The GOP Doesn’t Care That Trump Planned a Coup. Do Democrats?
New emails show Jan. 6 was just a preview. The GOP and its allies in Congress, law enforcement, and conservative media will attempt another coup when they lose another election.
Thanks to the bombshell documents the House Oversight and Reform Committee released just ahead of Tuesday’s hearing on the Jan. 6 insurrection, Americans have a clear and unmistakable view of just how far former President Donald Trump went in trying to corrupt our democratic institutions, engage in a violent coup, and overturn our free and fair election.
“These documents show that President Trump tried to corrupt our nation’s chief law enforcement agency in a brazen attempt to overturn an election that he lost,” said Democratic committee chairwoman Carolyn Maloney. She’s absolutely correct. I would add one simple edit: It’s Trump and the GOP. He attempted a coup—and, yes, we should all use the word—and he’s still trying, with ample help from Republicans.
If you consider that hyperbole, I direct you to those bombshell documents revealing how the Trump administration, including chief of staff Mark Meadows, attempted to pressure the Department of Justice to advance dangerous conspiracy theories of election fraud and influence courts to nullify the election results so Trump could stay in power.
An hour before announcing his Attorney General Bill Barr would be stepping down, no doubt because he refused to promote “the Big Lie,” Trump’s assistant sent an email to Jeffrey Rosen, his incoming attorney general, showing evidence of alleged “election fraud” in northern Michigan and “talking points” to advance the obvious lie. Two weeks later, Trump’s White House sent a draft brief to Rosen for the DOJ to submit to the Supreme Court intended to effectively nullify the 2020 election and help Trump usurp power. Transcribed interviews with former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows reveal he directly pressured DOJ officials at least five times to investigate batshit conspiracy theories, including one suggesting that satellite technology from Europe was used to tamper with US voting equipment.
It appears Rosen, and other senior members of the DOJ, were not willing to pledge allegiance to Trump over the United States. “Pure insanity” is how Rosen and Richard Donoghue, who was the acting deputy attorney general, described Meadows’ emails. Trump then considered replacing Rosen with a sympathetic sycophant, Jeffrey Clark, who was then acting head of the civil division, to continue influencing the DOJ to help him succeed in his criminal, authoritarian coup.
These revelations, which are shocking and should be thoroughly investigated, come on the heels of the equally jaw-dropping but totally unsurprising news that the Justice Department, acting as Trump’s Luca Brasi, decided to retaliate against Democrats and the media. Specifically, prosecutors subpoenaed Apple for phone records of Democratic Representatives Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, their aides and family members, including a minor. The Justice Department also sought to retaliate against reporters and media outlets for “leaks” and attempted to seize thousands of emails and phone records of news outlets’ reporters.
If this sounds like the thuggish tactics used by strongmen and corrupt rulers in authoritarian regimes, well, it is. Let’s not forget Trump continues to praise Putin, and was friendly with Hungary’s Orban, who was “Trump before Trump,” Brazil’s Bolsonaro, Turkey’s Erdogan, Saudi Arabia’s Muhammad bin Salman, Israel’s Netanyahu, who is desperately copying Trump’s tactics to remain relevant, Egypt’s Sisi, and the Philippines’ Dutarte. None of them is particularly celebrated as champions of human rights, the free press, an independent judiciary or the small inconvenience known as a democracy by and for the people.
Thankfully, Trump lost and his efforts to erase his loss fell short, but his corrupting presence has contaminated not only the GOP but also the Department of Justice and law enforcement. We still don’t know the extent of how Trump and his allies pressured, corrupted and manipulated our democratic institutions from within to advance their perverse schemes for power and profit. What I do know after watching this hearing is that Jan. 6 was simply a sneak preview. The GOP and its right-wing allies in Congress, law enforcement, and conservative media are going to attempt another coup when they lose another election.
At Tuesday’s hearing, the committee wanted to investigate why it took the National Guard nearly four hours to respond to the U.S. Capitol breach even though top officials at the Defense Department received 12 urgent requests for help from the Capitol police chief and mayor. Meanwhile, Army leaders told the National Guard to “stand by” five times even as violence escalated, which eventually claimed five lives. Pipe bombs were also found near the U.S. Capitol and some of the protesters came with weapons, intending to assassinate Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. We also know that officers are being investigated for their alleged role in the insurrection and that white supremacist groups, sympathetic to Trump and the GOP, have tried to infiltrate law enforcement agencies across the country.
