Trump Directed the Whole Thing — Day Seven
A Coordinated Effort to Overthrow Democracy
After all the new horrifying details—the “unhinged” midnight White House meeting where Rudy Giuliani called Trump’s other lawyers “a bunch of pussies”; the seditious members of Congress who knew they had done wrong and sought pardons; the Diet Dr. Pepper-swilling (a nice touch by the savvy January 6th Committee tape editors) and Kraken-loving crackpot, Sidney Powell, authorized by Donald Trump to steal the election—these jaw-dropping January 6 hearings are still about oiling the creaky wheels of justice. They are about convincing an audience of one—Attorney General Merrick Garland— to ask a grand jury to indict the former president of the United States.
In a scandal that, as Rep. Jamie Raskin (D.-MD) said on Day Seven, “makes Watergate look like a Cub Scout meeting,” it’s hard to believe that DOJ does not have enough evidence to move forward. Even non-lawyers are now familiar with legal concepts like “criminal intent,” “consciousness of guilt,” “willful blindness” and “conspiracy to obstruct congressional proceedings” (18 U.S.C. 371, if you’re scoring at home). There was plenty of all of that revealed on Day Seven, with Trump in the role of deranged bank president leading the robbers to break into the bank and “find” the money that he insists belongs to him personally.
Don’t be distracted by the story’s shiny objects. The gist of Day Six was not whether Trump grabbed the steering wheel or threw a cheeseburger with ketchup against the wall; it was eyewitness testimony that he knew the mob he desperately wanted to lead to the capitol was armed and dangerous. So, too, the key takeaway from Day Seven had little to do with high-level histrionics or the legal exposure of brow-beaten subordinates; it was contemporaneous evidence (especially from campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson and right wing activist Kylie Jane Kremer) that the January 6 assault on the Capitol was not something spontaneous or that “got out of hand” but was mobilized and directed by the president himself. In fact, after the president’s now-infamous “Will be wild!” tweet, Kremer changed the date of her protest permit request from January 23 (after the Inauguration) to January 6.
Day Seven went to motive. On the evening of January 5, press aide Sarah Matthews heard a happy Trump say that the challenge now was to “make RINOS do the right thing.” This was about leading a violent revolution, with Trump in the role of aggrieved colonists. (He was delighted by the angry crowd outside chanting “1776! 1776! 1776!” along with Roger Stone, Alex Jones, Ali Alexander and others). The next morning, Trump planned to tweet: “Please arrive early. Massive crowds expected. March to the Capitol after. Stop the steal.” Someone—my guess is social media manager Dan Scavino—prevented that tweet from being posted, but it confirms Trump’s intentions. More key evidence came when Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) revealed the differences between the draft of Trump’s speech on the Ellipse and what he actually said. The draft contained a single reference to Mike Pence’s role in the certification process; Trump ad-libbed eight mentions of Pence in his speech, several of them blood-curdling. The draft referred once, in passing, to going to the Capitol; Trump spoke five times about it and said, extemporaneously and to the horror of his staff, that he would lead the march himself.
Some of the best evidence in this scandal can be found in the timelines. Everything Trump and his acolytes did before December 14, when the Electoral College met and elected Joe Biden, might have been objectionable, even appalling, but it wasn’t illegal. Sore losers have due process rights, too. But everything they did after that date skirted awfully close to the legal line. (MAGA Republicans endlessly claim that in 2004 and 2016, several Democrats also used the January 6th Joint Session to object to certain state certifications, but they almost never mention that unlike Trump supporters in 2021, the Democrats only did this after conceding that they lost the election).
After the courts ruled, as Committee chair Bennie Thompson (D.-SC) said, any responsible American leader would have told his staff, “We did our best and we came up short.” Not Trump Republicans. A key moment for me came when—after Powell began talking trash about interference in the election from Iran, Venezuela and China — White House lawyer Eric Herschmann testified about the 60 (of 61) cases lost by Trump:
Derek [Lyons] and I both challenged what she was saying. And she says, ‘Well, the judges are corrupt.’ And I was like, ‘Every one? Every single case that you've done in the country, you guys lost. Every one of them is corrupt? Even the ones we appointed?’ And I'm being nice [in recounting it now]. I was much more harsh to her.
The newest witness, former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, said much the same thing about respecting the rule of law. So did other White House and DOJ officials. They testified that once the courts ruled, that should have been it. These lawyers all look pretty good now, and thank God they stood up. But let’s not pretend that they are heroes or that, as Cipollone said, Vice President Pence deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom. When it came to cauterizing the wound to the body politic in January of 2021 by going public in favor of impeachment, they were all MIA. Even now, Pence cannot speak the full truth.
The six-hour December 18 meeting alone would make a great Adam McKay movie, and not just because Herschmann threatened to punch out fascist former General Michael Flynn for screaming at him that he was “a quitter.” When they had him alone for 15 minutes or so, Giuliani (whose legal team admitted it had no evidence of fraud sufficient to overturn the election result), Powell, Flynn and Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock.com, presented Trump with a draft executive order. The idea was for Trump to order the Army to immediately seize state voting machines, a move out of the old playbook for tinhorn dictators (Newer autocrats, like Hungary’s Viktor Orban, are more subtle). The seizure was to be supervised by a new special counsel—Sidney Powell!— also empowered to prosecute any crime in her fevered imagination.
When White House lawyers got wind of the meeting, they raced to the Oval Office to object, just as DOJ officials would when they learned in January that coup plotter Jeffrey Clark was about to be appointed acting attorney general. In both cases, Trump’s orders were ignored. It reminds me of what President Truman said about former five-star General Eisenhower before he took office: “He’ll sit here and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen. Poor Ike—it won’t be a bit like the Army.” Poor Trump, his craven defenders are now saying, he’s too much of a clown to have pulled off his coup, so he can’t be held responsible for it.
