The final report of the House select committee on the Jan. 6 attack, all 845 pages of it, is now in the public realm. It was released late on Thursday, so I won't claim to have read it all thoroughly in one night. But unlike the last highly anticipated event like this, Robert Mueller's ill-fated report, we are already familiar with the outlines of what it contains — and there was no Trump official, à la Bill Barr, spinning it for him in advance. So we are in a better position to judge the evidence for ourselves,
The report follows roughly the same organization as the committee hearings that began last summer, but with much richer detail. Those hearings rarely lasted longer than a couple of hours and were tightly scripted. That was probably the most effective strategy and certainly made for gripping TV. But the story of what happened in the aftermath of the 2020 election, as Donald Trump convinced most of his party and tens of millions of Americans that up was down and black was white, is a byzantine tale you can't truly absorb until you see it revealed in all its bizarre particulars.
The report is organized in eight chapters:
- The Big Lie
- "I Just Want to Find 11,780 Votes"
- Fake Electors and the "President of the Senate Strategy"
- "Just Call it Corrupt and Leave the Rest to Me"
- "A Coup in Search of a Legal Theory"
- "Be There, Will Be Wild!"
- 187 Minutes of Dereliction
- Analysis of the Attack
I'm pretty sure anyone who has been paying attention knows exactly which aspects of the coup plot those chapters are about.
Let's take one detail in Chapter 2 which validates reporting that Trump and his cronies were plotting the coup even before the election. Trump had been publicly indicating for months that he planned to contest the election if he came up short. In truth, that was his right, although there was no evidence of electoral fraud. But they weren't just talking about legal challenges to the election results — which Trump's team pursued, losing virtually all of them and failing to change the outcome anywhere. In fact, Trump's inner circle had been plotting for months to unconstitutionally overturn the election through the "fake elector" scheme.
The report states that campaign manager Bill Stepien, deputy campaign manager Justin Clark and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani all testified to a "State-focused 'strategy' or 'track' to challenge the outcome of the election, which included pressing State legislators to challenge results in key States and to appoint new electoral college electors." There were people coming out of the woodwork pushing this fake elector scheme even before the election was called.
Two days after the election, Donald Trump Jr. texted White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to say, "State Assemblies can step in and vote to put forward the electoral slate[,] Republicans control Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, etc. we get Trump electors," and therefore "we either have a vote WE control and WE win OR it gets kicked to Congress 6 January."
Trump adviser and speechwriter Vince Haley apparently wrote in an email to Trump's longtime confidant Johnny McEntee that there was no need to focus on election fraud at all. He said that state legislators "have the constitutional right to substitute their judgment for a certified majority of their constituents" in order to prevent "socialism." He gave McEntee contact info for various state legislators, suggesting they should be invited to the White House to hear the pitch personally. Trump later called a number of those legislators.
None other than former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who most certainly knew better, weighed in right after the election with a message to Meadows that [t]he only way Trump loses is rigged system" telling him to convince Republican state legislators to refuse to send electoral votes to Congress, thereby "forcing a House vote by State delegations on January 6th."
Those are just a few of the connivers and conspirators in and around the White House who egged Trump on and helped him perpetuate the Big Lie. It was not just a spontaneous, last-ditch effort concocted on the fly by John Eastman. They planned it in advance, and it's obvious that Trump was in the middle of it.
Two days after the 2020 election, Donald Trump Jr. texted Mark Meadows, outlining what would become known as the "fake elector" scheme: "We either have a vote WE control and WE win OR it gets kicked to Congress."
The committee report offers several recommendations for actions and reforms, the most important being that Congress should act to bar Trump from ever holding office again as a result of his role in inciting the insurrection. Good luck with that. But it also recommends reforming the Electoral Count Act to make clear that the vice president's role on Jan. 6 is purely ceremonial and to make it more difficult for rogue members of Congress to raise objections to the electoral vote count. That legislation passed the Senate on Thursday as part of the omnibus budget bill, so at least a few Republicans agree that it's not a good idea to leave this path open for one of Trump's successors to try it again.
It is highly unlikely that any other proposed reforms will be taken up any time soon, with the House majority in the hands of Trump's staunchest allies for the next two years. But the next time Democrats gain control of the government they should pass them all. As much as we need transparency and accountability, which this report at least partially provides, there is a decent chance that it also provides a primer on "coup plotting for dummies." There are people coming up after Trump in the Republican Party who won't make the same mistakes the next time.
On the evening of Jan. 6, 2021, after Trump had finally been persuaded to call off the mob that was ransacking and defacing the Capitol, Rudy Giuliani frantically tried to reach his client on the phone:
Rudy Calls: Frantic attempt to reach Trump with multiple phones and reaches him, Blackburn, Lee, Hagerty, Jordan, Graham, Hawley, Cruz, Sullivan, Jordan, Trump pic.twitter.com/vaocaySSSV— Acyn (@Acyn) December 23, 2022
Committee investigators inquired about what Trump did that day after speaking with his lawyer. This is what they learned:
The President did not, by any account, express grief or regret for what happened at the Capitol. Neither did he appear to grasp the gravity of what he had set in motion. In his last phone call of the night, the President spoke with Johnny McEntee, his Director of Personnel.
"[T]his is a crazy day," the President told him. McEntee said his tone was one of "[l]ike, wow, can you believe this shit . . .?"
Did he express sadness over the violence visited upon the Capitol? "No," McEntee said. "I mean, I think he was shocked by, you know, it getting a little out of control, but I don't remember sadness, specifically."
President Trump didn't make any other phone calls for the rest of the night. The President didn't call Vice President Pence. In fact, President Trump never called to check on his Vice President's safety that day. He didn't call the heads of any of the Federal law enforcement agencies. He didn't call the leadership — neither Republican nor Democrat — of the legislative branch of government that had just been overrun by a mob.
Only two days after the riot, by January 8th, the President was over the whole thing. He "just didn't want to talk about it anymore," he told his press aides. "[H]e was tired of talking about it."
I'm sure he was. But he's never stopped spewing the lies that incited that mob to storm the Capitol.