Congressman Adam Schiff is crowing. “It’s very positive,” he said on Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press about the indictment of sometime Trump adviser Steve Bannon on two counts of contempt of Congress.
He has a point. The indictment was never really about Bannon but about trying to create some shock and awe when it comes to eliciting testimony from other Trump janissaries such as his former chief of staff Mark Meadows.
Bannon’s predicament, which he can try and spin to his personal advantage by portraying himself as a victim of the deep state, indicates that the January 6 commission is impeachment by other means. “All hell is not going to break loose,” to borrow Bannon’s own phrase from January 5, but his self-surrender and court appearance tomorrow are likely to discountenance his fellow plotters. For them, the prospect of a protracted court battle won’t be quite as enticing.
The truth is that Schiff and Co. are on a roll. The second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, you will recall, ended rather inconclusively because key witnesses such as former national security adviser John Bolton never showed up to testify. Now the January 6 commission is armed with the weapons that it needs to unravel what really is starting to look like a conspiracy to overturn the November election results, when a petulant Trump decreed that his perch in the White House was being purloined from him. He wanted what amounted to an act of electoral superfetation to take place.
If Bannon was exhorting Trump from the outside to go on the warpath, it looks as though Meadows was machinating inside the White House to try to up the pressure on vice president Mike Pence to come through for the Donald. It seems that Meadows emailed a detailed plan written by Trump’s campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis to revise the election results. According to Jonathan Karl’s new book Betrayal, Pence was to repudiate the electoral vote from six battleground states that Trump had lost. They would then have until January 15 to send back a new count. Should they fail — et voila! — the House would vote by state delegation to install a new president who would in all likelihood be named Trump.
Had Pence cracked under the pressure, Trump would have successfully created what would have almost certainly been a pre-revolutionary situation in America. Instead, Pence put on his big boy pants and committed what Trump now says was “a tragic mistake.” Now Pence’s advisers have an incentive to talk with the January 6 committee, particularly given Trump’s own blasé attitude about the threats directed at Pence by his supporters. If his remarks to Jonathan Karl are anything to go by, Trump seems to think that an insufficiently servile Pence had it coming.
The last thing Meadows want to do is to testify about his lack of scrupulosity during these turbulent weeks. His lawyer George Terwilliger is claiming that Biden is somehow running roughshod over hundreds of years of American history. Terwilliger refers to a “dangerous precedent.” Ho-hum. The notion that the president and his associates should be shielded from any scrutiny flies in the face of reality. If anything, setting firm limits on executive privilege would be a salutary service by Biden and the courts. Anyway, as Timothy Noah of the New Republic points out, the contention that there is no precedent for targeting Bannon and Meadows is bogus. The Department of Justice sent G. Gordon Liddy to jail and prosecuted CIA chief Richard Helms who got a suspended sentence and a $2,000 fine.
Former Trump adviser Alyssa Farah, who has met with the January 6 committee, notes:
They want to put together the definitive narrative on the “Big Lie.” How people contributed to it, how people perpetuated it, who, by the way, knew it wasn’t true. So that’s why these witness testimonies under oath are going to be so important. So, putting that together and then there’s going to be the criminal justice side of things. Was there wrongdoing? Was there tampering within the Department of Justice or with state governments to overturn or push to overturn results? That’s something they’re all looking into.
Given Bannon’s sartorial predilections, an orange jumpsuit and a good haircut might actually be an upgrade for him. Whether Meadows relishes the prospect of going to the hoosegow on behalf of Trump is another matter. The January 6 commission is closing the ring on Trump and his cabal.