David Remnick: In February of last year, I sat down with Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland. He was serving as House Manager for the second impeachment of Donald Trump, following the insurrection of January 6th. It was a time of unbelievable turmoil for the nation and for Raskin himself. He had just lost a son to depression and suicide. On January 6th, his daughter and his son-in-law had gone with him to the capitol and they ended up trapped in an office barricaded against the mob.
Raskin has been serving as a member of Congress's January 6th Committee, a committee that's trying to change the minds of Americans who still believe in Donald Trump and his colossal attempt at national deception. I spoke with Jamie Raskin right after their final scheduled hearing. Congressman, in the last hearing, we were shown how the president sat for hours watching television, as a mob that he'd incited tried to stop the election. What have you accomplished with these hearings overall, and what's ahead for the committee?
Jamie Raskin: Our assignment under House Resolution 503 is to define the events of the 6th, define what the causes were, but then to map out a series of legislative responses to them to fortify American democracy against coups, insurrections, political violence and other attempts to usurp the will of the people. We're still in the middle of our work. We're hoping that we're moving into the final phase of it, but we still do have investigative leads and lines of inquiry that we're going to pursue. Then, we have to make these recommendations and we don't have a lot of time to do it in.
David Remnick: What is the time limit and why is there a time limit? Is it the election?
Jamie Raskin: Well, there's a time limit because the House of Representatives, unlike the US Senate, is a non-continuous body. All of us are up for election every two years. Every time when we come back and create a new Congress, we have to adopt a whole new set of rules. We have to adopt a whole new set of committees and subcommittees and so on. We're like the Cinderella's gown and slippers. When we get to the end of this Congress, we're done for, it's over for.
David Remnick: So much so that if the Democrats lose the House to the Republicans, I believe you can expect counter investigations, counter hearings, all kinds of political backlash. Don't you think?
Jamie Raskin: Well, perish the thought that's the premise of that question, but they are saying that if they get the House back, and we know that they're measuring the drapes, they don't seem to have noticed that the entire country is in absolute backlash against their extremist right-wing politics and what the Supreme Court has done to the rights of women and men and families. I think maybe they've jumped the gun in terms of appointing Marjorie Taylor Greene to this or that committee and so on.
David Remnick: You say that with some confidence to face those elections, but I want to know to what degree you think the picture that you were painting, the facts that you're accumulating, have penetrated a wider audience than the people that also watch MSNBC or maybe are listening to us now, is it penetrating independents? Is it changing minds?
Jamie Raskin: The polling data that I've seen about this, and I haven't zealously hunted it all down, but the stuff that people have send me shows that the vast majority of Democrats, like 95%, understand that the 'big lie' is a lie. It was not a stolen election. The insurrection was an insurrection, and Donald Trump was behind it. Some more than two thirds of independents also understand that the 'big lie' is a lie. They understand that Donald Trump has tried to wage war against our political institutions and our constitutional order, and increasing numbers of Republicans are getting the news, I'm seeing.
A political party cannot last, especially a minority political party like the Republicans, if they're going to lose 20% or 25% or 30% of their people. Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney and Adam Kinzinger, and the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach and the seven Republicans in the Senate who voted to convict, they represent some people, they represent millions of people. That was back when we knew a lot less about what exactly Donald Trump had done. The truth is a resilient and irrepressible thing. I think that the truth is beginning to permeate every level of the media, despite the attempt by Fox News and the right wing media to sweep everything under the rug. I've been accused of being an optimistic rose-colored glasses guy, but I just have to believe that the lie cannot last.
David Remnick: You mentioned Liz Cheney, and not so long ago, I would not have imagined you and Liz Cheney as political bedfellows. Tell me about your relationship with her now.
