Trump says he’ll jail his opponents. Members of the House Jan. 6 committee are preparing

Sarah D. Wire | (TNS) Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — Members of the House committee that investigated the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol have warned America for three years to take former President Donald Trump at his word.

Now, as Trump is poised to win the Republican presidential nomination, his criminal trials face delays that could stall them past election day, and his rhetoric grows increasingly authoritarian, some of those lawmakers find themselves following their own advice.

In mid-March, Trump said on social media that the committee members should be jailed. In December he vowed to be a dictator on “day one.” In August, he said he would “have no choice” but to lock up his political opponents.

“If he intends to eliminate our constitutional system and start arresting his political enemies, I guess I would be on that list,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren. “One thing I did learn on the committee is to pay attention and listen to what Trump says, because he means it.”

Lofgren added that she doesn’t yet have a plan in place to thwart potential retribution by Trump. But Rep. Adam B. Schiff, who has long been a burr in Trump’s side, said he’s having “real-time conversations” with his staff about how to make sure he stays safe if Trump follows through on his threats.

“We’re taking this seriously, because we have to,” Schiff said. “We’ve seen this movie before … and how perilous it is to ignore what someone is saying when they say they want to be a dictator.”

The bipartisan Jan. 6 select committee, which included Schiff and Lofgren, spent months investigating the attack that left five people dead and more than 150 police officers injured as Trump supporters stormed the Capitol while Congress was certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election. The committee’s blockbuster broadcast hearings and an 845-page final report set the narrative that Trump knew he had fairly lost the election but pursued a scheme to keep himself in power anyway.

A Justice Department investigation by special counsel Jack Smith was expected to be the legal confirmation of what the committee found, setting up the potential for a criminal conviction against Trump for attempting to subvert the election.

But the process has faced numerous delays. The Justice Department didn’t indict Trump until August 2023, charging him with four felony counts. The Supreme Court then dealt a severe blow to Smith’s plans for a spring trial by agreeing to take up a question of presidential immunity at the end of April. The court’s decision is not expected to be released until mid-summer, and then Trump’s team will likely be allowed an additional 90 days to prepare for trial.

“I’m fearful that the Supreme Court is deliberately slow-walking this,” Schiff said in an interview, adding that the court should never have taken up the immunity question after trial Judge Tanya Chutkan and appeals courts ruled that presidential immunity did not apply in the case.

“The claim is borderline frivolous … they’re drawing it out just enough to make it almost infeasible to try [the cases] before the election,” Schiff said.

“It’s still possible to get it done,” he added. “And I think voters deserve to have that information.”

Schiff and other committee members say that the Justice Department was too slow to focus on Trump’s role, while the committee had quickly pivoted its investigation to Trump and the mechanics of the plan to have some states’ electors be thrown out by Vice President Mike Pence in order to deny Biden the Oval Office.

“This was the first time in which the Congress was so far out ahead of the department, and given how slowly we move here there was no reason for that to happen,” Schiff said.

He said while it appears the Justice Department wanted to reestablish its independent reputation and not embroil itself in controversy, “it nonetheless delayed accountability for a year, year and a half. And so the case could have been over by now.”

Former Rep. Liz Cheney, who was vice chair of the select committee, called Trump’s legal moves “a delaying tactic.”

“It cannot be the case that a president of the United States can attempt to overturn an election and seize power and that our justice system is incapable of holding a trial, of holding him to account, before the next election,” she told a crowd at Iowa’s Drake University recently.

Lofgren said it would be best for the federal trial to conclude before the election “just so American voters would know whether they were voting for a convicted felon or not.”

Trump also faces election racketeering charges in Fulton County, Georgia, along with a cadre of co-defendants. That trial has not yet been scheduled, and the breadth of the case and number of co-defendants could mean it won’t take place before November.

Committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin was still optimistic that one of the election obstruction cases might conclude before the election.

“I’ve got faith in the American people and … in American democracy. So it’s not remotely over yet,” Raskin said.

Meanwhile, a House Republican probe into the causes of the Jan. 6 insurrection is underway to shift away from the narrative that Trump was to blame for the Capitol attack. The House Administration Committee’s oversight panel is expected to hold several hearings before the election, and recently released a report that pushed back against the Democratic-led select committee’s focus on Trump.

Much of the new investigation has focused on whether the select committee had hidden information that may have exonerated Trump. House Republicans have repeatedly alleged that information, such as some transcripts, is missing.

Cheney has asserted that Trump’s legal team had all of the transcripts from the select committee, including those that the committee has had to return to the White House and the Secret Service since August of 2023.

Cheney “should go to Jail along with the rest of the Unselect Committee!” Trump posted on social media March 17.

Cheney replied the same day, “Lying in all caps doesn’t make it true, Donald. You know you and your lawyers have long had the evidence.”

Trump has referred to locking up his political enemies before, in increasingly authoritarian rhetoric. In August conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck asked Trump on his BlazeTV show, “Do you regret not locking [Clinton] up? And if you’re president again, will you lock people up?”

Trump said: “The answer is you have no choice, because they’re doing it to us.”

It’s the kind of talk that has Rep. Peter Aguilar, who served on the Jan. 6 committee, answering “yes” when asked whether he’s preparing for the possibility of Trump following through on threats to punish political rivals.

Aguilar wasn’t willing to provide details, saying only that “all of us have to be prepared for what Donald Trump could do if he ever gets ahold of power again.”

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