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The 1/6 Committee: A Status Report

Today, of course, is the first anniversary of the 1/6 insurrection. It's also just a shade over 6 months since the United States House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack was constituted (the resolution was passed on June 30, the members were appointed July 1). And though it may seem that Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and his colleagues are working slowly, they've actually made rapid progress given how much red tape is involved in something like this, and given how much resistance they've faced from (some of) the people in Donald Trump's orbit. Indeed, it is useful to take this opportunity to review the 10 most important things the Committee has already accomplished:

  1. Compelling Testimony: The opening act, as it were, came on July 27 of last year, when the committee welcomed four police officers—Daniel Hodges, Michael Fanone, Harry Dunn, and Aquilino Gonell—to testify publicly. The quartet gave gripping accounts of their experiences that made very clear that the crowd on 1/6 was violent, racist, and anti-cop. This gutted that narrative that the rioters were just tourists who got a little boisterous.

  2. Big Fish, Little Fish: The Committee has gone after a wide variety of witnesses from the Trump administration, ranging from humble foot soldiers all the way up to some of the generals. As a general rule, Thompson & Co. start gentle, and then get more assertive if cooperation is not forthcoming. Multiple hundreds of people have been contacted for documents or testimony or both, at least 58 people have been subpoenaed, and the Committee is clearly not finished.

  3. Cooperation: The resisters, like Steve Bannon and Mark Meadows, tend to get the headlines. However, the majority of people contacted by the Committee have been cooperative. Close to 300 interviews have been conducted, in fact, and more are scheduled for January. The folks in Mike Pence's orbit have been particularly accommodating, reportedly. Pence himself was invited to appear earlier this week; he has not yet responded.

  4. Documentation: In addition to all of the witness testimony, the Committee has collected a mountain of documentation. At least 100 people have turned over phone records, and multiple thousands of text messages have also been acquired. There are also some smoking-gun-type items, like the PowerPoint presentation that circulated among senior Trumpers and that laid out a strategy for overturning the election results.

  5. Contempt of Congress: Some witnesses have cooperated out of a sense of duty and public spirit. Others have scores to settle (which probably explains why Pence loyalists are eager to throw Trump under the bus). However, there are many people who won't testify unless they must in order to save their necks. That is where Contempt of Congress comes in. Over the past 20 years, and in particularly over the past 4, it's been unclear whether that crime had real teeth, or if it was just a quaint notion. The Committee has gone after several defiers for contempt, and the Department of Justice backed their play, such that at least two people—Steve Bannon and Mark Meadows—are facing criminal charges.

  6. Putting the Screws to Trump, Part I: The Committee hasn't gotten any testimony or other cooperation from Trump yet. Indeed, it's not yet clear if they will even try. However, the members have done a pretty good job of putting him on trial in the court of public opinion, and they have made it very clear that he was either an active participant in schemes to overturn the election or, at very least, was guilty of dereliction of duty.

  7. Putting the Screws to Trump, Part II: Meanwhile, Trump might not give anything to the Committee voluntarily, but the documents he and his underlings created while he was president are (probably) not under his control. Joe Biden, whose control they (probably) are under, has already agreed to share with the Committee. Trump has lost three rounds of lawsuits on the matter, and now has only the Supreme Court to save him, encumbered by a legal argument that legal experts across the country say is either laughable or dangerous. Either way, Trump might well meet his legal Waterloo in the next week or two.

  8. What Went On, Part I: Both the Committee and The Washington Post have thrown light on the "headquarters" at the Willard Hotel, which served as a command center as key Trump allies—Rudy Giuliani, Bernard Kerik, John Eastman, Bannon, and others—tried to manage the overturning of the election. The folks at the Willard were in constant contact with the White House as they plotted and schemed.

  9. What Went On, Part II: The Committee hasn't released all the juicy details, as yet, but the members say that they have "firsthand" knowledge of exactly what happened in the Oval Office in the fateful 187 minutes between the Capitol being stormed and order being restored. Apparently, lower-level White House functionaries who were not a part of the plotting, but who did have access to the Oval Office on 1/6, have painted a pretty thorough picture.

  10. Guilty Parties: A lot of people are badly exposed, both in terms of damage to their careers, and also possible criminal liability. There are, of course, the folks whose identities were known from the moment the insurrection began, like Meadows, Giuliani, and Bannon. In addition, the last 6 months have seen others implicated. The latest is Sean Hannity, but before him it was (possibly) Rick Perry, and several sitting members of Congress, among others.

So, the Committee really has gotten a lot done in just 6 months. And the American public supports what the members are doing—82% of Democrats, 58% of independents, and even 40% of Republicans. Presumably, Bennie Thompson, et al., would soldier on even if they ended up being more widely hated than the New Coke, but that sort of political cover certainly makes life easier.