Jamie Raskin: Well, I should start by saying, David, I've always liked Liz Cheney very much. We arrived in Congress the exact same year. We both won in 2016. We came in 2017. We have a lot in common. We're both lawyers, we're both family people. We we're not into that cocaine orgy scene that we've heard so much about from some of our junior Republican colleagues. I take her to be a very serious thoughtful person and she's a constitutional patriot, and she's really funny. We're able to have a lot of fun together, even as we are trying to defend our constitutional order.
I think that Liz, like all of us, is on a political journey. She is standing up for freedom and obviously, and most importantly, she is standing up for the truth in this investigation and insisting upon and demanding that the country, and specifically, her political party and her political party leadership deal with the truth.
David Remnick: She's dealing with the truth, Congressman, and she is likely to lose and probably lose badly in her home state, in her congressional race, as you know.
Jamie Raskin: Well, we don't know that to be the case.
David Remnick: We don't know it, but the numbers are bad. I'd like you to describe for us your view of, or disappointment with, or worse, about the general Republican Party, who seems either to be in lockstep with Donald Trump and what you're calling the 'big lie', or they're just so afraid to lose their own seats that they muddle along.
Jamie Raskin: Well, the original generation of Americans, the founders of the country, understood the dangers of partisanship and people getting into a partisan mentality where they begin to act increasingly cultish, and they elevate party loyalty and discipline above critical thinking. Democrats have done that, too. In the wake of the 'Me Too' era, I think a lot of Democrats would probably be nervous about somebody going back and looking to see what was being said when Bill Clinton had his various issues. I'm trying to demonstrate some even-handedness here.
I mean, any of us who get into a political party can put blinders on to things that would upset us very much if we saw it happening in the other party. Now, we're obviously dealing with an extreme example here, when you're talking about a president of the United States who wages war against our constitutional Republic, and that's extreme.
It obviously represents the convergence of a lot of very scary political strains in America and around the world today of authoritarianism, of racism, of antisemitism, of illiberalism, which a lot of the right wing Republicans are openly praising now in somebody like Orban in Hungary or Putin in Russia.
That's alarming to me. We have to expose that, but the reason I see our hearings as opening up a huge olive branch in the country is that we've been very clear that Donald Trump knew his 'big lie' was a total lie. It was an effort to deceive, but there were millions of people who fell for it, who did not understand that it was a lie.
David Remnick: What role do you expect Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice to play going forward?
Jamie Raskin: They should play a role of justice and of an independent law enforcement function.
David Remnick: Vis-a-vis Donald Trump, do you expect to see action against him?
Jamie Raskin: Well, as a citizen, I would hope and expect to see action, because Donald Trump is guilty as sin, and the whole world can see it, but I try to be careful not to be browbeating the Attorney General of the United States and the Department of Justice and the Attorney General that, secondly, also happens to be a constituent of mine and I don't beat up on my constituents. Look, I think that the great women and men of the Department of Justice, they know crime, they will prosecute a case if there is a predicate of sufficient probable cause. They will bring a case before a grand jury if the offense is sufficiently grave. It's hard to imagine a graver offense than this one, and if we want to deter people in the future from committing the same offenses.
David Remnick: What are you hearing from Trump voters in your District who maybe they're not going to vote for you, but you certainly have interactions with them?
Jamie Raskin: I hear from lots of Republicans who say they can't take it anymore, and they're either becoming independents or they're becoming Democrats. I hear from veterans, on pretty much a daily basis, say, "This is not what I fought for. This is not what I signed up for. If I ever acted the way Donald Trump acted, I would've been court-martialed and I'd be spending the rest of my life behind bars." A lot of people in the military are appalled and outraged by Donald Trump's outrageous betrayal of his oath of office.
David Remnick: You were at the center of impeachment, and now these hearings. Have you personally learned anything about Donald Trump as a human being that you didn't know in 2016?
Jamie Raskin: Well, he is never, ever to be underestimated. He uses all of the resources at his disposal, which are vast in terms of money and political power, fear, and intimidation to get his way. You can never count him out. He was the mastermind of all of those events and lots of people that he activated and set into motion were only privy to parts of them. There are obviously ridiculous and absurd things about him that people like to make fun of, but I'm not really in that camp. I'm somebody who takes him extremely seriously. I think he continues to be a very serious threat to our constitutional order and the rule of law in America.
