By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Then-President Donald Trump attempted a coup on Jan. 6, 2021, and that will be a centerpiece of committee hearings in Congress next month, said Democrat Jamie Raskin, a committee member who led the prosecution of Trump’s second impeachment.
On that day in 2021, Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building, encouraged by the Republican president in a speech outside the White House to protest formal congressional certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in a November 2020 election.
“This was a coup organized by the president against the vice president and against the Congress in order to overturn the 2020 presidential election,” Raskin said in an interview with Reuters, National Public Radio and The Guardian newspaper, when asked what he has learned so far from the committee’s probe.
U.S. Representative Bennie Thompson, who chairs the special House of Representatives committee organized by Democrats to look into events leading up to the Jan. 6 assault, has told reporters he expects public hearings to resume in May.
“We’re going to tell the whole story of everything that happened. There was a violent insurrection and an attempted coup and we were saved by (then-Vice President) Mike Pence’s refusal to go along with that plan,” said Raskin, a member of the House special committee.
It was unclear whether Raskin, during the interview, was expressing only his thoughts or the thinking also of fellow lawmakers serving on the special committee made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans.
In July 2021, a new book said senior uniformed military leaders had been concerned about a potential coup, but in a statement then Trump said he had never threatened or spoken to anyone about a coup.
Shortly after organizing last year, the House panel held an initial hearing with testimony from four police officers who said they were beaten and taunted with racial insults as they tried to defend the Capitol from attackers.
The violence capped months of Trump arguing the election had been stolen from him through massive voter fraud, a claim he still asserts despite its rejection by numerous court rulings, Trump’s own Justice Department and recounts sanctioned by his fellow Republicans.
‘TO SEIZE THE PRESIDENCY’
Raskin said the hearings will lay out for the public the steps the former president and his associates took to try to stay in power despite a clear-cut defeat.
Had the rioters succeeded in preventing the certification, Raskin said, Trump “was prepared to seize the presidency” and likely declare martial law.
He said the committee had yet to decide whether to try to seek testimony from Trump or Pence. Every four years, the vice president is charged with overseeing the formal count in Congress of presidential elections.
Pence rejected pleas to set aside the November 2020 result, which would have paved the way for the House of Representatives to in effect conduct a second election, with Republicans holding an advantage that could have installed Trump for a second term.
The attack left four people dead on Jan. 6. One Capitol Police officer who fought with rioters died the next day. About 800 people have been charged with crimes relating to the attack.
The House panel has collected more than 100,000 documents, with investigators conducting more than 800 interviews, according to lawmakers.
“We don’t have a lot of experience with coups in our own country and we think of a coup as something that takes place against a president,” Raskin said.
But Jan. 6, 2021, was different, he said, because it did not involve the military or other faction attacking the president.
“It’s what the political scientists call a self-coup … it’s a president fearful of defeat, overthrowing the constitutional process,” Raskin said.
The House of Representatives twice impeached Trump, the second time following the Capitol assault. The U.S. Senate acquitted Trump both times. At political rallies since then, the former president has dropped hints he might run again in 2024.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Howard Goller)