GELFAND’S WORLD - Donald Trump did not preserve and defend the Constitution. He purposely endangered not only the public, but the Constitution itself.
This was the first hearing of the House January 6 inquiry that I watched in full. Wow. The committee has put together a story which alleges -- credibly -- that the attack on the Capitol was planned in advance, that there was a very real attempt to intimidate Mike Pence and bring him into the plot, that the majority of people advising Trump told him that the "stolen election" claims were not true, and that Trump was part and parcel of the attack on the Capitol. The Cassidy Hutchinson testimony explains why Trump was unable to go to the Capitol, even though he wanted to go.
According to the testimony, Trump argued with his own Secret Service detail about going over to the Capitol after his speech. This may be the accusation with the least amount of direct evidence (so far), but if true, it is another in a long collection of accumulating accusations that go against Trump's fitness, either then or now.
Commenters are jumping on the revelation that Trump knew that his January 6 supporters were armed, but nevertheless wanted them to be allowed into his speech. Even hard-core Trump supporters must be starting to be a little embarrassed over Trump's obsession over the size of his crowds.
We will probably see many on the religious right continue to defend this man -- for whom the Bible is nothing but a prop for a photo shoot -- but the record continues to build, and the accumulating evidence is having its effect. Organizations who were once Trump defenders are dropping away one by one, as are individual voters.
Here is what the Washington Examiner (a decidedly conservative source) had to say in an editorial published June 29, 2022:
"Hutchinson’s testimony confirmed a damning portrayal of Trump as unstable, unmoored, and absolutely heedless of his sworn duty to effectuate a peaceful transition of presidential power. Considering the entirety of her testimony, it is unsurprising that Hutchinson said she heard serious discussions of Cabinet members invoking the 25th Amendment that would have at least temporarily evicted Trump from office.
"Trump is a disgrace. Republicans have far better options to lead the party in 2024. No one should think otherwise, much less support him, ever again."
In support of the accumulating effect of these revelations, one CNN reporter discussed focus groups she had been running featuring only Trump supporters. She explained that in the past, about half of each group wanted Trump to run for president in 2024. She reported that in her most recent focus group, the number who supported this view was "zero." She repeated the word Zero.
Trump wanted to join the protest at the Capitol on January 6. Why he wanted to go is obvious. Why he wasn't permitted is another question, but there is one point that hasn't been discussed by the media.
We might start by reminding ourselves of the requirements of the State of the Union speech that the president traditionally gives before a joint session of congress. It begins, weeks in advance, with an official invitation from the congress to the president. The congress is an independent branch, part of that system of "checks and balances" that the founders created, and it has the authority to determine who is allowed to enter its space.
Trump still doesn't understand the idea of the legislature being a separate branch of government which can exclude him or not, as it sees fit.
The idea of Trump marching to the Capitol in front of his followers reminds one of the old rule, going back to the Roman Republic, that a general was not allowed to lead his troops into Italy itself. We all remember that Caesar led his troops across the river Rubicon into Italy itself, thereby committing treason and effectively declaring war against his own country. There is a parallel, no matter how pathetic Trump may appear in contrast to Julius Caesar. Trump fully meant to breach the traditional and legal demarcation between the legislature and the presidency, much as Caesar violated the separation between the armies and the legal government of Rome.
It has also become crystal clear from the ongoing investigations that it was Trump's full and knowing intent to overturn the lawfully obtained election results. As legal scholars have pointed out, Trump's willful ignorance -- intentional misunderstanding of the law, if you want to put it that way -- is not a legal defense against criminal intent.
This makes Watergate look like a parking ticket.
At this point, commenters in the centrist political camp are openly talking about criminal prosecution of Donald Trump for the many crimes this investigation is revealing. Obstruction of Justice has a worthy ring to it, but there are additional statutes against interfering with the actions of congress, against attempting to intimidate witnesses, and against attempting to obstruct the processes involved in determining the outcome of an election. There are pretty good cases against Trump on all of these charges.
