Tag Archives: January 6

Republican Titanic – “I don’t see no stinkin’ iceberg”

Republican senators had an advantage over the Titanic command – the attack on the Capitol occurred in broad daylight and was captured on video by hundreds of gleeful participants. The attack, we now know, was planned by some participants in advance. The mob was summoned to Washington by Donald Trump, then the president of the United States, and directed to walk to the Capitol to stop the counting of Electoral College votes that would, at long last, end any hope Trump had of retaining power. It all happened in public view – Trump’s call to action, hours of hand-to-hand fighting with police, the mob hunting for members of Congress (particularly for Speaker Pelosi and Vice President Pence—“Hang Mike Pence,” they yelled) and ransacking the hallowed ground of American democracy. Calls for help went unanswered.

The desecration did not end on January 6. After reviewing the undeniable evidence, only seven Republican senators (Burr, Cassidy, Collins, Murkowski, Romney, Sasse and Toomey) had the courage, moral conviction, instinct for survival, call it what you will, to vote to convict Trump of the incitement to violence the entire world had witnessed. The other Republicans were fine with what happened, so much so that many of them literally ignored the proceedings in the Senate trial.

The media reported that Trump was “acquitted,” and while it’s a fine point, this was not an acquittal but just a failure to reach a super-majority for “guilty.” The total vote for “guilty” was 57, well past a simple majority and a historic first. In substance, Trump was found “guilty but not guilty.” In a supreme irony, the failure to achieve a two-thirds majority spared Trump by virtue of the very Constitution that he spat upon throughout his presidency.

Before the vote occurred, I was penning a blog post entitled “Senator Ted Cruz – Sophist in Wonderland,” addressing an op-ed Cruz wrote for, who else, Fox News. https://fxn.ws/2ZfvsQ0 The op-ed is remarkable for many reasons, but what stood out for me was the surprising conclusion that the Senate did indeed have jurisdiction to conduct a trial of a former president for in-office conduct. That conclusion, however, is followed by ““I believe the Senate should decline to exercise jurisdiction-and so I voted to dismiss this impeachment on jurisdictional grounds.” [boldface & italics mine] Thus, Cruz would have you believe that the Senate had jurisdiction but also did not have jurisdiction.

This style of reasoning is typical of the Republicans who have accepted Donald Trump as their liege lord. In their eyes, he can do no wrong. In the rare case where they admit he was wrong about something, they still support him. Absolute in their views about many things, so-called Republican “conservatives” apply total relativism for Trump’s conduct – relative to Satan himself. (Trump’s not so bad compared to the Beast himself, so what’s the problem?) Trump’s hallucinatory view of reality as totally malleable – essentially, “it is what I say it is” – is the Alice in Wonderland world the Republican Party has adopted as its operative principle. Beyond that, it has no principles. Power is all.

That much has been clear for the entirety of Trump’s presidency, at the very least since KellyAnne Conway uttered the infamous line about “alternative facts” two days after Trump’s inauguration. The January 6 insurrection that, reduced to its essence, was an attempt to overthrow the government by a sitting president, at least provided clarity about where the Republican Party stands.

Senators like Rand Paul can still appear on television and with a straight face argue that there are “two sides to everything.” But only someone with no moral foundation would say that. Even a craven individual like Mitch McConnell has admitted there is no evidence that the election was stolen from Trump. But, like Cruz, McConnell, moments after voting against the Senate majority, agreed that Trump had incited the violence for which McConnell had just voted he could not be held accountable. In Trumpland, reality really is whatever Trump says it is.

Now comes former Professor Alan Dershowitz in Newsweek, to offer cover for Republicans looking for a seemingly intellectually plausible basis to argue that Trump’s “incitement” was really protected speech under the First Amendment. https://bit.ly/3pnLWzY  [Disclosure: Dershowitz taught my 1L criminal law class at Harvard]

Dershowitz argues there is no difference between what Trump did and the actions of Representative Jamie Raskin’s father (Marcus Raskin) and others who, in the 1960’s, encouraged young men to resist the draft and endorsed  “the burning of draft cards, break-ins at draft boards and other unlawful actions to obstruct the war effort.” According to Dershowitz,

the defense was that the First Amendment protected Marcus’ advocacy of resistance to the draft, even if such resistance then took a form of unlawful actions by others….The jury acquitted Marcus, and the court of appeals reversed the convictions of the other defendants. They were all saved by a broad reading of the First Amendment.

While it’s remotely possible that my limited access to research has failed to find some relevant authorities, I am at loss to understand what Dershowitz is saying. The Court of Appeals case he refers to must be United States v Spock, 416 F.2d 165 (1st Cir. 1969). This was the appeal from the trial that acquitted Marcus of conspiracy but found the other four members of the “Spock Five” guilty. Contrary to the implication of Dershowitz’s description, the Court of Appeals in Spock did not reverse the convictions of the other four due to a “broad reading of the First Amendment.”

A couple of quotes from the opinion suffice to frame what was really going on:

The defendants here are not charged … with expressions of sympathy and moral support, but with conspiring to counsel, aid and abet Selective Service registrants to disobey various duties imposed by the Selective Service Act….

What we do determine is that the First Amendment does not, per se, require acquittal.

The central question addressed by the opinion was,

Whether … the evidence was sufficient to take the defendants to the jury.

