A Cop’s Sense of January 6

After the attack. The U.S. Capitol on the morning of January 9, 2021

At the end of July, the special congressional committee looking into the events of January 6 at the U.S. Capitol, held its first public hearing. The committee of seven Democrats and two Republicans, took testimony from four police officers who were on duty the day in question and spent several hours fighting off a mob of thousands, often with their bare hands.

The stories the officers told were difficult to listen to and should help focus America on exactly what happened and how violent the insurrection was; once you get past the chaotic video footage that can be hard to discern. As horrible as the pain and suffering the officers and their colleagues had to endure, is the realization that their attackers, the fellow Americans they were fighting off, were operating under the false belief that they were patriotically fighting for their country. They were fighting to take it back from the majority of Americans who voted to elect Joe Biden as president. This in itself is an un-American premise, because in a democracy the majority rules at least until the next election.

In political debate a premium is placed on fairness and so the work of the special committee is proceeding slowly. Testimony is being heard, documents are being gathered and reviewed, interviews are being conducted, members of the committee are careful to avoid drawing any conclusions before all the evidence is in — all in an effort to produce a final product the American people can trust.

In that first day of testimony however, the four police officers — two from the Capitol Police and two from the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department — put forth clear probable cause that a major crime against the country had been committed and it had been led by former President Donald Trump.

Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn made the point by comparing Trump to someone who had hired a hit man. The crowd was the hit man, and Trump was the person who sent the crowd. D.C. Officer Daniel Hodges made a different but similar argument. As a street cop assigned to a certain section of the city, he saw a subject(one Donald J. Trump) summon and incite a mob, he then saw that mob move toward the U.S. Capitol from the White House, and then he saw that crowd try to over-take the Capitol to stop the certification of the Electoral College votes that would make Biden the next president of the United States. If this were an ordinary crime, there would be enough evidence to make an arrest. But this is no ordinary crime, it is much worse.

Even before January 6, President Trump and some of his closest advisors, were crossing the country trying to overturn election results, state by state, in an effort to change the result. The president summoned lawmakers to the White House from Michigan and Pennsylvania to try to convince them to send their own slate of electors to Congress in an outright attempt to steal electoral votes. The president was caught red handed, in a recorded telephone conversation, asking the Georgia secretary of state to find him “11,780 votes,” to throw Georgia into his column. There is no subtlety about it.

These facts, taken together with the speech he made to a crowd he and his campaign called to Washington, D.C. on the morning of January 6, make clear President Trump meant to try, by any means, to change the results of the election. President Trump was using all the power he had and lots of power he did not legally have to hold onto the White House.

In recent weeks we have learned the plotting went much further. The president specifically pressured the acting U.S. attorney general to use the credibility of the Justice Department to publicly declare the election results “corrupt.” In Trump’s mind this would give Republicans in Congress the political cover they needed to change the outcome of the Electoral College certification process.

I am not alone in seeing the signs of a conspiracy to steal a U.S. presidential election, which by definition is a federal crime. Trump’s actions crossed state lines, and were a clear abuse of power for personal gain.

Thanks to the legacy of President Trump, the Mueller investigation into foreign interference in the 2016 election, and Trump’s two impeachment trials, most Americans are familiar with the Justice Department’s prohibition on indicting a sitting president. To start, this is a policy that must be re-visited, because as President Trump demonstrated it gives the wrong sort a license to steal, or at least try to. The policy also contributes to a hesitancy by a new administration to even consider seeking criminal charges against members of a previous administration to avoid the appearance of politicizing the administration of justice.

In the case of President Trump’s blatant efforts to reverse the results of the election, justice demands a criminal investigation and, if warranted, Trump’s indictment and trial for crimes against the United States. To look the other way in the interest of partisan comity would be comedy, and would encourage future political leaders to follow Trump’s extra legal example.

President Trump did not begin to sow the seeds for January 6 the day after the election, as the popular media would lead you to believe. He has been using violent rhetoric and giving his followers permission to resort to violence since 2015 when he began his first campaign. He encouraged violence against his opponent in that election, Hillary Clinton. He often told his supporters to beat up hecklers at his campaign events, promising to pay their legal bills. He invited Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. At different points in his presidency, when he had the opportunity to lead by denouncing political violence, he carefully avoided doing so. And in the lead up to the 2020 election, he signaled to his supporters that the only way he could lose was if the election were rigged against him. The clearest signal possible that a fight would be necessary to prevent a Biden presidency.

This is a pattern of behavior on the part of President Trump that did not begin only a few months ago. The encouragement of political violence is a defining characteristic of his presidency and his personality. He will do anything to win. He has said so himself.

Around the world and here at home, some political leaders are taking the wrong lesson from the Trump years. There are frequent reports of losing candidates in other countries disputing election results. In places like Brazil, the president has taken his cue on Covid response from the hair-brained and tragically fatal leadership of Trump. Here at home, more than half of the elected Republicans in Congress, and a handful of Republican governors think their adherence to Trump’s bankrupt leadership style will help them win re-election or ascend to higher office.

This makes it even more urgent for the U.S. justice system to pursue charges against the former president. There must be clear and hard consequences for his corrupt behavior. It is not as if there is a lack of evidence.

I worked once for a former politician who was sentenced to thirty months in prison for hiding and failing to properly report a $30,000 consulting fee he collected from a congressional candidate he was advising. The candidate herself did a short prison sentence as well. At the time of his sentencing, the U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case told the judge the nation’s very democracy was at stake as a result of the reporting violation.

I am not excusing the failure to report campaign expenditures, but in the case of President Trump the survival of our very democracy is truly at stake. For four years, as president, he encouraged political violence, he began casting doubt on the 2020 election results months before the actual election, and once he lost he continued a relentless campaign to overturn the results. His efforts to cast doubt on the system continue to this day and make it harder for his successor to govern the country. Trump has devoted his post-presidency to this cause. He must be stopped.

A former congressman from Connecticut once said, “When it comes to ethics in government, we tend to swallow elephants and choke on fleas.” This is an elephant we can’t allow our country to swallow. The crime is evident for all to see. Justice must be blind in this case even if — and particularly because — the suspect once lived in the White House.

Photojournalism for Brands and Ideas.