US Rep. Jamie Raskin, who led the second trial of Donald Trump, gave a talk last week at Georgetown University. The host was Jim Wallis of Sojourners. The occasion was the Maryland congressman’s book, Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy.
The event made news late last week. Raskin, who sits on the House committee investigating the J6 insurrection, revealed details not yet known. For instance, that Vice President Mike Pence told Secret Service agents, as they fled insurgents storming the US Capitol: “I'm not getting in that car until we count the Electoral College votes.”
I watched the whole talk. What emerged is much more important than a few scattershot details. Raskin tells the story of the insurrection. He created a picture of that day using what he called “circles of sedition.”
The outermost ring was protesters.
The next ring was violent insurgents.
The inner ring – “the scariest ring” – was Mike Pence.
The plan was for Pence to reject the electoral count, sending the election to the House, where the GOP had a majority of state delegates needed to win a “contingent election,” per the 12th Amendment.
Then plan, moreover, called for domestic terrorists like the Proud Boys to clash with “Antifa,” thus giving the impression of left and right going to war over the election, thus justifying Trump in declaring martial law.
Two problems, though.
Pence didn’t play along.
Antifa didn’t show up.
The following is a heavily edited transcript of the part of Raskin’s remarks about what the J6 committee is planning to do in future hearings. I trimmed and condensed it for clarity, length and impact:
The hearings will tell a story that will blow the roof off the House – story of the most heinous and dastardly offense ever organized by a president and his entourage in the history of the United States.
No president has ever come close to doing what happened here in terms of trying to organize an inside coup to overthrow an election and bypass the constitutional order. [No president has] who used a violent insurrection made up of domestic violent extremist groups, white nationalists, racist, fascist groups, in order to support the coup.
Think of what happened on that day in three circles of sedition.
There was a mass protest, called for 'wild purposes,' as the president put it, of tens of thousands of people that turned into a mob riot.
That was the outside ring.
The middle ring was the ring of the insurrection:
Domestic violent extremist groups, like the Proud Boys, who Donald Trump had told to “stand back and stand by” in the first presidential debate; the Oathkeepers, the Three Percenters, who have been charged with seditious conspiracy, which means conspiracy to overthrow the government; the QAnon networks, militia groups, Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations and white Christian nationalist groups.
The scariest ring was the [third] ring of the coup.
The insurrectionists were in charge of attacking officers, smashing our windows, breaking down our doors, interrupting the peaceful transfer of power and shutting down the counting of Electoral College votes.
But the [third] ring of the coup (and I know it's a strange word to use in American political parlance, because we don't have a lot of experience with coups in American history. This was not a coup directed at the president. It was a coup directed by the president against the vice president and against the Congress.
Donald Trump simply did not accept the results of the election. He was preparing his followers not to accept the results. He was going around the country saying the only way I can lose is if the election is stolen.
We know this was false. More than 60 federal and state judges across the land, including eight judges nominated by Donald Trump, rejected every allegation of electoral fraud and corruption advanced by them.
But they proceeded to try five or six different strategies to overthrow Joe Biden's majority in the electoral college.)
Finally, [the third ring of the coup] came down to January 6.
The idea was getting Pence to assert unilateral, extra-constitutional, unlawful powers to reject and repudiate Electoral College votes being sent in by the states, specifically, Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania.
They would lower Biden's total Electoral College votes] from 306 to below 270 … in order to activate the 12th Amendment, which says if nobody has a majority in the Electoral College, the contest shifts immediately to the House of Representatives for a so-called contingent election, where the House decides who will be president.
They understood under the 12th Amendment that it’s not voting one member, one vote. It’s one state, one vote. There were 27 state delegations for the GOP. There are 22 for the Democrats.
Even had they suffered the defection of [Liz Cheney], they would have had 26 votes in the bag to get the majority to seize the presidency.
[Because there would have been mass protests had the states decided who won], Trump likely would have invoked the Insurrection Act, as Trump's disgraced former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was urging him to do. Donald Trump would have declared martial law.
There would have been mass protests, but also the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers were running around saying, “Antifa, where are you?”
They clearly were looking for somebody to fight to create visual images of this being some kind of showdown between left and right.
It would have been Donald Trump's opportunity to come in and be the hero. It would have been his Reichstag moment: 'I'm going to save you from the insurrectionary chaos I unleashed against you.' …
That's what they were prepared to do. Donald Trump would return as the conquering hero, just ignoring the seven and a half million vote margin that Joe Biden had in his victory in the Electoral College.
[These three circles of sedition were linked] and we will be offering evidence to that fact. But they were coordinated most tightly by Trump and his inner circle, the inner entourage around him.
That’s the place we've had the most difficulty.
I mean, we've had more than 800 witnesses come forward to tell us what they saw, what they heard, what was going on with them.
These are witnesses on all sides.
These are officers and these are rioters. These are extremist insurrectionists. These are White House employees.
But the closer you get to Trump, the more they refuse to testify – and why isn't that enough alone to create a scandal in the country?
We have a guy like Mark Meadows who was the chief of staff to the president of the United States who now refuses to testify.
We also have a guy like Steve Bannon, who wasn't even an employee of the White House, but he's trying to assert executive privilege.
We've got a class of people who think they're above and beyond the rule of law. It's a really dangerous thing for a democracy to have a class of people that feels so entitled by their power, their wealth and their connections that they can just defy the rule of law like this.
The way to understand the [center ring] was to get Pence to play along. … I heard them chanting: 'Hang Mike Pence, hang Mike Pence.'
They meant it.
They had set up a scaffold and noose outside.
When his Secret Service agents were chased out by these neo-fascists, they ran down to some still undisclosed mysterious place in the Capitol. He uttered what I think are the six most chilling words:
'I'm not getting in that car.'
Pence’s Secret Service agents, presumably reporting to Trump's agents, were trying to spirit him off of the campus. And he said:
'I'm not getting in that car until we count the Electoral College votes.'
He knew exactly what this inside coup was going to do.
[The J6 committee has evidence that these three rings of sedition] were intertwined. They were most intertwined in the mind of Donald Trump, who was pulling the strings of essentially all of them.
He was playing to his crowds and turning them into a mob with the social media and with his speeches, where he said, 'You know, when there's cheating involved, all the rules are off. You can play by very different rules, and you got to fight and you got to fight like hell or you're not going to a country anymore,' and so on.
(We had robust bipartisan, bicameral majorities find [during Trump’s second impeachment trial in the Senate], as a matter of legislative fact, that he had engaged in incitement to violent insurrection.
He beat the constitutional odds for a conviction. But that was the most sweeping bipartisan vote in a presidential impeachment in history.
There have only been four. Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, Trump 1 and Trump 2. It was a 57 to 43 vote, yet he feels somehow vindicated that only 57 of 100 senators found he was the first president in the history of the United States to try to overthrow his own government).
The insurrection was used as a way to delay and prolong the proceedings, along with the [court] challenges to particular state Electoral College votes, to intensify the pressure on Mike Pence.
They thought that at a certain point he would break.
Once he broke … they could swing it through the 12th Amendment. …
At that point, it's anybody's guess what could have happened.
Martial law, civil war.
The beginning of authoritarianism.