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“Hit Against American Democracy”: Rep. Raskin on Purge of Secret Service Texts Jan. 6 Committee Sought

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Ahead of the eighth hearing of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, we speak with Congressmember Jamie Raskin, a member of the select committee, and get an update on how the Secret Service has only provided a single text exchange from the insurrection and may have purged the messages after oversight officials requested them. “We want all of the evidence, we’re determined to get all of the evidence, but the picture is very clear at this point about what happened. This was an organized hit against American democracy in order to overturn a presidential election,” says Raskin. The committee will hold its eighth hearing on Thursday.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. Secret Service has reportedly only provided a single text exchange to the Department of Homeland Security inspector general, who had requested the agency hand over all text messages from 24 individuals around the time of the January 6th insurrection. The agency has also told the House January 6th committee that it has no new text messages to share with lawmakers. The Secret Service is claiming all the messages have been purged. Last week, a government watchdog with the Homeland Security Department, the inspector general, said in a letter to lawmakers that the erasure took place shortly after oversight officials requested electronic communications from the agency be preserved.

The messages could confirm testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson to the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol in which she accused then-President Trump of attacking his own presidential security detail after the Secret Service refused to drive Trump to the Capitol to join the armed mob gathering to block Congress from counting Electoral College votes.

In a minute, we’ll be joined by Congressmember Jamie Raskin, who’s a member of the committee, which is scheduled to hold its next hearing Thursday. First, this is Cassidy Hutchinson, former top aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, testifying about what she was told happened inside Trump’s presidential limo, known as “the Beast.”

CASSIDY HUTCHINSON: So, once the president had gotten into the vehicle with Bobby, he thought that they were going up to the Capitol. And when Bobby had relayed to him, “We’re not. We don’t have the assets to do it. It’s not secure. We’re going back to the West Wing,” the president had very strong — a very angry response to that. Tony described him as being “irate.” The president said something to the effect of “I’m the effing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,” to which Bobby responded, “Sir, we have to go back to the West Wing.”

The president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm, said, “Sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel. We’re going back to the West Wing. We’re not going to the Capitol.” Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel. And when Mr. Ornato had recounted this story to me, he had motioned towards his clavicles.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes amidst a growing focus on the role of the Secret Service during the deadly attack on the Capitol and how the Secret Service tried to remove Pence from the potential threat. But Pence reportedly told the Secret Service, quote, “I’m not getting in the car,” concerned it would stop him from certifying the presidential election results that day by driving him away — who knows where? Both Pence and Trump are set to hold rallies in Arizona this Friday as they campaign for rival candidates and will also give major speeches on the same day in Washington.

For more, we’re joined by Congressmember Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland and member of the House January select committee investigating the January 6th attack.

Congressmember Raskin, welcome back to Democracy Now! Let’s start with this. There is so much to discuss. But the Secret Service purging all the texts around January 5th and 6th, can you tell us the latest and your response?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Well, you have it right. That’s what we are being told. The whole thing stinks to high heaven. The idea that a government would either order or permit the destruction of texts relating to January 6th in the weeks following January 6 is just unacceptable. I mean, it’s just plainly appalling. And so, there is, you know, the bureaucratic and political question of how this happened, who ordered it, was it really according to some “preplanned” telephone migration, or was it obviously political as part of some kind of attempt to conceal evidence. And then there’s the technological question, which is: Regardless of how it happened or why it happened, can we retrieve and recover those texts?

But one thing I found in this process, Amy, is that even when someone is trying to block us from finding something out, there will be multiple other avenues for us to discover the information we’re looking for.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, first, can’t criminal charges be brought against the destruction of requested information when they were told to preserve this? And number two, on this issue of Pence and the Secret Service, you have said that Pence saying “I’m not getting in the car” are some of the most — the six most chilling words that you have heard in a long time.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Well, yeah. But, first of all, anybody who engages in deliberate destruction or concealment of evidence may have committed a crime. And, you know, that’s something that prosecutors in the DOJ are just going to have to deal with. But, yes, I mean, it is a rather disturbing pattern that we’ve seen.

You know, Vice President Pence had said, “I’m not getting in the car.” He apparently was uncertain whether he would ever be returned to execute his constitutional duty of counting the Electoral College votes if he did get in that car. And so he refused to go. So, credit to him for making sure that that was not going to be left to chance or to somebody else’s will at that point.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Congressman, about these Secret Service deleted text messages, it’s reminiscent, going back to the Watergate era, of the infamous 18-minute gap in the White House tapes of conversations, in this case between President Nixon and his chief of staff, Haldeman, and the secretary for the president claiming at the time that she inadvertently, as she was transcribing the tapes, erased the key conversations that were occurring between Nixon and Haldeman on Watergate at that time. You’re obviously familiar with that history. What do you see? Is this comparable in terms of a potential smoking gun here?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Well, first of all, numerous congressional committee chairs wrote to all of the agency and department heads to say that hey have a responsibility to preserve these records. The people who are serving in particular government jobs are not a Praetorian Guard surrounding the incumbent president in concealing the evidence of their activities. These are people who are public servants sworn to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law. So, we do consider that a very serious issue, if, you know, there was any deliberate effort to circumvent and defy the clear import of federal law, which is the preservation and the nondestruction of such records. But so, you know, we are going to pursue this matter, but, you know, our first interest is in finding the lost texts and recovering and retrieving them, and we are going to do everything in our power to do that.