The committee had the opportunity to question FBI director Christopher Wray, Gen. Charles Flynn—the brother of Michael Flynn, who was Trump’s disgraced national security adviser and is a prominent promoter of both the QAnon conspiracy and “the Big Lie”—and Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt, director of the Army Staff. It was revealed that Gen. Charles Flynn and Gen. Piatt were both involved in a phone call in which Army leaders were worried about the “optics” of sending in the National Guard. That’s the same National Guard that quickly responded with massive force to peaceful BLM protesters and cleared others out of Lafayette Square with tear gas and violence last summer. No such concerns for “optics” were present then.
One would assume Republicans, who are allegedly so committed to law and order and national security that they held hearings on Benghazi and Clinton’s emails for years and have focused on antifa as a fake terrorist threat, would take the opportunity to dig deep into this massive failure of intelligence and law enforcement that allowed hundreds of armed, violent insurrections to take over the U.S. Capitol for the first time in 200 years. Or, they could ask FBI director Wray to do more to investigate and prosecute members of armed militias and white supremacist groups, some of whom participated in the violent insurrection, and are also the number one domestic terror threat in America.
Instead, they used their time to whine, deflect and obstruct. They performed for their base and said the House should be spending its time and powers to investigate Dr. Fauci’s emails, the Wuhan lab theory, the border crisis, the threat of inflation and Biden’s economic policies. They also found time to whine about masking policies at the U.S. Capitol and to urge Americans to move on from the insurrection that Republican Rep. Clyde recently referred to as a “normal tourist visit.”
If you were the party that was actively aiding and abetting a violent insurrection, you’d want to “move on” as well. It was a grotesque spectacle seeing Rep. Paul Gosar grill Wray on who “executed Ashli Babbitt,” and suggesting, without evidence, that the officer who shot her was hiding and waiting to kill her. Gosar didn’t spend time worrying about Officer Sicknick, who died trying to protect his colleagues from Babbitt and the violent mob. Neither did 21 Republicans in the House who just opposed a bill to award congressional gold medals for Capitol Police officers who defended them against a violent mob during the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Like some other House Republicans, Gosar actively supports white supremacist conspiracy theories, has ties to armed militia movements, and cheered on many of the events of Jan. 6. Wray said the FBI has arrested 500 people so far and is currently overseeing hundreds of investigations. They could start by talking to some Republicans like Gosar as members of his party have blocked a bipartisan commission to investigate the insurrection and acquitted Trump twice, with a majority of them even voting to cancel the election. Their conservative media ecosystem is actively gaslighting America and their base with dangerous conspiracy theories, as a majority of Republicans believe “the Big Lie” that Biden lost the 2020 election.
Thankfully, Democrats are in power. However, they retain a slim majority before the 2022 midterms that are stacked against them due to GOP gerrymandering and voter suppression. The question is whether this latest revelation of Trump and the GOP’s attempt to subvert democracy will force enough Democrats to finally abandon the dangerous illusion of “bipartisanship” and flex their power to fight for accountability and justice. One piece of good news is that Pelosi said Tuesday that the House committees will continue their investigations after Republicans blocked the Senate commission. Also, the House Oversight Committee said it will request Rosen, Meadows, and top Trump officials to appear for interviews in light of the latest revelations. Judging from what we’ve seen, Republicans won’t be forthcoming.
If they don’t comply, will Democrats finally flex their subpoena power, do a media blitz, and unite on messaging that Republicans are actively aiding and abetting the destruction of our democracy? One can only hope. It’s time for Democrats to unleash hell, as I’ve discussed before both here and here.
Our democracy is worth it. It’s time for them to behave like Republicans and finally bring a bazooka to this knife fight. If they forfeit their power and principle for “bipartisanship” then they might as well acknowledge they are actively complicit with a counter-majoritarian, extremist GOP that is actively trying to subvert democracy in front of our eyes.