Jokes and theatre aside, the prosecution of Donald Trump has already begun

A joke is making the rounds of the late-night comedians in the US as the congressional hearings into the January 6 attack on the Capitol continue in Washington. The joke goes something like: “Yes, the committee is investigating whether Donald Trump actually did all those things we saw him do in real time.”

We all know what Trump and his supporters did, but the lack of shame, denials in the face of obvious evidence, and the refusal to acknowledge or atone for the extensive damage they are wreaking have brought us to this point. So it might seem you don’t need to pay attention to the hearings. Don’t we know all of this? Won’t he get off again?

Former president Donald Trump at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority”event on Friday in Nashville, Tennessee.Credit:Mark Humphrey/AP

The answers: “Not really” and “Possibly not.” Here’s why:

1. This is a prosecution. They are officially called hearings, but they are not remotely like a typical US Congressional hearing where politicians jaw endlessly and do what they can to grab a few minutes of TV screen time. Here, there is no grandstanding, no yapping backbenchers. The bipartisan group is actually laying out a specific legal case, establishing that Trump knew he had lost the election and was fighting to somehow overturn the result.

That is for the benefit of one specific audience for these hearings: the office of US Attorney-General Merritt Garland. The committee well knows that Garland is a judge, not a prosecutor. The nation needs a political reckoning to lead to the legal reckoning that will ensure Trump can’t regain power— in other words, a federal indictment.

Is this justified? Yes, because …

2. It’s worse than you thought. Here’s Liz Cheney, the right-wing representative from Wyoming and daughter of George’s W. Bush’s vice-president, Dick Cheney: “Over multiple months Donald Trump oversaw and co-ordinated and sophisticated seven-part plan to overturn the presidential election and prevent the transfer of presidential power.”


Does that sound like political hyperbole? In fact, the committee is carefully presenting evidence and testimony making each step of this plan fairly lucid. Trump was told he’d lost the election. In the face of this, he sidelined his advisers and latched onto a rump group of unscrupulous legal advisers. He spread lies about the result to keep his supporters animated – and raised hundreds of millions of dollars. He and the advisers launched a flood of hapless legal challenges. He worked to get individual state election officials to invalidate results he didn’t like. He pressured the vice-president, on nonexistent legal grounds, to refuse to certify the results and throw the nation into a constitutional crisis.

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