I will say, you know, unlike perhaps in the Watergate analogy, this is not the sole crucial piece of evidence. I mean, we’ve got a smoking tweet, if you will, in Donald Trump calling everybody to come and “stop the steal,” and then proceeding, knowing that his mob was armed and dangerous, to order them to hit the Capitol, and then trying to go with them and continuing to egg them on and exhort them in different ways. And the rest of that story will be told tomorrow night at our final hearing in this series of hearings. So, we want all of the evidence, we’re determined to get all of the evidence, but the picture is very clear at this point about what happened. This was an organized hit against American democracy in order to overturn a presidential election.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And can you talk about the significance of the last hearing that was held, the seventh hearing of the committee on July 12th, and the key testimony of Oath Keepers’ Jason Van Tatenhove as a witness? Explain to our audience the importance of the role of the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys in what was billed to the public as a spontaneous protest.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Yeah. I mean, the suggestion had always been that this was just a boisterous rally that got out of control, and it was all spontaneous and ad hoc. And, you know, all of our evidence demonstrates that’s completely false. This was orchestrated. It was deliberate. It was planned.

And, you know, we traced it to this explosive and chaotic meeting at the White House on December the 18th, which ended in failure. Trump’s outside advisers came in and tried to convince the inside advisers, the White House counsel and the other lawyers, of their new plan just to get the United States military to seize the election machinery and rerun the election and engage in prosecutions of people in the states under a new special counsel who they wanted to appoint, Sidney Powell, who is, you know, a borderline deranged election denier. And so, we told that story.

And when all of it exploded and Trump obviously was not going to have his way with his advisers, his internal advisers, who were telling him, really, that the election was over and it was the end of the road for him — all these other things of trying to pressure or coerce state legislatures, state election officials, the Department of Justice, all of that had failed. All of the doors were closed. And they were essentially trying to get him just to, at that point, accept the reality of defeat. He wasn’t going to accept the reality of defeat, but the new executive order declaring seizure of the election machinery and Sidney Powell as counsel wasn’t going to work, either. And that’s when he decided to turn to his final ace in the hole or his Hail Mary pass, which was to go back to what he thought was the touchstone in the foundation of his political power: the crowd, the mob.

And just an hour after all of these people left the White House, he sent out this tweet about a big protest in Washington on January the 6th, which up until that point had not been a date in the consciousness of the extreme right, in the domestic violent extremist groups and his followers, but at that point he catalyzed and organized all of the opposition to the election to the day of the counting of the Electoral College votes. So he became the first president in our history to mobilize a protest against the peaceful transfer of power.

And as we showed at the meeting, it had an explosive effect generally among Trump’s followers, but especially among the domestic violent extremist groups, who very quickly adopted the date, began organizing and mobilizing to get people to Washington, and then engaged in increasingly bellicose and violent and homicidal and racist rhetoric online about killing politicians, about white revolution, about red weddings, which means mass killings, and so on. And so, it was several weeks of that kind of buildup, when the crowd arrived in Washington.

And then, you know, Donald Trump urged the Secret Service just to wave in everybody, whether they were armed or not. And, of course, there were knives, there were guns, there was bear mace, there was tear gas, there were AR-15s. We showed everybody the arsenal of weapons that was brought to Washington. And, you know, that was the source of the attack on the Capitol and the invasion, the storming of the Capitol, the breaking of our windows and the injury of more than 150 officers. And that’s how we nearly came to seeing our constitutional republic as we know it toppled that day.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Raskin, I wanted to go to your introduction last week as you were looking at these far-right groups — the Three Percenters, the Proud Boys, etc. — planning to carry out the January 6th insurrection and how they were incited by then-President Trump.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: The problem of politicians whipping up mob violence to destroy fair elections is the oldest domestic enemy of constitutional democracy in America. Abraham Lincoln knew it, too. In 1837, a racist mob in Alton, Illinois, broke into the offices of an abolitionist newspaper and killed its editor, Elijah Lovejoy. Lincoln wrote a speech in which he said that no transatlantic military giant could ever crush us as a nation, even with all of the fortunes in the world. But if downfall ever comes to America, he said, we ourselves would be “its author and finisher.” If racist mobs are encouraged by politicians to rampage and terrorize, Lincoln said, they will violate the rights of other citizens and quickly destroy the bonds of social trust necessary for democracy to work. Mobs and demagogues will put us on a path to political tyranny, Lincoln said.

