-by Helen Klein
As time passes from the January 6th nightmare and more evidence comes to light, I have become increasingly horrified about what could have happened. Trump came so close to destroying our government. With the power of the Presidency and his bully pulpit, Trump was a hair’s breadth from destroying the Legislative Branch. For us to retain our democracy, it is critical to take a look beyond the brink Trump brought us to, and face the unbelievable actions he and his mob aimed for and what could have occurred.
We must face up to the fact that Trump was deadly serious about remaining in power and was going to do everything he could to make that happen. He has said so over and over and over again. The insurrection on January 6th was the last step, although the Inauguration itself still remains ahead of us.
In a January 11th Politico article by Fiona Hill entitled, Yes, It Was A Coup Attempt. Here’s Why, she explains why this was the case.
The storming of the Capitol building on January 6 was the culmination of a series of actions and events taken or instigated by Trump so he could retain the presidency that together amount to an attempt at a self-coup.
There’s a standard coup “checklist” analysts use to evaluate coups, and we can use it to assess Trump’s moves to prevent the peaceful transfer of executive power. To successfully usurp or hold power, you need to control the military and paramilitary units, communications, the judiciary, government institutions, and the legislature; and mobilize popular support.
Hill goes on to detail Trump’s efforts in each of these five areas. He has done so in broad daylight for four years. It has been a slow moving coup. I highly recommend reading her piece.
Trump’s efforts to take over our government have been going on since the very beginning of his term. He was first enraged by James Comey, fired him and then went on to purge the cabinet and replace officials heading government agencies with his lackeys. More recently he was enraged that in spite of his phone calls and meetings with various Republicans from swing states, they refused to do his bidding. He was enraged that the courts in various states turned down over sixty cases to change the results of the election. He was enraged at the Supreme Court for refusing to consider his pathetic cases that the election was stolen, despite having placed three of the judges on the Court. He was likely enraged at the military for refusing to come to his aid, although we know little thus far about his attempts in this regard. Which generals did he call and what did he ask of them? His potential use of the military was shut down in part due to the strongly worded op-ed in the Washington Post from all of the ex-Secretaries of State, including Dick Cheney, for the military to stay out of it. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have since shut down Trump’s communications platforms and Apple and Google have shut down the Parler app.
Trump moved on to the Legislative Branch, the final step in validating his loss by the Electoral College on January 6th. He was hell bent on remaining in power and Congress was in his way. Damn them all and damn the Capitol, its seat of power. Since vengeance personified has been his life’s motto, his aim was destruction of Congress, and he incited his mob to do it. He focused his rage on his perceived enemy, The People’s House.
Rick Wilson, one of the founders of The Lincoln Project, was prescient of the insurrection, summing everything up in the title of his 2018 book, Everything Trump Touches Dies: A Republican Strategist Gets Real About The Worst President Ever. How true.
The author exposes the damage Trump has done to the country, to the conservative movement, and to the Republican Party. Wilson also alerts his own party of the political disaster that leaves all the people involved with Trump with destroyed lives and reputations and sheds light on the parties responsible for giving him power.
It has not been emphasized or much discussed what could have happened. We came so close to the very real shut down and destruction of the Legislative Branch by Trump’s mob. As more and more facts surface, it has become crystal clear that our Senators, Congressman and Vice President were saved by only minutes. Pence was saved by literally ONE MINUTE and by the bravery of Officer Goodman, who lead the mob away from the doors of the Senate and in the opposite direction of the hall down which Pence had been rushed. While many are screaming about this, most are mum about what the alternative would have been.
How did this happen?
Lack of Security: The Capitol building, the hallmark of our democracy, and all of the elected officials within it, were left unprotected. Saying this was appalling is a gigantic understatement.
On Nicolle Wallace’s show on MSNBC on January 14th:
Former FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok points out the security failures that took place on January 6th and notes that “when the government wants to secure the Capitol,” it can so do “really well.” He also stresses the need to get to the bottom of the claims that some members of Congress were giving tours the day before the riot.
Frank Figliuzzi, an often interviewed expert on national security, has stated quite emphatically that this was NOT a failure of intelligence, as even someone sitting in an armchair at home could have seen this mob coming. It was a failure of national security.
As an ordinary citizen, I suspect many levels of many institutions in the Executive Branch were involved to ensure there was inadequate defense in place. Trump’s appointees at the Pentagon, the FBI, the National Security Council, the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice surely played some role. Trump himself was delighted by the brouhaha and violence as he watched on television and refused to take any calls, even from panicked Senators in hiding, to lift a finger to authorize use of the National Guard.
