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Cup of Joe – December 24, 2022

“The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol released its final 845-page report on Wednesday, marking the culmination of an exhaustive 18-month investigation into the violent insurrection and former president Donald Trump’s role inciting it,” the Washington Post reports.\

The Jan. 6 committee released 34 interview transcripts on Thursday from its investigation. Notable figures whose interviews were released included John Eastman, Jeffrey Clark, Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, Alex Jones, and Charlie Kirk.

The full list and our initial rundown are here. The main highlight is that so many of the witnesses pleaded the 5th and refused to answer any questions.

A few other eyepoppers:

  • Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) confronted former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio about calling her a “cunt.”
  • Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) was apparently texting the Stop the Steal group chat while the Jan. 6 attack was still underway: “We’re still on lockdown in the congressional office.”

The Los Angeles Times reports “[m]any of the released transcripts are from lesser-known figures who played behind-the-scenes roles in the attempt by former President Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 presidential election, though the list includes some of the biggest names involved, such as California attorney John Eastman, the architect of the legal theory embraced by Trump positing that the vice president could reject certain states’ electors.”

In an executive summary of its final report, the January 6 Committee said that it confirmed that Donald Trump engaged in a “furious interaction” in his SUV on January 6, 2021, Insider reports.

Cassidy Hutchinson testified in June “that Tony Ornato, then the White House deputy chief of staff, told her that Trump lunged at the steering wheel inside a presidential SUV after his rally on the Ellipse when he was informed by Secret Service agent Bobby Engel that he would not be able to go to the Capitol due to security concerns.”

Sources including “multiple members of the Secret Service, a member of the Metropolitan police, and national security officials in the White House,” described Trump’s behavior during the interaction as “irate,” “furious,” “insistent,” “profane” and “heated.”

“Cassidy Hutchinson reached out to an important ally as she weighed her testimony to the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol: her fellow Trump White House alumna, Alyssa Farah Griffin,” Mediaite reports.

“It was Griffin who served as a critical ‘back channel’ to help guide the committee’s questioning of Hutchinson.”

Quinta Jurecic of Lawfare says that the executive summary of the Jan. 6 committee’s full and final report appears to not account for other federal agencies that failed to anticipate and adequately prepare for the violence that ensued on Jan. 6 at the Capitol.

Jan. 6 is a story about Trump and his supporters, but it is also a story about how the federal government dropped the ball on anticipating and preparing for violence. As NBC states in its reporting on the summary’s odd framing, many experts and former officials have termed this “the biggest intelligence failure since Sept. 11.” The FBI produced only one document in the run-up to Jan. 6 warning of potential violence—a bulletin not from FBI headquarters or the desk of the director, but from the bureau’s Norfolk, Virginia, field office. FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress that he was not aware of that report in advance of Jan. 6. According to the bureau’s top counterterrorism official, the FBI was also not aware of online conversations about potential violence in the days before the insurrection—a bizarre statement given that the plans for violence were plainly available to anyone with an internet connection.

And the failures were not confined to the FBI. The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General found that several divisions within the department’s Office of Intelligence & Analysis identified the risk of violence in advance of Jan. 6, but that the department failed to distribute this information widely. The office “did not issue any intelligence products about these threats until January 8,” the inspector general wrote—two days after the riot. Likewise, a June 2021 report from the Senate Rules Committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee describes in detail how officials at the Capitol Police found themselves utterly unprepared on Jan. 6. Again, some members of the Capitol Police identified the risk of violence ahead of time, but these assessments were not communicated widely either within the agency or outside it.

None of this is to take away from the actions of Capitol Police, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, and other law enforcement officers at the Capitol during the insurrection. Many people engaged in acts of genuine heroism that day. The failures I’m describing here have to do with the government’s failures to prepare in advance—many of which can be laid at the leadership of agencies like the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, who failed to steer their employees toward focusing on the obvious threat in advance of the insurrection.

The result was that the government was caught unawares on Jan. 6—with catastrophic effects. But you wouldn’t know that from reading the committee’s executive summary.

Norman Eisen, E. Danya Perry and Fred Wertheimer’s analysis at The New York Times: “In voting on Monday to issue a sweeping final report, the Jan. 6 committee has honored its duty and the Constitution. When the full report is released this week, there will be much to review and process for our country, our government and American history. But given the facts that have been revealed, these hearings had to end with criminal referrals against Donald Trump and his minions.

The House committee articulated a powerful legal case encompassing the many schemes of Mr. Trump, John Eastman and others, including the audacious promotion of false electoral slates. The committee also recommended prosecution of Mr. Trump on charges of inciting insurrection and giving aid or comfort to insurrectionists — a charge unseen since the Civil War. The referrals make clear to prosecutors and to Americans just how dangerous the attempted coup was, and how vulnerable our system was (and is) to such assaults.”

