This week, the Jan. 6 committee approved subpoenaing former President Trump. The courts will probably make a decision regarding the subpoena soon. Determining the impact of the committee’s activities will probably require more time.
Getty Images/Drew Angerer
Is this it? is a common question when a dramatic turn punctuates a protracted story.
Is this the moment we will remember as the turning point or the tipping point?
This week, the House committee looking into the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, tried to create such a turning point in the story of former President Donald Trump.
The nine committee members unanimously decided to subpoena the former president’s records and testimony pertaining to January 6 as their most recent and potentially final public meeting came to an end.
Trump was referred to as “the major figure” in the entire incident by Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. Thompson then went on to offer more than two hours of evidence to support this claim.
Trump knew, from indisputable sources, that his charges of election fraud were untrue, said the panel’s vice chair, Republican Liz Cheney of Wyoming. “Donald Trump’s deception or irrationality cannot be used as a defense. In a republic with the rule of law, no president is allowed to behave in such a fashion.
Then, emails and videotaped testimony described how Trump and other members of his inner circle made preparations well in advance to fight leaving office if he lost the election in November 2020. They claimed that Trump’s assertions of triumph on Election Night—”Frankly, we did win this election”—were not only hasty, but also deliberate. They were a part of a screenplay that had been written down before that particular evening and that his close circle had referred to in private conversations.
But will this be the point at which people stop believing Trump when he makes unfounded accusations of fraud?
NOTHING IS GUARANTEED The results of any congressional investigation, according to past experience, are not ultimately evaluated by their final report or even the effect of their public hearings along the road. The final judgment is not based on the deeds of any investigator, witness, member of Congress, or person holding an elected office. It originates with government officials appointed to the executive and judicial departments.
Whether a congressional panel alters the trajectory of a presidency or otherwise changes the path of American history will determine the ultimate impact, regardless of how much news and attention they may produce.
Trump’s involvement in the violence and his broader campaign to hold onto power despite losing the popular vote and the Electoral College’s constitutional vote will be decided by Attorney General Merrick Garland.
In addition, Garland must choose whether to file charges against the former president for taking mountains of government paperwork, including very sensitive data, from the White House after he left office. The FBI obtained the papers with a search warrant at Trump’s Mar a Lago home in Florida, but he still maintains that they are his and demands that they be given back.
WHAT WILL TRUMP DO NEXT? Regarding the subpoena from January 6, we can now anticipate weeks or even months of wrangling as Trump and the committee fight for control of the narrative. Few analysts in either party believe Trump will testify, though he might pose as willing if given the opportunity to make it a private forum.
The majority of legal experts who discussed this possibility this week indicated that Trump’s attorneys would never recommend that he testify before the committee. Every witness for the committee has been sworn in. If the former president continued his normal assertions and denials concerning the election and associated matters, he would be open to accusations of perjury or lying before Congress.
In the end, it is much more possible that Trump will take the same stance as his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, who declined to appear before the panel on January 6 due to “executive privilege.” To date, Meadows has not been charged by the Justice Department. It may adopt a different perspective on Trump’s disobedience of Congress, as it has in the case of Steve Bannon, a Trump aide and strategist from 2016 to 2017 and occasionally thereafter. In 2020, Bannon was not a part of the Trump administration.
Trump has hinted at being willing to testify in media interviews. However, he has stated that he would like to do it in person on primetime live television, with the chance to turn the questions on the committee. After the meeting, he questioned why the committee hadn’t summoned him sooner, possibly when it first started holding hearings, on his Truth Social account.
Additionally, Trump referred to the committee’s work as “a total BUST” and accused Speaker Nancy Pelosi (whom he referred to as “Crazy Nancy”) of starting the ruckus. Trump has repeatedly asserted that Democratic leaders in Congress turned down his request for thousands of National Guard troops. But according to Politifact, there is no record of such authorization, and even if there were, those leaders would not have the power to reject them.
The next day, Trump’s legal team published a 14-page flurry of denials and criticisms of the committee, but they made no mention of whether Trump would abide by the subpoena. It also contained unsupported claims that the election itself was rigged.
