WASHINGTON — “What is happening here?” a distraught Nancy Pelosi said on Friday.
It’s a good question and I can answer it, because I was there at the start of the corrosive chain of events that led to women losing control of their own bodies. I saw how America went from a beacon of modernity to a benighted outlier.
Over the last three decades, I have witnessed a dismal saga of opportunism, fanaticism, mendacity, concupiscence, hypocrisy and cowardice. This is a story about men gaining power by trading away something that meant little to them compared with their own stature: the rights of women.
It started innocently enough on a beautiful summer day in Kennebunkport, with the ocean sparkling and a lunch of crab meat salad and English muffins.
I was covering the first President Bush’s nomination of a 43-year-old U.S. appeals court judge for the D.C. Circuit to take the seat of retiring Justice Thurgood Marshall. Clarence Thomas, standing in front of a weather-beaten shingled cottage, looked uneasy as Bush defended his conservative choice.
Andrew Travers, my editor at The Aspen Times since the principled resignation of David Krause a few weeks ago, was fired last Friday for publishing previously banned columns I wrote. They contained truth, locally important information, and the revelation of issues our community would have been otherwise unaware of.
This was supposed to be my last column for The Aspen Times, but now is my first for the Aspen Daily News. It depended on how delicately I crafted this piece; if I stayed between the company lines in giving the reason for my departure, the new owners of The Aspen Times might have allowed me to say goodbye in their paper last Friday. Alas, it’s three spikes and I’m out. I went down looking, released on waivers to the Aspen Daily News.
“Spike” is the term used when a news story or column doesn’t get published. In May, I had back-to-back weekly columns spiked — not by my editors in the newsroom, but by the suits at The Aspen Times’ new parent company in West Virginia, who feared a lawsuit.
The first column pointed out that the new owner of the Gorsuch Haus site at Lift 1A was unnervingly rude for not stepping up and assuring the town of his plans to go along with the development plans approved by voters. The second was about his big money coming to Aspen and silencing our small-town press through litigation threats, gagging The Aspen Times with questionable claims. We were assured by the executives in West Virginia that the columns would run “eventually”, after the litigation was settled.
The litigation was settled. Andrew ran the columns. He got fired. Everyone else got mad. Intimidation seeped into the newsroom.
There is enough to this story for an upper-level, four-credit journalism school case study to consider over the span of an entire semester. There are ample opportunities for teaching moments and a long list of discussion points. However, rather than recognizing these options, the executives at corporate headquarters determined it was simply better (easier) to fire Travers, a seasoned and talented journalist.
I believe the crux of this controversy boiled down to weighing the universal omerta of keeping interoffice conversations private versus the obligation of newspapers to report honestly on important issues, even if it means disclosing interoffice conversations to do so. Which is the higher law?
My column launched these conflicting objectives on a trajectory of imminent collision. I linked both of the spiked columns chronologically with e-mail discussions about them with my immediate superiors in the Aspen Times newsroom. The story in that format was compelling, revealing and, if I do say so myself, a damn good read. Corporate headquarters disagreed. The columns went live and within 24 hours, the link was deleted and the story went dark.
Even from a purely business standpoint, I don’t see how this made sense. The story was gaining major traction in readership interest and, even though it did not shed the paper in the most favorable light, it wasn’t a hatchet-job attack, either. What the executives missed, in my opinion, is that this was a real-time example of the meaningful work The Aspen Times has a long history of doing that made it an attractive acquisition in the first place.
Above all, the firing of Andrew Travers is the thing I can’t get over. Written words are powerful, even more so when they are disseminated in the public domain. When you deal with them regularly in this arena, it is easy to get complacent. In the heat of battle, there is temptation to use them to exact vengeance, establish authority, even to punish. I can assure you, in talking with Andrew and examining my own conscience, none of this motivated writing and publishing the controversial material that has led to this point. We felt passionately that this was important news that Aspen had to be made aware of. We were backed by contemporaries. It spoke directly to the feeling of intensely accelerating loss of community to big, outside money. It revealed a threat to the degradation of a cherished Aspen institution that is our newspapers.
