How the Jan. 6 committee used TV tactics and dark humor in its case against Trump
How the Jan. 6 committee used TV tactics and dark humor in its case against Trump
Reporter Luke Broadwater says the committee hired a former news producer to hit Trump where it hurt: "His whole career was built on television, and they were able to use that very medium against him."
DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I am Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. Tomorrow marks the second anniversary of the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, when supporters of Donald Trump stormed the building and fought with police. If you watched the hearings of the congressional committee that investigated the attack, you saw its members and witnesses present a compelling chronicle of Trump and his allies' efforts to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election.
Over the past two weeks, the committee has issued its final report, more than 800 pages long, and released thousands of pages of witness interview transcripts and other material. Besides the recommendation that the Justice Department charge Trump with felony offenses, the new material adds detail to the story told in the hearings. There's new information about pressure brought to bear on a key witness - Cassidy Hutchinson, for example - and nuggets such as the fact that Trump, at one point, wanted to trademark the phrase, rigged election.
To take stock of the committee's work and consider what lies ahead, we turn to Luke Broadwater, who covers Congress for The New York Times. He was at the Capitol when the assault occurred and has reported extensively on the investigation into Trump's efforts to reverse the results of the election. He wrote the introduction to the edition of the January 6 report, published by Twelve Books, which includes reporting, analysis and visuals from The New York Times. Before Luke Broadwater joined the Times, he spent a decade at The Baltimore Sun, where he was awarded the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting and a George Polk Award for political reporting.
Luke Broadwater, welcome back to FRESH AIR.
LUKE BROADWATER: Hi, thanks for having me.
DAVIES: I want to begin by talking about some of the material that you and your colleague Robert Draper wrote about in the process of the committee, how it did its work. It, of course, hired a lot of top-notch investigators, many of them former federal prosecutors. But the members also thought early about the televised presentation of the material. And they hired an experienced TV reporter, the former president of ABC News James Goldston. What was it like when he got there and looked at, you know, the material, the process, the possibilities for making this an effective TV presentation?
BROADWATER: Sure. Yeah. Well, at first, he says, basically, I can't do this, not without a team. And there's a bit of a disagreement. But eventually, the chair and the vice chair of the committee, Bennie Thompson and Liz Cheney, approve a small team that he can have that will essentially be a makeshift studio to help put on these hearings. And he brings in some top people that he used to work with before. And even though it's this skeleton crew, they get to work. And they start going through all the videos, and they're working closely with the staff, and they start picking out some key moments.
I mean, people remember things like Josh Hawley running from the mob or the colorful language used by some of the Trump attorneys or, you know, just how close the mob came to Mike Pence. These are all things that they were learning through this process and then flagging - they called them hot docs - and then sending them to James Goldston and getting them into the scripts and then eventually out to the viewing public. So it was very much an intense scramble. You know, we talked to some investigators who stayed up all night, didn't sleep for days - so people getting two or three hours of sleep a night - but eventually pulled off these hearings that they believe made a huge impact on the public.
DAVIES: Well, one of the things that really makes these hearings different from any other congressional hearing that, certainly, I've ever seen is that pretty much everything that the committee member said was scripted and performed essentially, read from a teleprompter. Was that James Goldston's, the ABC News guy's decision? How did the members react to that idea?
BROADWATER: Yeah. So at first, there was a bit of consternation from at least one or two members who wanted everyone to have their sort of five minutes to talk, which is how a congressional hearing normally works. But I think the committee really came around to the idea quite quickly that it was much easier and simpler to do a streamline narrative. The whole hearing would be scripted. You know, they did have live witnesses, but they had already interviewed these live witnesses. So they knew roughly what they would say in response to certain questions. And so they asked them questions that they had already been asked in closed-door depositions. So they knew roughly what this person would say.
So they were able to rough out these scripts and stick to them pretty religiously. I mean, they would send out scripts to all the television stations about where - you know, where to put this camera at this time, whether there was profanity in this video clip or that video clip. And they kept the hearings pretty tight. The first hearing they put on was only 90 minutes, which is kind of crazy for a congressional hearing. So once the networks heard that these hearings were going to be concise, they were going to be powerful, they were going to be essentially like a scripted event, they were more willing to put them on in prime time.
