How Trump sought to use fake electors, conspiracy theories to remain in power
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. It's difficult to keep up with all the latest developments in the investigation by the House committee examining the January 6 attack on the Capitol and the attempts by Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the election. Here to help us is my guest, Luke Broadwater, who has been covering the committee for The New York Times, where he's a congressional correspondent. Some of the aspects of the investigation we'll talk about include the plans in swing states to submit false slates of electors and Trump's role and proposals to seize voting machines to search for evidence of fraud that could overturn the results of the election.
Broadwater co-wrote an article about how the committee is using aggressive tactics typically used against mobsters and terrorists as it seeks to break through stonewalling from Trump and his allies and develop evidence that could prompt a criminal case against the former president. We recorded our interview yesterday.
Luke Broadwater, welcome to FRESH AIR. Let's start with that, this week, the Republican National Committee voted to censure Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for being on the 1/6 committee. The censure called the committee's work the persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, denounced that decision and the language. What does this say to you about Republicans in Congress and the divisions and divisions within the RNC?
LUKE BROADWATER: If Republicans were hoping to keep January 6 in the rearview mirror moving into the upcoming election cycle, they certainly haven't done it. It does seem as much as Mitch McConnell and what I would call sort of the traditionalist wing of the party wants to move on, wants to quickly condemn January 6 and then focus on the failings in their view of the Biden administration, there's still a sizable - perhaps a majority of the party that is still very loyal to Donald Trump and wants to fight the pro-Trump fight as fiercely as possible. And that's what we saw with the RNC resolution.
They - there are many Republicans in this country who now view Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, the two Republican members of Congress who sit on the January 6 committee, as sort of enemies and want to kick them out of the party. One congressional Republican told me that the biggest fear of a Republican voter is not that the Democrats are out of control, it's that they will be betrayed by another Republican. And so in the view of some of these pro-Trump Republicans, that's exactly what Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger have done by investigating January 6, that they've betrayed the party.
GROSS: You wrote a recent article about how the January 6 committee is borrowing techniques used by federal prosecutors who investigate organized crime and terrorism. What are some examples of that?
BROADWATER: Yeah. So January 6 committee has really been ramping up their investigation in recent weeks, in recent months. They have now about 45 staffers, two of whom are former U.S. attorneys. And below them are - at least 12 former federal prosecutors have been brought in on the staff. They have divided their investigation into five different teams, focusing on different aspects of the attack on the Capitol and what led to it. There's one team that is focusing on the money trail, doing an old-fashioned investigation of who funded the people to come to the protest that led to the riot, who paid for advertisements, who raised and gained lots of money off of these lies of a stolen election. That's called the green team.
They have a gold team that's focusing closely on Donald Trump and his allies, exactly what they were doing before the attack on the Capitol and during it. That is led by a lawyer, a former U.S. attorney who reports directly to Liz Cheney, one of the members of the committee. There are other teams that are probing domestic extremism, Capitol security and the like. And basically, they are using the tactics that a federal prosecutor might in any serious investigation when they don't have certain people cooperate with them. I think we're up to about 18 Trump allies and other witnesses who have sued the committee or sued their phone companies or banks to prevent the release of their records as a part of this investigation.
So the committee is being blocked in several turns by some of these witnesses, but what they'll do is then they'll go down the ladder at the White House or the Trump campaign and find a lower-level person who may be willing to come in. And if that person isn't willing to come in, they'll go and find an even lower-level person. And eventually they will find somebody who was in the office or in the room and knows what happened and can talk about it even if his or her boss will not.
GROSS: And then they could keep going up the ladder?
BROADWATER: Absolutely. Yeah. The - some examples of this - Jeffrey Clark, who was a Department of Justice attorney who plead the fifth repeatedly in his interview with the committee, this was the man who was advising Donald Trump to take some very extreme actions, fire the head of the Justice Department, install him, declare that the election was fraudulent, really stuff that was undemocratic. And a bunch of other Justice Department lawyers stood up in that room and said they would all resign if Donald Trump went forward with Jeffrey Clark's plans. So Jeffrey Clark wouldn't testify, but some of the other lawyers in that room would. And then Jeffrey Clark's chief of staff has now testified.
