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Rep. Jamie Raskin: Trump’s First Return to Capitol Hill Since Jan. 6 Cements His GOP “Stranglehold”

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Former President Donald Trump returned to the U.S. Capitol last week for the first time since the January 6 insurrection in 2021, where he met with Republican lawmakers including House Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and reportedly discussed how to quash his 34 felony convictions stemming from his New York fraud case, as well as how to punish prosecutors involved in the various cases against him. “His return to Capitol Hill showed that he has cemented his political stranglehold over the Republican Party,” says Democratic Congressmember Jamie Raskin of Maryland. “While they are attacking the rule of law … they’re doing everything they can to compromise the judiciary and to destroy the rule of law in our country.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hit the campaign trail in the battleground state of Michigan Saturday to address Black voters in Detroit. He also attended a conference of the right-wing get-out-the-vote group Turning Point USA.

DONALD TRUMP: First day in office, we’re going to close up the border. First day in office, we’re going to drill, baby, drill.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes after Trump returned to the U.S. Capitol Thursday for first time since the January 6th, 2021, insurrection. Trump met with Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Mitt Romney. Politico reports Trump asked Johnson for help to overturn his conviction of 34 felonies in New York and to help punish the Justice Department.

Our next guest has called Republican leaders’ meetings with Trump a scandal and a disgrace. Yes, that’s Democratic Congressmember Jamie Raskin, who served on the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol and was the lead impeachment manager in the second impeachment trial of former President Trump. He’s the author of Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy.

Congressmember Raskin, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Why don’t you just talk about the significance of that meeting, that might have gone under the radar for some, what it meant for Trump to return to the Capitol and the lining up of his even previous critics behind him?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Well, Amy, thank you for having me. It’s a real pleasure to be back with you on your show.

Well, for Trump, I imagine he experienced it as a triumphant moment. He was last seen in disgrace, in infamy, after he incited a violent insurrection against the union to surround and prop up his inside political coup, where he tried to get Vice President Pence to step outside of his constitutional role and simply declare Trump the victor in a presidential election that Trump lost by more than 7 million votes, 306 to 232 in the Electoral College.

But his return to Capitol Hill showed that he has cemented his political stranglehold over the Republican Party. And members of Congress who had criticized him, some of whom even seem to have made a permanent break with him, like Lindsey Graham, after the insurrection, are now completely back in the fold. And we see the way that Donald Trump operates, much as J.D. Vance once described it back when he was not in the cult, as a form of cultural and political heroin. They’re acting like addicts, and they are acting like cult members, which make the stakes of this election awfully clear for everybody else.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned J.D. Vance, top contender for vice-presidential running mate of President Trump, also the return to the Capitol. I mean, so many of the insurrectionists, who have been arrested, who have been jailed, are not allowed to return there, but President Trump is.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Well, Trump is busy pardoning everybody he can. I mean, he pardoned, before he left office, Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Dinesh D’Souza, Steve Bannon, Joe Arpaio. These people are the inner coterie of his political campaign in 2024. And now he’s promising to pardon hundreds of shock troops on the extreme right, people from the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers and other extremist groups who attacked Capitol officers, Metropolitan Police Department officers, officers from Montgomery County, Maryland, the jurisdiction I represent in Congress. And these are people who violently assaulted officers and deliberately tried to “stop the steal,” which means to interfere with the counting of Electoral College votes and to accomplish the peaceful transfer of power. And he is running around the country saying he’s going to pardon these, quote, “political prisoners” or hostages. A hostage, of course, is someone who’s been illegally abducted by a terrorist group, like Hamas, or a criminal group and then held for a financial or a political ransom. And he is treating people who are violent lawbreakers and insurrectionists, seditionists to the American republic, as hostages or political prisoners. And so, again, he continues to set himself at war against our constitutional order.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain his request to the House Speaker Johnson about trying to go after the Justice Department to reverse the guilty verdict for the 34 felonies he was found guilty of here in New York?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Yeah. Well, I don’t know if Donald Trump actually understands the difference between the federal system and the state system. They have been roundly denouncing the Department of Justice, which is a huge irony given that it’s the Department of Justice that just prosecuted and succeeded in convicting Hunter Biden on his gun charges and is busy prosecuting a U.S. senator who’s a Democrat from New Jersey and a Democratic representative from Texas on various charges. But in any event, you know, Donald Trump is like a dog with a bone, and now he can’t stand the fact that he’s a loser and has been pronounced guilty 34 different times by a jury of his peers in New York, and so all hands on deck to try to reverse his convictions.

