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Jan. 6 Hearings: Will the Strong Opening Stick?
The Watergate hearings were full of surprises that jerked the public’s attention back to its TVs—and Nixon's crimes. The unexpected could happen again.
As long as I've lived in Washington, some fifty years now, thunderstorms have been a near-daily feature of late summer afternoons. When I first arrived they were mostly wet affairs, sheets of rain driven by wind gusts for an exciting 20 minutes or so, leaving the area temporarily cleansed of its notorious humidity. Today the clouds roil into far more menacing thunderheads and sweep through the Potomac River valley in meteorological tantrums, upending deck furniture, palpitating American flags atop government buildings and throwing havoc into airline schedules. Whereas years ago you’d occasionally sit in a shuttle on the tarmac at LaGuardia waiting for the clouds to clear in Washington, nowadays the airlines have built the delay into their schedules. Tornados are a frequent feature of the storms.
All of which seems an apt metaphor for the scandals and emergencies that regularly roil Washington. Aside from Watergate, a storm that wrecked the Nixon administration like a legendary hurricane, most have come and gone with relatively minimal damage or only fleeting change. Even the two impeachments of Donald Trump blew through Washington like nothing more than fierce thunderstorms, rattling windows but leaving the furniture intact.
“Now we are engaged in a great civil war,” as the great man said over thousands of rotting corpses and temporary graves at Gettysburg and which could be said again today. “At field hospitals around Gettysburg, amputated limbs lay in heaps and were buried together,” goes an account that could likewise describe the broken friendships, families and general harmony engendered by Trump.
The battlefield of Jan. 6, 2021 is our Gettysburg. No Lincoln emerged from it. But we can hope that the hearings that commenced Thursday will mark the high mark of the insurrectionists, in the same manner that the beginning of the end of the Confederacy began at Gettysburg.
A glimmer of hope that the battle will be taken to the enemy emerged Thursday with the FBI’s arrest of Ryan Kelley, a Republican gubernatorial candidate in Michigan who was an avid participant in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Kelley has been a prominent election truther, pledging to cancel the state’s contract with Dominion voting machines, a boogeyman for the Trumpites, if elected,
I’ve long wondered why more candidates like Kelley, not to mention so many Trump officials and election truthers in Congress itself, haven’t been arrested. Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution lays out a definition of sedition that fits many of them like Sweaty Betty gear.
“No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.” (My italics.)
The Constitution says you need not engage in “insurrection or rebellion,” you need only give “aid or comfort to the enemies” of it. Conspiring to block the legal certification of the winner of the presidential election would seem to be a cardinal crime, yet many of its adherents roam free.
Too vague for you? How about 18 U.S. Code Section 2385? It’s too broad for my tastes, but it’s on the books, a holstered gun. If it’s good enough to charge the Proud Boys, it should be good enough to roll up past and present officials from Trump on down, including outspoken rebels like Representatives Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene.
You have to read it in its entirety to understand it has the power to sweep up the swing state miscreants trying to fix the 2024 elections. The guilty parties could—and should, it says here—be put away for 20 years.
Whoever knowingly or willfully advocates, abets, advises, or teaches the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying the government of the United States or the government of any State, Territory, District or Possession thereof, or the government of any political subdivision therein, by force or violence, or by the assassination of any officer of any such government; or
Whoever, with intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of any such government, prints, publishes, edits, issues, circulates, sells, distributes, or publicly displays any written or printed matter advocating, advising, or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence, or attempts to do so; or
Whoever organizes or helps or attempts to organize any society, group, or assembly of persons who teach, advocate, or encourage the overthrow or destruction of any such government by force or violence; or becomes or is a member of, or affiliates with, any such society, group, or assembly of persons, knowing the purposes thereof—
Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both, and shall be ineligible for employment by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five years next following his conviction.
If two or more persons conspire to commit any offense named in this section, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both, and shall be ineligible for employment by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five years next following his conviction.
As used in this section, the terms “organizes” and “organize”, with respect to any society, group, or assembly of persons, include the recruiting of new members, the forming of new units, and the regrouping or expansion of existing clubs, classes, and other units of such society, group, or assembly of persons.
Game time forecasts for the Jan. 6 hearings, which kick off at 8pm Eastern time with wall-to-wall coverage on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and NPR (but not Fox, of course, which is expected to counter-program with sensational coverage of illegal immigrants), are that the committee will seek to establish the breadth and depth of the conspiracy to prevent Biden from taking office and the stakes for not taking them seriously.
“I think there will be multiple breakthroughs and epiphanies for people along the way,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, the panel’s gifted constitutional scholar. “And at the end, I think everybody is going to be able to answer for himself or herself—including members of Congress—is this something that we ever want to allow to happen again?”
Some out there hope it will happen again, that a Democrat will never again be sworn in as president of the United States. Will these rebels be vanquished, as Lincoln finally found the generals to crush Lee? Will Raskin and Liz Cheney be up to the task, effectively Nancy Pelosi’s Grant and Sherman? Not hardly likely: They’re facing too much power in the Deep South and Mountain West.
Still, it’s too soon to say. The Watergate hearings were full of surprises that jerked the public’s attention back to its TVs. These hearings could amount to just another skirmish, another brief storm sweeping across the city—or the scent of a far greater reckoning to come.