Another example is Mark Meadows, his - he's the former chief of staff to the president. He initially cooperated with the committee. He turned over something like 9,000 pages of documents, including lots of text messages with, you know, Donald Trump's family and Fox News hosts and the like. And he stopped cooperating, refused to come in for an interview. But his - one of his former top aides sat for several hours of testimony before the committee. And they've had several other people inside the White House who were privy to some of the conversations between Mark Meadows and Donald Trump testify about what they saw and heard. So yes, they may not get full cooperation from many of the high-profile witnesses, but they will be able to piece together a pretty complete report about what happened even without some of them.
GROSS: So one of the things you've been reporting on is the committee's investigation into the alternate slates of electors in swing states. What was the strategy behind creating alternate slates of electors? What was the point of that?
BROADWATER: Donald Trump, in the days after losing the election, and his legal team and other allies sought to come up with any way possible to cling to power. They talked about seizing voting machines. They talked about how they could overturn the election. And one of the ways that they settled on - that they thought would be necessary for him to stay in office was to come up with these so-called alternate slate of electors or - I call them fake electors. These are states in which President Biden won the election, but there were, you know, pro-Trump Republicans who were willing to put themselves forward as saying that they were chosen by the people of the state, and they were choosing Donald Trump to - for their state's votes.
This was seen as necessary because the Trump legal team was trying to exploit the Electoral Count Act, and that is - under the Electoral Count Act, if multiple slates of electors are received by Congress, it's then up to Congress to decide who are the correct electors. And so they were hoping to have - they needed some pretense to pressure Vice President Pence to choose Trump electors instead of Biden electors in those states. So they needed these slates of electors who were not chosen by the people to be in the hands of Congress on January 6.
GROSS: So just so I understand, the premise was that Republicans in the swing states would sit down and say there was fraud; therefore, we have an alternate slate of electors? Like, what is the justification for coming up with this alternate slate?
BROADWATER: Right. So if you believe that it was impossible for Donald Trump to lose the election because he was so popular and such a great president, and President Biden didn't have anybody coming to his rallies and stayed in his basement the whole campaign, so he couldn't have won, then you have to come up with some alternate reason. So the reason was widespread fraud. Nobody produced any evidence of that. And the claims about widespread fraud got more and more crazy as time went on. China was flipping votes. Venezuela was flipping votes. Foreign actors had taken control of the voting machines. They were accessing them from Italy with thermostats. You know, it was just complete bonkers stuff.
But if you have the premise that the only reason that Biden won these states was through fraud, then the real vote was for Trump, and so that's why they're certifying the election for Trump. It doesn't matter that the governor, that the local boards of elections, all certified the results, said there was no widespread fraud. These people were going to believe what they wanted to believe anyway in large part because President Trump was telling them that that was the case. And he was becoming more and more, I would say, obsessed with finding any allegation of fraud, no matter how bizarre.
GROSS: What do we know about how involved Trump was with this plan?
BROADWATER: Through everything, I think you can see that Donald Trump is sort of the genesis of everything, even if he is not totally up on all the details. So he wants to remain president. He cannot stand the idea that he lost. So he needs to start putting this out into the world that he lost by fraud. So he, on election night, if - I'm sure everyone remembers now, when he claims the election was stolen from him, even as the results were coming in. And so to please him, to make him happy, his advisers start coming up with ways that they think they can keep him in office, and they start looking for fraud wherever they can. And so increasingly crazy ideas come to Donald Trump, and he embraces them and then asks other people on his staff to investigate them.
So if he hears something called Italygate (ph), he asks his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, to investigate. If he hears about China taking control of the machines, he asks somebody else to look into that. And Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, goes across the country basically on a - something like a circus expedition, where they're looking for any claim of fraud anywhere they can. He's holding hearings in various states. You've got ghost hunters coming forward, claiming that their postal trucks full of ballots were stolen in the middle of the night. I mean, it's just really bizarre stuff. And Trump is like - is just obsessing over trying to get anything he can to stay into power. And once he hears about this scheme with the fake electors, he certainly takes it and runs with it, and he starts to pressure Mike Pence to overturn the election.