SENSATION OF DÉJ VU We’ve been through this before.
When Democrats won control of the House in 2018, they vowed to investigate any links between Trump and Russian attempts to sway the 2016 presidential election in the United States. With the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, an investigation into the 2016 campaign had already begun. A portion of Mueller’s findings was made public in March 2019.
Mueller discovered significant Russian interference, primarily on social media. Mueller did not discover any proof of a criminal conspiracy, despite there having been contacts between those activities and Trump’s campaign (such as the exchange of polling data by a Trump campaign official). At the same time, Mueller steadfastly refused to clear Trump of the allegations that he obstructed the probe. He used a Justice Department memo as evidence instead, which stated that a president could not be charged while in office.
Based on what Mueller’s report revealed, several Democrats wanted to begin the impeachment process. Pelosi opposed that, but later that year, when Trump delayed the delivery of military equipment to Ukraine and requested that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky look into the financial connections of Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, Pelosi supported impeachment hearings (who was then out of government but seeking the 2020 nomination for president). Trump was ultimately impeached by the House over these allegations, but the Senate did not find him guilty.
After the events of January 6, 2021, Trump was impeached a second time, although on a much shorter timeline. However, the House vote, in which 10 Republicans voted with all the Democrats to remove Trump for his activities leading up to and during the riot, failed to obtain the required two-thirds of the Senate support (though there were more Republican votes to convict than there had been the previous year).
Trump appeared to have acquired the tabloid moniker “Teflon Don,” alluding to prior occasions in which he had managed to avoid scandals and bankruptcy.
EXTENSIVE HISTORY Hearings in Congress into an alleged scandal have concluded, and a large portion of the public is now convinced that action must be taken to hold certain parties accountable.
A half-century ago, the most well-known case was Watergate. Throughout the summer of 1973, a Senate committee established for the purpose held hearings to look into President Richard Nixon’s role in covering up a break-in at the DNC headquarters in the Watergate office complex in Washington.
Nixon himself came under investigation as a result of the Senate’s televised hearings, which continued into the fall and exposed a remarkable variety of wrongdoings in the 1972 Nixon re-election campaign (during which he won 49 states). In the fall of 1973, the president’s approval rating in the Gallup Poll plummeted from a peak far above 60%.
But if the hearings had not revealed the existence of tape recordings recorded in the White House, Nixon very well may have remained in office. These tapes served as supporting documentation in a case that a special prosecutor pursued with the aid of Nixon’s own Justice Department. The federal judges overseeing the burglary and associated cases, all the way up to the Supreme Court, supported his subpoenas. Nixon had to resign as a result of the release of the tapes.
14 years later, Congress staged joint House-Senate hearings, but they had little effect on President Reagan. In order to liberate American hostages in Iran, his administration had been covertly selling Iran armaments. The money from these purchases was then secretly utilized to get around a legislative ban on providing military support to Nicaragua’s anti-communist rebels.
However, the Congress was unable to find any solid proof of Reagan’s personal involvement. Several Reagan administration officials, including the secretary of defense, were ultimately charged when a special prosecutor was appointed. There were eleven convictions, some of which were overturned on appeal. The few that remained were pardoned in the closing weeks of Reagan’s successor George H.W. Bush’s administration. Bush had served as vice president during what was known as “the Iran-Contra crisis.”
Hearings examining Wall Street misconduct that contributed to the 2008 “mortgage collapse” financial catastrophe, as well as public and private misconduct in the savings and loan sector in the 1980s, were also held. However, despite the fact that these brought light to serious abuses and caused legislation to try to rectify them, they have mostly been forgotten subsequently – partly because they did not result in the imprisonment of significant individuals.
The proceedings and report of the special commission established to investigate following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 piqued the interest of the national media. The commission discovered proof that the government was made aware of terrorists operating inside the country and even plotting to use aircraft as weapons. While this occasionally caused embarrassment, no one was prosecuted, and once the commission’s report was made public, President George W. Bush won reelection in 2004.