The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol revealed nothing more in its final report than what it has repeated for months based on hundreds of testimonies and the examination of tens of thousands of documents: “The central cause of January 6th was one man, former President Donald Trump … None of the events of January 6th would have happened without him.”
It is now up to the Department of Justice, and in particular Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, a renowned attorney who has already worked in The Hague on Kosovo war crimes, to draft an indictment. Clannish and political considerations will greatly pollute the debate as the congressional committee was, in fact, scarcely bipartisan.
But for Trump to escape prosecution and, sooner rather than later, avoid criminal prosecution, would be regrettable and dangerous. Calling for insurrection, conspiring against the state, impeding an official procedure (certification of the 2020 presidential election results), making false statements … the Jan. 6 committee supported its recommendations to the Justice Department with facts that could not have been more documented and more serious, clearly implicating Trump. At stake here, in terms of sanctioning the unprecedented conspiracy that led to the attack on the Capitol, is the preservation of the very foundation of American democratic life.
Is Trump a little more vulnerable? The mounting troubles cast a shadow on his candidacy for president in 2024. As a result of the Republican underperformance in the November midterms, he was dropped by some of his political cronies, though less by an epiphany than by calculation. He has also been dropped by Fox News and the New York Post.
On the business side, in early December, a jury found Trump’s company guilty on 17 charges of tax fraud in New York. He has simultaneously been the target of other investigations in other courts and by the FBI, notably in relation to the seizure in August of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. In addition, the battle over the surrender of his tax returns, which he has tried for years to hide, still hounds him.
Trump is at once weakened and unrepentant, to the point of making a fool of himself. Shrinking, he continues to fall back on the same American far right that, in sordid fashion, he continues to focus on in the public and political space, and that is closing ranks around him amid a climate of political violence. He is not renouncing his image as a gang leader. Thus, he invited white supremacist Nick Fuentes and the rapper Ye (formerly known as Kanye West), who delights in antisemitic statements, to dinner at his home. More recently, he hosted conspiracy theorist Liz Crokin, a QAnon promoter obsessed with “Pizzagate,” at Mar-a-Lago. Last week, he pushed the limits of narcissistic delirium by announcing with great fanfare the sale of trading cards portraying him s a superhero, among other images.
It is written in the tea leaves of the midterm elections that Trump has failed. Trumpist candidates for the strategic seats of senator, governor and secretary of state largely bit the dust. But it remains that, according to the website Ballotpedia, of the 254 candidates backed by Trump at all levels, 83% won their elections; at least 30% of Republican voters still align themselves with the MAGA movement; and the former president maintains important ties, openly or tacitly, in the House of Representatives where Republicans will hold a small majority come January. Conclusion: The stolen election lie remains intact.
“Belief in Donald Trump means never having to face the facts,” writes journalist Tom Scocca in The New York Times. Therefore, “How do you declare defeat for a movement that is built around refusing to accept defeat?”
Should a trial on the House select committee referrals take place with all its complex legal ramifications, Trump will want to make it a great media spectacle and an instrument of victimization. If Trump is convicted, the United States would obviously be better off if he were not allowed to run in 2024. One cannot forget, of course, that lying in wait is a politician in many ways even more toxic in the person of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. If Trump is the monstrous symbol of a dysfunctional democracy, this exercise must not be just a news brief. Fundamentally, his trial would also be, through introspection, a trial of what American democracy has become.