GROSS: Does this make Trump legally culpable? In other words, could there be criminal charges coming out of this scheme with the fake electors?
BROADWATER: Yeah, that's a matter for investigation. We know that the Justice Department has said that they're investigating it. We know the attorney general of Michigan has done an investigation, has collected a bunch of evidence out of that state and sent it to the Justice Department. And we know attorney generals of some other states have requested investigations as well. I think it's a - very much an open question. I mean, sort of ethically, it's a - I was talking with Jamie Raskin on the committee the other day, and he said, ethically, it's clearly a fraud on the American people, and it's a fraud on the Constitution. But is it a crime? And I think that's a question for the Justice Department to answer. It's - it may not be a crime. I actually don't know the answer to that.
GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Luke Broadwater. He covers Congress for The New York Times, and he's been covering the January 6 committee. We'll talk more after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Luke Broadwater, a congressional correspondent for The New York Times. He's been covering the House January 6 committee investigating the events of January 6 and the events leading up to it.
Let's talk about the plan to seize voting machines after the 2020 election, voting machines in swing states, claiming that they would reveal evidence of fraud that would overturn the results of the election and hand it to Trump. What was the theory this plan was based on, the theory of fraud that was presented?
BROADWATER: This all dates back even before the election. There's a group of former military people who believe, again, without evidence that China has taken control of America's voting systems. And they start doing all this research, which is - you know, (laughter) it's not fact-based. I'll just say that. It's completely insane, and - but they come up with these theories. One person is named Colonel Waldron out of Texas, and he starts perpetuating this idea that China has taken over American elections. And, you know, most normal people think that this is crazy talk. But he has an in with Mike Flynn, who has the ear of Donald Trump.
GROSS: He's suggesting that China has somehow hacked into the voting machines that tabulate the votes?
GROSS: They changed votes from Trump to Biden?
BROADWATER: Yes. And China can basically choose whoever they want to win the election because they control all of our voting machines. Mike Flynn, who is Donald Trump's former national security adviser and had been fired for lying to Mike Pence, has the ear of Waldron and then the ear of Sidney Powell, who goes on to the Trump campaign. And they're able to get these ideas into the White House and into Donald Trump. Waldron circulates this 38-page PowerPoint, which details these claims and lays out a plan to seize voting machines. And at this point in time, most of Trump's advisers have discounted this. And they have basically told these people not to come to the White House. But they are insisting on getting in. And they make their way through a lower-level aide, who scans them in into the White House and into the Oval Office on December 18 on a Friday night.
And what precedes is a wild meeting in which these claims are aired out. Plans to seize voting machines and appoint Sidney Powell, who is behind a lot of these conspiracy theories, as a special counsel to Donald Trump are put on the table. Mr. Trump's lawyers, including the White House counsel, find out this is going on. They come into the meeting. They argue vehemently against these plans. But we've learned now through more reporting that Donald Trump took them quite seriously and tried three different agencies to see if any of them would agree to seize the voting machines.
He asked the Justice Department. Bill Barr shot him down. There was a plan about the Department of Defense seizing voting machines. Rudy Giuliani rejected that. Even Rudy didn't want to go there. And then Donald Trump asked Rudy Giuliani to check if the Department of Homeland Security might be willing to seize the voting machines. Rudy called over to Ken Cuccinelli. And he said they would not be. So at that point, that plan kind of died. But Donald Trump was looking for any of his agencies to buy into this idea to seize voting machines. And, you know, this was probably one of the most extreme plans they had prior to January 6 to try to keep Donald Trump in power.
GROSS: You know, you just mentioned that Sidney Powell, one of Trump's lawyers, who is behind spreading a lot of these conspiracy theories - you said Trump was going to appoint her as special counsel. She was going to be a special counsel to oversee election integrity, which is really hilarious considering all of the conspiracy theories she has surrounding the election.