The Committee's goal is to issue a final report late this summer, at which point the ball will presumably be in the Department of Justice's court. And it would appear that the DoJ is ready and willing to take that ball and run with it (see below). (Z)

Garland Speaks

We read several articles about AG Merrick Garland's plan to "speak on 1/6." And it we misunderstood the meaning of them, thinking he would be talking about 1/6 on January 6th. So, that's how we wrote it up yesterday (before going back and correcting it thanks heads-up from readers L.R. in Easton, PA, and A.R. in Los Angeles, CA). In truth, the speech was given at 2:30 ET yesterday afternoon. And it was...enlightening.

Should you have a large supply of caffeine, and wish to watch the speech, it is here. Should you wish to read it, it's here. In our view, there were four main topics of discussion. In order:

  1. Civics Lesson: Clearly, the AG is aware of, and is sensitive to, criticism that he and his department are not doing enough, particularly when it comes to the insurrection's kingpins. And so, he made the same point about the DoJ that we make about the 1/6 Committee on the above item: These things take time and, in fact, a great deal of progress has been made. Garland explained that it's usually the low-level offenders, recipients of the lightest sentences, who get nailed first. That is because in more complicated cases it takes more time to collect evidence, build a case, and prosecute that case. It is also because the lesser offenders, often in exchange for a lighter sentences, give key information on the offenders higher up the food chain. In short, the AG made the argument that the system is working exactly as it is supposed to.

  2. By The Numbers: In other to further make his point that progress is being made, Garland listed numerous specific numbers in the address that serve as hard data in support of his assessment. Among those data points: 5,000 subpoenas have been issued; 2,000 devices have been seized; 20,000 hours of video footage has been reviewed; 15 TB of data has been examined; 300,000 tips from citizens have been received; 725 people have been arrested and charged (325 of them have been charged with felonies) and 145 defendants have pled guilty (20 of them to felony crimes). There are 40 people who face conspiracy charges (a biggie, but one that takes a while to prosecute), and 17 of them are scheduled for trial in the near future.

  3. A Call to Action: The speech was addressed to the 115,000 employees of the DoJ, and so there was a fair bit of "thanks for your hard work" and a fair bit of "rah rah," too. About two-thirds of the way through, Garland really went for it, reiterating his already implied promise that bigger fish are going to fry, and that nobody is beyond reach of the long arm of the law when the future of the democracy is at stake. "There cannot be different rules for the powerful and the powerless," he observed, while also making clear that the DoJ investigations will continue for "as long as it takes and whatever it takes for justice to be done." The AG did not mention Donald Trump by name, but that's certainly the person everyone was thinking of when they heard that part.

  4. History Lesson: The final portion of the speech covered ongoing and future threats to democracy, during which Garland made specific mention of key legal precedents and historical events. Broadly, he made clear that he and his team are aware of these threats and that everything will be done to counter them. Specifically, he said that the DoJ would work to protect voting rights. He also implied that other forms of election chicanery would be dealt with strongly and swiftly.

Will this speech silence Garland's critics? We do not know. However, it should be very clear that the DoJ is far from done here, and that there are plenty of folks who should be very nervous.

Meanwhile, with Garland having said his piece, and Trump having canceled his presser, that leaves center stage for Joe Biden to occupy all by himself as he delivers remarks today. Well, he and Kamala Harris, who also has a speech scheduled. There are a couple of members of Congress, a duo more interested in performance than doing their jobs, who also have some sort of song and dance planned. We mention them so readers are aware of it, but we don't particularly feel like giving them oxygen by naming them or linking to a story about them. They're both Southerners whose last name starts with 'G,' if you are wondering if your guess is on target. (Z)

Fixing the Electoral Count Act Won't Be Easy, But...

One last item about coups and would-be coups before we put such matters aside for today. We still have multiple items planned on the subject of the slow-moving coup (a four-part series thus far), but we think readers can countenance only so many coup items per day before it becomes too much.

Anyhow, as we have noted before, both in items about the present and about past disputed elections, the clear Achilles heel in the presidential election process is the certification of the result in Congress. The Constitution twice says "The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted," but offers no guidance beyond that. The Electoral Count Act, passed in 1887 in response to the disastrous election of 1876 and the two razor-thin elections thereafter, endeavored to fill in many of the gaps.

There are two problems with the Electoral Count Act, however. The first is that it's kind of sloppy, making it too easy to challenge states' electoral votes without justification. The second is that it's not entirely clear that a current Congress can pass a law that binds a future Congress. And even if they can, what happens if that future Congress simply ignores the law? Who punishes that sort of lawbreaking, and how do they do it?

In short, it's a real pickle for those who are worried about the possibility of a coup, and would like to try to forestall it. The ideal circumstance would be to amend the Constitution, but that's not going to happen, of course. At least, not anytime soon, given the requirement that three-quarters of the state legislatures sign off.

The next best option is to try to patch the Electoral Count Act, something that the Democrats have been talking about since, well, January 6, 2021. And on Wednesday, they got a sliver of good news, namely that there might be some Republican support in the Senate for doing that. Indeed, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that "[The Electoral Count Act] obviously has some flaws. And it is worth, I think, discussing." That's pretty cautious, but it's way better than "no way, no how." Reportedly, potential flies-in-the-ointment Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) also support fixing up the Act, as do several Republican senators besides McConnell.

