The Morning Dispatch: One Year Later
Plus: The January 6 select committee’s investigation comes into focus.
Happy Thursday! Let’s all do everything we can to make sure January 6, 2022, is a better day than January 6, 2021.
And while we’re at it, let’s just go ahead and make 2022 a better year than 2021.
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
The South African Medical Research Council reported Wednesday that, despite a record number of daily COVID-19 cases being recorded in recent weeks, excess deaths in the country peaked at just more than 3,000 per week during the Omicron wave, far below the weekly excess-death peaks of the Beta wave (16,115 last January) and Delta wave (10,000 last July).
The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 fell sharply on Wednesday as the Federal Reserve released minutes from its December meeting showing Federal Open Markets Committee members “generally” believe the central bank may need to raise interest rates “sooner or at a faster pace than participants had earlier anticipated.”
No U.S. service members were killed, but several military bases in Syria and Iraq that house American troops were attacked on Wednesday by militias suspected of Iranian backing. “It is certainly possible that it could be related to the anniversary of the [Qassem] Suleimani strike,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby yesterday. The United States had also reportedly conducted airstrikes in Syria on Tuesday to neutralize “an imminent threat.”
Kazakhstan—overrun by protests having to do with high energy prices—is in crisis this week after its government resigned on Wednesday and its President, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, declared a state of emergency. Kazakhs must continue “to show prudence and not to succumb to internal and external provocations, the euphoria of rallies and permissiveness,” Tokayev said, announcing a two-week curfew.
January 6, One Year Later
In preparation for today’s newsletter commemorating the first anniversary of the January 6 riots, we went back and read some of our coverage from that day and its immediate aftermath.
From January 7, 2021:
It wasn’t just the Republicans you would expect who spoke up last night after the insurrection. In remarks on the Senate floor, Sen. Lindsey Graham called objecting to the results “a uniquely bad idea,” and he tried to create some distance between himself and the president. “Trump and I, we’ve had a hell of a journey,” he said. “I hate it to end this way, oh my God I hate it. … All I can say is count me out. Enough is enough.”
From January 8, 2021:
You’d assume that over 100 Democrats—including all four members of The Squad—calling for the Republican president’s removal would gin up a reaction on the GOP side of the aisle. But there was nary a peep yesterday. In fact, Rep. Steve Stivers, a Republican from Ohio, told Spectrum News that he “would not oppose it” if the Cabinet voted to invoke the 25th Amendment.
From January 14, 2021:
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who has been under immense pressure from many GOP members to distance the conference from Trump, said the president bore responsibility for the attack, and even took time to push back on false right-wing media narratives about the event: “Some say the riots were caused by Antifa. There’s absolutely no evidence of that, and conservatives should be the first to say so.”
Ultimately, however, McCarthy argued “most Americans want neither inaction nor retribution,” and that the most prudent course of action would not be impeachment, but rather a “fact-finding commission and a censure resolution.”
McCarthy conditioned his comments on President Trump “accept[ing] his share of responsibility” for last week’s violence and “quell[ing] the brewing unrest.”
From January 14, 2021:
After five long years and hundreds of scandals big and small, it sure seemed like the dam was finally—finally—about ready to break. And then it didn’t.
McCarthy flew to Mar-a-Lago on January 28 to patch up things with Trump, signaling to other Republicans that they should do the same. On February 13, McConnell—alongside 42 other Senate Republicans—voted to acquit the former president. In early May, Lindsey Graham had had enough of “enough is enough,” and was instead telling Sean Hannity, “I miss Donald Trump. I hope he’s considering running. Let’s start a ‘draft Trump’ movement.” Rep. Liz Cheney was booted from GOP leadership on May 12 for refusing to stop confronting Trump’s election lies. McCarthy announced six days later he would not support the bipartisan January 6 commission negotiated by Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson and Republican Rep. John Katko, and earlier this week, the House minority leader argued in a letter to his colleagues that, although the actions of those storming the Capitol on January 6 were “wrong as wrong can be,” the “central question” of that day is actually “how the Capitol was left so unprepared.”
McCarthy is wrong, of course. His words are an exercise in partisan blame-shifting. The central question of that day is simple: Did the president of the United States incite the attacks as part of a deliberate effort to block the certification of an election he lost, in order to remain in power?
The answer has become only more obvious as the smoke has cleared and the facts emerged. He did. Even as responsible voices in the Trump White House urged the president to acknowledge his defeat following a string of unsuccessful and often embarrassing legal challenges, Trump sought counsel from conspiracy theorists who’d tell him he won. He invited to the Oval Office Sidney Powell, who claimed without evidence that foreign countries hacked U.S electoral systems to steal the election on behalf of Joe Biden. He urged Claremont Institute legal scholar John Eastman to invent legal theories that would allow Vice President Mike Pence unilaterally to invalidate election results in states where Trump didn’t like the results. Top Trump operatives set up a war room to help them coordinate activities for January 6 at the Willard Hotel, next to the White House. And on the night of January 6, after the violence that day, Trump’s top lawyer was calling senators begging them to delay the vote to certify, clinging to the hope that the president could remain in power.
