The Jan. 6 Committee Puts Trump on Trial Next Week. Here’s How Not to Blow It.

It's the bipartisan committee’s big chance to take all the testimony and evidence, and present the general public with what the obsessives already know about the attempted coup.
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In this Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, Trump supporters participate in a rally in Washington that spawned a deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

This content comes from the latest installment of our weekly Breaking the Vote newsletter out of VICE News’ D.C. bureau, tracking the ongoing efforts to undermine the democratic process in America. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Friday.

Next week brings the January 6 committee’s high-stakes televised hearings on the Capitol riot and the attempted coup. (It all kicks off Thursday, June 9, at 8 p.m.)  It’s not known yet who the first witnesses will be, but this is the committee’s best chance to take months of testimony, depositions, and evidence, and present the general public with what the obsessives already know: This was a broad, multi-front attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election and usurp the voters’ will to keep Donald Trump in power.The most important thing, according to federal prosecutors: Don’t be boring.

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“It has to grab the audience, grab people’s interest and make it as compelling as possible,” Nick Akerman, a former federal prosecutor who helped try Watergate defendants, said. “You want the public on the edge of their seats with the testimony.”

The committee’s one overarching goal here is to make a clear and compelling case that Trump and his lieutenants committed crimes while trying to overturn the election. If accountability is to follow, that case would have to damage Trump in the eyes of the public, while also making a legal case that prosecutors can’t ignore.

The committee has already told a federal judge that it believes Trump and aides committed crimes when they conspired to convince Vice President Mike Pence to delay the electoral vote count and overturn the election. Convincing federal prosecutors of that is another matter.

Former U.S. Attorney and senior FBI official Chuck Rosenberg told me he expects little from the hearings. “Sadly, we lack a common narrative, and basic facts are disputed–in bad faith–by folks on one side of the political divide,” he said. “The hearings might be interesting, but I do not see it moving the needle. I hope I am wrong.”

Rosenberg said it would be a mistake for lawmakers and the committee’s investigative counsel to try to convince Attorney General Merrick Garland to prosecute Trump or his allies.

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“If members try to convince the Attorney General to charge someone with a crime, it could have the precise opposite effect. Let the Justice Department gather and follow the facts and keep politics and politicians as far away from that institution as possible,” he said.

But if Trump is ever to face criminal charges, the most important audience might not be down the street at DOJ. Trump is also under coup-related investigation in Fulton County, Georgia. A special grand jury convened by District Attorney Fani Willis is underway and has already sent out as many as 50 subpoenas.

Willis is widely thought to be pursuing Trump under Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute. We know that Trump is on tape in two separate phone calls urging Georgia officials to either “find” enough votes to flip Joe Biden’s win or trying to convince them they’d be praised for overturning the results.

Akerman said January 6 testimony could provide the evidence that would fit Trump’s on-tape acts into the kind of broader criminal enterprise that RICO cases are all about—in this case, trying to corruptly overturn the election.

“It’s no coincidence that Willis has been talking to the committee,” he said. “This is the evidence that explains those two tapes. The committee can present the evidence that shows the intent on those tapes was not innocent, but was criminal.”

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But while it’s tempting (oh, so tempting) to view upcoming televised hearings through the lens of an eventual criminal trial, some prosecutors advise: Don’t do that.

Former Trump aide Peter Navarro’s lawsuit this week (see below) claims that his recent grand jury subpoena is seeking his communications with Trump. If that’s true, Garland’s DOJ may already be looking into Trump’s inner circle in relation to the insurrection and coup attempt. Also, parallel investigations like one in Congress and one in Georgia can interact in ways that aren’t always an advantage for investigators.

The biggest mistake the committee can make, former U.S. Attorney Renato Mariotti said, is to oversell the public on how far the criminal justice system will go to rectify an attack on Constitutional democracy and hold America’s contemporary coup-plotters accountable.

