The Morning Dispatch: January 6 Revisited
Plus: U.S. gymnasts file a major suit against the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Happy Friday! Long one today, so let’s bypass the banter and get straight to it.
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
The House January 6 committee held its first televised hearing last night, presenting a blow-by-blow account of the post-election assault on the Capitol by Trump supporters trying to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s electoral victory. In her opening remarks, GOP Rep. Liz Cheney revealed a number of previously unreported developments: that a number of Republican members of Congress sought preemptive pardons in the wake of the assault for their roles in attempting to overturn the election; that it was Vice President Mike Pence, not Trump, who assumed the task of marshaling federal law enforcement to respond to the attack; and that Trump had mused during the assault that the rioters threatening violence against Pence might have the right idea.
Two British citizens who were captured while serving in the Ukrainian army have been sentenced to death by a court in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, where pro-Russian officials accused them of being “mercenaries” who did not qualify for protections under the Geneva convention. British officials and human-rights organizations panned the proceeding as a “show trial,” noting that both Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner had lived in Ukraine and served in its military for years before Russia’s invasion. A Donetsk official said the two men would have the opportunity to appeal the sentence.
Vaccine company Moderna announced Wednesday that it will seek FDA authorization for an update to its COVID-19 vaccine to specifically target Omicron and its subvariants in its fall booster shot. The original mRNA vaccines, built off the original sequencing of the Alpha strain of SARS-CoV-2, still offer strong protection against serious illness and death in the COVID variants that have emerged since, but have seen their effectiveness slip when it comes to preventing the disease altogether.
Majid Khan, a Pakistani Guantanamo Bay detainee who pled guilty in 2012 for his role in arranging the 2003 bombing of a Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia and later testified about the torture he says he suffered while in CIA custody, is suing the Biden administration for allegedly continuing to detain him despite his having completed his prison sentence.
Ryan Kelley, a Michigan Republican currently running for governor, was arrested Thursday in an FBI raid on his home and charged with several misdemeanors related to his attendance at Donald Trump’s National Mall rally on January 6, 2021 and alleged participation in the riot that followed.
“Heavily armed officers delayed confronting a gunman in Uvalde, Texas, for more than an hour even though supervisors at the scene had been told that some trapped with him in two elementary school classrooms needed medical treatment,” a new New York Times investigation reports. “Instead, documents show, they waited for protective equipment to lower the risk to law enforcement officers.”
January 6 Committee Offers Thesis Statement
Rep. Bennie Thompson had the first remarks of Thursday evening’s opening January 6 committee hearing, but it fell to GOP Rep. Liz Cheney to outline the committee’s topline findings. In a half hour of understated, even deadpan remarks, she summarized the narrative that the committee intends to prove over the hearings to come—one that shows through the cold, hard light of contemporaneous evidence and eyewitness testimony how Donald Trump deliberately deceived his most loyal supporters for months into swallowing a fantasy that his loss had been illegitimate, attempted to strong-arm the federal government he headed into throwing its official support behind those lies, and then refused to step in to head things off even when those lies metastasized into shocking political violence.
First, there were a plethora of voices within Trump’s own campaign and government trying to get him to swallow the bad news: He’d lost, fair and square. There was the video testimony from former Trump campaign lawyer Alex Cannon about a conversation he’d had with chief of staff Mark Meadows in November: “I remember sharing with him that we weren’t finding anything that would be sufficient to change the results in any of the key states.”
There was testimony from then-Attorney General William Barr: “I repeatedly told the president in no uncertain terms that I did not see evidence of fraud that would have affected the outcome of the election. And, frankly, a year and a half later, I haven’t seen anything to change my mind on that.”
There was testimony from the former president’s daughter and former adviser Ivanka Trump: “I respect Attorney General Barr, so I accepted what he was saying.”