There was, of course, an obvious and complex relationship between the First Amendment protections of speech and the adequacy of the evidence of illegal intent. The Court’s opinion expressly recognized the problem, but it also set out three different ways in which a speaker critical of the government could be found to have unlawfully conspired to violate the law, notwithstanding the First Amendment: (1) prior or subsequent “unambiguous statements;” (2) “subsequent commission of the very illegal act contemplated by the agreement;” or (3) “subsequent legal act if that act is ‘clearly undertaken for the specific purpose of rendering effective the later illegal activity which is advocated.”

The opinion, moreover, did not discuss Marcus Raskin at all because he was acquitted at trial. There is no way to know what the basis for a jury’s decision is, so Dershowitz cannot plausibly claim that Raskin was saved by a “broad reading of the First Amendment.”

The Court of Appeals did reverse the guilty findings of the other four defendants, as Dershowitz said. The Court reversed the trial court’s guilty finding for Spock because the evidence against him did not establish the “necessary intent to adhere to its [the charged conspiracy’s] illegal aspects.” Further, “Spock’s actions lacked the clear character necessary to imply specific intent under the First Amendment standard.”

While it’s certainly  true that the Court was applying the principle of strictest interpretation of law required by the First Amendment, as to which there was nothing surprising given the history of decisions regarding controversial speech, the actual decision as to Spock was based on evidentiary failures.

As to defendant Michael Ferber, at the time a draft-age student, the Court said,

the evidence did not warrant a finding that through other statements or conduct he joined the larger conspiracy for which the other defendants were prosecuted.

Rev. Coffin and Andrew Goodman had a different outcome entirely, but it was determined not by the First Amendment but by what the Court of Appeals determined, rather easily, was a fundamental error by the trial judge in posing questions to the jury designed to elicit “specific findings” of separate elements of the crimes charged, if they had reached a guilty verdict. That approach, condemned rather universally by precedent, ran afoul of the independence accorded to juries under American law. Juries, in other words, are free in criminal cases to do what they will; the Court of Appeals wrote:

To ask the jury special questions might be said to infringe on its power to deliberate free from legal fetters; on its power to arrive at a general verdict without having to support it by reasons or by a report of its deliberations; and on its power to follow or not to follow the instructions of the court. Moreover, any abridgement or modification of this institution would partly restrict its historic function, that of tempering rules of law by common sense brought to bear upon the facts of a specific case…

Uppermost … is the principle that the jury, as the conscience of the community, must be permitted to look at more than logic…. If it were otherwise there would be no more reason why a verdict should not be directed against a defendant in a criminal case than in a civil one. The constitutional guarantees of due process and trial by jury require that a criminal defendant be afforded the full protection of a jury unfettered, directly or indirectly….

Here, whereas, as we have pointed out, some defendants could be found to have exceeded the bounds of free speech, the issue was peculiarly one to which a community standard or conscience was, in the jury’s discretion, to be applied.

The Court thus reversed the trial court as to Coffin and Goodman and ordered new trials, leaving open the possibility that a properly instructed jury could convict them.

Thereafter, the government dropped the charges, ending the case.

Undeterred by those realities, Dershowitz goes on to expand his view of Trump’s innocence with this:

Several years later, Marcus [Raskin] was once again protected by a broad reading of the First Amendment, when he served as an intermediary between Daniel Ellsberg, who unlawfully stole the Pentagon Papers, and The New York Times, which published them despite their being classified. But for the First Amendment, Marcus would have been charged with conspiracy to publish classified material.

Unlike Dershowitz, I don’t claim to know what would have happened if there had been no First Amendment precedents, but I do know that the referenced case, New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971), involved the government’s attempt to stop publication of stolen classified documents. It dealt with “prior restraint” of the press and is remotely, if at all, relevant to the fate of Marcus Raskin.

Dershowitz then engages in a clever application of “whataboutism,” not to mention historical speculation and revisionism:

If Jamie Raskin’s current view of the First Amendment had prevailed back in the day, his father would likely have been convicted of two felonies. If President Trump incited his followers to commit unlawful conduct, so did Marcus.

In an all-too-familiar trope, Dershowitz goes on with this:

I would have thought that Jamie Raskin—in light of his history as a constitutional law professor, his family history under the First Amendment and his own protests against the 2016 election—would be leading the charge to protect the First Amendment. But no! He is leading the charge to compromise President Trump’s free speech rights—and thus the rights of all Americans to express controversial, even wrongheaded and provocative, views.

The English translation is “I thought someone as smart as you would not hold such crazy and disreputable views.” I really hate to see that, perhaps because it’s been used against me by people holding Trump-ish views. If someone disagrees about something, explain yourself, but don’t do the “how could someone as smart as you be so dumb” routine, especially following an incomplete, and arguably inaccurate recital of historical facts about which the author should know better (he claims to have been involved in the defense of the Spock case).

Returning to what Dershowitz labels as the desire of various people and groups to create a “Trump exception” to the First Amendment, Trump’s speech on January 6 does not stand alone. Indeed, in the Spock case, the Court of Appeals addressed in some detail not only the words spoken but other conduct that indicated participation (or not) in the charged conspiracy.

