back to the Civil War to understand anything like it, but of course, there, you know, the Confederates never denied that Abraham Lincoln had actually won the election. They just wanted to secede from the Union, but here we had an effort to lie about who won the election and then a concerted multistep effort to overturn the results of the election, and all of it was backed up by a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol, which drove the House and the Senate members out of our respective chambers and shut down the counting of electoral college votes for the first time in American history for several hours.

MS. CALDWELL: You used that word "conspiracy." Your colleague, Representative Liz Cheney, she used that over the weekend in a separate interview. So did a federal judge, David Carter. He said that it was more likely than not that Donald Trump was a part of a conspiracy to overturn the election. So is that what the hearing is going to lay out? Is that what the committee has found?

REP. RASKIN: Yes, the committee has found evidence of concerted planning and premeditated activity. The idea that all of this was just a rowdy demonstration that spontaneously got a little bit out of control is absurd. You don't almost knock over the U.S. government by accident.

So we're going to lay out all of the evidence we have found. House Resolution 503 charges us with defining what happened on January 6th, explaining the causes of what happened, and then ultimately laying out recommendations that would allow us to fortify ourselves against coups and insurrections moving forward.

MS. CALDWELL: And is Donald Trump the center of this conspiracy? Are you able to connect those dots?

REP. RASKIN: Well, I‑‑you know, people are going to have to make judgments themselves about the relative role that different people played, but I think that Donald Trump and the White House were at the center of these events. That's the only way really of making sense of them all.

Of course, the House and the Senate in bicameral and bipartisan fashion have already determined that the former president, Donald Trump, incited an insurrection by majority votes in the House and the Senate, although Donald Trump wasn't convicted by the requisite two‑thirds majority, but commanding majorities found that he had, in fact, incited this insurrection.

But the Select Committee has found evidence about a lot more than incitement here, and we are going to be laying out the evidence about all of the actors who were pivotal to what took place on January 6th.

MS. CALDWELL: Do you think that what you do lay out this month will be strong enough for the Department of Justice to indict, to bring up criminal charges against anyone?

REP. RASKIN: Well, you know, I mean, it's best to look at what, you know, federal judges and prosecutors themselves are saying on that, and you referenced Judge Carter in the John Eastman litigation who said‑‑who stated in a decision that it was more likely than not that Donald Trump had committed federal offenses, and, you know, there are lots of people opining about that.

Of course, this gives me the opportunity, Leigh Ann, to distinguish between what the Department of Justice is doing and will do and what we're doing. You know, we, of course, are a legislative investigative committee charged with giving a report to the Congress and to the people of the United States, because in a democracy, the people have the right to know the truth about our government and about everything that affects it and what's going on. So that's our proper function.

The Department of Justice is obviously collecting evidence of crimes. I believe that they have‑‑they're engaged in more than 800 prosecutions of people for everything from assaulting federal officers to interference with a federal proceeding to seditious conspiracy, which means conspiracy to overthrow the government of the United States. There are already multiple guilty pleas along those lines and outstanding prosecutions along those lines, too.

So we think that there is overwhelming evidence of this plan to overturn the 2020 presidential election in coordination with a violent assault on our body. So we're going to lay it all out there, but the prosecutors are going to have to sort it out with respect to individual defendants. And speaking just as one member of the committee, I have confidence in the ability of the Department of Justice to do their job.

MS. CALDWELL: Staying on the Department of Justice, in March, they asked the committee for transcripts from some of the work that you have already done. Has the committee handed those transcripts over, and has there been any cooperation or any additional giving of what all the information that you have received?

REP. RASKIN: You know, I can't speak to specifics about the evidence that we have collected. I will just say that‑‑again, speaking as one member, that I believe that we are invested in the success not only of our own committee and of the Congress in collecting this information and reporting it to the American people and the Congress, but we're invested in the success of law enforcement. And so I don't even know the details about, you know, what you're asking about specifically, but I will say that I would hope that all of the evidence that we're collecting ultimately goes public and is available to the American people and also to prosecutors to see that crimes against the government of the United States are prosecuted.

MS. CALDWELL: Is the point of these hearings and based on your investigation to lay out and connect the dots for the American public, or is it to unearth and to reveal things that are new that we didn't know about?

REP. RASKIN: Well, there might be some of the latter, but really, it's more of the former that we are communicating those things that we have found in what I think is nearly a year‑long investigation, now. We just have an absolute mountain of evidence about what took place, and our problem is really distilling the core elements of all of these events to share with the people. But I hope that all of the most important material evidence will be made available to the public.