You know, your normal congressional hearing can stretch all day. Hardly anyone watches it. It's essentially a hot mess. It's Republicans fighting with Democrat, Democrats fighting with Republicans. Not much gets accomplished. And the public gets bored and changes the channel. In this case, because they were able to do it like minidocumentaries, you know, a - like a - it was almost a - you know, a 10-part documentary series - they were able to keep the public's attention and keep the network buy in to showing them - some of them in prime time.
DAVIES: Right. And, of course, there were actually rehearsals of the committee members before each hearing. And I love this detail that you reveal that they would - the scripts were sent to TV broadcasters embargoed. They couldn't reveal what's in them yet. But that was so that they could have their camera folks know when to move to which speaker. That's pretty original, isn't it?
BROADWATER: Yeah. I mean, this - the extent of coordination with television and the - I guess the right word is vision, or foresight, to see television as the key medium for these hearings, I think, is unprecedented in congressional history. And when you think about the committee's goal - at least some of the members like Liz Cheney - their goal was to excise Donald Trump from public life, to make him - based on the evidence they had uncovered, to make him unpalatable to the American public.
And what is the medium Donald Trump best understands? It's television, right? His whole career was built on television. And they were able to use that very medium against him and damage him considerably in the minds of the electorate and, in fact, damaged many of his supporters and anyone who embraced the so-called big lie about the election. They were tremendously damaged at the ballot box in November. So they were able to turn the tide on, you know, the master of "The Apprentice" and use his own medium against him, in part, because it was so scripted, and it was such a clean narrative.
And that was perhaps only possible because Republicans appointed by Kevin McCarthy had boycotted the committee and pulled their support. Had they been there, they could have disrupted these meetings. They could have never had these clean narratives on television. But because they didn't participate, the committee was able to pull these hearings off.
DAVIES: And as it proceeded, I mean, the production had more entertainment value. And I'm thinking in particularly of the juxtaposition of Josh Hawley, the Republican senator, raising his fist in solidarity with the demonstrators outside the Capitol and then later - and this took some work - to catch him literally running to safety when the attackers reached the Capitol. I mean, it was a very effective little moment, and it got laughter in the chamber. I wonder if there was debate among - you know, among committee members about whether you wanted to be mocking people at that level.
BROADWATER: Yeah. You know, it's funny because when I first saw that, I thought it was a bit gratuitous. But one thing they did in almost every hearing was there was a bit of dark humor, which, looking back, I think was somewhat effective. You know, you have these really heavy topics. And, you know, like any good TV show or movie that's on a heavy topic, every now and then, a bit of humor sort of leads to a more successful mix. It wasn't just Josh Hawley. If you look at like the way they used some clips from Bill Barr, the former attorney general, when you look at how they used some of the debates inside the Justice Department, the Eric Herschmann quotes, those would often get laughs inside the committee room. And it does feel sort of awkward laughing at such a terrible event, but I do think they were able to use that to some effectiveness.
And I talked with some of the committee about this. I said, was this just gratuitous, you know, to do this thing with Hawley? And they thought it wasn't and - because they thought it actually hit on a bigger point, and that was the hypocrisy of the Republicans who engaged in the spreading of the lies about the 2020 election, that some of the Republicans who promoted this stuff, you know, fired up this crowd. They got people really angry, believing a lot of nonsense. And then when it was time for the chickens to come home to roost, so to speak, when the angry crowd burst in the Capitol, they were running in fear just like everybody else.
And so, yes, it's funny in the moment, but there's also a bigger point and a more serious point and that is underscoring this hypocrisy. And it actually shows the truth of what happened - right? - that these lies do - that they do result in violence. They do result in really disgusting attacks on democracy. And that's what they wanted to show. And so they didn't feel it was gratuitous, which was my initial reaction to it.