What about the House and Senate Sergeants at Arms? Prior to recent events, who even knew about these officials and their role protecting Congress? I certainly had no idea. I was shocked to learn that political appointees hold these positions. Really? Pelosi appointed Paul D. Irving for the House, and the Senate appointed Michael C. Stenger. They let our country down. Big time. These two individuals had power over the Capitol police and refused to have the National Guard even placed on standby, despite six requests by the Chief of the Capitol Police, Steven Sund. All three have since resigned.
Both positions derive their power directly from lawmakers. The Senate elects its sergeant-at-arms and the speaker of the House picks that chamber’s. Mr. Stenger, who worked for the Senate, and Mr. Irving, his House counterpart, deftly tried to satisfy the 535 lawmakers who often had competing demands that made even mundane decisions like replacing locks on windows into fraught issues, according to interviews.
Why are the highest positions guarding the security of Congress selected in this manner? Being political appointees, these two individuals were more concerned about the politics and the “optics” of having the National Guard involved rather than actual security. Oh, the mob was WHITE! Well then. Obviously and sadly, the “optics” of guarding the mostly peaceful protestors of Black Lives Matter, with thousands of soldiers in full riot gear, was of NO concern of theirs politically whatsoever.
What is the budget for national security? How many billions upon billions do we spend on intelligence gathering and defense and for what purpose if nothing is enacted based on this information? The billions we spend did not protect us from what was in plain sight. Heads should roll all over the Executive Branch and criminal investigationsneed to take place.
The why of this is being investigated further and Nancy Pelosi has wisely chosen Lt. General Russel Honore to head this effort. He spoke impressively on January 6th.
The Big Lie: The Republicans promoted The Big Lie that the election was stolen and bear tremendous responsibility for the insurrection. Most Republican Congressmen and eight Senators STILL voted to overturn the results AFTER the mob invaded the Capitol, thereby showing support for their efforts to rip up the Constitution. Their lives were at risk as well. Did they lose their minds? Did they have minds to begin with?
As Fiona Hill ends her piece in Politico:
If we are to restore democratic norms and make sure this does not happen again, these congressional Republicans will have to take personal responsibility for their actions in support of Trump’s coup attempt. They must tell the truth to their constituents about the election and what the president tried to do in January 2021. They owe it to the people they represent as well as the country they serve.
Collusion: There was apparent collusion between several members of Congress and representatives of the mob. Some members were seen leading a reconnaissance of the Capitol building with mob actors the day before the insurrection. The panic button system in at least one office of a Democrat was removed and was likely done during this time.
What could have happened.
Let’s say the time line was different and there were more minutes on the side of the mob.
One: Chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” the mob would have actually gotten hold of him and perhaps his wife and daughter. It is likely that Pence would have been hanged on the steps of the Capitol. Plans had been made and preparations had taken place. The gallows were up and ready. It is obvious that they were anticipating Pence would not do what Trump asked, to overturn the election, as he had told Trump it was not in his power to do so. Trump’s statements to the mob gathered at the Ellipse made it clear that if Pence let him down there would be trouble. The hanging would have been on video for the entire country and the world to see.
TWO: The mob was specifically looking for Nancy Pelosi and if they had gotten hold of her, there is little doubt she would have been dragged out onto the steps of the Capitol and likely beaten, shot or hung. Also on video for the country and world to see.
THREE: The mob would have gotten hold of various Congressmen and Senators and likely beaten, murdered and/or held them hostage. Also on video for the country and the world to see. Would they have grabbed mostly Democrats or Republicans as well? Since the mob was out of control and indiscriminate they may well have included anyone in their roundup regardless of party. How many members of the House and Senate and their staff would have been tortured, traumatized or wiped out? What about their families who were present? Imagine what the hostage taking would have looked like and the events after that dealing with this crisis. It would have been a national nightmare and turmoil beyond imagination.
In sum, give or take a few minutes, these events could have DEFINITELY stopped the electoral count and certification of Biden’s win. The transfer of power would have been stopped dead in its tracks. We would not have had the elected officials to carry it out. The government would have been at a standstill. Little would have been left of the Legislative Branch. Who would then have been in charge of our government? Trump?
It would have been the ruination of Democracy and the Constitution. And all in one day, engineered by a mob at Trump’s bidding with the Republican Party’s complicity. Would it be Trump’s finale? It would have been the greatest destruction ever to occur in our country, perhaps greater than the Civil War. At least the Confederate flag never made it to the Capitol. Would Trump have “Stopped the Steal” and remained in office?
We were saved by MINUTES, folks. The upcoming impeachment trial should make it perfectly clear what could have happened, not just what did happen.