Adam B. Schiff, Tribune News Service
On the afternoon of Jan. 6, 2021, I was on the House floor as a mob descended on the Capitol. Deceived by the former president into believing the election had been stolen from them, these insurrectionists were armed, angry and pointed in our direction. They beat Capitol and Metropolitan police officers — sprayed them with chemicals, broke their bones and gouged them with flagpoles. They even desecrated the American flags that hung on these now-weapons.
The insurrectionists made it into the building that day, but they did not accomplish the former president’s objective. Thanks to the valiant efforts of the police, we finished our job. The electoral votes certifying the 2020 presidential election were counted. Joe Biden became the president of the United States, as voters intended.
As I left the Capitol that night, I was convinced that the Republican Party could see the terrible end to which Donald Trump and his “Big Lie” had brought us — to the point of a violent attack on our own government. Surely now, he and everything he stood for would be repudiated. I was wrong.
More than a year and a half from the events of that day, we all must confront the terrible reality that our democracy is more fragile than it was on Jan. 6.
The Big Lie lives on. And it has metastasised — ushering in a new generation of discriminatory laws around the country to disenfranchise Americans, often voters of color — and been used as a cudgel to attack independent elections officials and drive them from their posts. The lesson Donald Trump and his enablers learned from the failed insurrection seems to be this:
Perhaps the best way to overturn an election and our democracy is not with a violent attack. Perhaps it is much simpler. If a state elections official will not find 11,780 votes that do not exist — as Trump asked Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to do — they must have loyalists in those positions during the next election who will.
The Jan. 6 House select committee has worked and is working to puncture the Big Lie and to reveal to the American people the multiple lines of effort to overturn the election.
Ultimately, Jan. 6 was not a date in isolation but the violent culmination of several failed attempts to thwart the peaceful transfer of power. These included a pressure campaign directed against state and local elections officials and legislators, a scheme to create fake electors, bogus litigation around the country, an attempt to decapitate the leadership of the Justice Department and use the department to promulgate false claims of fraud, and an effort to coerce Vice President Mike Pence into ignoring his constitutional duty and the law.
It was only when all of these other efforts failed that the former president summoned the mob, incited it and, knowing that it was armed and dangerous, directed its fury at the Capitol in a desperate attempt to delay or stop the proceedings.
The committee has attempted to place these facts before the public in a series of hearings, featuring the former president’s own men and women, and through state and local officials — almost all of them Republicans. If these hearings have looked different, it is because they are. Although our committee is composed of Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, we all have the same objective: to tell the true story of what happened when a president’s lust for power almost destroyed our democracy. Such unity of purpose is rare on Capitol Hill, and the tone, tenor and quality of our hearings have reflected that.
We have not concluded our investigation or our hearings. New witnesses and evidence continue to come forward, and we continue to assemble the facts for both the present and history.
Our role is not a prosecutorial one; that responsibility will fall upon the Justice Department. But I believe that our committee has already put forward sufficient facts to warrant an investigation of the former president for possible violation of several criminal laws, including conspiracy to defraud, interference with official proceedings and potentially even more serious offenses related to the violence of Jan. 6. Attorney General Merrick Garland has pledged that the department will follow the evidence wherever it leads, and it has led to Donald Trump.
Whatever the Department of Justice decides, one thing is certain: Trump must never hold the levers of power again. Not if we believe in the rule of law. Not if we cherish our democracy. Not if the truth of our founders — that someone whose character is “marked by every act which may define a tyrant” is unfit to lead a free people — remains self-evident.
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