McCarthy’s statement from this past weekend points to the great paradox of this political moment: Many of the top Republicans who quite properly condemned Trump for his role in the violence of January 6 did so without a full understanding of the planning around the events of that day. And now that they know more, now that the facts make clear that Trump was seeking to overturn a legitimate election in order to remain in power, they have reembraced him.
History won’t remember them well.
Does the January 6 Select Committee Have the Goods?
With the exception of a couple public hearings and a few well-placed leaks, the January 6 Select Committee has more or less kept its work under wraps in the six months since its inception. But with the calendar turning to 2022—the year Republicans could very well win back the House and dissolve the nine-member panel—and the first anniversary of the Capitol riot somehow already upon us, the committee’s investigation has started to come into focus.
A month or so ago, we wrote to you about text messages the select committee had obtained from from various pro-Trump forces—Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Donald Trump Jr.—practically begging then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to convince the elder Trump he needed to condemn what was happening down the street. “It has gone too far and gotten out of hand,” Trump Jr. said. Ingraham made clear the president was “destroying his legacy” by keeping silent.
In the weeks since, the committee has formally requested information from two sitting GOP congressmen believed to have been involved in Trump’s machinations—Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio—as well as Hannity, who texted Jordan and Meadows on January 10 noting he “did not have a good call with [Trump]” that day and expressing concern about “land[ing] the plane” of the presidency ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Another text may have been even more explosive. “On January 5th, the night before the violent riot, you sent and received a stream of texts,” Select Committee Chair Bennie Thompson said in a letter to Hannity. “You wrote: ‘Im very worried about the next 48 hours.’ With the counting of the electoral votes scheduled for January 6th at 1 p.m., why were you concerned about the next 48 hours?”
Without a subpoena—Thompson is seeking only “voluntary cooperation on a specific and narrow range of factual questions”—the committee is unlikely to get an answer to that question. But other Trumpworld figures have been far more helpful to the panel than you might expect.
Stephanie Grisham—the former White House press secretary who was serving as first lady Melania Trump’s chief of staff on January 6—told reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday she had “cooperated fully” with the committee. Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik—a close associate of Rudy Giuliani—agreed this week to turn over some documents and sit down for an interview with lawmakers. Axios reported last night that several longtime aides to former Vice President Mike Pence—including Marc Short, his chief of staff, and Alyssa Farah, his press secretary—have met with the panel, and some did so voluntarily, sans subpoena. On Tuesday, Thompson floated the idea of speaking directly with Pence himself.
“From the two [meetings] I was in, you could see how much information [the select committee] already had,” Farah said. “Those who are refusing to cooperate likely are doing so out of complete fealty to Donald Trump and not wanting to piss him off. But, secondarily, because they’re realizing the committee has quite a bit more information than they realized. And their involvement is known to a much greater degree than they realized.”
Several high-profile Trump advisers will continue to resist, but all told, the committee has issued dozens of subpoenas (resulting in two criminal contempt votes), interviewed more than 300 people, and collected tens of thousands of pages of documents since July. It’s in a protracted legal battle with Trump and the National Archives to access several tranches of White House records, and on Sunday, GOP Rep. Liz Cheney—the vice chair of the panel—told CBS News it “has first-hand testimony that President Trump was sitting in the dining room next to the Oval Office, watching on television as the Capitol was assaulted [and] the violence occurred.”
So what does the committee plan to do with all the information it’s collected? Thompson envisions holding a series of primetime televised hearings in late March or early April—which would include witness testimony under oath—to ensure the evidence reaches the broadest possible audience. The lawmakers also aim to release two reports this year—an interim one over the summer that will serve primarily as a status update, and a final one in the fall expected to reach more conclusions and offer recommendations.
“We have a very clear responsibility in terms of our legislative purpose to look at the events that led up to that day and on that day and determine whether or not there’s legislation that could help us to prevent those things from ever happening again,” Cheney told The Dispatch’s Haley Byrd Wilt in an interview published earlier this week. “That means things like: Do we need enhanced penalties for dereliction of duty by a president of the United States? Do we need changes to the Electoral Count Act? Are there things that we could do legislatively that would help prevent that from happening?”
The panel will also consider issuing criminal referrals, sending evidence it’s collected to the Justice Department, which will then have to decide whether to act on it. In a speech yesterday, Attorney General Merrick Garland sounded open to the possibility.