Trump actively invited his supporters to come to Washington on January 6 to “stop the steal,” a false claim that the election had been stolen from him. His public statements, through Twitter and otherwise, painted a false picture of what had happened. More than 60 court cases had heard his claims and rejected them. Some of his staunchest allies, including the Republican Majority Leader and his former Attorney General, had publicly acknowledged that the claim of stolen election was false.

Trump could say what he wanted, but there is no plausibility to the argument that he actually believed what he was saying to the mob. He lied repeatedly to them. Why? The only plausible reason was to stir them up, to play upon their anger and fear. He was supported in this by his attorney (who called for “trial by combat,” a statement Trump did not reject), and his sons addressing the mob that assembled at the “rally” in Washington.

It should be obvious, but speaking at a Trump rally is not like karaoke night at a bar where anyone who wants to perform can take the mic. Trump approved everything. He explicitly stated that the mob was going to walk down to the Capitol and that he would be with them, a crucially important element in the incitement component of the speech. That is a fact that his Republican supplicants would like to overlook but Trump’s assurance that he would accompany the mob to the Capitol is conclusive of his intent to direct them. Even before he finished talking, a large contingent of supporters headed for the Capitol Building, apparently led by the Proud Boys. Trump continued egging on the others who soon followed.

Thus, Trump’s call for action went well beyond merely voicing objection to government action. He explicitly directed the mob to go to the Capitol, leading them to believe he would be going with them. That Trump lied about going with them is irrelevant to the question whether his speech was simply a complaint about the government or a specific incitement to specific violent action that was foreseeable because it was called for by his choice of words, his continuing to lie about the election and by his subsequent failure to take action to resist the assault on the Capitol.

Indeed, the fact that no steps were taken by the Secret Service to move Trump to a secure location in the face of a brutal physical attack by thousands on the Capitol that lasted for several hours of hand-to-hand combat is itself strong evidence that Trump had directed the attack and intended for it to occur. He was perfectly content to sit back and watch his handiwork play out. Statements from White House sources, not credibly rebutted by evidence of contrary action, indicate that Trump was pleased with the violence and could not understand why others on White House staff were not equally moved by it.

A finding in those circumstances that Trump incited the attack on the Capitol does not create a “Trump exception” to the First Amendment. Dershowitz flatly states that the First Amendment recognizes no exception for actions by the president, but his assertion begs the question. Trump took an oath to defend the Constitution.

Dershowitz’s argument that Trump could not violate the law because he was “protesting the actions of other  branches of government” also fails to address the key issue: was the “protest” an active incitement to violence that the president sought to inspire and that he effectively directed to occur? Was he merely complaining out loud about what he thought, however absurdly, was a bad election? Or, was he effectively leading (from behind, but still leading) a physical attack to stop a constitutionally-mandated action from sealing his electoral fate?

In World War II, General Eisenhower did not physically assault the beaches at Normandy, but he was Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces. No person of reason would say that Eisenhower did not lead and direct the attack. Dershowitz’s categorical claim that Trump’s words were protected by the First Amendment would, if true, immunize any person, including a president, from organizing and directing from a distance a violent attempt to overthrow the government and capture or retain power. Whatever the First Amendment means, it doesn’t mean that. If it did, the framers would have created the seed from which the defeat of the democratic republic they risked so much to create could be easily destroyed. Dershowitz’s snarky attack on Jamie Raskin aside, that facile exercise in “whataboutism” is simply implausible.

Returning then to the metaphor I used at the outset of this post, if the democratic republic we know as the United States is going to survive, and we know that democracy is rare in world politics, the Republican Party must now face a reckoning unlike anything in its history. If the republic is fortunate, the GOP has doomed itself by aligning with a wannabe-dictator. An overwhelming majority of Americans who believe in the principle of rule by the people through a neutral system of laws will emerge from the horrors of January 6 with a stronger commitment to assure that such outrages are not repeated.

An agenda to achieve that end should include strong criminal prosecutions not only of the perpetrators of violence at the Capitol but of the leader. The spinelessness of the Republican senators who voted “not guilty” in the second impeachment should motivate true patriots to demand complete justice accomplished through the justice system without political involvement.

In addition to the offenses arising from January 6, we must not forget that the Mueller Report documented no fewer than ten instances of blatant obstruction of justice by Donald Trump. Those cases must be prosecuted so that no future president thinks he or she can follow Trump’s approach to governance with impunity. Don’t forget that Trump claimed Article II of the Constitution authorized him to “do whatever I want.”

As part of that process, but separate from it, the Department of Justice should reconsider its policy position that a sitting president cannot be indicted while in office. The “Republican gap” – you can’t indict while in office and you can’t try impeachments after leaving — must be closed definitively.

The federal government also needs to re-examine the states’ voter suppression tactics, which are rampant in the wake of the 2020 election. While I remain profoundly suspicious that Republican-dominated state governments will give good-faith and fair consideration to voter -expanding processes, a brief attempt should be made to find mutually-acceptable policies, to be ingrained in federal and state laws, that will put a permanent stop to the meddling that occurred in 2020 and long before. Nothing is more important to the survival of democracy than assuring that the will of the people is effectuated through elections at every level of government. The Biden administration should add this to its long list of priorities.

