Trump Proves the Jan. 6th Committee’s Point
He’s basically a witness against himself.
We’re taking turns subbing for JVL while he is out, and I wanted to use my turn at bat to talk about something that struck me over the weekend: Former President Donald Trump is responding to the case being laid out against him by the House January 6th Committee by . . . proving its point.
Since the panel began its public hearings, Trump has responded by insisting the election was stolen from him, that former Vice President Mike Pence really had the power to keep Trump in office, and that Jan. 6th rioters are being unfairly prosecuted.
All of which underscores the committee’s central point that the threat to democracy continues as Trump and his supporters still deny the outcome of the 2020 election and what took place on Jan. 6th. Trump may not be testifying to the committee, but his public reaction to the committee’s work should not be ignored.
What Trump is saying basically makes him a witness against himself.
1. Trump is still targeting Pence
During a Friday speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition in Nashville, Trump did not dwell on his policy achievements as president. He did not propose a set of legislative reforms for the future. Nope: He stewed on Jan. 6th.
Trump attacked former Attorney General Bill Barr for not supporting his efforts to unconstitutionally and illegally overturn the election. Barr “was afraid of certain things”—namely, being impeached as attorney general. “I said, ‘What’s wrong with being impeached? I got impeached twice, and my poll numbers went up.”
But Trump saved his greatest scorn for his former vice president. “Mike Pence had the chance to be great,” Trump said. “He had the chance to be, frankly, historic. But just like Bill Barr and the rest of these weak people, Mike—and I say it sadly because I like him—but Mike did not have the courage to act.”
Trump took repeated jabs at Pence:
As you heard a year and a half ago, Mike Pence had absolutely no choice but to be a human conveyor belt [of state-certified electoral slates], a human conveyor belt. . . . So I said to Mike, “If you do this you can be Thomas Jefferson.” And then after it all went down I looked at him one day and I said, “Mike, hate to say this, but you’re no Thomas Jefferson.”
Pence, Trump said, “was afraid of whatever he was afraid of.”
What did Mike Pence fear? His team worried about what would happen once Pence’s refusal to go along with Trump’s plot to steal the election went public.
Pence aide Marc Short testified he believed “the president would lash out in some way,” and that’s why he felt compelled to alert the Secret Service ahead of Jan. 6th that the vice president’s security profile warranted more attention.
Short was right to be concerned, as the committee showed that the mob got within forty feet of Pence on Jan. 6th—coming much closer than was previously disclosed to the public.
Committee member Rep. Pete Aguilar stated plainly that Pence’s life was in danger.
“A recent court filing by the Department of Justice explains that a confidential informant from the Proud Boys told the FBI the Proud Boys would have killed Mike Pence if given a chance,” Aguilar noted.
Surely Trump is aware of these developments. Still, he continues to repeat the same lies about Pence that led the mob to chant “Hang Mike Pence” on Jan. 6th.
2. Trump is still defending the rioters
Not that Trump sees anything wrong with what the Proud Boys or any other members of the mob did that day. During his Friday speech, Trump said if he becomes president again, he would “very seriously” consider pardons for rioters. He said:
January 6th defendants are having their lives totally destroyed and [are] being treated worse than terrorists and murderers, despite most being charged with parading through the Capitol. Most people should not be treated the way they are being treated. And if I become president, someday, if I decide to do it, I will be looking at them very, very seriously for pardons. Very, very seriously. . . . Should I decide to do that.
The crowd, mostly evangelical Christians, cheered.
Although Trump was the keynote speaker, many other 2024 GOP hopefuls spoke, including Nikki Haley and Marco Rubio. Not Mike Pence, though.
In a parallel universe, this would have been a perfect audience for Pence. He addressed this conference last year, but his team said he had a scheduling conflict this year. Or maybe he just wouldn’t be comfortable appearing in front of a crowd that cheers when Trump calls him weak and says he might pardon the people who hunted Pence.
3. Trump is still using inciteful rhetoric
Friday’s remarks weren’t the first time Trump weighed in on the Jan. 6th Committee’s latest round of hearings.
After the second hearing, which focused on Trump’s false claims about the election, Trump issued a 12-page response rich with examples of disinformation.
Among other things, Trump called committee members “treasonous” and said that “Democrats created the narrative of January 6th to detract from the much larger and more important truth that the 2020 Election was Rigged and Stolen.”
And Trump, again, defended the rioters. The statement went on:
This entire charade of the Unselect Committee is a brazen attempt to detract the public’s attention from the truth. The truth is that Americans showed up in Washington, D.C. in massive numbers (but seldom revealed by the press), on January 6th, 2021, to hold their elected officials accountable for the obvious signs of criminal activity throughout the Election. Those who are supposed to be public servants are using the power of government against the people who entrusted them with the power. We’ve been betrayed.
For good measure, Trump invoked the word “treason” once more: “This is all a ridiculous and treasonous attempt to cover up the fact that Democrats rigged the Election and are siphoning Americans’ freedoms and power for their own benefit.”
It’s precisely the kind of rhetoric that Gabriel Sterling, the Georgia election official and lifelong Republican, warned about in December 2020 when he said, “Someone’s going to get hurt, someone’s going to get shot, someone’s going to get killed.”
And that’s just what happened on Jan. 6th.
Sterling is scheduled to testify before the Jan. 6th Committee today. If he’d like to talk about Trump’s inciteful rhetoric and pressure on Republican officials, he doesn’t have to stick to events that took place before Jan. 6th. Trump keeps giving us more examples.
Over the weekend, Jan. 6th Committee member Adam Kinzinger, the only Republican on the committee aside from Liz Cheney, reported that his wife received a letter from someone threatening to execute them and their 5-month-old child.
“There is violence in the future, I’m going to tell you,” Kinzinger told ABC’s This Week. “And until we get a grip on telling people the truth, we can’t expect any differently.”
How does Kinzinger know that? Because the committee found that many of Trump’s supporters “honestly believed that the election was stolen.”
If people “truly believe” that “democracy was stolen and the election was stolen,” Kinzinger said, something like Jan. 6th is “the most logical outcome. And that’s what I want people to see is, look, the president knew what he was doing. There was a plan. But nothing has changed.”
That’s right. And Donald Trump himself is telling us so.
[Correction, 21 June 2022, 1:20 p.m. EDT: As originally published, this piece listed Sen. Ted Cruz among the speakers at the latest Faith and Freedom Coalition event in Nashville—but while Cruz was invited, he ultimately did not appear.]