Biggest Jan. 6 indictment is long overdue

York Dispatch editorial board

What was likely the final public hearing by the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attacks on the U.S. Capitol ended with a bang: A unanimous vote to subpoena former President Donald Trump to provide information about his role in the insurrection.

Trump’s voluntary compliance is, to say the least, unlikely. The former president’s contempt for legal strictures of any kind are a deeply embedded personality trait and one of the defining characteristics of his erratic presidency.

But Trump’s compliance is also unnecessary. As the House committee demonstrated anew at its 10th public hearing last week, it appears Trump’s role in the events of, and leading up to, Jan. 6 was central, incontrovertible and criminal.

A video of former President Donald Trump is played as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

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More to the point, the threat to the republic that exploded on Jan. 6 is ongoing.

The former president is widely seen as wanting to return to the White House in 2024. And he continues to spew falsehoods about the 2020 election. (His response to the subpoena was a lengthy diatribe whining that the race was “rigged and stolen.”)

Of more immediate concern: Hundreds of state and federal Republican candidates in this fall’s elections are fellow travelers on the “Big Lie Highway.” Many, like Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano and Arizona secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem, have made clear that, if elected, they intend to meddle in the administration of future elections. That’s frightening.

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But neither of these candidacies nor the threats they pose thrive without the environment created by Trump in the wake of his 2020 election loss.

Holding the former president accountable won’t stop election-denying Republicans from taking power in November — that’s up to voters — but it would go a long way toward preventing the types of potential constitutional catastrophes that a reelected Trump would threaten.

The House committee has made a clear and compelling case for pursuing this accountability, providing what amounted to closing arguments for what Chairman Bennie Thompson called Trump’s “staggering betrayal” of his oath of office.

Compelling new video showed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck, Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other congressional leaders scrambling from shelters to call in reinforcements at the Capitol. Former Vice President Mike Pence filled the presidential void by contacting Capitol Police to help quell the violence — violence, Pelosi said, that came largely “at the instigation of the president of the United States.”

The committee laid out additional evidence showing that extremist groups were organizing for Jan. 6 weeks in advance and that the Secret Service had been alerted to the potential for violence.

Recall, at least five people died during the Jan. 6 riots and their immediate aftermath. That the former president urged on the attackers and stood by silently while they rampaged through the Capitol, assaulted security officers, threatened lawmakers and even chanted a wish to hang Pence has been well-documented.

Some 850 participants have been charged by the Justice Department. Many have been tried and convicted, some to lengthy sentences. Members of two far-right extremist groups are currently on trial for seditious conspiracy.

“But our nation cannot only punish the foot soldiers who stormed our Capitol,” said committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney, the Wyoming Republican who sacrificed her seat in the House to defend the Constitution, rather than a lying president.

The committee has established Trump’s central role in the events of Jan. 6. His plan to claim victory on election night no matter the outcome was, the committee made clear, “premediated.” His intention to declare the vote “rigged,” his make-believe victory “stolen,” was self-proclaimed. (He read from the same script in 2016.)

The next steps are clear. The committee’s final report must include criminal referrals to the Justice Department. The department, which needs no such referral to act, should take the unprecedented but republic-defending step of indicting the former president.