This is the last Morning Memo of 2022. We’ll see you back here Jan. 3. Happiest of holidays to you and yours.
The Jan. 6 Committee Had What It Took
The release late last night of its 845-page final report marks the culmination of an extraordinary investigation into the most dire threat to the Republic since the Civil War.
Our team stayed up well past midnight teasing out new and interesting revelations in the report. We distilled them here: 5 Key Takeaways From The Jan. 6 Committee’s Massive Final Report.
How We Got Here
I want to step back for a moment and survey how we got to this point, nearly two years after the Jan. 6 attack.
Popular history will likely compress the events of the past several years into a familiar arc: bad things happened, good people stood up, normalcy was restored, congratulations all around. We know that’s not what happened and not how it worked.
A dominant theme of the Trump era is the reluctance and in some ways the inability of American political culture to grasp the threat he poses. The period since the Jan. 6 attack is emblematic of the slow, halting, inconstant reaction to the threat even after it exploded in nearly catastrophic violence:
- A comprehensive congressional investigation of Jan. 6 was not a given and almost didn’t happen.
- The Justice Department squandered much of 2021 before it began actively investigating the entire scheme to subvert the 2020 election.
- The Jan. 6 committee as it was eventually constituted was the product of a reluctance and hesitation even among Democrats. Its eventual effectiveness in unearthing important evidence and writing a narrative that stuck in the national consciousness was not at all clear at the outset and certainly wasn’t a given. Much of its effectiveness in the end was owed to Republican Vice Chair Liz Cheney (WY).
Still, it is gratifying to see some of the progress of the last two years.
Remember How Bad It Was
In January 2021, TPM had its hair on fire that the attack on Jan. 6 not be seen in isolation, but rather as part of a larger scheme to undermine democracy, delegitimize the election results in advance, and then ultimately throw out those results.
As late as the summer of 2021, when the committee’s earliest hearings were held, we wondered aloud “Does The Jan. 6 Committee Have What It Takes To Investigate The Big Lie?“
At the time, I warned: “The select committee seems determined to focus on Jan. 6 as a security breach, rather than the culmination of a months-long effort to delegitimize, undermine, interfere with and ultimately overturn the 2020 election.
Where We Are Now
Through the painstaking work of gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, reviewing documents, and unlocking electronic communications, the Jan. 6 committee began to grasp the full scope of the 2020 subversion effort.
Belatedly, the Justice Department caught on to what the Jan. 6 committee was up to.
With its televised hearings in the summer of 2022, the committee seized the national consciousness and began to craft a public narrative for Jan. 6 that showed it was the culmination of a much broader scheme.
Liz Cheney’s emphasis on using Republican witnesses and casting Trump’s followers as patriots duped by his con opened the public mind to a new way of looking at the attack.
I happen to think that the raid on Mar-a-Lago in August and the emerging details of Trump’s mishandling of government and classified records had the important effect of reinforcing the newly emergent narrative by demonstrating anew in a clear, direct, and simple way that Trump is a chronic scofflaw, a menace, and a threat.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Congress didn’t do everything to combat Trump that I would have liked to have seen, but it did impeach him twice, it is about to update the Electoral Count Act, and the Jan. 6 committee’s work speaks for itself. With Republicans taking over the House next month, Congress’ role here is largely done. All eyes turn to the Justice Department and to a lesser extent the state investigation in Georgia.
The window for the Justice Department to act is two years. The appointment of Jack Smith as special counsel improves the odds that the investigations underway now won’t be shut down if Republicans reclaim the White House in 2024. But it remains a relatively small window, especially if you’re prosecuting a former president.
The true imperative for the Justice Department all along has not been to prosecute and convict Trump; it’s been merely to investigate him. Once it did that, the facts and evidence would lead where they may. That’s all you can ask for: just give it a good look. That is finally underway in what appears from the outside to be a comprehensive and thorough investigation.
Vindicating The Rule Of Law Is Essential But Insufficient
Accountability for a president who uses the great power of his office to flout and undermine the rule of law is essential, but the rule of law will not long survive if its only defenders are federal prosecutors. It must be deeply embedded in the political and popular culture.
In the current moment, one of the two major political parties is actively opposed to the rule of law as a guiding democratic principle. It has hitched itself to violent extremists and made the acquisition and retention of power by any means its party platform.
The Republic will remain in peril so long as the democratic consensus is broken. Armed and violent extremists retreated after Jan. 6, but have been lurking just beyond the horizon, waiting to pounce. Factions that would put their own power above democratic principle remain a threat.
Above all else, it is acutely clear that the Republic as we know it will not persist if the White House is occupied by someone who intertwines his political fortunes with violent extremism, treats the office as his personal property, uses his constitutional powers to secure power to himself, and refuses to defend the Constitution.
Other Reactions To The Jan. 6 Committee Report
Joyce Vance: “[T]the report is a compelling document that should aid people with common sense in understanding how we process Trump’s conduct following the 2020 election.”
Ryan Goodman thread on the potential legal jeopardy facing Stefan Passantino, Cassidy’s Hutchinson’s first lawyer.
Insider: Cassidy Hutchinson Googled “Watergate” to help decide whether to cooperate with January 6 committee`
Lawrence O’Donnell unwinds the incredible story of Cassidy Hutchinson:
See you in the new year.
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