In the end, it was Andrew’s call to publish. But, they were my words he courageously stood up for. That weighs heavily. I am humbled, honored and grateful. It is not lost on me that my resignation from The Aspen Times is a pittance of recompense for putting his livelihood, career and a passion in jeopardy. I hope knowing the gesture comes directly from my heart makes it worth something. I know his fearless act towards preserving a free press does.
Roger Marolt wonders if the new owners of The Aspen Times see more value in the name on the front page than they do in the people in the newsroom that made the name worth something. firstname.lastname@example.org
On CNN this morning, Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD), a member of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, said: “New evidence is breaking every single day now. Suddenly, a lot of people want to tell the truth.”
After the committee’s third public hearing today, we can see why. The window for getting onto the good side of the investigation by cooperating with it is closing, and the story the congress members are laying out makes it clear that those sticking with Trump are quite likely in legal trouble.
It appears that the former president thinks the same thing. Before today’s hearing, he wrote: “I DEMAND EQUAL TIME!!!”
But it seems unlikely Trump wants to tell his version of what happened around January 6 under oath, and if he were misled by his advisors, who can doubt that he would already have thrown them under the bus?
And, so far, the committee has used testimony and evidence only from those high up in Trump’s own administration. Today was no exception. The committee covered the former president’s pressure campaign against his vice president, Mike Pence, to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Instead of following the law, codified in the 1887 Electoral Count Act, Trump wanted Pence to use his role as the person charged with opening electoral votes to throw out the votes that gave Democrat Joe Biden victory, or at least to recess the joint session of Congress for ten days to send the electoral slates back to the states, where pro-Trump legislatures could throw out the decision of the voters and resubmit slates for Trump.
In interviews with Pence’s former counsel Greg Jacob, as well as retired federal judge J. Michael Luttig, formerly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the committee established that this plan, advanced by lawyer John Eastman, was illegal. Indeed, Eastman himself called it illegal, first at length in October 2020, and then in both written and verbal admissions after the election. And the committee established that Eastman, as well as others, told Trump the plan was illegal.
The hearings today hammered home that the centerpiece of our government is that the people have the right to choose their leaders. That concept is central to the rule of law. And yet, Trump embraced an illegal and unconstitutional theory that, instead, the vice president—one man—could overrule the will of the people and choose the president himself. Such a theory is utterly contrary to everything the Framers of the Constitution stood for and wrote into our fundamental law.
And yet, by early December 2020, after their legal challenges to the election had all failed, Trump’s people began to say that Pence could throw out the electoral slates that states had certified for Biden, or could send those certified electoral slates back to the states for reconsideration so that Republican-dominated legislatures could then submit new slates for Trump. Judge Luttig hammered home that there is nothing in either legal precedent or historical precedent that gave any validation to the idea that one man could determine the outcome of the election.
Still, on December 13, the day before the Electoral College met, lawyer Kenneth Chesebro wrote to Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani arguing that Pence could refuse to count the votes from states that had “alternative” electors (we also know that he wrote about this idea for the first time on November 18, so that might have been the chatter Pence was hearing). At the time, the scheme to create second slates of electors was underway.
Eastman then took up the cause, saying that seven states had submitted “dual” slates of electors. When Jacob dismissed that claim, Eastman just said that Pence could just call them disputed anyway and throw the votes from those states out. Luttig reiterated that these fake electors had no legal authority whatsoever and that there is no historical or legal precedent at all to support the idea that the vice president could count alternative electoral slates to the ones certified by the states.
Both Pence’s counsel Jacobs and his chief of staff Marc Short believed that Eastman’s plan was bananas, and an avalanche of White House advisors agreed. According to today’s testimony, those agreeing included Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, Trump lawyer Eric Herschmann, and Trump advisor Jason Miller, who testified that people thought “Eastman was crazy.” Herschmann testified that even Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani agreed on the morning of January 6 that Eastman’s argument wouldn’t stand up in court.