DAVIES: We need to take a break here. Let me reintroduce you. We're speaking with Luke Broadwater. He covers Congress for The New York Times. And he's been covering the investigation into the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol and Donald Trump's efforts to reverse the results of the 2020 presidential election. We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we're speaking with Luke Broadwater. He covers Congress for The New York Times. We're talking about the release of the report of the January 6 committee investigating the assault on the U.S. Capitol.
Liz Cheney threw herself into this investigation, and it had to be weird for her, since she's used to working with Republicans in Republican office space and in Republican world. How did the committee accommodate her interest and make it work for her?
BROADWATER: Right. Well, so Liz Cheney was a surprise pick in the beginning because Speaker Pelosi appointed her to the committee, which is kind of unheard of in Capitol Hill that a Democrat would appoint a Republican. But by that point, she had already become sort of a leading voice against Donald Trump and what he did on January 6. Now, I think internally among the committee, there was some debate when there was a motion to make her the vice chair. You know, some people in the committee, the Democrats, believed that - they were calling her a sort of this vicious partisan fighter against them. And some of them had, you know, bad memories of some, you know, really bare-knuckle debates they had had with Liz Cheney over the years.
But they all saw what was happening with Liz Cheney, that she had drawn this line in the sand against Donald Trump and what he stood for on January 6, and that she was willing to stop at almost nothing to hold him accountable. And so they saw her as very useful to the committee, because if they had bipartisan leadership, that would sort of undercut the argument that this was a partisan committee just run by Democrats and Nancy Pelosi. And Liz Cheney really took her vice chairman role and ran with it. She quickly became probably the biggest single driving force of the investigation and the most intensely aggressive member of the committee.
DAVIES: Right. And they gave her this little space that you describe, 'cause, you know, office space in the Capitol is not abundant. Where did they put her to work?
BROADWATER: Right. Yeah. So they blocked out some space for Liz Cheney. But a lot of Liz Cheney's work actually took place in what the members call hideaways, which are these little almost like little basement offices. You know, if you go in the different members' offices, some of them have bars in there or books they wrote or cool little things they have, but they're not very spacious. They're kind of of cramped in there. And some of the most important interviews the committee did took place in Liz Cheney's hideaway. And getting some of the key Republican witnesses to come in, those talks and discussions happened in Liz Cheney's hideaway. So you could kind of see how she was directing things from this basement office tucked away in the Capitol.
DAVIES: Right. And most of the witnesses, as it turned out, were Republicans talking about all this. And I assume that had something to do with Liz Cheney and her credibility to get them involved.
BROADWATER: Right. Yeah. If you look at the public hearings, nearly every person who testifies is a Republican. And that was done for a couple of reasons. One, it undercut the argument that this was a partisan witch hunt. If everybody who's testifying against Donald Trump is a Republican, worked for him in the White House, worked in his Justice Department, was a Republican secretary of state or a member of the State House, and these are all the people who are providing the testimony, it's really hard to say that this is a partisan witch hunt. The other point I'd like to make about this is that all the Democrats on the committee say they could not have gotten a lot of those witnesses to come in and cooperate with them had it not been for Liz Cheney, that it was her role as this sort of leading figure in the old Republican Party - you know, her dad was the vice president. That made a lot of Republicans comfortable in being willing to talk to the committee.
DAVIES: Yeah. Could you think of an example of her, you know, putting in the time and effort to get a reluctant Republican witness to tell their story?
BROADWATER: The biggest and most important example is Liz Cheney starts bringing in some of these younger, you know, 20-something women who worked in the Trump White House. And she's interviewing Sarah Matthews and Alyssa Farah. And they tell her the person you really need to talk to is Cassidy Hutchinson, who I think at that time is 25 years old. And she had been an aide to Mark Meadows, the chief of staff. And Liz, through a series of talking with Cassidy Hutchinson, gets her to come in and testify. She ends up testifying behind closed doors, like, four or five times with the committee, talked to them repeatedly. And eventually, she becomes the only witness that has an entire hearing built around her testimony. And none of that would have happened without Liz Cheney.