Finally, Americans who are committed to the continuation of government of, by and for the people must wake up, sign up, get informed and vote in every election. Failure to attend to the democratic opportunity will result in its being eliminated. We saw this in 2016 and almost again in 2020.

As for the Republican Titanic Party, Americans who believe in the principles once held by the GOP now must find a new political home. The GOP has been taken over by conspiracy theorists and violent extremists. They believe America can survive as an independent country even as it returns to an imaginary yesteryear in which a huge percentage of the population is treated like property, the country’s best opportunities are reserved for white people and we ignore issues like climate change and the need for international relationships based on shared interest and peace. They often espouse principles that would destroy the separation of church and state, a bedrock element of American freedom and independence.

Those Americans who, for better or worse, still genuinely believe that a country in the 21st century can prosper only with smaller government, less regulation of virulent capitalism and the other central tenets of traditional conservative values must find a new political home. If they choose to remain with the GOP, they are going to be swamped by Trumpers who have captured the machinery of its state parties (witness the multiple censures of Republicans who dared go against Trump during the election and after the January 6 attack). The old GOP is a dead duck, a backward-looking myth-based hallucination. Donald Trump, Jr. said it straight out on January 6: the GOP is now Trump’s party.

I hope that genuine conservatives will reconsider whether a modern 21st century country can prosper, or even survive, if it relies on Trump’s values. I hope they will join the Democratic Party in a future that accepts reality and welcomes change (which is inevitable), is inclusive (more interesting people in a diverse population) and works extra hard to ensure that its children are raised as independent thinkers (not replicas of their parents) who are more prepared to face the daunting challenges of 21st century life, open to new experiences, new people and hope. If those people come over, the old GOP will lose a huge element of its power and become a marginalized collection of white supremacists, misogynists and extremists with little to no influence on American political life going forward.

“Hang Mike Pence” – Politics as Usual?

If you’ve had the stomach to watch the videos shown to the U.S. Senate in Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, you saw and heard this chant from the mob that attacked the Capitol on January 6. This was the threat to the Vice President instigated by the President. The evidence is overwhelming. Trump inspired and directed the mob of crazed right-wing insurrectionists and conspiracy-believers to attack the Capitol to stop the counting of Electoral College votes so that he could declare himself the winner of the election he so clearly lost. I am no fan of Mike Pence as a politician or person but “Hang Mike Pence” and “Pence is a traitor” for refusing to follow Trump’s expressed direction to throw the election to him are simply, unequivocally, irrefutably wrong and unacceptable.

Political pundits of all stripes predict that the Republicans in the Senate, as Lindsey Graham and others have declared, will vote to acquit Trump despite the evidence, just as they did in his first impeachment for trying to strong-arm a foreign president to damage his expected election opponent. I am not going to waste space reciting the evidence against Trump or addressing the preposterous defenses that his hapless counsel have presented. No, my question today relates to a different aspect of  this situation.

The question is simple enough: after the Republicans again prevent a guilty verdict, will the remaining Senators and Congresspeople just return to “politics as usual,” as they normally do after sometimes bruising political conflicts? Do they just go back to normal arguing, debating, schmoozing, dining together, attending meetings together and all the rest … as if this latest offense to truth and the Constitutional order were just another political difference of opinion?

Because it indisputably wasn’t just another difference of opinion. Based on the evidence, the mob sent by Trump was intent upon doing harm to not only the person second in succession to the presidency but also to members of Congress, including the Speaker of the House, third in the line of succession.  The mob engaged the Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police in a pitched battle for hours. The mob threw fists, threw fire extinguishers, beat police with hockey sticks and metal poles, hit police with bear spray and much more. For hours. Once inside the Capitol building, they ransacked offices while hunting for the prime targets of Trump’s and their anger. They desecrated the Capitol building not just with their presence but with their violence as they hunted for the fleeing members of Congress.

Those facts are not in dispute. The mob was fortunate in some ways that the police, for whatever reasons, did not fire on them. Imagine for just one moment what that scene would have looked like. Dead insurrectionists piling up in front of dead police (many of the mob were armed and almost certainly would have returned fire in close quarters with the defending police force). The worst that will happen to the mob now is that some of them will be convicted of multiple federal crimes, will be sentenced to prison terms, will lose their jobs and their families, and on and on. All for what? Some, of course, will be lionized by the Republican right-wing as heroes, a dubious honor already conferred on the woman who was shot trying to force her way into the House chamber. The others will disappear into well-earned obscurity.

Left behind will be the politicians, one group of which will have turned their backs on their colleagues to seek the favor of the mob back home that, while perhaps sharing the views of the January 6 attackers, stayed put and retains the right to vote in the next election. Left behind will be the politicians on the “other side of the aisle,” the mystical dividing line between the parties in the House and Senate chambers, most of whom are Democrats. A few will be Republicans who understood their higher duty and acted honorably, for which they are being vilified by Republican party leaders around the country. Left behind will be the Democrats holding slim majority power in both chambers and, of course, the White House. Left behind to deal with the carnage wrought by Trump’s violent and deranged army. Left behind also will be the Black Capitol Police officers who, well before January 6, had good reason to wonder if all their white colleagues really had their backs in a fight. See, for example, https://bit.ly/3u0aEds reporting on the long history of racism and other issues in the Capitol Police, largely ignored by Congress.