Nonetheless, Giuliani went out in front of the crowd at the Ellipse on January 6, insisted that the theory was correct, and lied that even Thomas Jefferson himself had used it.
Meanwhile, beginning in December, Trump had been pressuring Pence to go along with the scheme. Pence had refused, but Trump kept piling on the pressure. At rallies in early January, he kept hammering on the idea that Pence could deliver the election to Trump, and in meetings on January 4 and 5, he kept demanding that Pence overturn the election. When Pence continued to refuse, Trump appeared to try to lock him in by tweeting on January 5 that he and Pence were “in total agreement” that Pence could act to change the outcome of the election.
By then, Short was so worried about what Trump might do on January 6 that he told the Secret Service he was concerned about Pence’s safety.
On January 6, Trump called Pence on the phone and, according to witnesses, called him a “wimp” and a “p*ssy.” Pence then issued a statement saying it was his “considered judgment that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not.” Trump then went before the crowd at the Ellipse and added to his prepared speech sections attacking Pence.
After Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows told him that violence had broken out at the Capitol, Trump tweeted that “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what needed to be done,” and violence ratcheted up. The committee showed rioters claiming they were there because Pence had let them down. “Pence betrayed us…the president mentioned it like 5 times when he talked,” one said. That 2:24 tweet was “pouring gasoline on the fire,” one White House press member told the committee. At 2:26, Pence and his family were evacuated to a secure location, where he would stay for more than four hours. The rioters missed the vice president by about 40 feet. A Proud Boy told the committee that if they had found Pence, they would have killed him.
Even after the crisis ended, Eastman continued to write to Pence’s people asking him to send the electoral slates back to the states. Herschmann advised him to “get a great effing criminal defense lawyer. You’re going to need it.” Eastman then put in writing that he wanted a presidential pardon: “I’ve decided I should be on the pardon list,” he wrote. When he did not get a pardon, he took the Fifth Amendment before the committee, asserting his right against self-incrimination more than 100 times.
There were lots of places where Pence and his team were no heroes. They could have warned any number of people about what Trump was up to long before January 6, and Pence’s apparently noble stance was undoubtedly informed by a realization that if Pence did as Trump asked and it went wrong—even Eastman acknowledged the scheme was illegal—Pence would be the one holding the bag.
But the committee left all that unsaid. Instead, it went out of its way to make a very clear distinction between Trump, who was out for himself and damn the country, and Pence, who risked his own safety to follow the law. Indeed, that theme was so clear it appeared to have been carefully scripted. Today’s testimony highlighted the principles of Jacob and Short and their boss, Mike Pence. It even took a deliberate detour to let both Jacob and Short talk about how their Christian faith helped them to stand against Trump and do what was right, an aside that seemed designed to appeal to the evangelicals supporting Trump. And it highlighted how Pence continued to do the work of governing even while he was in the secure location, which looked much like a loading dock according to new photos shown today.
The committee seems to be presenting a clear choice to Republicans: stand with Trump, a man without honor who is quite possibly looking at criminal indictments and who is trying to destroy our democracy, or stand with Pence, who embraces the same economic and social ideology that Republicans claim to, without wanting to destroy our democracy.
The appearance of Judge Luttig today was in keeping with this theme. Luttig is such a giant in conservative legal circles that he was talked of for the Supreme Court in place of Samuel Alito, and his words bear extraordinary weight. Luttig hammered home that Trump’s scheme was an attempt to overturn the rule of law and to destroy our democracy. And, he warned, the danger is not over. Trump and his supporters remain “a clear and present danger to American democracy.”
Luttig’s testimony was powerful, but even more extraordinary was a statement he released before today’s hearing. Luttig, for whom both Eastman and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) clerked, warned that “January 6 was…a war for America’s democracy, a war irresponsibly instigated and prosecuted by the former president, his political party allies, and his supporters.”
