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The real news about the January 6 committee's criminal referral of Trump
They have an overwhelming case
Congress’s January 6 select committee has referred former president Donald Trump to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution on the grounds that he incited an insurrection, conspired to defraud the United States, obstructed an act of Congress, and conspired to make a false statement.
What is the significance of this referral? Almost none, directly. It has no legal effect. The Justice Department’s own investigation will not be swayed by the fact that a committee of Congress believes Trump guilty. And unless you happen to be one of the few people in America who hasn’t already made up your mind about Trump’s guilt or innocence, the committee’s criminal referral will have no effect on you, or on public opinion in general, or on Trump’s political fortunes.
But the specific evidence of Trump’s guilt that the committee will be turning over to the Justice Department will be hugely significant. They have built a powerful case.
So I urge you not to be distracted by the coverage over the fact that the committee made a criminal referral to the Justice Department, and focus instead on the substance of what the committee has established through direct testimony, videos, memos, and other data.
Among other things, the committee has established that:
Before Election Day, Trump planned to give a false election victory speech. On Election Day, even though the networks were starting to call the race for Biden, Trump declared victory and demanded that voting counts stop. “This is a fraud on the American public, an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election, we did win this election.”
Trump knew he lost. He also knew that there was no evidence of fraud or irregularities sufficient to change the outcome. His Attorney General told him there had been no fraud. His advisors repeatedly told him there was no evidence of fraud sufficient to change the outcome. The Supreme Court rejected his case on December 11. Electors voted on December 14. His senior staff advised him to concede.
Nonetheless, Trump’s intended to ignore the rule of law to stay in power. He conducted an Oval Office meeting on December 18, during which Trump lawyer Sidney Powell and former national security adviser Michael Flynn proposed that the U.S. military seize state election machines.
On December 19, just hours after the meeting ended, Trump sent a tweet urging his followers to come to Washington on January 6, and it “will be wild.” The evidence presented made clear that the far-right militia and other figures understood that tweet as a call to violence.
Michael Flynn and Roger Stone, both of whom Trump had pardoned during the time between the election and January 6, had direct relationships with violent right-wing groups.
Trump knew he was lying when he told the public that Dominion Voting machines were rigged against him, when he told the public there were more votes than voters, and when he told the public about a “vote dump” in Detroit. He purposely and maliciously repeated these lies to the public over and over again.
He knew his allegations of fraud in Georgia were false, but he nonetheless sought to pressure the Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger into giving him the votes he needed, saying “I want to find 11,780 votes.” When the secretary of state demurred, Trump threatened that he’d be prosecuted.
He also tried to pressure election officials in Arizona and Michigan, knowing he lost those states.
Knowing he lost the election, he also pressured the Justice Department to change the results of the election until Justice Department officials threatened mass resignation. He sought to name a Justice Department minion as the new Attorney General who then planned to send letters to Trump-friendly state legislatures alleging widespread fraud in their states. The proposed letters would urge these friendly state legislatures to exploit the “failed choice” loophole in antiquated 19th-century laws and substitute their own Trump presidential electors for the Biden electors that had been chosen by the voters on Election Day. Trump’s own top Justice Department officials killed this scheme.
He sought to replace real Biden electors with fake Trump electors on January 6. He knew this was illegal.
He tried to get Vice President Pence to unilaterally disregard the electoral count. Trump knew this was illegal.
He intentionally summoned his supporters to the Capitol, and then, knowing they were armed, intended that they march to the Capitol.
He knew there would be violence that day. He knew people coming to Washington planned to attack the Capitol and that multiple users online were targeting members of Congress. The Secret Service had this information at least 10 days before the attack. On January 6, during his speech on the Ellipse, Trump knew the crowd was armed and dangerous.
He intentionally endangered the safety of Vice President Pence and his family, and members of Congress, on January 6 by tweeting criticism of Pence, which unleashed the mob to go after Pence, chanting “hang Mike Pence.”
He watched the riots unfold on television for hours without lifting a finger to protect the Vice President, his family, or Members of Congress, despite pleas from Trump family members, White House advisors, and Republican congressional leaders. He spent hours in the dining room next to the Oval Office (from 1:25 pm until 4 pm) watching Fox News coverage of the attack. During this time he called senators to urge them to delay the electoral vote, and he phoned Rudy Giuliani.
He refused to take action, although he could easily have done so. He was repeatedly implored — by his own White House counsel, other White House staff, and members of his family — to condemn the violence, ask rioters to stop and leave the Capitol, and go home. But for 187 minutes he did not. He was a sixty-second walk away from the White House press room.
Instead, he chose to provoke the rioters. When the riot was underway, his first tweet was: “Mike Pence didn't have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country.” In view of White House staffers, this “poured fuel on the fire.”
Rather than call the rioters off, he indicated they were doing the right thing. When House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy urged Trump to take action, Trump responded: “Well, Kevin, I guess they’re just more upset about the election than you are.”
He showed no remorse. At 6:01 pm he tweeted: “These are the things that happen when a victory is stripped away from great patriots. Remember the day forever. Go home with love.”
Even after the 2020 election was certified, he refused to say the election was over. When he finally agreed to address the nation the next evening, he did not want to say words that had been drafted for him — “the election is over.” He was only willing to say “Congress has certified the results.” Trump has never accepted any responsibility for the attack and never acknowledged the deaths of law enforcement officers, because he did not want to be faulted or imply any criticism of the rioters.
The big news is not that a committee of Congress has made a criminal referral to the Justice Department urging that the Department prosecute a former president. The big news is that the committee has compiled overwhelming evidence that the former president has committed serious crimes.