As we’ll see today, this very old problem has returned with new ferocity today, as a president who lost an election deployed a mob, which included dangerous extremists, to attack the constitutional system of election and the peaceful transfer of power.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Congressmember Jamie Raskin in his introduction in the seventh public hearing of the committee to investigate the attack on the U.S. Capitol. As we talk about what’s happening on Thursday night, the primetime — don’t know if it’s going to be the last one, I don’t even know if you do — hearing, public hearing at least, there’s a lot of discussion about your looking at the 187 minutes, or whatever, of what President Trump didn’t do, his, quote, “inaction.” But is it inaction? I mean, you’re very clear about this when you talk about an attempted coup by President Trump. Is this a crime of omission, really, or commission? Doesn’t it lose its power when you say, in fact, did Trump just look the other way?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Well, from the standpoint of the defense of our government and our Constitution, at best, he did nothing. From the standpoint of the insurrection and the coup, he continued to exhort, incite, contact and organize. And we will show both sides of it. But for anyone who believes that — anyone who is still skeptical that Trump was the central actor of all these events, for anyone who thinks that these things would have happened even if Donald Trump was opposed to them, at the very least, they’re going to have to concede he did not act as the commander-in-chief defending coordinate branches of government and the American people and our system of government. But we will show both the sins of omission and the sins of commission, Amy.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Congressman, what’s your response to those Americans who are skeptical about the work of the committee, who say in the polarized climate that we live in today, one, it’s unlikely that the Justice Department will hand down indictments, criminal indictments, related to the activities of January 6th; even if the Justice Department does indict people, including President Trump, the likelihood of finding 12 Americans in a jury to unanimously convict is small; or even if there are convictions, that appeals, that would inevitably go to the courts, even to the Supreme Court, will end up overturning any such convictions? What’s your response to that skeptical perspective?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Well, that’s pretty dark. Let me say this. In a democracy, the people have the right to the truth, period. And we’re operating under House Resolution 503, which has instructed us to assemble all of the facts of the violent insurrection, the attack on our system of democracy on January 6th, and then to look at what the causes were, and then to make very specific recommendations about how to move forward as a country to fortify ourselves against coups, insurrections, political violence and efforts by organized political groups to drain elections of significance by usurping the will of the people. So, we’ve got the authority and the mandate and the imperative of doing that, regardless of the questions of individual criminal accountability that you’re raising.

But I will say about that, I’ve got somewhat more faith in our justice system than you do, or, you know, that position expresses. You know, I believe that juries that are drawn fairly will represent common sense and the wisdom of the people, and will be able to respond effectively to violations of law and follow the rule of law and make reasonable judgments about it.

You know, when Mitch McConnell got up after our impeachment trial — and you’ll recall that that was a trial where we achieved the most sweeping bipartisan vote to convict a president in U.S. history. There have only been four trials: Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, Trump one and Trump two. And we had a 57-to-43 vote, which fell 10 short of the two-thirds majority, so he did beat the constitutional spread. And yet we have a robust bipartisan majority in the Senate agreeing to the House’s article of impeachment, that passed strongly in the House also on a bipartisan basis. But when all of that was over, McConnell said — he voted against it, and he was speaking for a lot of Republican senators, but he said that Donald Trump was actually ethically, morally, practically responsible for everything that had taken place, but he felt that the Senate did not have jurisdiction to try a president who had already left office. Now, on its own merits, we think that was a ridiculous and silly argument that had been discredited over two centuries of corrupt officials making that argument, and we had dispensed with that argument on the very first day of the trial in a 54-to-46 vote. By going back to it, essentially, McConnell was engaging in jury nullification.

But I raise it because after he said that, he said there are lots of other ways to hold former presidents accountable, including civil and criminal prosecution. And so, for those who felt like somehow the Senate didn’t have the jurisdictional authority to try the president, this is the moment that the president must be held accountable. It’s not the only way, because Section 3 of the 14th Amendment also provides — this a provision adopted by the Radical Republicans during the Reconstruction period, and it provides that someone who has held elected office as part of the union and sworn an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution, but then violates that oath by engaging in insurrection and rebellion against the union, may never again hold federal or state office in the union. So, that’s another problem that Donald Trump has to face.

But I reject anybody who throws their hands up and says it’s just hopeless, there’s nothing that can be done. And all the more so do I reject those who say this is a partisan exercise. If it’s a partisan exercise, then it’s a Republican partisan exercise, because the overwhelming majority of witnesses against Donald Trump and the coup and insurrection have been Republicans across the country.

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