BY RICHARD C. GROSS
“A man may give up a right, but he may not give up a duty without being guilty of a grave dereliction.”
Recorded and live testimony before eight hearings of the House Jan.6 committee ripped open Donald Trump’s intensive, unyielding efforts to retain the presidency under false pretenses that could lead to criminal charges.ouse Jan. 6 H
One of the latest disclosures at Thursday night’s final hearing of the summer — more are expected in September — focused on how the president of the United States did nothing for three hours and seven minutes as his army of supporters, some armed, tore through the Capitol, hunting for Vice President Mike Pence with the goal of hanging him. The noose stood ready outside the building.
Instead of ending the violent riot staged at his instigation and on his behalf in an attempte4d coup, Trump watched the bloody assault unfold on Fox “News” in the small dining room off the Oval Office.
Testimony showed that he didn’t tell the rioters to stop and go home until it became clear that invading the Capitol was a losing proposition. Certifying Joe Biden as the 46th president came hours later.
When a Pentagon official called to determine how to react to the assault, a White House lawyer, Eric Herschmann, told White House counsel Pat A. Cipollone, “The president didn’t want anything done” [to stop the siege]. Herschmann was relaying information from an unidentified White House official.
“You’re the commander in chief,” Gen. Mark A. Milley, the military’s top gun as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the committee. “You’ve got an assault going on on the Capitol of the United States of America and there’s nothing? No call? Nothing? Zero?”
That’s right, nothing, despite repeated entreaties by aides and Trump’s daughter Ivanka for the president to tell the thugs to call off the attack. Their begging went unheeded as the rioters beat their way into the biggest symbol of American democracy and swarmed through its highly polished corridor floors.
If Trump’s refusal to halt the unremitting barrage against the Capitol isn’t a violation of his oath office and thus a dereliction of duty, I don’t know what is. The oath:
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Dereliction, which usually is applied to the military, is defined as “the abandonment of a thing, person or obligation.” The president is the civilian head of the military as its commander in chief.
The big question, of course, is whether the committee will recommend to Attorney General Merrick Garland to take criminal action against Trump, and possibly against some of his associates. Then it will be up to Garland, whose agency is conducting its own investigation, whether to prosecute.
He keeps saying no one is above the law. I’d like to see him prove it.
“Every person who is criminally responsible” will be chargeable and “no person is above the law in this country,” Garland said last week.
Sounds good. But words are cheap. Let’s hope it happens. The storming of the Capitol wasn’t an innocent romp of tourists, as Rep. Andrew S. Clyde, R-Ga., once tried to whitewash the melee as a “normal tourist visit.”
“There needs to be accountability, accountability under the law, accountability to the American people, accountability at every level,” the panel chair, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said.
“If there is no accountability for Jan. 6, for every part of this scheme, I fear we will not overcome the ongoing threat to our democracy,” he said. “There must be stiff consequences for those responsible.”
Accountability occasionally is imposed. A U.S. District Court convicted Trump’s guru and far-right podcaster, Stephen K. Bannon, of contempt of Congress for ignoring a subpoena to testify and provide documents to the Jan. 6 committee. It could mean prison.
The nine-member committee, which includes two Republicans, has been investigating the desecration of the Capitol for about a year. It seeks to prove Trump spurred the rioters on, put a target on Pence’s back by declaring his vice president refused his pleas to falsify the election results, knew he lost the contest even though he repeatedly lied about it and tried through various means to overthrow the government.
The objective is to put Trump on trial in court, not only in a congressional hearing, so he will face consequences for his actions.
“. . . We as Americans must all agree on this: Donald Trump’s conduct on Jan. 6 was a supreme violation of [his] oath of office and a complete dereliction of his duty to our nation,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., who co-chaired the hearing.
“It is a stain on our history, it is a dishonor to all those who have sacrificed and died in service to our democracy. When we present our full findings we will recommend changes to laws and policies to guard against another Jan. 6.”
Trump has teased that he will run again in 2024, possibly the trigger that prompted Kinzinger to warn that the anger over a lost election and die-hard support for the former president demonstrated at the Capitol still exists.
“They’re still out there, ready to go,” the congressman said. “That’s the elephant in the room .”
Elephants are known to stampede.
Kinzinger’s Republican co-chair, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who often denounced Trump at the risk of her career, took another tack against Trump in a bid to ensure he won’t be permitted to run for any public office again.
“Every American must consider this,” she told the prime-time televised hearing. “Can a president who is willing to make the choices Donald Trump made during the violence of Jan. 6 ever be trusted with any position of authority in our great nation again?”
Stephanie Grisham, who worked for Trump as press secretary, resigned Jan. 6 in opposition to the siege of the Capitol.
“I don’t think I can rebrand,” she told New York magazine. “I think this will follow me forever. I believe I was part of something unusually evil.”
Amen. Now is the time for an exorcism.
Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East and was foreign editor of United Press International, served as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.