Liz Cheney kept those interviews very close to the vest. When the other members were told to fly in for this surprise hearing, they didn't know until they got to a secure facility what they were there for, what they were going to hear. And then Liz Cheney presented them with the transcript and the evidence from Cassidy Hutchinson for that hearing. So, you know, Liz Cheney was the driving force behind that hearing and behind getting some of those, you know, younger Republican women inside the Trump White House to cooperate.
DAVIES: The other Democrats on the committee are all independent elected officials who have their own kind of history as politicians and egos. And I wonder if, at times, they began to resent the attention that Liz Cheney got. And, of course, there was reporting that there was a real substantive debate about the focus of the committee's final report, with Cheney really wanting it to focus on Trump at the expense of some other important elements of inquiry. Tell us about that.
BROADWATER: Yeah, there was internal debate. I think one thing that is important to remember is the chair of the committee, Bennie Thompson, is a Democrat, and the majority of the members are Democrats. So if Liz Cheney ever did something that was - you know, they really disagreed with, it was not as though she could overrule everyone. She - you know, she is the vice chair. And she was - they were still in line at the end of the day. The members decided almost everything by consensus. Now, there were internal disputes that would eventually lead to consensus, but they did usually end at a point of consensus.
Now, I do think what happened with the writing of their final report was much more of a conflict between members and the staff than it was necessarily a conflict between members. There were some disagreements between the members. But - so what happened was you had this staff of dozens and dozens of investigators, and they were all assigned to different teams. And so some people were assigned to look into the role social media played on January 6, and some people were assigned to look into security failures. And some people were assigned to look at the Trump White House, and another team was assigned to look at fundraising. And so they all did their investigations and would write up various aspects of their report. And then it was up to the members and the top staff to decide what made the final report or didn't.
And, you know, some of the reports they felt were interesting or useful but didn't necessarily fit with the larger narrative they were building. And they were trying to keep the report - the report ended up being 850-some pages, and they were trying to keep it to a readable length, you know, without trying and publishing some 2,000-page report or something. So a lot of stuff did end up getting cut, didn't make the final cut. And that did anger a lot of the staff who felt like they had spent, you know, a year of their life interviewing dozens and dozens of witnesses and writing this whole chapter of a report that, you know, didn't finally make the final cut. So I can see how people were very frustrated about that. But, you know, at the end of the day, there were tough decisions that had to be made about what made the final report and what didn't.
DAVIES: We need to take another break here. Let me reintroduce you again. We are speaking with Luke Broadwater. He is a congressional correspondent for The New York Times. He covered the investigation into the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol and Donald Trump's efforts to reverse the results of the 2020 presidential election. He'll be back to talk more after this short break. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. Tomorrow is the second anniversary of the assault on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump who were attempting to prevent the certification of Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election. We're speaking with New York Times congressional correspondent Luke Broadwater, who was at the Capitol that day and has covered the investigations into the attack and Trump's efforts to overturn the election results. The congressional committee investigating the January 6 attack recently wrapped up its work, releasing a lengthy report and thousands of pages of witness interview transcripts and other material.
You know, when the committee launched this effort, I mean, I think I thought - probably a lot of people thought - well, we kind of know what happened already, right? I mean, the Trump, you know, Stop the Steal campaign - a lot of that was very public. And certainly the assault on the Capitol, which seemed like this spontaneous mob violence, was certainly intensely covered. But this really did add some new material and opened some new doors - didn't it? - the whole process.
BROADWATER: Oh, absolutely. I think most people, prior to the committee's work, when they thought of January 6, they thought of a single day. They thought of, you know, the officers who were injured and the mob storming the Capitol. But I think what the committee did was establish that January 6 was the culmination of a long build-up of events. You know, I don't know how many people knew about what we now call the false elector scheme or the intense pressure campaign within the Justice Department to overturn the election, or just exactly what was going on between Donald Trump and Mike Pence as the president tried to convince Pence to go along with overturning the election, or exactly what was endured in all these different states by different election officials.