I mean, we had 150 of our officers who were injured, wounded, hospitalized by the mob, which unleashed violence upon us in order to break our windows, tear down our doors, invade the Capitol, drive the Congress out of the Capitol, and interfere with the transfer of power and block the counting of electoral college votes.

We have officers who have broken vertebrae, broken ribs, broken jaws, lost fingers, traumatic brain injuries, post‑traumatic stress syndrome. This was an act of violence in the nation's capital unlike anything any of us has ever seen before, and the investigation launched by the Department of Justice, I believe, is the most massive and sweeping criminal investigation by the DOJ in its history. Nothing else even comes close to it. So we're talking about an event of immense gravity and danger to the republic, and we have to make sure that we never experience anything like this again.

It was not a tourist visit. It was not legitimate political discourse. It was not discourse of any kind. It was violence unleashed against the people of the United States and our representatives in Congress, and all of it was surrounding a concerted preexisting plot to overturn and destroy the results of the 2020 presidential election.

MS. CALDWELL: I have a question from Twitter from Ruthie Kessler. She asks, realistically, what legislation do you believe can get passed to ensure that we don't run into another January 6th, and she says with emphasis on "realistically"? Congressman?

REP. RASKIN: Well, I appreciate that question very much because there has not been much focus yet‑‑and I understand why‑‑on what are our legislative responses going to be. We need to get the complete story out, and the people need to have it.

And for that same reason, Ruthie, I don't really want to opine about what's possible because, you know, what's considered possible at one moment is very different from what's considered possible at another moment. So I want to tell the complete story, and then I think we need to have a far‑ranging, inclusive public dialogue about what needs to be done in order to prevent these kinds of events in the future.

So, you know, a limited agenda, of course, is reforms to the Electoral Count Act to clarify, for example, that, no, the vice president does not have unilateral, extra constitutional, unwritten authority to singlehandedly reject electoral college votes. If that's all we did, I would consider it very minimal and, you know, almost a diversion because nobody believes the vice president has that power, and nobody ever believed it, including Vice President Pence, who, you know, to his credit, serially rejected all of Donald Trump's overtures to try to get him to assert such powers and reject electoral college votes coming in from Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and perhaps other states too.

So, if we just said the vice president doesn't have that authority, that's a very limited response to a very big problem. You know, the essential problem is that there may be political elements in the country right now that do not‑‑still do not accept the results of the 2020 presidential election, and those elements may be organizing to try to work democracy going forward in future elections as early as the 2022 election and the 2024 election.

We need to solidify the right of the people to vote against voter suppression‑‑again, that's my view‑‑and we need to make certain that the creaky processes of the electoral college are not exploited to try to nullify the popular vote, but again, I think that that's a discussion that we're going to have to have after we get through all of this and, you know, we've been able to operate, I think, in a model bipartisan fashion. And I know that all of us want to maintain the bipartisan consensus and unanimity of our committee.

MS. CALDWELL: I want to follow up really quickly on the electoral college. You have said, I believe, in a previous interview that you think that that entire system should be re‑thunk, you know, redone, perhaps, or even dismantled. Is that an accurate description of where you stand right now on that?

REP. RASKIN: Yeah. I mean, it's no mystery or secret to anybody. I mean, my very first bill I introduced as a state senator in Maryland was for the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. So, again, I speak only for myself here and, you know, totally apart from all of this.

I've taken a position that the electoral college is an undemocratic relic of the early Constitution, just like the state legislature selection of U.S. Senators, which is something we got rid of in 1913 with the 17th Amendment, just like the exclusion of women from voting, which we got rid of in 1920 in the 19th Amendment.

So, you know, we didn't start out with Lincoln's beautiful vision of government of by the people, by the people, for the people. We started out as a slave republic of white male property owners, but it's been through social and historical and political struggle that we've opened America up. But we do still have what I think are some obsolescent political institutions in the country and certainly some obsolescent political practices. Those are things that I think we need to address. Whether it's in this context or another context, I don't know. We'll have to see and engage in that conversation, and I'm not somebody afraid of conversation and compromise. That's why I'm in politics, but I think we need to be honest about where our political institutions are and to what extent they are interfering with real democracy in America and becoming a problem for us.

I mean, certainly, you know, January 6th is a day that one of my colleagues in the Rules Committee, Ed Perlmutter from Colorado, said that used to be a day where the electoral college votes would come in, the certificates of ascertainment from the governors, and it would be a day of celebration. It would take 15 or 20 minutes to receive all of them, and then it would be bipartisan drinking on Capitol Hill. You know, seven people lost their lives either on that day or in the immediate aftermath of January 6th in 2020. So I think we have to look very seriously at whether there are going to be more attempts by bad‑faith strategic actors to exploit the many different steps along the way in the electoral college to keep revisiting or threatening the popular results.