BROADWATER: Right. And, you know, in this bizarre, upside-down world, everything they're doing is justified because there's been this incredible crime on the American public, where, you know, it's not just Democrats or Joe Biden who was cheating in the election, it's actually foreign governments. And Biden is their puppet. And they've, you know, manipulated the elections. So all these extreme measures are seen as justified in their minds because of this incredible crime that's happened to the public. When, of course - and, you know, one funny thing about this is a lot of what they were hoping for is they had this idea that there would be this national intelligence report that would confirm everything they were saying. And they had been hoping it would come out before the election to give the pretense to seize the machines. And it got delayed amid disputes inside the intelligence community and was finally released.
But when it was released, the very first finding was there was no evidence whatsoever that any foreign government manipulated any vote in any machine, and that China did not manipulate any votes in any machine, specifically. And so this doesn't come out until months after the election. But the very document that these conspiracy theorists had hoped would bolster their findings completely destroyed them. And yet, that hasn't changed a single thing. Most of them are still out there saying the exact same things. Donald Trump is still saying the exact same things. Just the other day, he was insisting the election was stolen and that Mike Pence had the power to overturn it in favor of him. So you know, even though every bit of real investigation, every bit of evidence, shoots down these wild theories, they persist. And in some ways, they're becoming a litmus test for Republicans in Republican primaries this year, whether or not they'll agree that the election was stolen.
GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Luke Broadwater. He covers Congress for The New York Times. And he's been reporting on the January 6 committee investigating the events leading up to January 6. We'll be right back after we take a short break. I'm Terry Gross. And this is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Luke Broadwater. He's a congressional correspondent for The New York Times, and he's been reporting on the House January 6 committee, which is investigating the events of January 6 and the events leading up to it.
Is there any law that says if you suspect fraud, you can seize voting machines from states? Is there anything that says that that's something that can be done?
BROADWATER: So what Sidney Powell and her crew was basing this on was there were some executive orders under the Obama administration that said basically you had the right to preserve certain evidence after an election. It did not say anything about the federal government coming in and seizing voting machines. It did not say anything about declaring martial law. So these were all extraordinary steps that...
GROSS: Martial law was Flynn idea.
BROADWATER: Correct. And they wanted basically the National Guard to roll in to six or seven states, take control of all the voting machines, and do a recount on live TV by hand. They also - there was another plan for the National Guard simply to seize the machines and order a new election, so the whole country would have to go out and vote a second time. So, I mean, you can see how nothing was ever going to be good enough. It wasn't enough just to recount. It wasn't enough to do an audit. Eventually, the Army was going to have to force Americans at gunpoint to vote again until Donald Trump stayed in office. I mean, this is how crazy some of the suggestions were getting.
And, you know, ultimately, Donald Trump does not go for this. I mean, he tries to do it. He tries to check it out, see if it will work. But they eventually abandon the idea of seizing voting machines. And instead, they settle on the idea of these alternate electors on January 6 and that they can pressure Mike Pence to keep Donald Trump as president if he just gets enough pressure on him. And so that's when they start to come up with the idea of a rally with hundreds and thousands of people on January 6 and Trump calling Pence directly, you know, using a vulgarity with him to tell him that he wasn't being tough enough to stand up to the Democrats and throw out the votes.
And, you know, obviously, Mike Pence just last week pushed back against that and said that, you know, no one man should choose the president. It should be up to the voters. And he wasn't going to be the guy who goes down in history as throwing out legitimate votes and defying the will of the people.
GROSS: As you said, Trump and his allies didn't pursue the plan any further after a point, but that was only after the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department declined to seize the voting machines. It's not like they didn't try really hard in the upper echelons of, you know, the American government and military.
BROADWATER: Yeah. It's, I mean, it's truly shocking. I mean, when you think about it, it is absolutely - I mean, people - you know, people have been ringing alarm bells about Donald Trump and authoritarian tendencies for four years. But when you hear this stuff, I mean, it's, you know, seizing voting machines, deploying the National Guard, and that people are in the White House making this pitch, and that Donald Trump is entertaining it and asking people to check it out, it's not just passing on a bad idea. You know, it's - this is, you know, frankly, kind of scary stuff.
GROSS: So the January 6 committee is investigating Trump's role in the proposals to seize voting machines. We know that he gave it the green light. Do we know, like, did he make any of the phone calls himself or did he give that job to other people - the phone calls to the military, to the Homeland Security department, to the Justice Department?
