This is what Liz Cheney, the Republican vice chair of the January 6 Congressional committee, said happened that day: As his shock troops stormed the U.S. Capitol chanting “hang Mike Pence,” Donald Trump told advisers that the man next in line for the presidency “deserves” it.
That astonishing sentence requires repeating: The former president of the United States of America said that the former vice-president of the United States of America “deserves” to be executed.
Trump agreed with his raging, White Supremacist, shock troops who invaded the Capitol on January 6, 2021, that his groveling toady, Pence, deserved to be hanged for disloyalty, for failing to halt the certification of his legitimate successor, Joe Biden – who had defeated him soundly on November 3, 2020.
Trump’s raging, White Supremacist shock troops brought the gallows with them. They erected them. They searched for Pence. They would, no doubt, have tried to lynch Pence had they been able to hunt him down and drag him from the Capitol’s subterranean bowels where he had found refuge.
All the while, Trump was comfortably at the White House watching TV – approvingly – as his armed, marauding shock troops went about their grotesque business doing what he had wanted them to do: Attack and, if need be, sack the Capitol to sustain the delusion that he was still president.
This fact should pierce the complacency and denial of the sinister purpose of the insurrection and the definitive role that a seething president played in planning, fomenting, directing and, finally, refusing to stop the madness that took place in that place, on that day.
For far too long, far too many people beyond Trump’s bankrupt band of sycophants have dismissed the violent, attempted coup d’état as a “protest” gone awry or an unfortunate “dust-up.”
Last night’s live, opening televised session of the bi-partisan committee confirmed – on small and big screens – that the insurrection was, instead, conceived and organized months before with the knowledge and blessing of Trump.
The committee made a persuasive case that Trump was the lead conspirator of a sprawling, coordinated plot to sell a lie, to deny his opponent’s victory, to thwart the peaceful transition of power, and to desecrate a constitution he took a solemn oath, as commander-in-chief, to defend against all enemies – foreign and domestic.
The complacency and denial must end. Now.
Towards that end, the committee was wise to train its crosshairs on Trump. For two sobering hours, it marshaled and revealed new evidence implicating Trump as the central figure of a calculated scheme to subvert the rule of law and the truth in the pursuit of power.
Trump was the fifth column.
That astonishing sentence also requires repeating: The former president of the United States of America was and remains an existential threat to the teetering republic known as the United States of America.
Trump’s lethal insurrection was predicated, of course, on a lie: That the election had been stolen; that fraud was rampant. The voting machines had been rigged.
Trump knew it was a lie. All of it was “bull***t,” according to his attorney general, William Barr. Barr told him that it was a lie. His campaign aides told him it was a lie. White House lawyers told him it was a lie. Even his daughter, Ivanka, knew it was a lie.
Rather than concede, Trump convened a secret meeting in the White House with like-minded lunatics who hatched a seven-part plan to repeat the lie, to bend the machinery of government to promote the lie, and to corrupt the Department of Justice to defend the lie – culminating in a bloody insurrection.
Rather than act, Trump rebuffed, unsurprisingly, pleas to enlist the military, the national guard or order other reinforcements to corral and push back the mob.
A frantic and hidden vice president called the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff asking for the cavalry to arrive.
Meanwhile, Trump reveled in the mob. He exalted in the mob, hoping that his shock troops would succeed where Pence had failed: prevent Congress from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to certify the election of the new and real president.
Again, Trump was the fifth column.
If Richard Nixon had an illegitimate heir – it would be Donald Trump.
Like Nixon, Trump – motivated by hate and vengeance – was intent on using the powers and authority of the presidency to pervert what he was obliged to protect: the U.S. Constitution.
Like Nixon, Trump treated Congress and the constitution as inconveniences to his dangerous, disfiguring will and parochial designs.
Like Nixon, Trump was more potentate than president.
Like Nixon, Trump orchestrated a pervasive assault on the constitution, convinced that the president and his enablers were above the law, safe from the retributive arm of the law.
Like Nixon, Trump was impeached for just cause – in his disgraceful case, twice.
And, like Nixon, Trump has escaped the dock.
That is the test and challenge confronting America today.
The committee’s careful work continues. In the coming weeks, it will share more of its findings, more of its recorded interviews with all this president’s men and women, and more of the testimony of others in the know, who know what Trump did and didn’t do and why he did and didn’t do it.
The Department of Justice can no longer take the position of an intrigued bystander.
It can no longer rely on a district attorney in Georgia to impanel a special grand jury potentially to charge Trump after he ordered – in a taped phone call – Georgia’s Republican secretary of state to “find” him the precise number of votes to win a state he lost.
It can no longer assure reporters and scholars anonymously that methodical Attorney General Merrick Garland fears no one and is determined to hold another rogue president to account.
The committee has already established a compelling indictment that Trump was at the hub of an illegal, premeditated enterprise to steal an election.
The Department of Justice must no longer dither and delay.
It must honor the duty and sacrifice of Capitol police officer Caroline Edwards who told the committee that she was an American who “stood her ground” on January 6 to defend the U.S. Constitution.
Attorney General Garland needs to stand his ground and defend the U.S. Constitution, too.