My guess is that Trump will not, ultimately, be tried for crimes in a court of law, because the process is slow and can be delayed by the actions of adequate attorneys. But there may be a lot of public discussion of criminal charges along with endless speculation about what the Department of Justice will do.
What will ultimately happen with Trump? My guess is that he will hold out long enough to develop a serious illness or have a heart attack and at that point will be left alone. It would be nice to see the civil actions in New York go onward, resulting in substantial fines and financial losses for Trump and his family empire.
The case against imprisoning a former president
I've always been pleased with the fact that in this country (almost alone in world history), each elected leader is allowed to retire peacefully and continue to live his life as a civilian. George Washington set the standard when he voluntarily gave up power and retired to his home in Virginia. In so doing, he defined a principle that has served us well. There is historical precedent that Lincoln, considering the likelihood that he would be defeated for reelection at the height of the Civil War, nevertheless pointed out to his cabinet that they would turn over authority to the lawful winner.
We call it the peaceful transition of power, and it has been our principle since the 1790s.
It is for this reason -- an extremely important principle in American democracy -- that people can oppose the attempt to imprison Donald Trump for his clear and obvious crimes. I think that it is an open question. Thoughtful people can go either way.
But if we do not try Donald Trump in the criminal courts, what is our excuse?
Here is my best attempt at that excuse: It was the responsibility of the Senate to convict him on the impeachment charges and they failed. Let history record the names of those who voted No on impeachment as the guilty ones. They are clearly complicit in Donald Trump's crimes. In addition, charge and try everyone else who can be legally implicated in the plot to overturn American democracy, whether it be Trump's Chief of Staff or his legal advisers or one or more military advisers.
We might think of it as the Nixon principle. The ability of this country to guarantee a peaceful transition of power is too important to treat lightly. It is up to the House and the Senate to follow the Constitutional requirements for removing a president. A conviction by two-thirds vote of the Senate would justify a subsequent criminal trial and punishment according to the law. A modest change to the Constitution, allowing the congress to impeach a president after he leaves office, would clarify the issue somewhat, in that it would allow for a strong, multi-partisan finding in advance of a criminal trial.
The Viet Nam lesson
The other major lesson of this set of hearings is the complete cowardice of Republicans in the House as well as the evil designs of those in the Senate. Kevin McCarthy is the most serious example, considering that he was done with Trump on Jan 6 and then went to Mar-a-Lago to kiss the ring.
Ted Cruz and the others who voted No on impeachment and voted to refuse state Electoral votes on January 6, 2021 are also at fault. Let history remember them as the traitors to democracy that they are.
During the Viet Nam conflict, there were a lot of elected officials who supported the war and the president who was continuously escalating it. Doing otherwise was not considered a winning political position at the time. But in the aftermath of the war, there was a substantial turnover of those seats. Being for or against the Viet Nam war was a lose-lose game by the time the 1970s came around. It is likely that being either slavishly pro-Trump (what other kind of pro-Trump is there?) or anti-Trump is going to be a losing strategy in the years to come.
Even now, we are starting to see some evidence of this, as Trump supporters lost several primary races over the past weeks.
And one final point
In the Trump universe, people are motivated by the need for revenge. Whenever some former cabinet member or agency aide exposes one of the numerous Trump peccadillos, the Donald's response is to make that person smaller. He hardly knew her. She was an underling who was not hired at Mar-a-Lago after the presidency and therefore is trying to get revenge, or build a career for herself. You will notice that Trump does not actually respond to accusations against himself other than to dust off the word "fake." The actual facts have nothing to do with anything. Reporters have shown Trump videos of things he has said, and he just brushes them off. Donald Trump lives in a universe where any insult or rejection, no matter how slight, is a mortal offense and must be dealt with by a barrage of insults and lies. It has already started [https://ktla.com/news/politics/trump-dismisses-hutchinson-as-bad-news-during-damning-testimony/]
with Cassidy Hutchinson, but thoughtful Trump supporters have a chance to reject the inevitable slime and lies.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])