Despite all this, the Committee asserts, Trump tried—in the wake of Barr’s December resignation—to force the Justice Department into getting behind his stolen-election claims. “In the days before January 6, President Trump told his top Justice Department officials, ‘Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen,’” Cheney said. “Senior Justice Department officials, men he had appointed, told him they could not do that because it was not true. So President Trump decided to replace them.”
When all else failed, Trump turned to the backing of his loyal right-hand man: Vice President Mike Pence. If only Pence would intervene at the final moment, Trump thought, and announce the electors sent from states that voted for Biden were fraudulent—then we might still have a shot.
“What President Trump demanded that Mike Pence do wasn’t just wrong,” Cheney said. “It was illegal and it was unconstitutional. You will hear this in great detail from the vice president’s former general counsel. Witnesses in these hearings will explain how the former vice president and his staff informed President Trump over and over again that what he was pressuring Mike Pence to do was illegal.”
Trump, unsurprisingly, was undeterred. And when all this culminated in the January 6 attack on the Capitol, where raging rioters erected a gallows and chanted “Hang Mike Pence,” he met the news with a shrug.
“Aware of the rioters’ chants, the president responded with this sentiment: ‘Maybe our supporters have the right idea. Mike Pence deserves it,” Cheney said, to audible gasps in the hearing room.
For more on all this—and in particular, the committee’s further assertions about the role of Trump-friendly paramilitary groups like the Proud Boys in January 6’s unrest—check out Price’s piece up on the site today:
After Thompson and Cheney’s opening statements, the committee played a 10-minute video, which drew on footage from documentary filmmaker (and witness in the hearing) Nick Quested, along with bodycam and surveillance footage from Metropolitan Police and United States Capitol Police. The video, which former Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney called “stunning,” featured timestamps that provided a detailed timeline of three overlapping events: the rally at the Ellipse in front of the White House, the joint session of Congress to certify the electoral votes, and the storming of the Capitol.
The Proud Boys and others who first breached the perimeter of the Capitol grounds at the Peace Circle were a relatively small and extreme group whose beliefs and actions don’t represent most of the American public. But egged on by Trump’s election conspiracies, they sparked the mob’s violence and terror at the Capitol.
By 10:30 a.m. on January 6, Quested was with a group of approximately 250-300 Proud Boys who were moving east along the National Mall toward the Capitol. The fact that they were walking away from the Ellipse, where Trump had not yet started speaking, came as a surprise to Quested since he thought the president’s address was the main event. The Proud Boys walked around the reflecting pool in front of the Capitol and were marching by the Peace Circle at 11:22. Trump’s speech began at the Ellipse at noon. At 12:53, a group of Proud Boys were back at the Peace Circle, where they breached the security perimeter, knocking officer Caroline Edwards unconscious. At 1 p.m., the gavel dropped to begin the joint session of Congress.
Gymnasts File $1 Billion Claim Against FBI
In 2015, the FBI received reports that Larry Nassar was sexually abusing gymnasts in his role as team physician for USA Gymnastics and elsewhere. Instead of sharing this information with local law enforcement, FBI agents delayed victim interviews, fabricated witness statements, and later lied to investigators—one even tried to get a job with the U.S. Olympic Committee during his investigation, according to an inspector general report.
Between the 2015 reports and Nassar’s arrest more than a year later, he abused at least 70 girls and women, the inspector general investigation concluded. “People at the FBI had their own chance to stop this monster back in 2015 and failed,” FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress last year. “I’m deeply and profoundly sorry.”
But the Department of Justice has declined three times to pursue charges against agents involved in bungling the investigation, noting the third time that its decision did not “in any way reflect a view that the investigation of Nassar was handled as it should have been.” He’s now serving a 40 to 175-year sentence after 160 women accused him of abuse.
“My fellow survivors and I were betrayed by every institution that was supposed to protect us—the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics, the FBI and now the Department of Justice,” Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney said in a statement provided to The Dispatch by Manly, Stewart, & Finaldi, one of the law firms representing her and other abuse survivors. “It is clear that the only path to justice and healing is through the legal process.”