David Remnick: Last time we spoke on this program about 18 months ago, you predicted that Trump would become a pariah in this country because of the actions he took on January 6th. How confident are you that this is happening?
Jamie Raskin: I believe it is happening. Things are moving in the right direction, but the truth will make him a pariah. The Republican Party has a fateful existential question to face. Do they want to double down on this? It has nothing to do with the truth. It's got nothing to do with the constitution. It's just operating out of pure political fear and cowardice and subordinating themselves to the will of the alpha guy.
It's amazing to me that he's a figure of partisan loyalty when he wasn't even a Republican for a long time. He was a pro-choice Democrat. He even wanted to run for president on the Reform Party. I mean, he's just a hustler and a conman. It's remarkable to me that grown adults, people even in his age group, up in their 60s, 70s, 80s wrap themselves around the lies.
David Remnick: What prevents him from doing that again?
Jamie Raskin: Oh, well, I'm sure he's going to attempt it again. Of course, he will strike the pose of a populist again. The billionaire from Manhattan who has nothing but contempt for the people that he's willing to send into battle against the police, will again try to strike a populist pose. I have no doubt about that. That's the ticket for him. He's going to try to continue perpetrating this fraud on the American public for as long as people are willing to buy it.
That's why I always go back to the founders. They understood that perfectly. If you check out Federalist Number One by Alexander Hamilton, he talked about people like Donald Trump who have no respect for the constitutional system and are willing to begin as demagogues, pandering to the ugliest prejudices and passions of the crowd but then end up as tyrants, destroying everybody's freedom. I like to say that Donald Trump doesn't understand anything about the founders, but they understood him perfectly.
David Remnick: Right now, his biggest competitor for the Republican nomination, I don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but we know it's true, is governor DeSantis in Florida. How does he resemble or not resemble Donald Trump?
Jamie Raskin: Well, at this point, Donald Trump is a little bit less of a problem than Trumpism, because he's created the formula for dangerous extremist politics on the right wing. DeSantis is not challenging Trump on anything substantive. He just wants to knock him out of the way. He shows the exact same kind of authoritarian politics that Trump does, pandering to racism, homophobia, immigrant-bashing, you name it.
I think that it will be some level of progress for Trump to be exposed and discredited and removed one way or another as a threat to the Republic. That's not remotely the end of it if Trumpism is alive and well, and you have political leaders who adopt a position of no enemies on the right and are willing to incorporate the most vicious, racist, anti-semitic, authoritarian, neo-fascist groups in the country.
David Remnick: Considering all you've said and the danger of that, is Joe Biden is too old to be a second-term president? Should the Democratic Party be thinking about looking elsewhere?
Jamie Raskin: I don't think it's a question of his being too old. I think that people in our caucus are very supportive of all of the accomplishments that President Biden has had. I've got a lot of admiration and affection for Joe Biden.
David Remnick: You think he's up to the job two years down the line, and four years hence?
Jamie Raskin: Well, that's the question that he's got to ask himself. That's a question all of us have to ask ourselves, because this is not what everybody bargained for. Whether he is up for this struggle against the dangerous extremists who have taken over the Republican Party. I noticed that some people are saying, it's time to do some other stuff. I mean, this is tough hard work every day to go in and to fight people with this authoritarian, autocratic mentality, and people who are willing to lie directly in your face and people who are willing to spread propaganda and disinformation and to engage in ugly ad hominem tactics against people. All of us have to ask ourselves, are we up for this fight?
David Remnick: Congressman, thank you so much.
Jamie Raskin: Thanks for having me, David.
David Remnick: Jamie Raskin serves on the Select Committee to investigate the January 6th attack on the Capitol. He represents Maryland's 8th Congressional District.
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