National Security

Trump Jan. 6 comments renew momentum behind riot probe

Former President Trump is renewing the momentum behind the probe into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, adding fuel to the panel’s various lines of inquiry and plans for reform as he simmers over the 2020 election results.

In recent days, Trump has suggested that, if reelected in 2024, he would pardon those who have been prosecuted for partaking in the riot at the Capitol, and also rehashed his belief that former Vice President Mike Pence could have “overturned” the election. Meanwhile, revelations surfaced that Trump was directly involved in pushing a plan to seize voting machines.

The comments undercut months of messaging from Republicans pegging the panel as a witch hunt against the former president with no legislative purpose – a key feature for committees with subpoena power.

The New York Times on Monday reported that Trump played a much greater role than previously known in pushing for three government agencies to seize voting equipment – repeatedly inquiring about executive orders to mandate such a move despite warnings from Rudy Giuliani.

Trump in a statement on Sunday used a key word in bashing plans to reform the Electoral Count Act, contending Pence could have “overturned” the election when he rejected Trump’s plea to contest some state’s Electoral College counts. Trump said that actually meant Pence had “the right to change the outcome.”

Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), a member of the Jan. 6 panel, said, “I’m not very surprised at this point by what the former president says.”

“Clearly he said the quiet part out loud on what his intentions were for Jan. 6.”

The committee has now interviewed more than 400 people, including sitting down this week with two aides close to Pence.

And earlier this month, member Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) released a report outlining reforms to the 1887 Electoral Count Act that would raise the threshold to object to the certification of state’s election results and remove the vice president’s ceremonial role in the process.

In his statement, Trump referred to the legislative efforts by suggesting that attempts to change the law made the case that Pence did, in fact, have the power to change the 2020 election results on Jan. 6, 2021.

“How come the Democrats and RINO Republicans, like Wacky Susan Collins, are desperately trying to pass legislation that will not allow the Vice President to change the results of the election?” Trump said in the Sunday statement, issued on the same day Collins told ABC’s “This Week” that it was “unlikely” she would support Trump if he ran in 2024.

The pushback from Trump repeats a familiar pattern, where Republicans painstakingly downplay a controversial issue only to have the former president bring it front and center.

Republicans have spent months making a case that the committee’s work should be considered invalid, arguing it has no legislative purpose.

“Pretty much the only people who don’t feel we have a legislative purpose is [House Minority Leader] Kevin McCarthy [R-Calif.] and a couple of people around the former president who lost lawsuits,” Aguilar told The Hill.

But Trump has now turned to calling attention to the legislation, which is likely to be among the recommendations forwarded by the committee.

“So pathetic to watch the Unselect Committee of political hacks, liars, and traitors work so feverishly to alter the Electoral College Act so that a Vice President cannot ensure the honest results of the election,” he said Tuesday.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said that Trump appeared to be plainly laying out his strategy for Jan. 6.

“I think the big reveal has arrived. Trump has repeatedly confirmed it. I mean, some people seem to think that if you talk about a crime in public, it can’t be a crime,” Raskin said on CNN on Tuesday, pointing to the reported efforts to seize voting machines.

“I mean, if you rob a bank in broad daylight, you’re still robbing a bank,” Raskin said.

Trump’s reported involvement in pushing to have agencies seize voting machines is also likely to spur legislation to specifically bar such a practice, though it appears both campaign and Trump’s White House staff largely concluded it was illegal.

According to the Times, Trump was told by then-Attorney General William Barr that the Justice Department could not seize voting machines despite claims from Trump that they could be evidence of fraud.

Trump’s inquiry for a similar move by the Department of Defense likewise did not pan out, as Giuliani fought the idea, saying military involvement could only be justified if there was foreign interference in the election.

The concept reached its third and final stop at the Department of Homeland Security, where two former high-ranking officials have reportedly told the committee they likewise rejected the idea.

“This wasn’t just some intangible idea. It appears that there were some concrete steps being taken, or instructions being given by the former president, to potentially operationalize this. And you know that really ought to take our breath away: the idea of a U.S. president contemplating – when they lose an election – contemplating seizing the voting machines,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in an interview with CNN.

“There were multiple lines of effort, all of which we’re investigating,” he added later.

The committee has for months indicated an interest in Trump’s efforts to seize voting machines, calling in former DHS officials to interview and mentioning the concept in its subpoena to Giuliani.

Trump, however, has indicated he plans to undo the work of the committee as he all but officially hits the campaign trail.

During a rally last weekend, Trump said he would pardon people charged with crimes related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol if he becomes president again.

“If I run and if I win, we will treat those people from Jan. 6 fairly. And if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons because they are being treated so unfairly,” Trump said.

Doing so would likely require a massive number of pardons. The Justice Department has already charged more than 700 people in connection with the riots, a group that now includes the founder of the far-right Oath Keepers, who is facing weighty seditious conspiracy charges.

“I would say that if there was a lawyer involved, a lawyer would probably have advised him not to say it,” committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told reporters Wednesday.

But Thompson noted that Trump doesn’t always take legal advice to heart, adding he tends to be “reluctant to listen to lawyers when he wants to talk.”

Still, Thompson warned the totality of Trump’s comments could amount to obstruction of justice.

“Some people have said it’s a form of obstruction and that we should look at it like that. At some point we’ll discuss it,” Thompson said.

Tags Adam Schiff Bennie Thompson Donald Trump Jamie Raskin Kevin McCarthy Mike Pence Pete Aguilar Rudy Giuliani Susan Collins William Barr Zoe Lofgren

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