It is not terribly surprising that McConnell should take this position (if tentatively). He has no love for Trump or any other would-be authoritarians. Further, McConnell's power and influence comes from the fact that the rules say he has power and influence. Trump had to work with the Kentuckian because that was necessary to getting things passed through Congress. But if the rules and the Constitution are set aside (or largely set aside), then McConnell's power is diminished or destroyed.

Again, fixing the Electoral Count Act is not a panacea. But it is a step in the right direction, and an affirmation of the rule of law, and those are no small things. Further, if McConnell (and others) are willing to shore up the process, then they are surely not willing to sit idly by and watch it be hijacked in 2024. And if there are 55-60 senators willing to hold the line, that makes any coup plans rather more tricky. (Z)

Gerrymandering: The Early Returns Are In

At this point, we have noted several times that the redistricting process has not been the disaster that the Democrats feared. Republicans squeezed most of the available red juice during the last cycle, and they've generally preferred to play it safe this cycle. Democrats, by contrast, have managed to discover some blue juice to be squeezed in places like Illinois. And the various independent commissions have generally produced results that are between "tolerable" and "kind of favorable" for Democrats.

The good people at Cook Political Report have crunched the numbers, and can now put a finer point on how things are going for Team Donkey. Thus far 293 districts are finalized, or soon will be. And of those, Joe Biden carried 161. That's roughly four more than he would have carried under the previous maps. Further, a total of 15 seats have gone from Republican-leaning to Democratic-leaning, while just nine have gone in the other direction.

Things could also get better for the Democrats. Republicans' remaining gerrymandering opportunities are somewhat limited—maybe a seat in Florida, but that's about it. On the other hand, the Democrats could pick up several seats in New York, depending on how aggressive the Empire State's maps end up being drawn. Further, the 293 "finalized" districts include Ohio and North Carolina, where court challenges have been lodged, with some chance of success. If either one or both states has to go back to the drawing board and tone their gerrymanders down, that could move a few more seats in the Democrats' direction.

This is not to say that all is sunshine and roses for the blue team, of course. First of all, they hold a disproportionate number of the swingy seats. For example, of the 15 newly Democratic-leaning seats, the Party already holds 11 of them. Those 11 will be easier to hold, but they're not candidates to flip to the blue team. By contrast, of the nine newly Republican-leaning seats, only one is currently in the hands of the GOP. Second, while the Democrats have had 25 retirements (and counting), depriving them of some invaluable candidates, the Republicans have recruited very well this cycle. Third, and possibly most importantly, the current climate—in particular, Joe Biden's poor approval ratings, and the perception that the economy is bad—is hostile to the Democrats.

So, the Republicans remain the favorite to retake the House. It just won't be gerrymandering that gets them there. Meanwhile, the short-term trends are not great for the Democrats, but favorable maps are favorable maps. So, even if they lose the House this cycle, they will be in pretty good shape to take it back in 2024. (Z)

The Dominoes Fall Quickly

As long as we're talking about Congress, and specifically about Democratic retirements, there was some news on that front on Wednesday. Rep. Bobby Hill (D-IL) announced that he was stepping down on Monday, and it took less than 48 hours for the first hat to be tossed into the ring in the race to replace him. That hat belongs to Alderwoman Pat Dowell, who had been a longshot candidate for Illinois Secretary of State, but decided that she liked the fit of IL-01 better. She will undoubtedly draw competition, but the fact that she already had a campaign staff and fundraising apparatus in place is a pretty big advantage.

Meanwhile, in the neighboring state of Michigan, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D) announced that she will run in MI-12—less than 24 hours after it was vacated by Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D). This makes sense, because the new district contains two-thirds of the constituents from her current district (MI-13). It is likely that Tlaib would have jumped even if Lawrence did not retire; this may have influenced Lawrence's decision to call it a career.

There is no risk that any of these districts will flip; IL-01 is going to be D+41, MI-12 is going to be D+44, and MI-13 is going to be D+46. The only drama, if there is any, will be in the primaries, which is why it is wise for a candidate to jump in as soon as practicable, and to get a head start on any possible competitors. Also, note that Illinois and Michigan share a 150-mile maritime border on Lake Michigan, even if they share no land border. So no e-mails on that point, please, especially since criticism makes the staff cartographer break out in hives. (Z)

Looking Backward: How Did The Readers Do?, Part II: Donald Trump's Family and Supporters

By the time this is all said and done, this list is going to be very long. Here is where it stands at the moment:

Some readers suggested that the five points for boldness should be awarded even if a person earns zero points for accuracy. We considered it, but are going to stick with the system we've been using. First, it's way easier to be incredibly bold than to be incredibly accurate. Second, the boldness points are meant to be extra credit. No student gets extra credit without doing the underlying work correctly (or at least partly correctly). Third, we like it that the percentages are working out to numbers that are plausible major league batting averages.

That looks like 41.5 points out of 110, for a Tony Gwynn-like average of .377. And the readers' running total is 82.5 out of 270, for a .305 average. That compares to .260 for us, and .341 for the pundits. (Z)

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