You know, there was a lot of attention on Georgia. I remember, you know, all the media attention about what Donald Trump was doing in Georgia, trying to overturn the election there. But if you look at the committee's final report, there were more than 200 attempts to interfere or overturn the election results in states across the country. So, you know, there's - it was much more widespread, intense - and I think I said sprawling and diffuse before - than I think most people realized - just how many people were involved with trying to overturn the election through the courts, through pressure campaigns, and then ultimately through violence on January 6.
And I do think we know more now about how coordinated the attack was, at least among the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. You know, I think that was actually more of the Justice Department's doing than the committee, actually. But the - you know, so we've learned a lot more, both with the committee's investigation and the Justice Department's investigation.
DAVIES: You know, you mentioned 200 specific efforts to interfere with state elected officials. Is that by the president himself or he and others?
BROADWATER: It's president and allies. So it's his - you know, his top lieutenants. He had a lot of - this legal team that was going across the country trying to convince actors in various states to either sign on to fall slates of electors or throw out votes from a certain county or vote against certifying the election in this county or this state. And there was just attempt after attempt, phone call after phone call, email after email, text after text to try to get people to go along with this plan to not certify the election, to buy Trump more time. They were doing anything they could to try to keep him in power for as long as possible so he didn't have to turn over the reins of government to Joe Biden. And, you know, they - it was a weeks-and-weeks-long effort.
DAVIES: You know, I have to say, that's - that is a fascinating part of the report to read because you see all of these efforts to get often state legislators in these key states to try and reconvene a session of the legislature, to pick a new slate of electors or take some other action. And what was striking to me when I looked at that was how many times these state senators and representatives and others refused to return Rudy Giuliani's calls and then, in some cases, refused to return the president's calls and, in so many cases, told Giuliani and the president, sorry, I can't do that. Just - we got our own rules. We got our own little state constitutions.
BROADWATER: Yeah. There are two ways to look at January 6, I think, in retrospect. One is how - what a dark day it was for the country and how bad the actions of the Trump campaign and Trump himself were as they tried to undo an American election. The other thing that's, I think, a bit more positive is looking at the actions of those state and local officials, just what you said. And many of them are Republicans - right? - because they were going to Republicans 'cause they thought they would be sympathetic to them. And Republican after Republican, state and local officials, is rejecting these attempts and saying, no, this is anti-democratic. I'm not going to do it. Like, I'm not going to put my state through this.
And, you know, so as - you know, as a journalist, you're looking at this from the outside. You're saying, well, wow. Like, a lot of these people showed a lot of courage and gumption, and they put up with a lot of really dark stuff to stand up to Donald Trump. I mean, they would get death threats afterwards. They would be inundated with angry calls and people showing up at their doors. But they stood the line, and they voted to uphold the election. And, you know, I do think people deserve credit for that because it easily could have gone the other way. Had more people been convinced to go along with this plan, we could have seen, you know, an American election overturned through a pressure campaign. And so I do think it took some backbone and some spine to stand up to this.
DAVIES: We need to take another break here. Let me reintroduce you. We're speaking with Luke Broadwater. He is a congressional correspondent for The New York Times. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're speaking with Luke Broadwater. He's a congressional correspondent for The New York Times. He's covered the investigation into the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol and Donald Trump's efforts to reverse the results of the 2020 presidential election.
You know, another big question that the committee looked at was to what extent the violence that was exhibited on January 6, which was a lot more severe once the committee took a look at it, did a lot of people realize how much of that violence was spontaneous and how much of it was planned. How far did they get figuring that out?
BROADWATER: Right. Well, I actually think the Justice Department has gotten further than the committee in this regard. The committee did interview something like 30 criminal defendants. And they did interview the leaders of both the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. And what they concluded was that it was a coordinated attack on the Capitol from at least these right-wing paramilitary groups, that they had intended to rile up average Trump supporters who were in the crowd and lead - sort of lead the vanguard attacking the building.
I think we also have to conclude that a lot of it was spontaneous, that a lot of people did get caught up in the moment, did do - a mob mentality took over the crowd. And a lot of people who have very deep regrets about what they did did commit acts of violence and got charged for it. You know, if you listen to some of these criminal defendants, they talk about sometimes feeling like they were duped, that they had been led astray by Donald Trump, that Donald Trump had sold them a pack of lies. They had believed they were standing up for democracy that day, that they were fighting, you know, an unjust government. And now they look back and see things more clearly once they've been arrested and charged with crimes.