As those politicians who miraculously survived the mob assault return to their normal legislative work after the acquittal vote, how will they treat the senators who were perfectly content to have the mob kill them for doing their constitutional duty and for refusing to adopt the lies Donald Trump continued to promote about the election. How does one sit across from another politician with whom you have not just a profound disagreement about governance policies but who has basically said: “I am fine with your being murdered by a mob of Trump supporters because your life means nothing compared to keeping Trump, and myself, in power.?”

We’ve seen one hint, from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She responded to Ted Cruz’s tweet purporting to agree with her regarding the dispute over stock market activity/manipulation with this:

I am happy to work with Republicans on this issue where there’s common ground, but you almost had me murdered 3 weeks ago so you can sit this one out. Happy to work w/ almost any other GOP that aren’t trying to get me killed. In the meantime if you want to help, you can resign. [Tweet, Jan. 28]

AOC is well-known for speaking her mind and this is a situation that calls for bold and clear responses. Going along to get along just won’t do anymore.

The question Democrats and a handful of honorable Republicans will have to face is how to deal with the reality that, looking at the evidence, that the Trump-acquitting Republicans no longer see their opposing representatives as other than enemies in the truest sense of that word. This is not a case of just another political fight where afterward everyone hoists a drink to celebrate messy but glorious democracy and moves on to the next dispute. A line has been crossed and there is no going back from here. The Republican Party has forfeited its legitimacy as an American political institution and there must be consequences.

What those consequences are, I am not competent to describe, but the members of Congress who have prosecuted the case against Trump will have to deal with it. There is no going back; no return to politics as usual. The American public, the majority that still believes in the American concept of democracy, will have to face it as well. We cannot just go back to the Before Times, like nothing much happened, like this was just a bad episode in the march toward truth, justice and the American way. A large contingent of Republican senators didn’t even bother to show their faces today, on the last day of the prosecution presentation. Their disdain for the process, for the American way of political life, is blatant and undeniable.

In light of all of this, the challenge is overwhelming to contemplate, especially when added to the racial divisions that have afflicted the country for all these hundreds of years and that boiled over in the wake of the latest spate of killings of unarmed Black people by police. The mythical “idea of America” has been brutally exposed for its essential unreality and it’s a hard pill to swallow. But it’s a truth from which we cannot escape until we have faced the demon and vanquished it.

 

 

 

Indict & Arrest Trump — Charge with Sedition & Felony Murder

Not surprisingly, Republican senators have already decided they have no interest in addressing the January 6 Trump-inspired attack on the U.S. Capitol in an effort to steal the election from Joe Biden. Most of them have voted that it is unconstitutional to entertain impeachment since Trump has left office. The English translation of this is that “impeachment ceases to be available unless it can be brought and tried before the president leaves office so anything he does, no matter how serious, in the closing weeks of his presidency, is immune.” More on that in a moment.

The Supreme Court appears to have added its imprimatur, without explanation or noted dissent, to the extraordinary proposition that violations of the emoluments clauses are also unavailable after a presidency ends even if suits were initiated during the presidency.

If all that is correct and it is also not lawful to indict the president for crimes during the presidency, as the Department of Justice has twice opined (wrongly, in my view), we have effectively overturned the balance of power created by the constitutional framers when they created the three branches of the federal government with separate counterbalancing powers. The imperial presidency, as declared by Trump (“I have an Article II, where I have to the right to do whatever I want as president”) has arrived.

If so, the country is in the most dangerous place since the period just before the Civil War. This raises the question of what the United States government should do if Trump’s supporters, emboldened by what they believe was a victory at the Capitol, return to attack the government again. I address this specifically at the end.

But first, as I write, the Republican leadership of the House and Senate are meeting with Trump in Mar-a-Lago. No one will ever know what they are discussing, but, given recent events and the continued obeisance of Republican legislators to Trump’s dominance, it is not outlandish to suggest that they are considering further steps to overthrow the government. Trump representatives, enablers and acolytes meanwhile are aggressively promoting false narratives that the violence on January 6 was led by “antifa” and other infiltrators and, despite overwhelming video and other evidence, Trump and his people are faultless.

Let’s begin with a short lesson in the applicable law.

“Sedition,” or more fully, “seditious conspiracy,” means,

If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to ,,, oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years or both. [18 USC 2384] [bolding mine]

As with most legal matters of import, this is more complicated than it first appears. As noted in https://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-charges/sedition.html,

Simply advocating for the use of force … in most cases is protected as free speech under the First Amendment. For example, two or more people who give public speeches suggesting the need for a total revolution “by any means necessary” have not necessarily conspired to overthrow the government. Rather, they’re just sharing their opinions, however unsavory. But actively planning such an action (distributing guns, working out the logistics of an attack, actively opposing lawful authority, etc.) could be considered a seditious conspiracy. Ultimately, the goal is to prevent threats against the United States while protecting individuals’ First Amendment rights, which isn’t always such a clear distinction.