“This is a problem the American people and their elected representatives need to solve, instead of sitting back and waiting for the criminal justice system to do it for them,” he said.

Your friends will be talking about the hearings, so sign them up for Breaking the Vote!

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T.W.I.S.™ Notes

Just as public hearings are about to get underway, the House Republicans sporting subpoenas from the January 6 committee are doing all they can to prevent another attempted coup still avoiding telling the truth. GOP leader Kevin McCarthy and other lawmakers made a show of attacking the committee this week, while also appearing to leave the door open to cooperation if their various demands are met. This is about delay: There’s a run-out-the-clock vibe to all this, since Republicans will immediately abandon the investigation if they take power next January. But why not just refuse to appear outright? Probably because nascent plans for revenge-worthy investigations in a GOP majority include subpoenaing Democrats right back. 

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan is on notice that he’s expected to appear for his deposition, though this week the committee gave him an extension. 

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It’s easy for all this to slip into a fog of partisan bickering, which is also part of the point. For the public, it obscures that these GOP lawmakers have actual, material information critical to understanding the plot and could cooperate if they cared to. (Reporters have no excuse in falling for it, and they should be making it clear to readers and viewers.) McCarthy spoke to Trump during the riot and was so mortified by Trump's actions that he wanted to tell him to resign the presidency. Rep. Scott Perry was instrumental in trying to turn the DOJ into Trump’s personal strong-arm operation, and he was only thwarted when top officials threatened to resign en masse. And Jordan? Nothing to see here!

Former Trump adviser Peter Navarro, who goes toe-to-toe with Jordan for the title of MAGAworld’s Yelliest White Guy, went into legally incomprehensible territory this week after saying he got a subpoena to appear in front of a grand jury. That’s a lot different than a January 6 subpoena: Grand juries charge people with crimes. What’s unclear is whether the subpoena stems from Navarro’s criminal-contempt referral for dissing the committee, or whether DOJ has reached further into Trump’s inner circle with a criminal investigation of the coup plot. 

It was revealed this week that while Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano has been busy promising to resurrect racist voter suppression tactics if he’s elected, he’s also been cooperating with the January 6 committee… sort of. Mastriano furnished documents about organizing buses to travel to the Jan. 6 rally. Trouble is, none of that comes close to what he has already acknowledged doing to aid the coup attempt. The committee exempted Mastriano from disclosing his state senator–related activities, like urging DOJ officials to overturn the election, scheming to recruit fake electors, and more. Seems like the committee is missing a few things here. 

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Plan of steal

A couple weeks ago, former Arizona election security chief Ken Matta sounded the alarm to this newsletter as he despaired over the attacks on election workers designed to scare them off: “In the elections community, I can still say everybody is on board with the rules-based integrity of their jobs… I’d still trust my vote to any of these people. That will not continue to be true starting in 2022 and definitely in 2024.”  

This week, two major reports revealed how right Matta was about the depths of Trumpist Republicans’ plans to undermine fair voting and the election workers who ensure it. The first is about attorney Cleta Mitchell, who transitioned from helping Trump’s (on tape) effort to steal Georgia, to a national campaign that trains activists nationwide on how to inject suspicion, doubt, and conspiracy into vote counts. As we’ve detailed before, Mitchell, in partnership with the Republican National Committee, has been training right-wing conspiracists to recruit poll watchers, use surveillance to intimidate election workers, and cloud tabulation practices with doubt. 

Right alongside Mitchell’s tour is the RNC’s own effort to recruit an “army” of partisan poll workers, lawyers, and prosecutors ready to sow legal chaos in swing states in 2024. It’s the “precinct strategy” advocated by Steve Bannon ever since 2020, which election experts warn could foment enough doubt in election results that GOP-controlled state legislatures could appoint their own electors should they lose. Ken Matta saw it coming. Bad stuff!

