On CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, Sen. Judiciary Chair Sen. Dick Durbin called the recent revelations about the post-election maneuverings of Trump and his GOP allies “frightening.” Over the weekend, the Judiciary panel heard closed-door testimony from both then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and one of his top deputies, Richard Donaghue, whose notes about Trump’s pressure campaign targeting top Justice Department officials recently came to light.
Durbin told CNN’s Dana Bash he was most shocked by “just how directly personally involved the president was—the pressure he was putting on Jeffrey Rosen. It was real. Very real. And it was very specific.”
Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who also sits on the committee, told MSNBC’s Alex Witt he was “struck by how close the country came to total catastrophe.”
Trump’s aggressive pressure campaign to get Justice Department officials to claim they were investigating widespread 2020 fraud was augmented inside the agency by the man who was then-acting head of the Civil Division, Jeffrey Clark. But outside the Justice Department, Trump and his congressional allies were also pressuring officials at the state and local levels to either “find” enough votes or simply throw out enough ballots to overthrow Joe Biden’s victory. Meanwhile, other pro-Trump allies at the congressional and state levels were actively seeding the disinformation campaign by hyping entirely baseless fraud claims as Trump’s “elite strike force” legal team urgently filed election challenges (which all subsequently died quick and ultimately humiliating deaths in court).
The cacophony of conspiracy theories pushed by Trump, unscrupulous GOP lawmakers, conservative legal hacks, and right-wing propaganda machines has poisoned the minds of the vast majority of Republicans who remain convinced—without a single shred of evidence—that the election was stolen from Trump. That diseased and pervasive mindset not only boiled over on Jan. 6 as Trump supporters violently stormed the Capitol, it has also led to a permanently distorted view of the Jan. 6 insurrection among a disturbingly large swath of GOP voters.
The Senate Judiciary plans to continue to call witnesses. Next up is Byung J. Pak, the U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Georgia who resigned his post on Jan. 4 under pressure from Trump to launch an election fraud investigation. On Sunday, Blumenthal said he hoped the Senate Judiciary’s final report on Trump’s interference at the Justice Department would be out as quickly as possible.
“The American people really deserve to know how close we came to a democratic catastrophe. We’ve lived through the Saturday night massacre,” he told MSNBC, referring to President Nixon’s Watergate-era ouster of several top officials at the Justice Department. “It was almost a repeat—very nearly a repeat of that kind of threat.”
On the House side, the Select Committee to investigate Jan. 6 has also taken over the investigation into Trump’s post-election efforts at the Department of Justice, which was originally being probed by the House Oversight Committee.
These congressional inquiries are crucial to fleshing out the public record on all the actions Trump and an astonishingly large cohort of his Republican allies took to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power and overthrow American democracy. A separate inquiry is being conducted by the Justice Department’s internal watchdog, Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
But the real question here is whether anyone will be held criminally liable for their actions and, if so, who it might be.
“As a former U.S. Attorney and a state attorney general for 20 years, there is a real potential for criminal charges. They should be seriously considered,” Sen. Blumenthal told MSNBC’s Witt on Sunday. “All of the facts and the law will be thoroughly examined by this Department of Justice,” he added.
This will be the true test of Attorney General Merrick Garland’s tenure. Will he have the fortitude and foresight to do what’s necessary to safeguard the republic from a second act by Trump or any would-be successors inspired by his treason? It’s a question that is nothing short of existential. If Garland flinches here, the nation will undoubtedly pay a heavy price at some point down the road.