Of course, there are lawyers who will argue that nothing that happened at the January 6 Trump rally was outside the protection of the First Amendment. There are others who strongly disagree, me included. See https://bit.ly/39vCK80

The critical point here, in my view, is this: Donald Trump was not just another angry man voicing his grievances to a like-minded audience. If he were just that, the First Amendment would likely protect him. But, no,  Trump was President of the United States and still subject to the oath of office he took in 2017 to “faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and … preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Trump therefore had an affirmative duty to act to prevent and defend against any action that would interfere with the execution of Congress’s official constitutionally-mandated duty to validate and count the Electoral College votes. He also had an affirmative duty to protect federal property. He did not so act, and for that reason alone should lose any protection that might arguably arise from the First Amendment for his speech that preceded, for the most part, the January 6 attack. I say “preceded for the most part” because there is evidence that some of the assaulting force was already at the Capitol when Trump began speaking at noon.

Continuing with our over-brief summary of the law, “conspiracy” is also complicated but not terribly so:

A criminal conspiracy exists when two or more people agree to commit almost any unlawful act, then take some action toward its completion. The action taken need not itself be a crime, but it must indicate that those involved in the conspiracy knew of the plan and intended to break the law. A person may be convicted of conspiracy even if the actual crime was never committed ….

… an agreement may be implied from the circumstances…. [such as attending a meeting to plan the crime]

… individuals in the conspiracy must intend to agree, and all must intend to achieve the outcome.

… at least one co-conspirator [but only one] must take some concrete step in furtherance of the plan.

Finally, “felony murder” is chargeable when in the commission of a felony (which breaching the Capitol & attacking Capitol Police were) someone is killed, all of the felons are guilty of felony murder even if they had no specific role in the killing. Illustration: you and your buddy rob a bank. He goes in, you merely wait for him and drive the get-a-way car, he shoots and kills a bank teller. You are guilty of felony-murder.

Now to the known facts.

As reported at https://bit.ly/3rdBtJ,1 and elsewhere, the night before the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, a private meeting assembled in Trump’s private residence at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Reporting indicates that the following people attended the meeting:

Donald Trump Jr., eldest son of the president

Eric Trump, second-eldest son of the president

Michael Flynn, former National Security Advisor to the president

Peter Navarro, Assistant to the President, among other things

Corey Lewandowski, 2016 Trump campaign manager

David Bossie, 2016 Trump deputy campaign manager

Adam Piper, executive director of the Republican Attorneys General Association

Tommy Tuberville, United States senator from the State of Alabama

Rudy Giuliani, personal attorney to the President of the United States

Kimberly Guilfoyle, girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr

Michael Lindell, Trump donor and MyPillow CEO

Charles W. Herbster, National Chairman of the Agriculture and Rural Advisory Committee for the Trump administration

The meeting was confirmed in an attendee’s Facebook post late on January 5 that ends with “TRUMP WILL RETAIN THE PRESIDENCY!!!”

Senator Tuberville claims he was not at the Trump Hotel on January 5, but an Instagram photo of him at the hotel with two other people indicates otherwise. We can only wonder why the Senator would mislead about his presence.

To be clear, there is no report thus far that Donald Trump attended the meeting in person or by phone. Trump’s whereabouts that night would almost certainly have been noted by the White House media if he had been driven to his hotel. It beggars the imagination, however, to believe that this cast of characters was working independently of the president, given all the circumstances and what occurred the next day.

The primary report notes:

Not only does this meeting appear to confirm that Trump’s team helped orchestrate the events of January 6, but that it participated in the calibration of those events to exert maximum “pressure” on members of Congress in the midst of them executing a grave constitutional duty. Moreover, it participated in that calibration in the presence of a member of the United States Senate, who was therefore—we can now conclude, from the reporting of the Omaha World Herald—working in private with the president’s team to advise Trump on how to generate that maximum pressure on his Senate peers….

While we cannot know if these co-conspirators discussed the possibility of violence on January 6, that they contemplated the crime that most of the January 6 insurrectionists have now been charged with—Unlawfully Entering a Restricted Building—is all but certain, as is the fact that the purpose of such entries was to put improper pressure on government officials to reverse course on a government action.

In simpler terms, the purpose of the January 5 meeting at the Trump International Hotel in D.C. was arguably seditious conspiracy—as it appears to have been intended to promote and incite criminal acts by a mob whose purpose was to intimidate federal officials engaged in the certification of a democratically elected branch of government.

Much of the article cited above is speculation, but what seems clear is that many of Trump’s closest confidantes, including his attorney Giuliani, attended a meeting away from the White House for the apparent purpose of discussing how to pressure Congress in a last-ditch attempt to stop the election certification and award it to Trump. One attendee reportedly claims they were just there to watch the election returns come in from the Georgia senate runoffs. Believe what you wish about this.

The New York Times reported that the day before the rally,

“If you are not prepared to use force to defend civilization, then be prepared to accept barbarism,” a member of the Red-State Secession group on Facebook posted …

Beneath it, dozens of people posted comments that included photographs of the weaponry — including assault rifles — that they said they planned to bring to the rally. There were also comments referring to “occupying” the Capitol and forcing Congress to overturn the November election that Joseph R. Biden Jr. had won — and Mr. Trump had lost. [https://nyti.ms/3r4ZAJy]

Still earlier in January,

the extreme fringes of Trump supporters — including the Proud Boys and other groups known to incite violence, as well as conspiracy groups like QAnon — were exploring what they might do on Jan. 6 in Washington. On dedicated chats in Gab they discussed logistics of where to gather and what streets they would take to the Capitol. The Red-State Secession Facebook page even encouraged its 8,000 followers to share the addresses of “enemies,” including those for federal judges, members of Congress and well-known progressives.

