The Congressional investigation into the January 6, 2021 riot at the United States Capitol is generating lots of fanfare. And understandably so. The riot was a disturbing low point in American history. Recent headlines highlight Steve Bannon’s indictment for refusing to cooperate with investigators; former Department of Justice lawyer Jeffrey Clark’s plans to plead the Fifth Amendment during his upcoming testimony; and former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows refusal to sit for an interview.
But the pursuit of additional information about January 6 shouldn’t detract from or obscure what we already know. This is not a situation— like the Mueller investigation—where there is some ambiguous smoke and we need an investigation to determine whether there is fire.
When it comes to the events surrounding January 6, we are already choking on smoke as the fire blazes before us.
Indeed, what we already know constitutes an unprecedented offense to American democracy. We already know, for example, that before the election Donald Trump spent months undermining the election’s integrity. On May 26, 2020, for example, Trump tweeted that “[t]here is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed.” On August 24 he asserted that “[t]he only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election.”
And so on.
We already know, moreover, that in the two months after the election— before January 6— Trump doubled down on his baseless claims: “He only won in the eyes of the FAKE NEWS MEDIA,” Trump tweeted about Joe Biden. “I concede NOTHING! We have a long way to go. This was a RIGGED ELECTION!”
We already know that, during this time, Trump didn’t just tell lies. He tried to coerce the Georgia Secretary of State to commit election fraud. He and Jeffrey Clark tried to capture the Department of Justice after Attorney General William Barr— who flatly rejected Trump’s claims of election fraud— left office. He initiated baseless litigation in numerous courts. He pressured Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the results. And, of course, he helped to plan and organize the January 6 rally itself.
We already know that on January 6 Trump held the infamous rally and directed his supporters to the Capitol. He again publicly pressured Pence to overturn the election results. And he openly supported the rioters— while they roamed the Capitol hallways looking for Pence— in a Twitter video.
And, finally, we already know that Trump is carrying on with his open assault on America’s electoral system. Trump’s baseless accusations of election fraud continue.
The January 6 Committee should, of course, continue on with its important investigative work. And there are undoubtedly critical facts that have yet to emerge.
But while the Committee wrestles with the nuances of Bannon’s and Meadow’s assertions of executive privilege and Clark’s pleading the Fifth, it’s essential for Americans not to focus disproportionately on these skirmishes. We must see clearly what’s already right in front of our faces. We already know that the sitting president of the United States spent months feverishly trying to stage a coup from the Oval Office. And, no matter what we learn from here, how we respond to this affront to American democracy will fundamentally shape our nation going forward.
William Cooper’s writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, New York Daily News, Chicago Sun-Times, USA Today, and Huffington Post.