A Year Later, We’re Still Far from the Truth about Who Led the Insurrection
The anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol riots has brought a ton of replays and remembrances, as well as current-day recriminations, attempted rewrites and concern about whether the Justice Department is even attempting to brace its plotters.
We’re neck-deep in daily drama over whether witnesses and participants will heed either voluntary requests or subpoenas from the special congressional investigative committee and over the ever-continuing drip of documents, emails and outlines circulating in the last months of the Donald Trump White House.
There are plenty of pundits who either insist we either have ushered in the end of democracy or who continue to argue for changing and limiting voting through an array of means, legal or not.
Prosecutions of more than 700 rioters have been under way for months, even if many are getting light sentences.
A year later, we are seeing the outlines of a multi-headed coup plot through the disclosed emails and plans being shared with the congressional committee. There is as yet no official investigation under way by the FBI and the Justice Department about the coordination, financing and organization of the plotters. The congressional committee says it is holding back for televised hearings to tell the story in full. We’re hearing daily details in emails to chief of staff Mark Meadows or leaked plans or even in new books being published by participants in the plotting.
It’s a formula for constant work to figure out whether the latest drip matters in the overall picture.
We are seeing the outlines of a multi-headed coup plot, but there is no official investigation under way by the FBI and the Justice Department about the coordination, financing and organization of the plotters.
That journalists and committee staff members can discover the involvement of Team Trump rather than the Justice Department is maddening.
It is inside out: If this is seen as an existential issue for democracy, Americans should be learning the details in a more straightforward, orderly, credible manner.
Thus, Attorney General Merrick Garland apparently felt pressured to speak out yesterday in a speech to his own department on what he and his investigators have been doing for the last year.
Action, Yes, But More Talk
Garland made clear that the pursuit of rioters has been huge, perhaps the most extensive set of criminal cases arising from a single incident. He elevated the efforts as a defense of democracy itself in the face of violence, including on law enforcement officers, and broadened the department’s efforts to quash violence of all sort in the current political divide and to voting rights.
As Garland and The New York Times outlined, the Justice Department’s criminal investigation of the Capitol attack is a prosecutorial effort of unparalleled complexity and scope, arming U.S. attorneys with the examination of 20,000 hours of videotapes and images. Garland said.
But the effort has focused on rioters, not the top organizers. And he vowed to go after those who conspired “at any level,” a signal one would think could lead to evaluating evidence involving the Trump inner circle. Garland’s reliance on judicial non-political norms never got more direct.
Those looking for the prosecution of Trump anytime soon may be disappointed. So too may be Trump supporters. We got no closer to understanding what would be required to file charges against Trump.
Garland has faced pressure from the political Left to act more forcefully in prosecuting Team Trump and from the political right to stop overblown hype about a MAGA mob attacking Congress.
“Merrick Garland has been extremely weak, and I think there should be a lot more of the organizers of Jan. 6 that should be arrested by now” former deputy solicitor general, Neal Katyal, said on MSNBC. Americans are looking for reassurance that the Justice Department is investigating the leaders of the coup attempt as well as those entering the Capitol.
MSNBC host Ari Melber braced Trump adviser Peter Navarro, who outlined his participation in a widespread Stop the Steal campaign. Melber said Navarro’s efforts amounted to a full-blown coup attempt.
Any number of Republican leaders in Congress have decried the entire investigation as a continuing witch hunt against The Former Guy.
There was Trump himself, calling off a scheduled press conference timed for the anniversary, apparently because networks declined to show it live and because of the sheer number of new legal questions arising from all the disclosures.
Trump attacked Meadows for sharing some documents with the committee before halting further cooperation with a subpoena. Now Trump has turned on Fox News commentator Sean Hannity for appearing to have crossed him in disclosed emails with Meadows over Jan. 6.
Losing Sight of the Goal
It seems easy in all of this to overlook the goals of all these investigative efforts.
Even as election night results were becoming clear, Team Trump was busy rewriting the outcome, with campaigns that included a losing legal front, a political case, pressure on states to change outcomes and, finally, a mob.
Throughout, Team Trump was unable to find evidence of widespread election fraud. But it persuaded leaders in states with Republican-majority legislatures to change voting rules in ways that will limit votes by Democrats and people of color. Trumpsters have launched gerrymandering campaigns and replaced state election officials. They are insisting that Jan. 6 never happened in the way we all watched live on TV.
Meanwhile, throughout, Democrats have flagged attempts to pass a federal bill to protect voting rights, and, for a host of Covid, economic, political and cyclical reasons, are able to lose their tiny majorities in the House and Senate.
Ask anyone from Capitol police to Homeland Security and you’ll hear that a Jan. 6 can easily happen again, this time informed by the failed riot a year ago. Polls are showing heightened support for political violence. Threats against political local and national are up by multiples of those a year or more ago. The Capitol police have lost hundreds of officers through resignations. Homeland Security warned of heightened violence even today.
This anniversary should remind us that we have a responsibility to hold plotters of Jan. 6 responsible for any criminal acts. We must listen to the reasons for the frustration that gave rise to a state-sponsored riot.