Opinion Why today’s Jan. 6 revelations will be dangerous for Trump

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HR King
May 29, 2001
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By Greg Sargent
Columnist |
June 13, 2022 at 9:55 a.m. EDT

As we prepare for Monday’s committee hearing on the Jan. 6 insurrection, it’s worth dwelling on the legal concept of “willful blindness.” Under it, deliberate ignorance of a particular fact does not constitute exoneration if there was a high — and obvious — probability that this fact was true.
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The fact in question, for our purposes, is this: “Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden.” Trump knew this, yet tried to overturn the result anyway, an effort that culminated in the violent assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Trump has continued insisting the election was stolen from him. This has functioned for Trump and his apologists as a form of exoneration: He genuinely believed that to be the case and merely exercised whatever legal options he thought were available in response.
But this story will implode at the House select committee hearing on Monday. It will focus on Trump’s “big lie” about his loss, and how it underpinned his weeks-long attempt to overturn the outcome. Central to this will be showing that Trump did know he had lost before launching that effort.


“I think we can prove to any reasonable, open-minded person that Donald Trump absolutely knew,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the committee, told CNN on Sunday.
One of our greatest collective failings in response to Trump’s determination to destroy our political system has been the credulity granted to the idea that “Trump and his supporters actually believe the ‘big lie.’” That refrain has been ubiquitous for 18 months.
But this notion, which is usually accompanied by hand-wringing about our “two separate realities,” lets Trump and his allies off the hook. The much more sordid story is this: They planned and executed a premeditated, far-reaching plot to keep Trump in power illegitimately, in the full knowledge that his loss was procedurally legitimate.
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This is the story the committee must expose. We already saw former attorney general William P. Barr testify to the committee that he informed Trump that claims of a stolen election were “bulls---.” In response, the former president lashed out at Barr, demonstrating Trump knows how damaging this is to him — a major vulnerability.
Now the committee will demonstrate in greater detail how Trump refused to accept his own advisers’ insistence that he had indeed lost the election. Critically, the committee will place particular emphasis on Trump’s declaration of victory on election night, despite having been told the votes weren’t there for him to win.
Here’s why that’s so important: It forcefully demonstrates that Trump’s scheme for overturning the election was premeditated, deliberate corruption.
This fact continues to get lost, but Trump telegraphed his strategy as early as July 2020. Trump essentially told reporters he would seize on expected delays in the count of mail ballots to use an election-night lead to declare himself victor, and argue uncounted mail votes were fraudulent.
Trump also privately told advisers he would do just this. And that’s exactly what he did end up doing.
All of that became the basis for all that followed: pressure on elections officials and the Justice Department to manufacture impressions of widespread voter fraud, on state legislators to certify sham electors, and on Vice President Mike Pence to subvert the electoral count in Congress.
The committee’s intention to demonstrate that Trump’s planning began early could be politically powerful, but that’s not all: It also points directly to possible criminality.
If Trump and/or his co-conspirators are criminally investigated in relation to Jan. 6, one potential crime could be obstruction of an official proceeding, in this case the count of presidential electors in Congress. Prosecutors must show that Trump or other perpetrators did this “corruptly.”
“You’d have to show that when he was trying to find various means to overturn the election, he actually knew he lost,” former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade told me.
Demonstrating “corrupt” intent entails showing knowledge of a “wrongful purpose,” McQuade said. She noted “willful blindness” could be essential to demonstrating this.
“If you close your eyes to the high probability that a fact exists,” she said, “you can’t use that to evade responsibility.”
In a kind of collective act of self-gaslighting, much of the public has been disarmed by Trump’s tendency to unabashedly project his corruption, as if blithely signaling his intentions somehow drains them of corrupt intent.
In fact, Trump briefed us in advance on the corrupt scheme he intended to carry out, and then executed it according to plan. Yet the story we constantly hear is Trump “believed” his efforts had some sort of legitimate basis. That’s absurd.
Whether Trump and his band of coup-plotters will be criminally investigated is unknown, of course. But whatever happens on that front, Monday’s line of inquiry has the potential to forcefully expose to the public the throbbing core of premeditated corruption at the heart of Trump’s scheme. And that could enlarge public understanding in a very big way.

 
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