So I do think there's - I think there's a mix of people. As with any large event, there's a mix of things that happened. There are some people who planned to commit violence, who came to the Capitol with weapons and a plan to attack. There are others who maybe got caught up in the moment. And you sort of have to look at everyone's individual case to determine their individual circumstances.
DAVIES: You know, when the investigation got underway, I always thought one of the most useful things for all of us would be if the committee found evidence that Trump knew that the Stop the Steal claim was bogus - I mean, that is to say, not just that people in his own camp told him he lost the election, but if the committee found evidence that he knew and said it to somebody or wrote it somewhere. Did they get that at all, get that kind of material?
BROADWATER: They have a lot of evidence that shows Donald Trump was told repeatedly that there was not widespread fraud in the election. They have a lawyer after lawyer, both within the Trump campaign and the Justice Department, telling him that Trump would try to get this theory or that theory run down and investigated whether it was, you know, moving boxes in Georgia, whether it was Italy flipping votes via satellites or China flipping votes through thermometers or secret ballots being flown in on a plane to Arizona. There were so many crazy theories.
The Justice Department investigated one after one. The Trump campaign investigated one after one and would report back to Donald Trump saying, look. We couldn't prove this. The evidence isn't there. But he would just move on to something else. Now, there are a few witnesses they have that tell - that told the committee that Trump indicated to them privately that he knew he had lost, he knew it was over, but that he wanted to try to keep fighting anyway. And so I do think they established that Trump knew, or at least he should have known, that there was not evidence of widespread fraud, that the election was not stolen, but that he continued to press these false claims anyway.
DAVIES: Right, which might be relevant if you're talking about a criminal prosecution and criminal intent, right?
BROADWATER: Well, intent's an important part of any investigation. But intent is not the only thing that matters when investigating a situation. There are certain offenses where you don't need intent to prove them, but it definitely helps to have - for an investigator to prove someone's mindset that they meant to do what they were doing, that it wasn't an accident, or there isn't some other reasonable explanation for it.
DAVIES: You know, when the committee released its final report, it was more than 800 pages. And if I - I think they actually posted it around 10 o'clock on Thursday night before the Christmas holiday weekend. As a reporter under competitive pressure, how do you attack an 800-page document like that on deadline?
BROADWATER: (Laughter) Yes. No, I think they put it out, like, at 9 p.m. on a Thursday night, something like that. I will say, it has been exhausting covering this committee. All through the holidays, we worked pretty much every day because more and more transcripts were coming out. They've put out something like 30,000 pages of transcripts in the past two weeks. And going through this report was just one of very many long nights.
DAVIES: Right. Well, then, in the days following, the committee would, just about every day, release several dozen new interview transcripts. Do you feel like in all of this stuff, there were critical new revelations?
BROADWATER: So my view of the transcripts is that what they - they added new revelations, but I wouldn't say anything in the transcripts fundamentally changed our understanding of what happened on January 6. Yes, we learned new details. We learned new color. We learned new facts and information. You know, we learned that Gen. Milley thought that it was a Reichstag moment on January 6 and that Donald Trump tried to trademark the phrase, rigged election, I guess, to - in an attempt to make money off of the false claims of fraud in the election. And we learned, you know, about different clashes between staffers in different meetings. So there was good and valuable information in these transcripts, and we wrote stories about all of them every day. But my view is fundamentally, the committee, with its report and with its hearings, established a base of knowledge that these transcripts built on and did not change.
DAVIES: Well, you know, my experience, you know, in preparing for the interview is - I got the printed copy that you wrote the introduction to. And what I found was, you know, there's a table of contents. You pick an area that you want to look into. And once you get in there and burrow in there for 20 or 30 pages, it's pretty fascinating. And one thing that I was just amazed by was the appendix on following the money, that is to say, the $250 million that Trump and his allies raised from small donors after the election through these, you know, really sharply worded emails about the need to, you know, Stop the Steal and what was actually done with that money. It is just jaw-dropping.
