WASHINGTON – Weeks of ongoing, high-profile discussion of Donald Trump’s attempt to overthrow democracy may not change the minds of his devoted followers, but it may well trump Trump’s attempts to delegitimize criminal charges against him. make, frustrate.
“I think people were prepared that it would be like the Trump depositions,” Sarah Longwell, a Republican consultant who began before the hearings, was skeptical that they would have much effect. “But it is not. It was done incredibly well. ”
Of course, even with 20 million live television viewers watching the June 9 opening hours trial and millions who have tuned in for the four-day period since then, it still represents only a relatively small percentage of Americans.
However, the statistics, which are regularly printed by the former president and his allies, miss the broader effect the hearings have on the national debate, Trump critics said. And while the vast majority of the information the committee sets out has already been reported in news reports, it appears to come from video-recorded footage of Trump’s own aides or in sworn testimony from the chandelier, high-ceiling cannon chewing room. more weight.
This means that Trump’s open threat to create civil unrest as a social cost for prosecutors to consider when deciding to charge him may ultimately not be the deterrent he might have hoped for.
Norm Eisen, a former Obama White House ethics lawyer who worked for the House on his first prosecution of Trump for blackmailing Ukraine, said live TV viewers also miss those who make the most relevant clips in news broadcasts or on social media see. “These are the Watergate hearings, but for the streaming era. For the age of Netflix and YouTube and TikTok, ”he said.
“Given the ubiquity of comments about the evidence presented during the hearings, whether on the news, social media or at the water cooler, it will be difficult not to be exposed to it, at least to a limited extent,” Mary said. McCord said. , a former senior prosecutor from the Department of Justice. “It has the potential to move the needle a bit for people who are not already firmly in the Trump camp, and possibly look more skeptically at those who are trying to January 6 and the involvement of others that led to it. to make.”
Longwell has led dozens of focus groups of Trump voters since leaving office, showing their continued loyalty to him and support for a 2024 presidential run. She said she was stunned that in two consecutive panels since the start of the hearings – of which everyone in both groups was aware – not a single Trump voter wanted him to run again.
“The fact that they all know the hearings are taking place is an indication of the surrounding noise that the hearings could have created, including for Trump voters,” she said.
Indeed, a recent poll conducted after the first three trials were completed showed a measurable increase in the percentage of Americans who believe Trump should be criminally charged for his actions leading up to January 6, 2021 and on that day itself. .
That figure was 52% before the hearings and rose to 58% by June 17, according to the ABC News survey.
“People are familiar with what happened on January 6, but millions of people agree with the hearings and find out why it happened,” said Amanda Carpenter, a former senior assistant to Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, said. “The hearings provide an opportunity for the public to reconsider and change their mind about these events, given all the new information.”
That the figure is still as low as it nevertheless shows that Trump’s actions are not universally recognized as the serious attack on democracy that it was, legal experts said.
When prosecutors go after mob bosses, people intuitively understand that it is morally wrong and illegal to order each other to shake off businesses for protection money, sell drugs or even mutilate and kill those they defy.
But Trump, former prosecutors have said, has benefited from the fact that Americans who do not heed the news – that is, most Americans – do not intuitively understand that trying to force foreign leaders to help your campaign or federal and state. officials to reverse an election are similarly against the law.
The trials are doing a good job of setting out the various laws that Trump apparently broke when he tried to stay in power despite his election loss, former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner said.
“And I suspect, when all is said and done, we will learn that DOJ is investigating in a far-reaching way all the time,” he said.
Trump’s staff did not respond to HuffPost inquiries, but Trump himself, in his public comments, appears to be excited about the hearings. On June 16, he posted: “I DEMAND EQUAL TIME !!!” on his personal Twitter-like social media platform. Three days later: “WITCH HUNT!”
One top Trump adviser said he was concerned that the trials would make criminal charges against Trump more justified and therefore, in his view, more likely. “It’s a possibility,” he said on condition of anonymity.
Trump has, according to audience testimony, been warned by White House attorneys that his actions could expose him to criminal charges, and his own statements make it clear that he understands the threat still exists.
Within days of January 6, Trump was already diminishing the significance of the attack on the Capitol while blaming everyone but himself. He described the January 6 investigation as a “fraud”, as he had done with both charges against him. And earlier this year, he took that argument to the next level and encouraged his followers to take to the streets if any prosecutors dared to accuse him.
“If these radical, evil, racist prosecutors do anything wrong or illegal, I hope we will have the biggest protests in this country that we have ever had in Washington, DC, in New York, in Atlanta and elsewhere, because we country and our elections are corrupt, ”he told the audience during his January rally in Conroe, Texas.
“Just like he did before January 6, he’s already shaking his fist and telling us what he’s going to do,” said Danya Perry, a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York.
What role, if any, Trump’s open threat to incite civil unrest in the event he is charged plays on federal and state prosecutors is unclear.
The district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, is considering charges stemming from Trump’s attempt to force state election officials to “find” enough votes to reverse his small loss to Joe Biden in that state.
And federal prosecutors in Washington have built a conspiracy case over the organized effort to stop Congress from conducting the “official procedure” to certify the 2020 presidential election. Some of the leaders of the mob attack have also been charged with “provocative conspiracy” – essentially to overthrow the government – for their efforts to keep Trump in power.
Prosecutors at none of those levels have said whether they intend to charge anyone in Trump’s inner circle or Trump personally.
Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat and a law professor, said on Jan. 6 that prosecutors have an obligation to make decisions based solely on facts and the law, “without regard to public opinion.”
“I hope there are no prosecutors waiting to take a poll on whether this or that person should be prosecuted,” he said.
In any case, legal experts, including former prosecutors, said the facts set forth by the committee would absolutely support criminal charges against Trump himself, given the testimony of top White House and campaign assistants who told Trump he lost the election and that his attempts to overthrow that loss were both illegal and unconstitutional.
No former president has ever been criminally prosecuted, although charges against Richard Nixon, who resigned in disgrace after investigations proved he was involved in the Watergate burglary and cover-up, would have been possible if successor Gerald Ford had not pardoned him. .
Eisen recalled the congressional inquiry into Watergate, as he predicted that the Jan. 6 hearings, which committee chairman and Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson said would resume after the July 4 recess, would also resume a dramatic shift in public opinion would result.
“People forget that in Watergate, the Republican congress caucus and Republicans nationally basically stayed united behind Nixon for more than a year,” he said, noting that a majority of Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee still supported Nixon until the summer of 1974, just before the White House tires were released. “And that changed in an instant. Two weeks later, Nixon left. “
Eisen said the video-recorded statements of Trump’s own staff have the same potential to change plans. “I believe we are beginning to see the beginning of the reorientation of the American people in that direction,” he said.
Trump, despite losing the election by 7 million votes nationally and 306-232 in the Electoral College, became the first president in more than two centuries of elections that refused to hand over power peacefully. His incitement of the January 6 assault on the Capitol killed five, including one police officer, injured another 140 officers and led to four police suicides.
Nevertheless, Trump remains the dominant figure in the Republican Party and speaks openly about running for the presidency again in 2024.
Trump continued to lie in statements on his personal social media platform about the election and the committee’s work of January 6, calling it a “hoax” similar to previous investigations into his 2016 campaign’s acceptance of Russian aid and to assist its attempt to blackmail Ukraine in its 2020 campaign.