Jurisprudence

Trump’s Very Bad Summer Is About to Get Much Worse

Donald Trump stands under an umbrella he's holding
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

May was a bad month for former President Donald Trump. And there are darkening clouds on his horizon. On June 9, the Jan. 6 House select committee will hold public hearings as part of its ongoing investigation into the storming of the Capitol last year. In short order, the set of six scheduled televised sessions this month are likely to build momentum toward making the case that the president was directly involved in attempts to undermine the peaceful transition of power. And as the steady dropping of shocking findings from the committee over the course of the past months suggests, the sessions will likely have many viewers on the edge of their seats.

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June’s hearings follow a series of escalations in Trump’s ongoing legal battles stemming from his attempts to undermine the 2020 election. May’s legal developments and the looming hearings suggest increasing pressures and prospects that Trump will face criminal charges.

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Why was May so bad for Trump? It’s not just a matter of investigators closing in. Georgia’s primary on May 24 delivered a blow to Trump. Three men the former president loves to hate—Gov. Brian Kemp, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, and Attorney General Chris Carr—all defeated Trump’s candidates in the Republican primary. Trump is already trying to cast doubt on their election results, raising questions about Kemp’s 50-point win over David Perdue. Georgia voters, however, signaled they are ready to move on from the Big Lie.

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Meanwhile, two parallel criminal investigations are heating up—one from the Justice Department and another from District Attorney Fani Willis in Atlanta. Willis is independently investigating Trump’s phone call with Raffensperger in which he shamelessly asked Raffensperger “to find 11,780 votes,” one more than needed to reverse Joe Biden’s Georgia victory. She is also looking into Trump’s pre–Jan. 6 conduct for violation of the state’s criminal prohibition on soliciting election fraud. Last week, we learned that she has subpoenaed 50 witnesses, including Raffensperger, who testified on June 2 for five hours before a grand jury. She has also subpoenaed Chris Carr for June 21.

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As for the Justice Department, it is reportedly ramping up its inquiry into Trump’s circle and the fake elector scheme that Rudy Giuliani allegedly led for the Trump campaign. On May 31, the Guardian reported that DOJ’s May 26 subpoena to former Trump aide Peter Navarro specifically refers to Trump and seeks communications with him, hinting at tightening scrutiny for the former president. (On June 2, the DOJ indicted Navarro on two counts of contempt for defying the committee’s subpoena to testify and provide documents.)

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There’s more. In the weeks leading up to the hearings, the House committee dropped several bombshells. While the final details are still being sorted, the upcoming hearings have two apparent goals. First, committee members intend to address Trump’s election meddling. And second, they intend to elucidate the circumstances around the “hours of inaction” before Capitol police received backup from the National Guard during which Trump had to repeatedly reshoot a video telling his followers inside the Capitol to leave because he refused to say the right thing. If the details coming out of the investigation are any indication, the committee is hard at work building its case. Consider this eye-popping detail: On May 25, we learned that the committee reportedly has evidence that Trump cheered Jan. 6 Capitol invaders’ chanting “Hang Mike Pence.” Moments before the chanting and cheering, Trump incited his followers by tweeting, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done.”

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Trump’s actions supporting violence that day and his inaction for three hours permitting the insurrection to continue demonstrate the lengths to which he would go to advance the alleged criminal conspiracy’s monthslong goal: to intimidate Pence and Congress into rejecting or delaying certification of Joe Biden’s election victory.

We came perilously close to that result.

Whether the committee has enough evidence for the Justice Department ultimately to hold Trump criminally liable remains to be seen. Some legal observers argue the Justice Department faces an uphill battle in determining criminal intent because Trump could claim that he actually believed his own Big Lie about massive voter fraud. Even if his attorney general and others told him directly that the claim was false, was Trump’s outside lawyer, John Eastman, whispering contrary messages into Trump’s ear?

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On that front, the committee just released new evidence showing that Eastman, too, knew the claim lacked factual foundation.

In a May 26 court filing, the committee disclosed that it had an email exchange between Eastman and Cleta Mitchell, who was Eastman’s legal collaborator. On Jan. 2, 2021, Mitchell asked Eastman whether there was evidence of voter fraud in states other than Georgia, where three audits confirmed Biden’s win. Eastman’s response: “No idea.”

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New reports also revealed that the committee has testimony that Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows burned documents in his White House office fireplace. Substantial evidence in the public record already pointed to his central role in the plot.

Do innocent people burn documents in the White House?

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The good news is that Meadows didn’t burn his phone with its text messages, and that he gave 2,319 of those messages to the committee in response to its subpoena before reversing course and not cooperating. Among the texts were those from Trump’s Republican allies in and out of Congress, including Fox News hosts. Even his son texted, “He’s got to condemn this shit” more than two hours before Trump did.

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Earlier in May, we learned that Eastman has two personal notes from Trump that Eastman’s trying to keep from being disclosed. The notes offer suggestions about how to advance the effort to stop or delay Biden’s being certified the election’s winner. Trump is famously careful about not using email to create evidence against himself. But suddenly here is evidence that may show his personal participation in the plot against democracy—this time, in his own handwriting.

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For the past month, the committee has been releasing these alarming findings from its 10-month-long investigation in tantalizing bits. Thursday’s hearings will be the start of telling a cohesive narrative. And it sounds like the committee has quite the story to tell. During an interview on Anderson Cooper 360 on June 1, Denver Riggleman, the former Virginia Republican congressman with years of National Security Agency experience who is assisting the committee’s data gathering, called the evidence “absolutely stunning.“ He also said that some of it reads like “a fantasy novel.”

The next day, we learned that the committee’s leadoff witnesses will be three courageous Republicans working for Vice President Mike Pence, who supported his resistance to the multistep conspiracy that Trump appears to have led and aimed at ending the lawful transfer of power: Pence’s staff attorney, Greg Jacob; Pence’s outside attorney, Michael Luttig, the eminent former federal Court of Appeals judge; and Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short.

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Altogether, these events have the feeling of thunder rolling into Mar-a-lago.

Forty-nine years ago, a select committee on the Senate side began its hearings into Watergate. Before they began, no one knew that testimony from White House insiders like John Dean and Alexander Butterfield—who revealed that Nixon had tape-recorded all his conversations—would eventually bring about an administration’s demise.

If May’s news was any indication, this select committee’s hearings will tell an even more chilling story—beginning, middle, and end—about how a criminal conspiracy nearly ended our democracy. Full awareness of what happened is critical because the former president and his Republican allies are currently working overtime to subvert future elections so they can determine electoral results even if they lose the vote in 2024. A story like the one the committee is hopefully set to tell can help create the vision for, and a broad commitment to, our future as a republic.

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