So, Maroney and more than 90 others who say Nassar abused them after 2015—including gymnasts Simone Biles and Aly Raisman—this week filed a claim against the FBI for more than $1 billion total.
“We wouldn’t have to be here if the FBI had taken responsibility for their failures,” former gymnast and attorney Rachael Denhollander, first to accuse Nassar publicly of abuse, told Reuters. She’s not part of this claim, since her abuse occurred before 2015. “Because they did not choose to do that, the only mechanism for forcing any kind of restoration of accountability, reform, and change is our civil justice system.”
The women have filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), and the Department of Justice has six months to respond before they can file a lawsuit. To win a lawsuit under the FTCA, the plaintiffs must prove that the FBI agents failed in a legal duty any private citizen would have, not just law enforcement. “Generally speaking, private people do not have an obligation to step in and protect somebody from another person’s wrongful acts,” Paul Figley—an American University law professor who has written about the FTCA—told The Dispatch. “If you get past that hurdle, then the question is whether or not the act of the FBI people was something protected by the discretionary function exception.” In other words: proving that the agents broke FBI rules, rather than making bad—but protected—policy decisions.
Only after clearing these hurdles could the suit become a question of FBI negligence. “It’s a high hill to climb,” Greg Sisk—a law professor at the University of St. Thomas—told The Dispatch. “These kinds of cases are very difficult to prevail against the government.”
The DOJ could choose to settle rather than fight the suit in court, though it would likely try to negotiate for a smaller sum. “[Wray] said that the FBI betrayed their duty,” former Detroit U.S. attorney Matthew Schneider told The Dispatch, predicting the DOJ will settle. “If you’re admitting that you’ve made these mistakes, and that it should have never happened and you’ve damaged—severely—lives, then you should be willing to do something about it.” Congress could also pass a bill ordering compensation for the survivors, as it did when an FTCA claim against the government for radiation poisoning from nuclear testing failed, and Congress compensated the radiation victims anyway.
“There’s more at stake than just the lawsuit itself,” Sisk added. “Part of why a lawsuit like this is filed is to send a further message and to get the attention of the public again to the the outrages that occurred here—and hopefully put more pressure on the FBI, more pressure on the Congress to take the kinds of actions to make sure that sexual misconduct is treated more seriously, is investigated more aggressively, and isn’t swept under the rug.”
Worth Your Time
We aren’t big-time swearers (at least in print) here at The Dispatch—you’ll mostly still see tasteful bleeping in our articles where necessary—but Arthur Brooks is here to suggest we may be going a bit overboard. In fact, he argues in his latest for the Atlantic, judicious use of salty speech can be a human good: “Uncontrolled, it is evidence of a neurological problem; controlled, it can give you relief from social and physical pain.” If you do indulge, he has some friendly suggestions: Do it on purpose (control your cursing, don’t let it control you!), do it infrequently, and don’t use it to abuse or harass others.
Over at Catholic journal The Lamp, the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s Jennifer Bryson writes about her unexpected assignment, while working as an intelligence officer for the Defense Intelligence Agency in the mid-2000s, to do a stint as an interrogator at Guantanamo Bay, and some of the crises of conscience the assignment provoked. “The time to deliberate, seek advice, and reflect for long periods of time in prayer so that we can have a conscience that can stand on solid footing ‘just when it matters’ exists only ahead of time, when one can’t foresee the curveballs,” she writes. “Conscience is, after all, not a rabbit one can suddenly pull out of a magic hat. It is something that must be cultivated and developed over time so that it is available and ready to go when one of those ‘just when it matters’ moments comes our way.”
Presented With One Comment
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Let Us Know
One of the most damning indictments a person can make of a story in American political media is to write it off as “old news”—and in some respects the January 6 committee is necessarily concerned with exactly that. Is all this sound and fury being expended to a useful end? What is the best plausible outcome?