BROADWATER: Yeah. And the committee touched on this a bit during one of its hearings. It was the hearing led by Zoe Lofgren. And she said that it was not only the big lie, but it was also the big rip-off. And they had, I think, one video presentation at that hearing about what they call the big rip-off. But if you read that appendix, you're right, there's just a lot more detail about exactly how Trump supporters were marketed to and how much money was brought in and exactly what they were told, and then where the money went. And a lot of the money did not go to fighting the election as had been promised. It actually went to various other causes that had nothing to do with fighting the election.
DAVIES: Right. Right. They said you should donate to the official election defense fund, which never actually existed. It was a marketing phrase.
BROADWATER: Right. Yeah. And that was some of the testimony that was both brought out at the hearings and in the report. They had Trump campaign workers say that no fund had ever been created.
DAVIES: And then a lot of it went to this new political committee that Trump that created, the Save America PAC. And then millions of that went to special corporations created to pay staffers of his that were continuing to do work. It's pretty amazing stuff. Again, that's just an example of what you get from a few pages of the report, so plenty there. Let's take another break here. Let me reintroduce you. We are speaking with Luke Broadwater. He's a congressional correspondent for The New York Times. We'll continue our conversation in just one moment. This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we're speaking with Luke Broadwater. He covers Congress for The New York Times. And he's been covering the investigation into the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol and Donald Trump's efforts to reverse the results of the 2020 presidential elections.
I want to look at what happens next. The committee has finished its work. And the Justice Department, you know, is looking into this. There's a special counsel, Jack Smith. And, you know, the attorney general, Merrick Garland, has said, we will go where the facts lead us. The report, of course, recommends criminal charges against Trump and lays out its case. But I'm wondering, what other considerations will the Justice Department take into account? You know, federal prosecutors have discretion. There can be times when you say, yep, I think that there's a crime here. And I think we can prove it. But for other reasons, we're going to choose not to prosecute. What are some of the other considerations that might move the Justice Department one way or the other?
BROADWATER: Right. Well, of course, they have a much higher standard than what a legislative committee does, you know? The criminal referrals are to investigate Donald Trump. And they lay out the evidence that they believe - they accumulated and the crimes they believe the evidence shows he committed. But that's really a starting point for the Justice Department's investigation. The Justice Department has to consider, you know, the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt and whether they can convince a jury at that standard to hold a former president of the United States accountable in a criminal way.
In addition to the evidentiary - higher evidentiary hurdle, there's also the consideration about, politically, you know, do we want to be a country that - where the new administration throws the old administration in jail? You know, we have no precedent for that in America. I think Merrick Garland will be very reluctant to make that new precedent. At the same time, we have no precedent of former presidents refusing to concede after they lose an election. So you know, this whole situation is very unprecedented. Because of how Donald Trump behaves, now Merrick Garland is in a situation of, does he take an unprecedented step for the Justice Department in terms of charging a past president?
And, you know, he's assigned a special counsel, Jack Smith. I think he is taking it very seriously, if the subpoenas that have gone out in recent weeks are any indication. I know they're seeking to interview people who have been interviewed already by the January 6 committee. And that's been a pattern for a number of months, where the January 6 committee will interview somebody. They will make some of that evidence public. And then the Justice Department will call that person in and get the same testimony or maybe expanded testimony themselves in front of a grand jury or to investigators. So the investigation is still quite active. But it is - there are huge, huge decisions for Merrick Garland that are both evidentiary in nature and also political in nature.
DAVIES: You know, it struck me that there's an irony to this whole situation in that, you know, the committee thinks that Donald Trump's conduct violates the law, and he should be charged. But in some ways, to me, I mean, the more serious conduct that he's responsible for is convincing tens of millions of Americans that they can't trust elections, that votes are going to be stolen in the dead of night despite, you know, any credible evidence that it happened. And that's just so poisonous for a representative democracy. And in a way, it strikes me that there's sort of not any criminal statute that really has the gravity to address that fundamental offense, this body blow to American democracy. So it's kind of a mismatch in a way between, you know, the criminal code and what's happened.
