Just before Christmas, the House select committee investigating the violent Jan. 6th insurrection and Donald Trump’s wider plot to overturn the 2020 presidential election, concluded its 17-month long inquiry. Members of the bipartisan committee voted unanimously to issue criminal referrals for the former president, the first time a congressional committee has done so in U.S. history. It also recommended election law attorney John Eastman be prosecuted on two counts. In addition, the committee referred four Republican House Reps. Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan, Scott Perry and Andy Biggs to the House ethics committee for failure to comply with subpoenas.
The referrals of four criminal statues violated by Trump include: conspiracy to defraud the United States, obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress, conspiracy to make a false statement and inciting or aiding an insurrection. While the referrals are not binding on the Justice Department, if convicted on the insurrection charge Trump would be prohibited from running for public office again.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with the incoming president of People for the American Way, Svante Myrick, the former mayor of Ithaca, New York. Here, he assesses the effectiveness of the Jan. 6th House committee in informing the public about Trump’s multi-pronged attack on the U.S. Constitution, and the urgent need for the Justice Department to hold Trump and his Republican co-conspirators accountable for their crimes.
SYVANTE MYRICK: I think the committee did incredible work. I mean, really, really tough conditions. They got concrete answers from people who did not want to talk. They combed through a mountain of data, not just documents, text messages and emails, but also video from a million different angles of the insurrection attempt on the 6th and of all of the streams and dark web activities leading up to the insurrection on Jan. 6.
Not only did they compile all that information, but they presented it to the public in a way that made it abundantly evident that a crime — and I believe the most dangerous crime of them all happened, which was an attempt to violently overthrow the United States government and replace it with an authoritarian and fascist regime, frankly. Not only did the Jan. 6 committee prove that that is what happened, it’s communicated, I think, pretty well to the public that that’s what happened. You know, as somebody who’s spent 15 years in government, often we can do good work, but we don’t communicate it well. And I think the Jan. 6 committee actually communicated pretty well its findings. And anybody who watched those hearings can be convinced of the truth.
SCOTT HARRIS: You know, I did want to go on to ask you specifically about the criminal referrals. It’s pretty well-known that these referrals don’t hold any legal weight in and of themselves. It’s up to the Department of Justice and Attorney General Merrick Garland to make a decision about prosecution of Donald Trump.
What are your concerns about the Department of Justice? They seem to have been lagging here and this committee in the House was often way in front of the Department of Justice in terms of some of the reporting we’ve heard. There’s a concern that you may share that the Department of Justice is very reluctant and concerned about political fallout if they prosecute Donald Trump.
SYVANTE MYRICK: The committee, the January 6 committee, knew what Peter Parker and Spider Man knew, which is that with great power comes great responsibility. And if you have the power to make a positive change and you don’t do it, then the blame lies partly with you. Right? And the Jan. 6 committee, they knew that they didn’t have the weight of the law if they recommended charges.
That doesn’t mean the charges were necessarily going to happen, but they knew that this is a crime big enough, an attempt that was serious enough that anybody who is in a position to speak out must do so. And so they took this charge up and they did it well. And I think I’m really, really concerned that the DOJ, which is obviously full of very smart people, might be outsmarting themselves. You know, they’re thinking and attempting to do three-dimensional chess, four-dimensional chess, five-dimensional chess and saying, “Well, if we indict the president, that might make him the former president, that might make him a martyr.”
And I hope that that is not happening because I honestly, I think we need them to be as straightforward as possible. If they saw a crime in the planning and then the attempt, then they should charge a crime, because, those who have followed my work, they know that I’m extremely in favor of criminal justice reform because I think it’s too punitive and does not include enough space for actual reform and healing and the improvement of individuals.
But the mountain of evidence here says that this was not a mistake or a one-off attempt. That this was, if anything, address rehearsal for attempts that could be made in the future. And whenever that’s the case with the crime, whenever you can by prosecuting, make it nearly guarantee that the same crime will not be attempted in the same form, you’ve got to do it.
So the DOJ has to act there.
SCOTT HARRIS: There are certainly concerns that if the Department of Justice decides not to proceed on criminal charges against Donald Trump for his central role in this attempted coup, that the rule of law in the United States itself will be in jeopardy. And as you said, what happened on Jan. 6 in 2021 could be just a dress rehearsal for the next time. What’s at stake for the country and our democracy if the Department of Justice decides not to proceed on criminal charges related to Jan. 6? And maybe goes in for the easier prosecution — and that would be the classified documents that Donald Trump kept at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
SVANTE MYRICK: Yeah, that’s the right question. And what’s at stake. Let’s get beyond the normal talking point about democracy and the rule of law and our system of government and what that actually means.
If you live in America right now, it means you have some say in what happens in your town, your county and your state, and the country. There’s a building being built next door and you have an opinion about it. You can go to your planning commission. Your governor tries to ban a woman’s right to choose. You can stand up and speak out and so forth. If they pull this off, then our right to be free citizens is over.
All of what I just described is what’s at stake. And that would be dangerous no matter the ideology that had come to that. If it was a far-left faction that was trying to delegitimize elections and just take the government by force, we should be concerned about that, too.
But I think it should be particularly concerning when we look at exactly what this faction wants. When it’s a far right, ultra twisted form of Christo-fascism that views the only appropriate thing to be is a straight man, preferably white, and that every other category of person is somehow less human — to have those folks in charge of every aspect of American life is extremely dangerous. And that’s what we’re fighting against here. This is “Go back and check the committee hearing, if that sounds hyperbolic to those who are listening, check the tape and you’ll find that that is exactly what they intended to do.”
Learn more about People For The American Way’s call for the “prosecution of Donald Trump to the fullest extent of the law,” by visiting their website at pfaw.org.
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