But, again, I speak there just for myself, and I'm happy to have that discussion when we get through telling the American people about what happened on January 6th and why we think it happened.

MS. CALDWELL: I want to focus on Vice President Mike Pence, who was a critical person in the lead‑up and on January 6th. Does the committee plan to call him in to testify?

REP. RASKIN: Well, you know, we've not been speaking publicly about what our plans are with respect to specific witnesses and potential witnesses. So I can't comment on that.

MS. CALDWELL: What about some of the people who were very close to him, like his top counsel, Greg Jacobs, or his chief of staff, Marc Short? Could they be potential witnesses in the hearings this month?

REP. RASKIN: Yeah, again, I don't want to enter into specifics, but look, we have wanted to make sure that we get as much information as possible from as many material witnesses as possible. We want to figure out exactly what happened, and, you know, Vice President Pence was obviously the object of this political onslaught on January 6th. So we need to fill in the details as much as possible about what happened there.

You know, as I understand it, the purpose was to try to get Pence to exercise these totally unprecedented and lawless unilateral powers asserted by Donald Trump that Pence had to reject electoral college votes. In other words, they wanted him to just single‑handedly nullify the votes of tens of millions of people, from Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, perhaps Nevada, New Mexico, and that would have either just clinched it for Donald Trump in the electoral college, or what it would have done is to create a situation where nobody had a majority in the electoral college votes cast. And if that were the case, under the 12th Amendment, it would have kicked the entire contest into the House of Representatives, and, you know, if you ask why they would want the House under Speaker Pelosi and Democratic control deciding who would be president and the Senate deciding who would be vice president under the 12th Amendment, well, they understood perfectly that under the 12th Amendment, we would be voting not on the basis of one member, one vote, which is how we usually vote, of course, but on the basis of one state delegation, one vote. And they understood that after the 2020 elections, the GOP was in control of 27 state delegations. The Democrats have 22 state delegations, and one state, Pennsylvania, is split down the middle with nine to nine. So that would have allowed, theoretically for 27, 22, to 1 vote. Even had they suffered the defection of Wyoming's at‑large representative, they still would have had 26 votes, and this is something that Donald Trump was very clearly aware of. There was a lot of talk about a contingent election under the 12th Amendment, and, you know, that could have been done in conjunction with some kind of invocation of the Insurrection Act because that was another line that was being pushed hard by a number of people in Trump's inner circle. So we'll talk about the Insurrection Act and the possibility that martial law also could have resulted from those events.

But, as you say, Vice President Pence did the right thing. You know, when we got out to the floor at one o'clock on January 12th, all of us were presented with a memo that Vice President Pence had written explaining why he could not do what Donald Trump was trying to force him to do, which was to reject electoral college votes, return them to the states. There was no provision for any of that in the 12th Amendment or in the Electoral Count Act. So he did the right thing on that day. He said he could not do that, and for his work and for maintaining his oath, he was driven out of the Capitol with a‑‑by a mob chanting "Hang Mike Pence. Hang Mike Pence."

MS. CALDWELL: Was Mike Pence's life in serious danger that day? Has the committee found that?

REP. RASKIN: Well, watch the hearings. The hearings will tell the story about what took place on that day.

MS. CALDWELL: Whose names should we expect to hear over and over again about these hearings? What you just described sounds like, you know, what John Eastman wrote about another. So who are we going to hear about the most? What character should we become familiar with?

REP. RASKIN: Well, John Eastman, of course, was the legal architect for the so‑called "Green Bay Sweep" of trying to destroy Joe Biden's legitimate majority in the electoral college. Biden had won by more than 7 million votes in the popular vote. He had a 306‑to‑232 margin in the electoral college, which happened to be the exact same margin that Trump had defeated Hillary by in 2016, 306 to 232, a margin that Trump had declared an absolute landslide. But the whole point was by any means necessary to destroy Biden's majority in the electoral college, and so we're going to go through a whole series of steps that were taken.

Now, the legitimate one was, of course, to go to court, and thankfully, we have the results of all that litigation. More than 60 federal and state court judges, including eight judges nominated to the bench by Donald Trump himself, finding that there was no electoral fraud, there was no electoral corruption. We have a comprehensive and detailed statement by the judiciary, federal and state courts alike, rejecting every allegation of voter fraud or voter corruption affecting the outcome of this election, and that should have been the end of it, of course, Leigh Ann. But they went on to try to force the state legislatures to nullify the popular vote and just install electors. They went to try to get state election officials, most infamously Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in Georgia, just to find votes.