That is, Luttig laid the responsibility for today’s national crisis at the door of the Trump wing of the Republican Party. He went on to warn that only it could reject the attempt of the president and his supporters to undermine the faith in our elections that underpins our democracy: “[O]nly the party that instigated this war over our democracy can bring an end to that war…. These senseless wars…were conceived and instigated from our Nation’s Capital by our own political leaders…and they have been cynically prosecuted by them to fever pitch, now to the point that they have recklessly put America herself at stake.”
Luttig urged Americans to remember that the fate of our democracy is in our hands and to reject the fever dreams of the Trump Republicans in favor of “a new vision, new truths, new values, new principles, new beliefs, new hopes and dreams that hopefully could once again bind our divided nation together into the more perfect union that ‘We the People’ originally ordained and established it to be.”
“The time has come,” Luttig wrote, “for us to decide whether we allow this war over our democracy to be prosecuted to its catastrophic end or whether we ourselves demand the immediate suspension of this war and insist on peace instead. We must make this decision because our political leaders are unwilling and unable, even as they recklessly prosecute this war in our name.”
Chair Bennie Thompson closed today’s hearing by asking anyone who might be on the fence about cooperating with the committee’s investigation, please to reach out.
Today, the Washington Commanders defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio complained to reporters that there have been “two standards” in the way we have seen the vandalism at some of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 and the January 6 insurrection. “We have a dust-up at the Capitol, nothing burned down, and we’re going to make that a major deal.”
This is a common charge on the right, but it is a myth. An AP study showed that more than 120 defendants have pleaded guilty or been convicted at trial for rioting, arson, and conspiracy for the 2020 protests, and that they are from all over the political spectrum, with many of them far-right extremists who traveled across state lines to the protests. And the January 6 attack was hardly victimless: 5 people died at the Capitol riot or just after it, more than 100 law enforcement officers were injured, and the rioters did more than $1.5 million in damage to the Capitol.
What happened on January 6th was not a “dust-up.” It was an attempt to overturn our democracy and install as president someone who had lost the popular vote and the Electoral College, upending the Constitution that is the law of our land.
As a report from the Brookings Institution put it: “President Joe Biden legitimately won a fair and secure 2020 presidential election—and Donald Trump lost. This historical fact has been uncontroverted by any evidence since at least November 7, 2020, when major news outlets projected Biden’s victory. But Trump never conceded. Instead, both before and after Election Day, he tried to delegitimize the election results by disseminating a series of far-fetched and evidence-free claims of fraud. Meanwhile, with a ring of close confidants, Trump conceived and implemented unprecedented schemes to—in his own words—“overturn” the election outcome. Among the results of this “Big Lie” campaign were the terrible events of January 6, 2021—an inflection point in what we now understand was nothing less than an attempted coup.”
Part of the crisis in which we find ourselves today is that many people don’t understand what is at stake in the hearings, in part because commentators have turned the attempt of Trump and his supporters to overturn our democracy into a mud-wrestling fight between Democrats and Republicans rather than showing it as an existential fight for rule of law. Today in his Presswatchers publication, Dan Froomkin explored how U.S. news organizations have failed to communicate to readers that we are on a knife edge between democracy and authoritarianism.
Froomkin notes that journalists have framed the January 6 hearings as a test for the Democrats or as a waste of time because they will not change anyone’s mind or perhaps because no one cares. He begged journalists not to downplay the hearings and present them as a horse race, but to frame the events of January 6 in the larger context of Republican attempts to overturn our democracy.
Tomorrow night, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol will hold its first hearing to explain to the American people what happened at the end of the Trump administration. The hearings will be broadcast on C-SPAN, ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, NBC, PBS, and the Fox Business Channel and streamed on the YouTube channel of the House Select Committee on June 9, 13, 15, 16, 21, and 23.
We have some idea of what the hearings will entail.