David Rohde at The New Yorker: “The committee’s action is unprecedented. No President in American history has ever before been referred by Congress for criminal prosecution. […]  Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University, told me that he believed the committee’s referral has increased the odds that Trump will face prosecution. “While it’s still not completely certain that Trump will be prosecuted, I think the referral and the appointment of the special counsel make it more likely that it will happen,” he said.

The Washington Post editorial board: “The committee has secured its legacy in different ways, providing a searing picture of what occurred on Jan. 6, 2021, and exhibiting the cowardice of those who, out of fear of Mr. Trump, refused to help it reckon with that dark day.

The public now knows much more about Mr. Trump’s culpability. New details, including videotaped testimony from former Trump aides, showed Mr. Trump had been told he’d lost the election but nevertheless leaned on state officials, the Justice Department, his vice president and others to keep him in power — a campaign that resulted in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot.”

“The entire nation knows who is responsible for that day. Beyond that, I don’t have any immediate observations.”— Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), in a statement after the January 6 Committee approved criminal referrals against Donald Trump.

“Had I known that standing up for truth would cost me my job, friendships, and even my personal security, I would, without hesitation, do it all over again. I can rest easy at night knowing that I fulfilled my oath to the office.” — Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), quoted by WLS, in his farewell speech from Congress.

“She has always been one of Donald Trump’s most all-knowing and loyal confidantes. But the Jan. 6 committee got former top White House advisor Hope Hicks on record incriminating the former president,” USA Today reports.

“More is likely to come out about that as early as Wednesday, when the committee is expected to release its long-awaited final report into Trump’s alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election and foment an assault on the Capitol based on false claims of voter fraud. And it will begin making public the transcripts of its interviews with as many as 1,000 witnesses – including Hicks – done over the course of its exhaustive 18-month probe.”

“But based on what the committee has revealed already, what Hicks said about Trump is likely to be damning, and potentially devastating to him, both in the court of public opinion and a court of law should he ever be prosecuted, according to former prosecutors and legal experts.”

Philip Bump at the Washington Post says, No, the Jan. 6 committee didn’t make Trump stronger:

“These folks don’t get it that when they come after me, people who love freedom rally around me,” Trump said in a statement. “It strengthens me. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” He then tacked on false claims about his efforts to curtail the violence that unfolded at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — the aforementioned insurrection.

Setting aside the statement’s dude-who-quotes-Nietzsche vibe, the former president raises an interesting point. He’s made a political career out of parlaying criticism into support, casting himself as the eternal target of devious, desperate hubs of power. Was it true, then, that the House select committee’s investigation actually bolstered his standing among Republicans or Americans more broadly?

“A former lawyer for a White House aide who became a key witness for the House Jan. 6 committee took a leave of absence from his law firm on Tuesday and defended himself against what he said were false insinuations by the panel that he had interfered with his client’s testimony,” the New York Times reports.

“The lawyer, Stefan Passantino, represented Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to the White House chief of staff at the end of the Trump administration, in the early stages of the committee’s investigation. He made the comments in a statement first reported by CNN, a day after the committee released an executive summary of its findings.”

“The January 6 committee made a startling allegation on Monday, claiming it had evidence that a Trump-backed attorney urged a key witness to mislead the committee about details they recalled,” CNN reports.

“Though the committee declined to identify the people, CNN has learned that Stefan Passantino, the top ethics attorney in the Trump White House, is the lawyer who allegedly advised his then-client, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, to tell the committee that she did not recall details that she did.”

“Trump’s Save America political action committee funded Passantino and his law firm Elections LLC, including paying for his representation of Hutchinson, other sources tell CNN. The committee report notes the lawyer did not tell his client who was paying for the legal services.”

Hutchinson terminated Passantino’s representation of her and replaced him with former Trump DOJ official Jody Hunt.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) told CNN Monday: “She was advised to say that she didn’t recall something when she did. So that’s pretty serious stuff.”

Harry Litman: “The accusations involving Stefan Passantino — that he advised Cassidy Hutchinson to say she did not recall when in fact she did — is absolutely career ending if it pans out. Virtual instant disarmament (sic) and lucky if he stays out of jail.”

Ryan Goodman: “Stefan Passantino identified as lawyer Jan. 6th Committee alleged told Cassidy Hutchinson to tell Committee she did not recall details that she did. Telling a client to lie = 18 U.S.C. 1001 liability for lawyer”

Andrew Weissmann: “This phenomenon happens so much in political corruption investigations. Lawyers doing bidding for the boss, not the lower level client.”

As she was wracked with conflict and guilt, former Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified that she began reading about witnesses who turned against the Nixon White House, Politico reports.

