Rioters in battle gear rampaging through the U.S. Capitol with spears and baseball bats weren’t the only ones assaulting democracy on Jan. 6, 2021. Another group — this one in suits and ties, with government offices and security clearances — also fought vigorously to overthrow the 2020 presidential election. The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack has provided a timely reminder this holiday weekend that American democracy is only as secure as the people entrusted to protect it.
The House committee held another extraordinary public session Tuesday, where in gripping testimony, a former top aide to chief of staff Mark Meadows described how the White House melted down in the runup to the rally Jan. 6 that drew agitated supporters of then-President Donald Trump. The aide, Cassidy Hutchinson, testified that Trump knew the crowd he amassed was armed and could turn violent. But still Trump exhorted his supporters to march on the Capitol — where Congress was poised to certify his election defeat to Joe Biden — urging them to “fight like hell.”
Hutchinson’s testimony helps fill in the blanks on the president’s culpability, as it shows Trump was aware, as were others in his circle, of the toxic environment brewing and how easily the day’s events could spiral out of control. She testified that Meadows expressed concerns even days before, telling her: “Things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6.” Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, had such serious legal concerns in the days preceding Jan. 6 that he pressed Hutchinson repeatedly to keep the president from appearing at the Capitol. She said he warned that “we’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable.”
It’s up to the Justice Department to decide whether a case exists to bring charges against the former president for incitement or attempting to block the peaceful transfer of power. But Hutchinson’s testimony underscores that the events culminating Jan. 6 proceeded on a dual track. Trump’s disinformation campaign, his scramble to find votes in key states and his challenging of the election result was the very inspiration that led the marauders to lay siege to Congress.
And the furious effort by Trump and his allies to subvert the Electoral College and cling to power included lawyers, state officials, White House and campaign aides and members of Congress — well beyond the horn-helmeted thugs pictured in inglorious infamy that day. As the Jan. 6 committee has chronicled, this was wide-ranging scam that included promoting baseless claims of voter fraud, intimidating Republican officeholders in key states, submitting slates of fake electors and even Trump suggesting that the Justice department seize voting machines. Trump’s last-minute plan to hold on by installing a loyalist as the acting attorney general was foiled only after top lawyers at the Justice department threatened to resign en masse.
What happened Jan. 6 was a genuine tragedy. But in the days leading up to it, Americans were sold out by some of the very people in charge. It’s a reminder this Independence Day weekend of how the surety of America’s institutions, and its democracy itself, can boil down to the actions of a few courageous people.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.