According to committee member Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD), the hearings will establish that the attack was the result of “concerted planning and premeditated activity.” The hearings will show who was behind the January 6th attack on the Capitol, ultimately connecting the attack to Trump and his closest aides. Raskin told the Washington Post that “we are going to tell the story of a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 presidential election and block the transfer of power.”
As the Brookings report put it: “Trump attempted to retain power by any means necessary.” He prepared to argue that the election was stolen long before it took place on November 3, 2020. Trump’s stories about voter fraud shifted and were inconsistent, and he “was repeatedly told by trusted advisors, experts, and courts that there was no fraud.”
Committee members have said there will be new evidence produced at the hearings, and new information has been dropping all week.
We learned that Trump expressed great interest in the Insurrection Act, which enables the president to call out the military to put down an “insurrection” or a “rebellion.” Court filings say that members of the Oath Keepers expected Trump to invoke the act to enable them to fight against those counting the electoral votes for Joe Biden.
We also learned that Trump badgered his Secret Service detail to permit him to walk with his supporters to the Capitol building after his speech at the Ellipse on January 6.
We have learned that Republican officials in at least 11 places in Michigan breached local election systems to try to prove that the 2020 election was stolen, and that the citizen initiative petition to limit voting rights in order to combat “fraud” had about 20,000 fraudulent signatures on it. In addition, there were allegations that petition circulators had lied to voters to get them to sign the petition, a practice that is legal in Michigan despite the attempts of Democratic lawmakers to prohibit it.
And, crucially, we learned that the Trump campaign told the fake electors in Georgia to operate in “complete secrecy.” The apparent plan of the Trump plotters was to get fake electors to present an uncertified slate of electoral votes that gave their state to Trump, rather than to Biden as voters had chosen. But, as a Trump official wrote in an email: “I must ask for your complete discretion in this process. Your duties are imperative to ensure the end result—a win in Georgia for President Trump—but will be hampered unless we have complete secrecy and discretion.” The official asked the electors to avoid the media and to lie to security guards about why they were at the statehouse. This email suggests the plotters knew they were acting illegally.
But perhaps the biggest sign that the hearings will turn heads is how hard Trump Republicans are trying to distance themselves from it, or to create a distraction.
Significantly, a piece in the New York Times by Peter Baker, published today, distanced Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump from the debacle of the Big Lie that Trump had won the 2020 election. “No matter how vociferously Mr. Trump claimed otherwise, neither Mr. Kushner nor Ivanka Trump believed then or later that the election had been stolen…. While the president spent the hours and days after the polls closed complaining about imagined fraud in battleground states and plotting a strategy to hold on to power, his daughter and son-in-law were already washing their hands of the Trump presidency,” the story reads.
If the former president’s daughter and son-in-law, both key White House advisors, are now trying to distance themselves from the events of January 6, perhaps the panic in the party more generally was best demonstrated today when the Republican National Committee responded to news of a man looking to harm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. It sent out an email with the subject heading: “The Democrat SCOTUS Assassin.”
In his comment today about January 6, for which he later apologized, Del Rio claimed he just wanted to “apply the same standard,” and “to be reasonable with each other” and to “have a discussion.” The open-mindedness he calls for is a perfect approach to this month’s hearings.
America’s top political leaders are remarkably old. Our president will turn 80 this year. His predecessor, who is contemplating running again, is about to turn 76. The speaker of the House is 82. The Republican leader in the Senate is 80, and his Democratic counterpart is a comparatively sprightly 71.
This is very unusual. And it’s not because this cohort has just gotten its turn at the wheel, but because it has held power for an exceptionally long time. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Donald Trump, whose presidencies spanned more than a quarter-century, were all born roughly within two months of one another in the summer of 1946. Nancy Pelosi has been the Democratic leader in the House for almost 20 years. Mitch McConnell has led Senate Republicans for about 15 years. Our politics has been largely in the hands of people born in the 1940s or early ’50s for a generation.