“The actions we have taken thus far will not be our last,” he said, referring to the more than 700 people already arrested and charged for their role in the riot. “The Justice Department remains committed to holding all January 6th perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law—whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy.”
The “at any level” raised eyebrows, as buzz has been swirling around the select committee in recent days as to whether it would consider a criminal referral for Trump himself. “That’s certainly a question that we’re asking, and that’s part of our investigatory process,” Cheney told The Dispatch. “We know that efforts to obstruct an official proceeding of Congress certainly would carry with it criminal penalties. But determinations about criminal referrals haven’t been made yet.”
Such a move would be incredibly polarizing, of course, and perhaps only serve to ratchet up concerns on the right about the politicization of the Justice Department. But at least one top Republican hinted at the possibility months ago.
“We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being held accountable by either one,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a 20-minute speech delivered shortly after voting to acquit Trump last February. “President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office, as an ordinary citizen. … He didn’t get away with anything yet—yet.”
Worth Your Time
Longtime GOP operative Karl Rove has a message for elected Republicans in the Wall Street Journal. “If Democrats had done what some Trump supporters did on that violent Jan. 6, Republicans would have criticized them mercilessly and been right to do so,” he notes. “Republicans would have torched any high official who encouraged violence or stood mute while it was waged and been right to do so. Republicans would have demanded an investigation to find who was responsible for the violence and been right to do so. To move beyond Jan. 6, 2021, we must put country ahead of party. For Democrats, that means resisting their leadership’s petty habit of aggravating partisan fault lines by indiscriminately condemning all who came to Washington that day. We Republicans have a heavier burden. I’ve been a Republican my entire life, and believe in what the Republican Party, at its best, has represented for decades. There can be no soft-pedaling what happened and no absolution for those who planned, encouraged and aided the attempt to overthrow our democracy. Love of country demands nothing less. That’s true patriotism.”
In a piece for, um, Bloomberg, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg decries the Chicago Teachers Union’s recent decision to walk out on the job. “Remote schooling has been a colossal failure for America’s most vulnerable students. In Chicago, fewer than one in five third graders met state standards in math and reading last spring,” he writes. “As scores have gone from intolerably bad to exceedingly worse, most of the city’s 330,000 students, 83% of whom are Black or Latino, are at risk of falling into the abyss. At this rate, it is a cold, hard and shameful truth that these students are on track for failure—never acquiring the skills they need to gain entry into either professional jobs, including teaching, or trade-based careers. The result, of course, is a perpetuation of intergenerational poverty. These are not things we like to say out loud. But decades of experience tell us they are true. To begin changing them, we need to say loudly and clearly—as Democrats, Republicans and independents—that teachers are essential workers, we need them physically present in classrooms, and we will not stand for walkouts.”
Presented Without Comment
Also Presented Without Comment
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Toeing the Company Line
Jonah revisited his 2008 best-selling book, Liberal Fascism, in Wednesday’s G-File , discussing the ways in which it’s stood the test of time and the ways in which it hasn’t. “There’s one important claim that has been rendered utterly wrong,” he writes. “I argued that, contrary to generations of left-wing fearmongering and slander about the right’s fascist tendencies, the modern American right was simply immune to the fascist temptation chiefly because it was too dogmatically committed to the Founders, to constitutionalism, and to classical liberalism generally. Almost 13 years to the day after publication, Donald Trump proved me wrong.”
Wednesday’s Dispatch Podcast is all about January 6. Over the course of the hour, Sarah, Steve, Jonah, and David discuss their memories from that bleak day, how to apportion blame for what transpired, and whether our conversations about the riot will sound different in 20 years when we’re further removed from the immediate partisan implications.
In yesterday’s Capitolism (🔒), Scott Lincicome rounded up his favorite newsletters—and charts—of 2021, and previewed what’s in store for 2022. “I’ll continue to critique economic populism, praise American abundance and dynamism (versus sclerosis), find little things in our lives that teach bigger economic lessons, and dig into all the good and (more limited) bad that comes from living in the large, diverse, and ever-changing 50-state experiment that is the United States.”
Harvest Prude was a reporter for World magazine one year ago, and found herself in the House press gallery as the riots unfolded. She shares her harrowing experience in a piece for the site today.
Dispatch fact checkers Alec Dent and Khaya Himmelman look back at how disinformation spurred the violence at the Capitol one year ago, and how the events of that have served to generate only more disinformation.
Let Us Know
What do you remember feeling on January 6, 2021? Over the past year, have you become more or less concerned about the various forces that led to that day?
Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@lawsonreports), Audrey Fahlberg (@AudreyFahlberg), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), Harvest Prude (@HarvestPrude), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).