BROADWATER: What we know is he asked Bill Barr directly about the Justice Department. And we know he asked Rudy Giuliani to call Homeland Security. So as with many things with former President Trump, he often likes to encourage things, and then he hopes some an underling will actually do them. And, you know, I've talked with the January 6 committee about this, about why they think Trump would always want some underling to do the final deed in the plan. And they view it as analogous to, you know, other bad actors in history who wouldn't necessarily want to put their finger on the button themselves and would want to have some lower-level person to blame things on if they went wrong but would like the idea of that lower-level person doing them. And so, you know, in a couple of these examples, Trump perhaps gives himself some plausible deniability with the way he acts, but he certainly encourages staff to do things that most people would see as unethical or deeply wrong.
GROSS: Do you think that Trump is legally vulnerable for his role in this plan to seize voting machines?
BROADWATER: That's a good question. Merrick Garland has said that no one would be too high up the chain to investigate. That said, we haven't seen any evidence so far that the Justice Department is seriously looking at Donald Trump. That said, the January 6 committee is considering a criminal referral. And so what that means is as they investigate Donald Trump and his inner circle, they are gathering every bit of evidence they can to see whether a crime was committed.
One potential crime could be obstructing an official proceeding of Congress, which they've charged some rioters with doing. Liz Cheney has suggested that perhaps Donald Trump could be in violation of that statute, either through action or even inaction by not doing anything on January 6 as he watched on television rioters attack the Capitol. So if these trained investigators - like I said, there's more than a dozen federal prosecutors doing this investigation - if they come up with evidence that Donald Trump did commit a crime, I could see them making the criminal referral to the Justice Department. And then I think the Justice Department would have to take that quite seriously. Based on the experience and skill of these investigators and then the public report put forward by Congress about why Donald Trump committed a crime, I think it would create tremendous public pressure on Merrick Garland.
GROSS: What about conspiracy to overturn the results of an election? Is that a crime?
BROADWATER: You know, I'm not sure. The count that I think is most likely is to obstruct an official proceeding of Congress. The other thing that they're looking at is whether there was any fraud in terms of the fundraising when spreading the so-called big lie that the election had been stolen. Various entities, including Sidney Powell's nonprofit, including the Trump campaign, raised millions and millions of dollars off of that. And could there be a case where they knew that this was a lie, and they defrauded many voters out of their hard-earned money? And so that's another - I do know that that is another avenue the committee is exploring.
One of the problems for prosecuting the attempt to overturn the election is that, by and large, Trump and his allies tried to exploit existing law. So now, maybe they went too far in some places. Maybe they did commit a crime. But they did, you know, closely read the Electoral Count Act. They did come up with some theories. I think most constitutional scholars would say they're incorrect theories, but that there was a way to change the outcome using Congress and not the ballot box. And while that - it's up to the Justice Department to see whether that was a crime. That - I think there's a lot of debate there.
GROSS: Let me reintroduce you again. If you're just joining us, my guest is Luke Broadwater. He's a congressional reporter for The New York Times. He's also been reporting on the House January 6 committee. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Luke Broadwater, a congressional reporter for The New York Times. He's been reporting on the January 6 committee, the House committee investigating the events of January 6 and the events leading up to it.
One of the things that we recently learned is that Trump shredded a lot of documents, and there is a Presidential Papers Act that - it says presidents can't destroy their papers. They have to be preserved in the National Archives. So what do we know about what was in the papers that were destroyed?
BROADWATER: Well, yeah, so President Trump had this habit dating back to his days as a businessman where he would rip up almost any document that would come into his possession. And you know, there were aides at the White House who were aware of this and would go behind him and try to tape up anything he'd thrown away or left ripped up throughout the building. And he'd been counseled multiple times not to do this, but he kept doing it anyway. In some ways, it gives him a veneer of - that there wasn't a specific intent to destroy evidence with regards to January 6 because he had done this forever. But nevertheless, a lot of these documents that he touched were ripped up, including some that were of interest to the January 6 committee.