At the rally on January 6, Donald Jr, preceding his father, flatly stated that the Republican Party was now “Donald Trump’s Republican Party,” the kind of claim that a banana-republic dictator would make, the meaning of which is “if Trump tells you to do something, you will do it.” The speech was replete with grievances against the Democratic leadership but also against “establishment Republicans” who were portrayed as weak and essentially traitors to the cause of “America First” and Trump’s own set of grievances.

The further events of January 6 are well-known. Video shows Trump urging the crowd to walk to the Capitol where he contended Congress was about to confirm the election he said was stolen. Among other remarks, Trump said:

“We will never give up,” he said. “We will never concede. It will never happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore.”

He went so far as to say he would be with the crowd at the Capitol, but that was a lie. In any case, the crowd walked the mile-plus to the Capitol, confronted the grossly under-prepared Capitol Police, stormed the building through smashed windows and doors, screaming in rage that they could not find the members of Congress who had been moved to safe-rooms. The building was vandalized, a police officer was killed, and many were injured in a multi-hour battle against the vastly larger force of invaders. Others also died as a direct or indirect result of the attack. The Pentagon leadership working under Trump failed to send timely help.

Those events have inspired House Democrats to impeach Trump a second time. It’s the only “remedy” over which they have any real influence. Republicans, of course, overwhelmingly leapt to Trump’s defense, voting that the impeachment of a president after he leaves office is somehow unconstitutional. https://wapo.st/2YkPW9x Having refused to even hear evidence and witnesses at Trump’s first impeachment, the Republican Party completed its obeisance to Trump by essentially declaring that whatever he may have done, no sanction is justified. As a result, Democrats now are also considering a censure, a fallback proposed by Sen. Kaine of Virginia, because an impeachment trial will delay consideration of critical elements of President Biden’s plan to combat the COVID crisis.

A censure, even if adopted over Republican opposition that is certain to occur, will be nothing more than a slap on the wrist for a man who believes he is immune from the law. Republicans have every incentive to drag out the trial because, in addition to supporting Trump’s every act, they want to  impede Biden’s efforts to boost the economy and restore the health of the country.

I don’t doubt Senator Kaine’s sincerity in arguing that a censure resolution is “a potentially more politically palatable alternative to convicting Trump and barring him from future office” while also arguing that “his resolution would have much the same effect as a conviction, by condemning the former president and laying the foundation to keep him from returning to the presidency under the terms of the 14th Amendment.” Kaine argues further that “It’s more than just a censure, saying, ‘Hey, you did wrong’ ….It makes a factual finding under the precise language of the 14th Amendment that would likely put an obstacle in Donald Trump’s path if he were to run for office again.”

Kaine’s further argument is that “Just as the question of impeachment after you’ve left office is not ironclad one way or the other, this one is not ironclad, It leaves the door open for folks to make arguments down the road,”

That is, I think, plainly wrong because its premise is wrong.

The argument accepts that there is a legitimate constitutional objection to impeaching a president after he leaves office. The “immune after exit” position leaves open the possibility that in the closing days of a presidency, the president could engage in blatantly unlawful criminal activities and escape being called to account by impeachment. He could still be indicted and tried, but as a matter of principle, the position of no impeachment after office seems inconsistent with the framework established  by the Constitution — just stall long enough and escape an otherwise justified political accountability.

Impeachment, in any case, whether during or after the presidency, is insufficient to address the magnitude of the January 6 insurrection. While Republicans like John Cornyn of Texas are all so happy to “just move on” and “not live in the past,” claiming that impeachment now is “retroactively” punishing ex-officeholders,” even moderate Sen. Manchin of West Virginia understands the gravity of this situation which has no precedent in modern times. And, by the way, to Sen. Cornyn and others who subscribe to his view: all punishments, whether political like impeachment or criminal, are about past behavior. The notion that impeachment now is somehow wrong because it refers to past conduct is beyond moronic. And you can quote me on that.

So, where do we go from here? Political stalemate seems certain in Congress’ attempts to call Trump to account. The evidence of seditious conspiracy is, however, overwhelming. Do we let Trump skate? Do we ignore a blatant attempt to overturn the election and, in effect, declare Trump dictator? I think not.

Republican leadership in the House and Senate is now running away as fast as possible from early statements indicating grave concerns about Trump’s role in the insurrection at the Capitol. https://wapo.st/3a4Qd5G Both of them have rushed to Mar-a-Lago to meet privately with Trump. Why do you suppose they’re coordinating with him now? Why is House Minority Leader McCarthy now trying to place blame for January 6 on “all Americans” and other similar nonsense rhetoric? Why is McCarthy handing out choice committee assignments to QAnon conspiracy advocates like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who has previously endorsed violence against Democratic leaders and who has claimed that the Parkland/Sandy Hook school massacres were staged along with the 9/11 attack and the January 6 assault as well? As noted in the article cited above,

For party leadership and top election strategists, video of protesters pummeling Capitol Police officers or chanting for the death of Vice President Mike Pence has proved less germane to current considerations than the potential to quickly return to power. They have been calling for more party comity, even with those holding extremist views.