And, of course, Speaker Johnson, who declares himself to be a fundamentalist Christian and someone devout and who elevates the Bible above all else, has pledged to help Donald Trump absolve himself of these charges of cooking the books financially in order to cover up his $130,000 in hush-money payments to his porn star erstwhile mistress. And disturbingly, Johnson said that he knows members of the Supreme Court, and he knows how upset they are. And given that we’re finally getting some real information about how the right wing of the court operates, I don’t doubt him for one moment that he’s been in touch with people like Alito and Thomas, and they are trying to figure out a way to reverse Donald Trump’s convictions. So, while they’re attacking the rule of law and they’re attacking the jury system, in fact, they’re doing everything they can to compromise the judiciary and to destroy the rule of law in our country.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you mentioned Alito and Thomas. In Supreme Court news, of course, Justice Clarence Thomas has finally acknowledged taking more free vacations paid for by the billionaire right-wing megadonor Harlan Crow. In a filing Friday, Thomas disclosed he accepted two trips in 2019, one to Indonesia, another to the Bohemian Grove in California. Last year, ProPublica revealed Thomas had failed to disclose at least 38 luxury trips gifted by Crow and three other right-wing billionaires, dating back decades.

This comes as the wife of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito faced criticism over an upside-down flag reportedly flown at the Alito home in 2021. I mean, it was the Alitos’ home, Justice Samuel Alito, in Virginia and in New Jersey, both the upside-down flag that was flown at the insurrection in 2021 and also the “appeal to Heaven” flag. It was Alito who blamed his wife. But, apparently, these flags had flown for a long time. What’s the significance of this? You’re a constitutional lawyer. What do you think should happen? And the fact that the Senate Judiciary Committee has subpoena power, what should they be doing? ProPublica won the Pulitzer Prize for their exposing of what’s been going on with these justices. But what about the Senate Judiciary Committee?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Well, the first thing we have to observe, Amy, is that the ethics disclosure system, such as it is on the Supreme Court, doesn’t work. It is only through this expert outside agitation by ProPublica and other groups that we’re finally getting to the truth. But, obviously, they don’t have a meaningful ethics disclosure reporting system on the Supreme Court. The highest court in the land has the lowest ethical standards. It’s the only court in the land where the judges or the justices have literally no mechanism where people can go to complain meaningfully about there being ethics violations.

The second thing is that the laws and the rules that apply are essentially nonexistent. Now, on Capitol Hill, a member of Congress is limited to $50 in terms of what we can accept from somebody who wants to take us out for lunch or dinner or offer us a gift. Most of the members that I know just don’t take anything, because they don’t even want to go down that road and try to estimate what’s worth $30 or $40 or $60 or what have you. Meantime, you’ve got Clarence Thomas accepting millions of dollars in gifts. In what world does that make any sense? How is that a gift as opposed to a payment or perhaps a bribe? And how is that a definition of friendship? I mean, you know, I’ve gone on trips with lots of my friends, but we go together. It’s not like they pay for me hundreds of thousands of dollars to go somewhere else. So, people have got to use some common sense about what’s going on here.

And that private corruption is an exact correlate to the public corruption that’s taking place. They fly the American flag upside down. They fly the flag of the National Rifle Association rightside up, and they hoist it way above the American flag. And we just saw that in the bump stock case, which is going to lead to some severely harmful consequences in the cities and towns and streets of America, as Justice Sotomayor warned. I mean, the whole reason that bump stocks and semiautomatic weapons, when put together, are treated — or, were treated like machine guns, until the right wing of the court got involved, is because of what we saw happen in Las Vegas, the most deadly massacre in American history, with 58 people murdered and more than 500 wounded in more than a thousand rounds that were shot in 11 minutes. I mean, that’s pretty extraordinary. And yet, Justice Thomas, with all of his little pictorial illustrations borrowed from right-wing sources, you know, sets out to prove that, no, a machine gun, you just press the trigger once, but in the bump stock arrangement, you have to maintain some pressure on it. And that’s why they overturned that regulation.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about another issue. This just broke this morning, the governor of Maryland planning today to pardon 175,000 marijuana convictions, wipe the records clean. The sweeping move by Governor Moore is expected to help about 100,000 people who were arrested on low-level drug charges. He said he’s “ecstatic that we have a real opportunity with what,” he said, “I’m signing to right a lot of historical wrongs,” timing it with this week’s Juneteenth federal holiday, June 19th, to mark the end of slavery in the United States. We’re speaking to you, Congressmember Raskin, at your home in Takoma Park, Maryland. You represent Maryland. Do you support what Governor Moore is doing?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Very much so. I’m extremely proud of our great governor, Wes Moore, for what he’s doing and timing it with Juneteenth. It will undoubtedly be an emancipation in the lives of people who have to deal with all of the legal and social disabilities imposed by the marijuana prohibition. And that’s what this is all about. I mean, we’ve got an anti-prohibition principle in our Constitution. Prohibition did not work. That doesn’t mean that alcohol and liquor use is great for everybody. But the way to get over an alcohol addiction is through the 12-step programs and challenging yourself to get over it, not throwing people in jail and building up organized crime and the Mafia in America, which is what Prohibition did. And it’s the same thing with marijuana prohibition. Obviously, it didn’t work. Millions of people, including lots of politicians and presidents, have admitted to using marijuana. And so, why would we use marijuana as an opportunity to paste a lifelong disability on people’s ability to, you know, go to college, to get jobs and so on? And so, I’m proud of what Governor Moore is doing, at the same time that we take seriously the public health consequences of any kind of addiction. It’s a serious thing.

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