The January 6 committee sought voluminous records from the National Archives about what Donald Trump did on January 6 and in the buildup to it. And he fought the release of about 770 pages of those documents. The lawsuit went all the way up to the Supreme Court. The court ruled the committee did have the right to these documents and ordered the Archives to turn them over. When they got them, they found out that quite a few of them had been ripped up, had to be taped back together.
But there may be some that were never recovered. We don't exactly know. There may be some that an aide missed or he threw away somewhere or he tore up or took with him. He also took something like 15 boxes of documents from the White House to Mar-a-Lago in Florida, and the National Archives had to retrieve those, sending down, you know, negotiators and taking them on a plane out of Mar-a-Lago. Again, this is another apparent violation of federal law. So they are having some trouble getting all the documents they need from the White House. In addition, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows was using a personal cellphone and a personal email to do official business, and they're not sure they've gotten everything from his Gmail accounts that they requested with subpoena. So they've gotten a lot from him, but there may be some, both from Mark Meadows and from Donald Trump, that are in violation of federal law.
GROSS: We're listening to the interview I recorded yesterday with Luke Broadwater, a congressional reporter for The New York Times. After we recorded this interview, it was reported that the National Archives and Records Administration asked the Justice Department to look into Trump's handling of White House records after they found he'd torn up documents and took boxes of official papers to Mar-a-Lago. The National Archives suspects some of the materials might be classified. Let's get back to the interview.
Some people have criticized the Justice Department and Merrick Garland in particular for not doing more to aggressively investigate or go after Donald Trump to get to the bottom of how he tried to interfere in the election. What have you been hearing about that? And what are your insights about that?
BROADWATER: Yeah, so I mean, I know there's a good deal of frustration on Capitol Hill that there have not been more criminal charges to higher-ranking people resulting from January 6. When Merrick Garland was last on the Hill, he was grilled by some senators, including Sheldon Whitehouse, who said, please tell us you're not going after only the minions, that you're not going after people who went into the Capitol because they were lied to and believe these lies, that you're going after the plotters and the planners of all this. And he was assured that no one was off limits.
The drumbeat for Merrick Garland to do more got so loud that Merrick Garland had a press conference and vowed to investigate any lead, no matter where it would go, all the way up to the top. And so he was trying to say the Justice Department is on it. We are doing it. We're being methodical. We are - but we're not going to rush things. We're going to do it on our timeline. I do think within the Justice Department, from what I'm hearing, that there's a great reluctance to go after a former president, no matter how bad the things were he did, because it will look like one administration prosecuting the next. And that's not what our tradition is in America. And, you know, we don't try to put our political opponents in jail. But - so I think he's weighing some of those considerations when deciding how hard to go after Donald Trump.
GROSS: So you're saying that the January 6 committee has concerns that if they recommend legal charges against members of Congress or against Trump or Pence, that it could look very politicized, that it could look like here's a democratically controlled House attacking its Republican opponents and trying to put them behind bars. But recently, former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said that officials investigating the January 6 Capitol riot could be jailed if the Republicans regain control of Congress in the midterm election.
BROADWATER: Yes, that was quite an extreme comment from the former speaker of the House. Liz Cheney immediately flagged it for how inappropriate it was. And it does stand in contrast to how the committee is doing its work. Although they have, you know, more than a dozen federal prosecutors working on this case, they have not been recommending criminal contempt for just anybody. They've been very selective for how they try to imply a law enforcement technique. And so they've only done it twice. They've forwarded to the House criminal contempt charges for Steve Bannon and then Mark Meadows for their lack of cooperation. But they do not want to be seen as trying to put dozens and dozens of people in jail.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Luke Broadwater, a congressional reporter for The New York Times. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Luke Broadwater, a congressional reporter for The New York Times who's been covering the House committee investigating January 6 and the events leading up to it.
You cover Congress. How do members of Congress from - you know, how the Democrats and Republicans possibly continue to work together? There is such animosity, and they are - you know, Democrats think that, you know, many Republicans just, like, violated the law, that they were part of a conspiracy to overturn the results of the election. Meanwhile, the Republicans are accusing, you know, Democrats on the committee of, you know, attacking people for legitimate political speech. Like, how can they possibly work together? I mean, I'm surprised they're not physically attacking each other. Things have gotten so extreme.