Operating from Florida, Trump’s advisers have been encouraging party leaders to move on from impeachment and refrain from further criticism of the former president, even as they plot retribution against Republicans who opposed Trump’s final effort to overturn the election. Trump campaign advisers have commissioned and circulated to GOP lawmakers polling that shows him as still formidable in their states and made clear that he would seek revenge for votes against him.

The political reality is that the Senate is evenly divided between the parties, House Democrats have a small majority, and, despite Trump’s overwhelming defeat, Republicans gained governorships and control more than 60 percent of state legislatures. At least two Democratic senators are uncertain allies to aggressive positioning by their party.

WAPO reports that polling shows a staggering 79 percent of Republicans still approve of Trump’s conduct of the presidency and 57 percent saying the Republican Party should follow his leadership even after the attack on the Capitol. Some GOP party groups are embracing the fantasy claim that the January 6 attack was actually staged by Trump’s enemies. Some Republican Party strategists refer to the attack as “extremely unfortunate” and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel claimed that it was Democrats who were trying to “sow division and obstruct” while “Republicans will keep fighting for the American people.” If this were a TV show, it would be the Twilight Zone, but it’s the reality of where America now sits. The Republican Party really does belong to Trump and no longer adheres to fundamental democratic principles.

If you think I’m overstating it, WAPO reports that there is “speculation that the president’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, might run for the open North Carolina seat or that the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump might mount a primary challenge to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).” A few Republican voices in the wilderness remain – Mitt Romney flat out said Trump “incited the insurrection” on January 6, — but their influence against the Trump Red Tide is limited at best.

While the Republicans continue to focus only on their political prospects going forward and how to align themselves with Trump’s base, evidence continues to mount that the January 6 attack was not just a spontaneous response to Trump’s words. The Washington Post, for example, reports that so-called militias in three states beginning planning to challenge the election by force in November. https://wapo.st/39pblEB US prosecutors have asserted,

Three self-styled militia members charged in the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol began soliciting recruits for potential violence within days of the 2020 presidential election, later training in Ohio and North Carolina and organizing travel to Washington with a busload of comrades and a truck of weapons….

The report is quite detailed with communications among the parties charged as conspirators. Many other reports show that multiple January 6 participants are being charged with federal crimes of varying severity, depending on what the preliminary evidence shows they actually did at the scene of the invasion. It is reasonable to expect many more arrests as prosecutors work through the videos, recordings and social media posts of participants. The New York Times published an article with multiple videos revealing parts of the fight between police and the insurrectionists screaming “I will f*cking kill you!” https://nyti.ms/3ahHP2P That is what the Republican Party is defending.

The Acting Chief of Capitol Police is so concerned about the continuing threat to the Capitol that she is recommending permanent emplacement of unscalable fencing, possibly topped with barbed wire, around the perimeter. Mayor Bowser, thankfully, is opposed but consider what this means for the state of the nation’s politics.

So, where do we go from here?

After long reflection, my view is that nothing short of the indictment and arrest of Donald Trump can adequately begin to redress the harm done to the country. We are on the precipice of the collapse of the rule of law. Washington, DC remains an armed camp protected by thousands of National Guard due to reports of further armed attacks on the government. Failing to bring real and serious criminal charges against Trump will be seen by his acolytes as further proof that he was the victim of multiple hoaxes and a fraudulent election, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Postponing the day of reckoning while Trump reorganizes his political forces is a recipe for catastrophe from which the country may not recover. The time to deal with this is now, when the evidence is fresh and the focus is clear.

There can be no rational doubt that Trump summoned the mob to come to DC for the pre-insurrection rally, that his words called for the mob to go to the Capitol for the purpose of stopping the Electoral College vote count, that there was almost certainly planning activity in advance, not only by mob participants but by members of Trump’s inner circle of family and other advisors. People died during the attack, an outcome entirely foreseeable. The case for seditious conspiracy and felony murder is compelling.

Political accountability through impeachment will accomplish nothing of substance. Criminal liability, on the other hand, while facing a higher standard of proof, will  bring the evidence before a carefully selected jury of Americans. If they decide that Trump is not guilty, so be it. There will, at least, be no basis for complaint that political vendettas were being accomplished. The far greater likelihood is that a properly presented case against Trump will lead to his conviction.

If it were up to me, I would include in the indictment charges related to Trump’s obstruction of justice in the Mueller investigation, including perjury, and likely also the incident in which Trump attempted to leverage Ukraine’s president to interfere in the U.S. election. It is time, in other words, to call the question on Trump’s claim that he is above the law. If this fails, our democracy may well be doomed, as conspiracy theorists like MJ Greene, Lauren Boebert and other Republican fantasists remain in power in subservience to Donald Trump who, elected or not, will become de facto dictator as long as he lives.

No doubt, the bringing of criminal charges will further enrage Trump’s already deranged supporters. If they decide to attack the Capitol, no amount of fencing and barbed wire will stop them. The government must be prepared to make the most aggressive response, including overwhelming deadly force against those who seek to bring down the government by violent assault. This conflict cannot be resolved by negotiation, and it is virtually certain Trump will continue to assert his false grievances to a willing audience of true believers. If so, the nation has no choice, in fact has a solemn duty, to defend itself and its democracy with every means at its disposal.