The real culmination of the inquiry must be left to the Sphinx-like Department of Justice, whose silence might reveal its commitment to the secrecy that should surround an historically significant investigation. Or that silence might be followed by inaction. We just cannot know at this point, even though the Jan. 6 committee’s revelations made it clear that inaction in the face of the evidence that exists would be one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in U.S. history and would set a dangerous precedent, leaving our entire system at risk.
But there were other disturbing threads that emerged from the congressional inquiry that themselves appeared to require their own independent inquiry. Several of these concern the seeming existence of what might be called the “dark state.” This is not the conspiracy theory fantasy spun by the far right about a “deep state” permanent government that was foiling the will of the people: That was always such a stalking horse, a concept that would enable MAGA officials to root out public servants who placed fealty to the Constitution ahead of loyalty to a political party. Rather it was a real loose alliance among Trump allies in the government who were willing to set aside the rule of law in the service of Trump himself.
At the core of this movement were officials within key government agencies—including the Department of Homeland Security and within it the Secret Service, the FBI, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice and the intelligence community—who had been placed in positions of responsibility because they could be counted upon to bend the rules for Trump.
Prior meetings of the Jan. 6 committee had already brought some dimensions of these rogue actors to light. The testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson revealed that the Secret Service knew that some of the MAGA crowd on The Ellipse, in Washington, D.C., on the morning of Jan. 6 were armed. It revealed they let the event proceed even as the president argued with them to turn off the metal detectors and let armed people in because they were “his people.” It revealed that Trump got into an argument with the Secret Service because some on his detail refused to take him with the mob to the Capitol as he wanted.
Later, the details of that altercation were disputed. But then we learned that one of those seeking to argue against them was Tony Ornato, a former Secret Service agent who in an unprecedented twist had been made Trump’s deputy chief of staff. We also learned that the Secret Service had mysteriously wiped text records from key phones that could shed light on what happened on Jan. 6. This was especially important because Vice President Mike Pence was revealed to have been unwilling to leave the Capitol with the Secret Service because he did not trust them. He was unsure where they might take him if they were working on Trump’s behalf. The case of the missing texts extended elsewhere within the “dark state” as well, for example, to Team Trump appointees at the Department of Defense.
When the text erasure scandal blew up, there was an effort to cooperate. One element of this was an effort to get Ornato to testify before the committee, but he suddenly retired from the government rather than do so. Another involved the agency sending to the committee something like 1 million pages of documents.
The contents of some of those documents were revealed on Thursday. They made it clear that reports of an “intelligence failure” related to Jan. 6 were nonsense. The agency had clear and specific warnings describing an armed attack on the Capitol and threats against members of Congress as part of plan to block the certification of votes. And nonetheless, they let the president’s speech go on. And they did not do much to prevent the attacks from happening. While some in the agency reported on the escalating dangers during the day of Jan. 6, others clearly chose to let events transpire. They were even planning to bring Trump to the Hill until shortly after the Capitol barricades were breached. Rather than presiding over an intelligence failure, they had actually actively enabled the insurrection to take place, with some among their ranks content to look the other way and ignore established protocols.
Meanwhile, the same story was true for the FBI, which had also garnered intelligence about the coup attempt but did not take all the measures available to stop it. One study revealed by NBC News showed that a large percentage of FBI agents were actually sympathetic to Trump and the MAGA crowd. Despite all this, two years after the mayhem of the event, FBI Director Christopher Wray has failed to undertake the investigation within his ranks that is clearly warranted.
Will these investigations ever take place? Should they not, the risk of a precedent is dangerous. The risk of sending a message that agents can ignore their oath with impunity to advance their political agendas is dangerous. And, perhaps most dangerous of all, the existence of major elements within key federal law enforcement agencies that are sympathetic to the extreme right in a country in which, Wray himself has indicated, far-right extremists pose the greatest security threat the country faces could be a fatal flaw in our system come future political upheavals. [Continue reading…]