Documenting the Attempt to Overturn Our Election

The January 6 committee’s public hearings will shine a bright light on the threats to our democracy.

Credit: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

One of the most important congressional proceedings of our time opens Thursday night, when the House committee investigating the January 6, 2021, insurrection begins to document for the public the concerted campaign by former president Donald Trump and his associates to overturn the results of the 2020 elections.

Committee members will use the prime-time hearing, and several more in the coming weeks, to lay out their findings about the January 6 riot, the most violent attack on the U.S. Capitol since the British set it on fire in 1814.

They’ll showcase the process through which Congress executes its critical role as the public check on both a runaway president who acted as if he were above the law and those who abetted this pernicious effort to nullify the will of the people.

They’ll make clear the gravity of the risks that the American democracy faced—and continues to face. And they’ll put forth recommendations to strengthen our system of government and help prevent anything like this from ever happening again.

“People must pay attention,” committee vice-chair Liz Cheney implored on CBS Sunday Morning. “People must watch, and they must understand how easily our democratic system can unravel if we don’t defend it.”

This is the hard but essential work of shoring up our democracy against domestic attack. It’s about holding the perpetrators to account, by creating a documented record of who did what with the intent to overturn the election so Trump could cling to power.

That’s not government by the consent of the governed. It’s the signature stroke of a tyrant’s rule. It would have substituted the chaos of the mob for the collective will of the majority.

There may be nothing more foundational to the health of the country than the health of our democracy. There’s certainly nothing more foundational to the health of our environment.

That’s because we depend, all of us, on a functioning democracy to ensure that the voices of the people are heard on issues, projects, and decisions that influence the environment and public health. We depend on safeguards and standards to protect clean air and water, habitat and wildlife, and a livable climate that won’t threaten our future. And we depend on the rule of law to ensure compliance with these protections and to confront and redress environmental injustice. To the health of a democracy, as to the environment, facts matter. How else can voters grasp what’s at stake in the questions before the government?

The truth matters, lest our judgments be flawed or misguided.

And laws matter. They make clear our obligations to each other, based on the values, interests, and goals we share. They set boundaries for conduct and behavior. And they prescribe consequences for actions that transgress those boundaries or fail to meet the obligations our statutes enshrine.

Democracy cannot function without an allegiance to facts, a commitment to truth, and a respect for the rule of law. Trump and his abettors launched a concerted assault on all of that, and we, as a nation, must respond.

In 10 months of investigation, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol has interviewed roughly 1,000 witnesses behind closed doors. These included police, intelligence officials, congressional staff, participants, and others with direct knowledge of the January 6 attacks that sacked the Capitol, left 150 law enforcement officers injured, and put the Congress to flight as it convened to certify the election results.

“We are going to tell the story of a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 presidential election and block the transfer of power,” committee member Jamie Raskin told the Washington Post.

“The committee has found evidence of concerted planning and premeditated activity,” said Representative Raskin. “The idea that all of this was just a rowdy demonstration that spontaneously got a little bit out of control is absurd. You don’t almost knock over the U.S. government by accident.”

It was the January 6 attacks, of course, that led the House to impeach Trump for inciting insurrection, a charge that was supported by a Senate majority but fell short of the two-thirds supermajority required to convict him.

The committee’s work goes beyond the January 6 attack itself to include the full scope of the efforts by Trump and his associates to overturn the election results. The panel is investigating, for example, Trump’s effort to pressure federal, state, and local officials to nullify election results. Had that effort succeeded, it would have, in effect, robbed millions of U.S. citizens of their constitutional right to vote.

The committee is also looking into a rally near the White House on January 6, when Trump stirred his supporters into a frenzy, directing them to march to the Capitol and urging them to “fight like hell” on his behalf, immediately before they did exactly that. And the panel is investigating the funding sources for these efforts and the use of paramilitary extremists to intimidate public servants and the public at large.

The committee’s work comes against a backdrop of continuing efforts to undermine our democracy. Last year, at least 19 states passed 34 laws restricting access to voting. This year, state legislatures in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and three other states have passed nine laws that could lead to election interference.

And the New York Times recently found in Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin, and six other closely contested battleground states that at least 357 sitting state legislators have used the power of their office to discredit or try to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which the elections oversight wing of the Department of Homeland Security called “the most secure in American history.”

Democracy isn’t some permanent fixture cast in iron to stand for all time. It’s a living, breathing work in progress, strengthened or tested, every day, by what we do—or fail to do—to support it.

American democracy took a shot below the waterline on that day, 17 months ago, when our government came under assault. But the attacks on our democracy continue, and our system of government by the people remains deeply imperiled.

The January 6 committee’s public hearings will shine a bright light on those threats. Ultimately, though, government by the people depends entirely on the people themselves. It’s our job to stand up and defend our democracy from peril. No one else will do it for us.

When the televised hearings on the January 6 insurrection open at 8 p.m. on Thursday, I’ll be watching, and I hope you will too.

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