BROADWATER: Yeah, and I think things are especially nasty on the House side. You know, the Senate does seem to have a better tradition of the two parties working together, and a lot of the centrists in the two parties on the Senate side are quite friendly and all hang out on Joe Manchin's boat together and that sort of thing. But on the House, it has gotten very nasty. You know, we've had Paul Gosar, a Republican from Arizona who was involved in spreading a lot of the lies about the election, you know, put out a video about killing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Joe Biden. The - you hear about nasty interactions in the hallways, you know, Marjorie Taylor Greene and - shouting at Cori Bush in the tunnels. And, I mean, we - it is not a good scene on Capitol Hill, especially on the House side. There's a lot of bad blood and animosity.
That said, you still do see bipartisan bills coming forward. They just passed a bipartisan reform bill of the Postal Service yesterday. So people are able to compartmentalize in some ways and say, you know, January 6 doesn't define everything on the Hill, but it's looming so large over Congress that it does add a toxicity to just the everyday environment. I know a lot of people who don't even like to be on the Hill that much anymore because of January 6. You know, I was there during January 6. I remember people storming in and being, you know, rushed to a secure location with the senators. And, you know, there's still a lot of raw and angry feelings about January 6 among the staff, among the police officers, among a lot of lawmakers. And it is especially infuriating for many of those people when they hear some Republicans deny that anything bad happened or that it was legitimate protest that day and downplay and try to whitewash what happened.
GROSS: Where were you in the Capitol on January 6, and how did you stay safe?
BROADWATER: I was in the Senate when the mob broke in. We were evacuated about one minute before they got in the chamber. I remember being escorted by police through the tunnel system, and, you know, in retrospect now, we came very close to being face-to-face with the mob. I could look out the window and see people smashing, you know, the bike racks and marauding all over the lawn and breaking into the doors. And I remember in the Senate when we got news that someone was shot on the House side. And yeah, I mean, it was a very - it was a scary and terrifying situation.
And, you know, so I have very strong memories of that day. I remember coming back through the tunnels with the electoral ballots that some aides had whisked out of the Senate before they could be seized and burned or destroyed and coming back in to finish up the work. And, you know, the vote that night went very late, and I didn't get home till, like, 5 a.m. after we sort of all made sure - all the reporters sort of made sure we got home safely. So we sort of - you know, I was dropping different people off at their houses, so they wouldn't - so everyone would be safe. And I'll say, just personally, it took me a while to get over it. I'm not sure I'm totally over it still, but I sort of haven't had to live in this world of January 6 for more than a year now, and that can be mentally taxing, so it can be mentally and emotionally taxing.
GROSS: I hadn't thought about that, about how reporting on January 6 could actually be triggering.
BROADWATER: Yeah, I mean, the Times did this great video, "Day Of Rage." And the visual investigation staff put it together, and they asked me to, like, go through it and, like, make sure facts were right and, you know, the timeline stuff with the National Guard and the Capitol Police. And I remember seeing some of this video for the first time and being, like, shook from it and, like, all these flashbacks to that day. And so I think when you - especially when you see things that are viscerally reminding - that are a visceral reminder of that day, it can - it brings back a lot of memories. And yeah, I mean, I've been reporting on it so much now that it's kind of become academic in some ways and not as visceral. But yeah, I mean, that is a challenge.
GROSS: Well, Luke Broadwater, thank you so much for talking with us, and thank you for your reporting.
BROADWATER: Thank you for having me.
GROSS: Luke Broadwater is a congressional reporter for The New York Times. We recorded our interview yesterday. If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you missed, like this week's interview with Jonny Greenwood, who is nominated for an Oscar this week for composing the score for "The Power Of The Dog" and also wrote the scores for the films "There Will Be Blood," "The Master" and "Phantom Thread" and is lead guitarist for Radiohead, check out our podcast. You'll find lots of FRESH AIR interviews.
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GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Kayla Lattimore. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Therese Madden directed today's show. I'm Terry Gross.
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