Donald Trump said, "Just find me 11,780 votes. That's all I want." Hey, I'm a politician. That's all I want. That's all any politician wants. Just find us thousands of votes, but that wasn't Donald Trump trying to stop election fraud. That was Donald Trump trying to commit election fraud. They were trying to materialize votes that didn't exist and destroy votes that did exist, and when all of that didn't work, then they moved on to other plans, including a plan that his disgraced former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, was involved in to get the military to seize the election machinery and rerun the election. So there will be discussion of that, and then all of it came down to January 6th, which is why that was a day of such explosive political consequence for our country.

MS. CALDWELL: Mm‑hmm. Who is they?

REP. RASKIN: Well, that will also become clear, you know, over the course of the hearings, the different players who are involved. But it was not one person. It was not one person, and of course, these hearings are very different from what took place in the second impeachment of Donald Trump, which was about one person and one crime inciting insurrection against the union, but here, we've been tasked with determining a comprehensive inventory of facts relating to what took place.

MS. CALDWELL: What about one of Mark Meadows' aides, who has become critical for the committee, it seems, Cassidy Hutchinson? What sort of role has she played, and how important has she been to the committee finding out what happened inside the White House in the lead‑up and on January 6th?

REP. RASKIN: Well, you know, I don't want to discuss particulars with respect to what she's done, but I will say this, that while it has been difficult to get some of Donald Trump's highest intimates within his political entourage to testify, there are lots of young people who have emerged in this process, the kind of people who really make Washington work, because they execute plans and they are there to get stuff done, who have done their legal and civic duty because they were privy to a lot of what was going on, and they have come forward to testify what they know about this political assault on the election and about the insurrection that took place on January 6th.

So she is certainly someone who rendered truthful testimony to our committee, and you will see other junior staffers who have come forward and cooperated enthusiastically with this investigation into this attack on our country.

MS. CALDWELL: Mm‑hmm. What about your fellow colleagues, your fellow members of Congress who have been subpoenaed to appear before the committee? GOP leader Kevin McCarthy wrote a very long letter back to the committee. You know, one very small part of it is he says that it was not the committee's‑‑the committee does not have a valid use of subpoena power in order to subpoena him and other members of Congress for this reason. What is your reaction to that?

REP. RASKIN: Well, just read any of the court decisions which have rejected those arguments in‑‑you know, with blistering precision. I mean, they have claimed that our committee doesn't have a lawful investigative purpose. The courts come back and say if it's not a legitimate legislative purpose to investigate an attack on Congress itself, what is a legitimate purpose?

You know, the foremost obligation of political institutions is at least to guarantee the survival of the institutions and the country so that we can actually be an instrument of the public interest and the common good. We can't do that if we just say, yeah, everybody go in and take a free shot at us and try to overthrow the government of the United States. So the courts have rejected that categorically. They have rejected the claim that we are illegally composed, which is an argument that Mr. McCarthy is in a bizarre position to make, given the fact that he was the one who pulled the plug on GOP participation in our committee, just like he pulled the plug on the proposal that the Republicans had advanced for an independent outside 9/11‑style commission to investigate January 6th, which was something that we agreed to with the Democrats, with five Republicans, five Democrats, equal subpoena power, equal staff, right down the line, but Donald Trump didn't want any investigation into these events. And so the GOP leadership ended up pulling the plug on the proposal that they themselves had advanced to us‑‑

MS. CALDWELL: Mm‑hmm.

REP. RASKIN: ‑‑which Congressman Bennie Thompson, who is now the chair of the Select Committee, had accepted with some Democrats saying, "Well, is that really fair? We're in a majority, and we're going 50‑50," and he said, "This is what we need to do to have a fair and accurate investigation," and he agreed to it. And then the Republicans pulled the plug on it because Donald Trump didn't want it.

So now they come back and they don't like the composition of this committee, which they've done everything they can to undermine in the House, but this is a very effective, focused, bipartisan committee. In fact, it's the most bipartisan committee I've ever been on in the sense that we're working together towards common ends, rather than just, you know, engaging in rhetorical combat and polemics all day, which is a lot of what we see, unfortunately.

You know, the Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence the other day was so good in terms of trying to focus on the issue of gun violence, and yet it dissolved into all of these just attacks coming from the GOP side.

MS. CALDWELL: So, Congressman, we unfortunately are out of time. I have about 3,000 more questions for you, but we'll definitely be watching.

REP. RASKIN: That's what the hearings are for.

[Laughter]

MS. CALDWELL: Well, we will be watching those hearings, and thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.

REP. RASKIN: Thanks so much for having me, Leigh Ann.

MS. CALDWELL: Yep. Talk soon.

And thank you all for watching and joining us. For more, head to WashingtonPostLive.com. You can rewatch this interview. You can find the transcripts and join us next time. Thanks.

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