The critical December 18 meeting ended when former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows—otherwise a profile in cowardice throughout—escorted Giuliani out of the White House so he couldn’t get Trump into even more trouble. But it turned out Trump didn’t need help to devise what Thompson described as his “backup plan.” At 1:42 a.m. on December 19, 2020, an hour after the insane meeting ended, Trump highlighted Peter Navarro’s collection of discredited conspiracy theories in an (unsupervised) tweet:
Until Day Seven, I had thought of that as just another inflammatory Trump tweet, but it turned out that this was the first anyone outside Trump’s sinister circle had heard about a protest on January 6. And Raskin convinced me of its historical significance in his opening statement:
“Never before in American history had a president called for a crowd to come contest the counting of electoral votes by Congress or engaged in any effort designed to influence, delay, or obstruct the joint session of Congress in doing its work required by our Constitution and the Electoral Count Act,”
The tweet itself is criminal incitement and it set the insurrection in motion in ways I had not understood before this hearing.
On his deranged radio show, Alex Jones suggested this march would go far beyond a standard protest:
It's Saturday, December 19th. The year is 2020, and one of the most historic events in American history has just taken place. President Trump, in the early morning hours today, tweeted that he wants the American people to march on Washington DC on January 6th, 2021.
A popular right wing agitator who calls himself “Salty Cracker” was just one of many activists hinting at the violence to come:
Ya better understand something, son. Ya better understand something. Red wave, bitch. Red wed — there's gonna be a red wedding going down January 6th. [A Game of Thrones reference to bloodshed].
And after talking twice on the phone with Trump, Steve Bannon, who may yet testify before the January 6th Committee, said on his podcast on January 5:
All hell is going to break loose tomorrow. It's all converging and now we're on, as they say, the point of attack, right, the point of attack tomorrow. I'll tell you this, it's not going to happen like you think it's going to happen, Ok? It's going to be quite extraordinarily different. And all I can say is strap in.
Trump planned all along to go to the Capitol. Pierson emailed other rally organizers: “POTUS expectations are to have something intimate at the ellipse, and call on everyone to march to the capitol.” Kremer, who ran an organization of right wing women, emailed MyPillow founder Mike Lindell on January 4:
“It can also not get out about the march because I will be in trouble with the national park service and all the agencies but POTUS is going to just call for it ‘unexpectedly.’”
As Committee Vice-Chair Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) explained, this puts the lie to the GOP’s new PR strategy claiming that Trump was “manipulated” by outsiders:
“This, of course, is nonsense,” she said. “President Trump is a 76 year old man. He is not an impressionable child. Just like everyone else in our country, he is responsible for his own actions and his own choices.”
Cheney was a little off on that one. As everyone knows, Trump is a six-year-old child. But he is a willful bully (now, quite possibly, engaged in witness tampering), not an impressionable naif. And his love of “the crazies,” as Pierson put it, is nothing new, as I know from personal experience.
Before becoming president, Trump had happily appeared on Alex Jones’ radio show and he and Roger Stone have been good friends for 40 years. So at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, I interviewed both men on Alter Family Politics, my Sirius XM show. I figured our audience should know the kinds of scumbags the GOP nominee hung out with. (I grilled Jones and Stone on their various lies, and on why, if they favored conceal-carry, they and other attendees were not packing heat at the Convention).
I thought I knew all about Stone and his history as a leather-clad, Nixon-loving “swinger.” But thanks to good reporting and the Committee’s work, we now have new details about his role in the scandal. After giving a rip-roaring speech on January 5th (“We will win this fight or America would step off into a thousand years of darkness”), he tried to preserve deniability by staying away from the Capitol on January 6. It didn’t work. The Committee obtained encrypted chats showing that Kelly Meggs, the indicted leader of the Florida Oath Keepers, spoke directly with Stone about security on January 5th and 6th and that two Oath Keepers who have since been criminally indicted for seditious conspiracy (for planning violence), served as Stone’s bodyguards and were part of the Friends of Stone Network. Stone even took the first step toward initiation as a member, intoning a ridiculous oath the included the words, “I'm Roger Stone. I'm a Western chauvinist, and I refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.”
Trump, Stone, Giuliani, Flynn, Powell, Eastman, Clark and other coup-plotters enjoyed strong backing from Republicans on the Hill, several of whom will chair important committees if the GOP wins control in November. For the first time, we learned the identities of the ten MAGA members invited to a key meeting with the subject line: “White House meeting December 21 regarding January 6.” The conspiracy mongers who apparently engaged in their own criminal conspiracy included: Brian Babin (R-TX), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Andy Harris (R-MD), Jody Hice (R-GA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Scott Perry (R-PA), and recently elected Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). The plan was for DOJ to assert the election was corrupt and then, Trump said, his people could “leave the rest up to” him and these Republican members, several of whom later sought pardons.
If the January 6 Committee members were a team (and in many ways, they are), their record would now be 7-0, in part because they repeat important testimony without becoming monotonous and they both contextualize and humanize by including ordinary human beings caught up in the drama. This time, the witnesses were Jason Van Tatenhove, a former senior official in the Oath Keepers who warned that the group and others like it pose an ongoing threat to the country, and Stephen Ayers, a remorseful supervisor at an Ohio cabinet company, now awaiting sentencing, who came to Washington when summoned by Trump and responded to the president’s incitement by storming the Capitol. “Biggest thing for me is take the blinders off, make sure you step back and see what's going on before it's too late,” he testified.
Is it? That’s the question for Joe Biden, Merrick Garland, conscientious Republicans and the rest of us.