From her testimony: “I didn’t know that much about Watergate. I had heard John Dean’s name before, but then I come across this man named Alex Butterfield, who had… a similar role and title to what I had in the White House… And I found that he, a couple years ago, worked on this book with Bob Woodward… So l ordered two copies of this, had them shipped to my parents’ house, and I sat there that weekend and read it. And I read it three times. I read it once. Then I read it again, underlined. And then I read it a third time, and I went through and tabbed it.”

“And it was after I read all of this, where he had talked about like how he fought the moral struggle, where he felt like he still had to be loyal to the Nixon White House, but he talked about a lot of the same things that I felt like I was experiencing. And, you know, it wasn’t an identical situation, but it’s — it’s the — the emphasis he placed on the moral questions that he was asking himself resonated with me.”

“The final straw for former Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson with her first attorney, paid through allies of former President Donald Trump, came when he told her to stop cooperating with the January 6 select House committee even if risked a contempt of Congress charge,” CNN reports.

Hutchinson testified she told her mother: “I’m fucked.”

She continued: “I am completely indebted to these people. And they will ruin my life, Mom, if I do anything they don’t want me to do.”

Asked if there are any big outstanding questions he has about January 6, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) said he is “satisfied that we have a very good sense of what happened” but “there are some little things that I want to know,” Axios reports.

He offered an example: “Usually, I understand, when President Trump was in his dining room he ordered hamburgers. And I just wonder whether he was actually eating hamburgers while he was watching the insurrectionary violence unfold against our country.”

He added: “That was always the small detail that troubled me a little bit.”

“The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection has begun extensively cooperating with the Justice Department’s special counsel charged with overseeing investigations into former President Donald Trump,” Punchbowl News reports.

“Jack Smith, who Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed as special counsel last month, sent the select committee a letter Dec. 5 requesting all of the panel’s materials from the 18-month probe.”

“Starting last week, the select committee began sending Smith’s team documents and transcripts. Much of the production from the Jan. 6 committee is in relation to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and John Eastman, the Trump lawyer at the center of the ‘fake elector’ scheme.”

“A special grand jury investigating efforts by former President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia is winding down its work,” CNN reports.

“The Atlanta-area special grand jury has largely finished hearing witness testimony and has already begun writing its final report, the sources said, an indication that prosecutors will soon be deciding whether to seek criminal charges and against whom.”

“In Georgia, special grand juries are not authorized to issue indictments. The final report serves as a mechanism for the panel to recommend whether Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis should pursue indictments in her election interference investigation. Willis could then go to a regularly empaneled grand jury to seek indictments.”

“FBI officials had a lot to worry about in late July as they discussed whether to search one of Donald Trump’s homes for evidence of crimes. Two concerns were paramount: Any search warrant should be authorized by the attorney general himself, and they did not want the former president to be at Mar-a-Lago when it happened,” the Washington Post reports.

“It is standard FBI practice to remove and detain a homeowner while their property is being searched. And while the nation’s top law enforcement officials were willing to take the once-inconceivable step of getting a court order to search not just Trump’s office but also his residence, they wanted to avoid doing anything that required them to physically remove Trump from his home, leaving the 45th commander in chief standing in his driveway like a suspected drug dealer or white-collar crook.”

The Washington Post goes deep inside the apparent tensions between Justice Department prosecutors and FBI agents in the Mar-a-Lago investigation. What emerges is a disturbing picture of FBI agents tentative about being caught in the wringer of another Trump investigation. No one wants to be the next Peter Strzok, which is understandable on a personal level but difficult to square with their professional obligations. It leads to this extraordinary role reversal:

The lawyers, these people said, felt they had amassed more than enough probable cause to ask a judge to approve a search of Mar-a-Lago. Some agents at the field office weren’t certain. Eventually, the Justice Department lawyers prevailed.

Strzok himself noted how unusual this was: “It’s an exceedingly rare day when prosecutors want a search warrant and agents don’t.”

“The House Jan. 6 committee is now sharing evidence with federal prosecutors, who for months were critical of the panel for refusing to send over witness interview transcripts and other information,” Bloomberg reports.

“The committee’s sharing of investigatory material with the Justice Department and the office of Special Counsel Jack Smith started even before Monday’s unanimous public vote to refer former President Donald Trump for criminal prosecution and forward its investigative findings, according to the person, who asked not to be named to discuss matters that aren’t yet public.”

Jonathan Last sees three options for the Justice Department to act on the January 6 Committee referrals against Donald Trump:

  • The government chooses not to prosecute: which incentivizes future attempts to overturn elections and legitimizes the stoking of political violence.
  • The government prosecutes and loses: which both legitimizes the stoking of political violence and antagonizes the passions of more than a third of the country.
  • The government prosecutes and wins: which creates open season for using the government to pursue political enemies, throws the 2024 Republican primary into disarray, and turns Trump into a martyr for his movement.

His conclusion: “There is no happy ending here, no scenario in which a rough comity returns to our political life. In every path, the danger to democracy increases.”

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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