Most of us have understandably and rightly been focused on the new House select committee as the investigation that will get to the heart of the January 6th insurrection and the coup plot that preceded and created it. We’re right to. Indeed, before the new committee was impanelled I’d gotten used to hearing about this and that one-off hearing, most focused on security lapses on January 6th itself, and had been semi-tuning them out. But as I’ve learned from my colleagues in recent days, there’s more going on in the Senate than I realized.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, under Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL), appears to be doing most of its work in private, rather than in set-piece hearings. Things appear to have kicked into higher gear after Attorney General Merrick Garland allowed former Trump-era DOJ officials to testify about what is now emerging as a fairly elaborate coup plot hatched in the waning months of the Trump administration. Judiciary committee investigators jumped at the chance and some who were involved in the plot – or at least were witnesses to the plot – have jumped themselves … to testify. Rosen apparently was in a bit of a rush to testify – once Garland gave the go-ahead – before anyone on the Trump side could get into court to try to stop him. The testimony was also conducted out of the press spotlight so it would be done before anyone who might want to block it knew.
One shouldn’t romanticize these folks excessively. After all it was Rosen who became acting attorney general because Trump thought he would be more pliant than Bill Barr. Still, everyone has their limits. Or most people do.
Yesterday we learned that Durbin’s committee now also wants to talk to former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, because of emails he sent to the Justice Department and also because of what Rosen told the committee in those secret interviews. Apparently what’s in those emails isn’t good.
One key backdrop to all of this is that everything is currently under the control of the Biden administration. Trump White House emails, Trump DOJ emails – they all came under the control and custody of the Biden administration on January 20th. That doesn’t mean everything gets turned over carte blanche. But it can be. It’s up to lawyers in different parts of the Biden administration. In theory former Trump officials could try to get into court to get courts involved. But actual custody of the stuff is all in the Biden administration’s hands. And former Presidents have no standing for things like executive privilege.
Much of the questions turn on Acting Civil Division Chief Jeffrey Clark, who Trump was trying to use to take over the DOJ, officially or in effect, to overturn the election. We’ve known for months that he was at the heart of the coup conspiracy. But it’s only recently we’ve learned how detailed and extensive the plot was and how far along.
And here we come back to a key point. Getting to the bottom of what happened on January 6th is critical. But we know broadly that a few thousand feral Trumpers, at the then-President’s behest, stormed the Capitol building in an effort to overturn the results of the election and overthrow the government. We also know that at least two far-right militias working with or at Trump’s behest organized part of it. What we really need to know is what Trump was doing and not doing on the day of the insurrection, his precise role fomenting it. And, just as much, we need to know the full breadth of the coup plot that preceded it, which appears to have been much further along and more serious than we’d understood. That’s critical. And Durbin’s committee seems to be looking into just that.