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In a win for white supremacists…

Ever since a gunman killed 10 Black people in Buffalo, there’s been a lot of reporting on how the racist and antisemitic “great replacement theory” has migrated from the message boards and screeds of mass killers to the GOP mainstream. Popular right-wing commentators like Tucker Carlson regularly traffic in partially sanitized versions, and so do members of the elected Republican leadership. 

VICE News’ Cameron Joseph has the results of a disturbing new survey showing that, at least among self-described Republicans, the smuggling of a racist conspiracy into the mainstream is complete. Close to 70 percent of GOP adults said they strongly or somewhat agreed with the idea that “the recent shift in U.S. demographics is not a natural change but has been motivated by progressive and liberal leaders actively trying to leverage political power by replacing more conservative white voters.”  

In yet another win for white supremacists…

A half-dozen Proud Boys have gained seats on the executive committee of the Republican Party in Miami-Dade County, Florida. 

The big Chese

Remember how a judge in California ordered coup-engineer John Eastman to release his emails to the January 6 committee, all because there was reason to believe he and Donald Trump committed crimes? Now you can check out the plan that caused Judge David Carter to conclude likely felonies were afoot. The plan, laid out in a memo from attorney Kenneth Chesebro to Rudy Giuliani, called for Veep Mike Pence to (illegally) claim the authority to reject slates of electors. That little gambit gave rise to the fake-electors scheme that Rudy tried to implement in seven states. 

The company you Kemp 

Last week we wrote about why Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s 50-point trouncing of Donald Trump’s revenge primary candidate doesn’t mean Trump’s election-stealing plans aren’t still strong in the GOP. Kemp won in part not by denying conservative voters’ stolen-election fears but by servicing them. And now he’s trying to patch things up with his No, 1 hater. 

UPDATE: It’s not going well. 

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DonkeyCon II

Right-wing election conspiracy group True the Vote bankrolled propagandist Dinesh D’Souza’s film “2000 Mules,” and now they’re taking his show on the road. The group staged a screening and briefing for GOP legislators in Arizona, where they misled everyone, and responded to scrutiny by threatening reporters. Also: What drought in Arizona?

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“I’ll say it again. The mainstream media is domestic terrorists.” — The Republican Party of Arizona, @AZGOP, in a now-deleted tweet, putting journalists reporting on the conspiracy theory film “2000 Mules” at risk of getting hurt or killed. 

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Chisler of Oz — Pennsylvania Republicans sure seem to be relying on safe and reproducible results from the state’s election system. Former hedge fund CEO David McCormick and TV huckster Dr. Mehmet Oz are still locked in a recount after their Senate primary race, where Oz came out on top by fewer than 1,000 votes. This week Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito put a temporary stop to the counting of disputed ballots that arrived on time but weren’t properly dated. McCormick desperately wants the ballots counted, while Oz declared himself the winner. Both men have tacitly supported Trump’s lies about 2020. 

Doom-scrollers wanted — VICE’s David Gilbert has the story on the Connecticut secretary of state’s search for an online “misinformation sheriff” to help stamp out bullshit before it takes root. It’s a laudable goal that raises some complex policy questions. By the way, deputies, the gig pays $150,000 a year. 

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The neuralyzer — When she isn’t busy poisoning the GOP base with low-cal “great replacement” racism, House GOP No. 3 Elise Stefanik is hatching plans to erase Trump’s second impeachment from America’s memory.

Fever stream — Why should donkeys have all the fun? Pillow tycoon Mike Lindell is getting ready to release his own election conspiracy film. It centers on BtV favorite and six-felony indictee Tina Peters with egging on from (what the hell happened to) Lara Logan. Enjoy the trailer, and watch out for Peters and Lindell in an upcoming VICE News Tonight report from Colorado’s GOP primary. 

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It’s time for Biden to strongly attack the white-grievance industry. THE WASHINGTON POST 

Building the “Big Lie”: Inside the creation of Trump’s stolen-election myth. PROPUBLICA

Can this Pennsylvania GOP candidate make voters re-register? ASSOCIATED PRESS