BROADWATER: It is true that everything that's bad and a negative force in our politics is not a crime, right? Convincing lots of Americans not to believe in the institutions of the country or maybe not even a democracy anymore is certainly a dark force in our culture, in our society today, but hard to see how it's a crime, right? Lying to voters is not a crime or it never has been to date. And I think that's one of the things the Justice Department has to struggle with is there were a lot of really, really bad actions taken, but they may not violate a criminal statute. And do we want to be a country where we do throw politicians in jail who lie? So those are the type of things that they're thinking about.
And, you know, one thing I think they have to consider is that the facts of January 6 aren't really in dispute at this point. I think we know a ton of facts from this committee's investigation. Maybe there are more to find. But we basically know what happened. And now it's a matter of interpreting those facts and applying them to the law and saying, are these facts a crime? Are these facts enough to bring about a criminal conviction? And that's the question they have to wrestle with.
DAVIES: So the committee is disbanded now. There's a narrow Republican majority in Congress. What do we expect to happen to the committee's work and legacy, the website with all that information on it, for example?
BROADWATER: Well, they posted a ton of it on their website, you know, all these transcripts, lots of text messages, lots of emails. And they've sent this all to the Government Printing Office and also to the National Archives. There was a concern on the committee's part that once Republicans took over, they could just delete all their files and shut down their website. But, you know, the material is in the hands of the archives now and can't - cannot be destroyed by the, you know, by the other party in Congress. That said, Republicans have asked already asked for everything to be turned over to them. They want to go through the evidence, see whether there is any wrongdoing on the part of the committee. They've pledged to investigate the investigators.
And so I do think that that will be a thread that we see going forward in Congress, where the Republicans are investigating the January 6 committee and trying to undermine their work in the new Congress. That is why the committee wanted to put out these full transcripts before they left, because they were worried about Republicans cherry-picking certain facts to try to make them look bad and not showing the full context. So that's why they put out so many documents in the past couple of weeks.
DAVIES: Yeah. And when you say the Republicans want to get that material, that means they hope to get copies of it so that they can pore over for their own interests and investigate, right?
BROADWATER: That's correct. Yeah. So, you know, the committee was able to get lots of material from the archives from the Trump administration - the Trump administration sent it to the archives, then the archives then sent it to the committee. So what the Republicans are now asking for is to get that information sent to the archives from the committee. That said, I do know the files that they have have also been transferred to the House administration committee and including some some secretive files, some stuff that deals with national security, some stuff that deals with the confidentiality of certain witnesses.
And the committee has already warned the Biden White House that the confidentiality agreements they reached with some witnesses, I think, who are in the Biden White House could be broken by the Republicans once they get their hands on this material. And they just sort of warned them about that, that there are certain agreements for confidentiality that they entered into. But once, you know, once Republicans have control of these files, they could potentially break those and make those names public. And that is something the committee is worried about and has sent letters to the Biden White House and I believe the Secret Service as well.
DAVIES: Well, Luke Broadwater, thanks so much for speaking with us again.
BROADWATER: Thanks for having me.
DAVIES: Luke Broadwater reports on Congress for The New York Times. He's covered the investigation into the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol and Donald Trump's efforts to reverse the results of the 2020 presidential election. And he wrote the introduction to the printed edition of the January 6 committee's report, published by Twelve Books. If you'd like to catch up on interviews you've missed, like Terry's conversation with renowned book editor Robert Gottlieb, known for editing all of Robert Caro's books, or my interview with Shahan Mufti, whose new book chronicles the largest hostage taking in American history in 1977, check out our podcast. You'll find lots of FRESH AIR interviews. And for a glimpse behind the scenes, picks from our archive and staff recommendations, subscribe to the FRESH AIR newsletter at whyy.org/freshair.
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DAVIES: 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, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Seth Kelley, Susan Nyakundi and Joel Wolfram. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Thea Chaloner directed today's show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
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