Politicians – even the good ones you can trust – rarely say exactly what they mean. That’s because everything has to be coded in such a manner that the average voter in the middle will conclude that it’s judicious. For instance, when the January 6th Committee revealed weeks ago that it was “considering” subpoenaing the biggest players in the Trump regime, it meant the committee would 100% absolutely end up subpoenaing them. It was just that the committee had to appear to be open minded for the sake of, frankly, the dummies in the middle.
So a good political analyst always knows not to simply take any politician’s words literally, and instead run them through a filter of what that politician is really trying to get across. For instance, when a Senator announces that he or she will never cave on something; it often means that he or she is in fact on the verge of caving; the statement is a last ditch effort at convincing activists to stop applying pressure. And when Mitch McConnell announces that he has the votes, it usually means that he doesn’t have the votes, and he’s – you see the pattern here – trying to trick activists into backing off while on the cusp of victory.
But back to the January 6th Committee, which fortunately is run by a bunch of honest Democrats (and two Republicans who are at least willing to be honest about the Capitol attack). So when the committee members speak, they’re not saying the opposite of what they mean. Instead they’re just pulling their punches a bit, for the sake of the dummies in the middle who want all politicians to talk like they have an “open mind” and haven’t made up their minds too early in the process.
So when January 6th Committee Chair Bennie Thompson – who’s been in the House for decades and understands the weight of his words – began speaking in strong terms early on, I took it as a clear sign that he was going to end up taking actions that were even stronger than his words. Sure enough, he hasn’t hesitated to subpoena the nastiest of Trump henchmen with connections to the Capitol attack. Now he’s letting it be known that he’ll make criminal referrals to the DOJ against any subpoenaed witnesses who refuse to show up.
Some of you have already decided that these Trump folks are going to magically get away with it all no matter what. And of course some of you have already decided that Merrick Garland’s DOJ isn’t going to do anything to any Trump people. But these assessments are based on absolutely nothing of substance, and are based on little more than a subconscious need to insist that the worst possible outcome will indeed happen, so as to avoid having to get ones hopes up for a better outcome. Yes, defeatism is a psychological defect.
Fortunately, at least some of Trump’s subpoenaed henchmen are sober enough to understand that if the House makes a criminal referral against them to the DOJ for failure to appear, there’s a very strong chance that they’ll end up getting hit with something like six months in prison and a $100,000 fine. The notion that the Biden DOJ will do nothing is, well, lunacy. And while the punishments for failure to appear are light enough for the defeatists to find something to whine about, the punishments are just severe enough to make these witnesses think twice about rolling the dice.
In other words, as I predicted weeks ago based on the tone that Bennie Thompson was taking back then, it’s now a given that most – probably not all, but certainly most – of the subpoenaed witnesses will indeed show up and testify. Oh, and by the way, if they decide to show up and just tell lies, the criminal punishments for lying to Congress are more severe than for failure to respond to a Congressional subpoena.
So we’ll see which January 6th witnesses decide to show up and testify, and which of them decide to get criminally indicted by the DOJ instead. It’ll be interesting to watch what happens with a witness like Steve Bannon, who is confirmed to be under criminal investigation in New York, and could well be under federal criminal investigation by the DOJ. He’ll have to weigh whether his testimony could incriminate him such that he’d face criminal charges more severe than the six months he might get for not showing up. It’s nice to see someone like Bannon facing such a no-win situation.
But these witnesses will each have to decide which way they want to gamble with their freedom. That’s going to be up to them; they’ll lose to some degree either way. For now the real upshot is that the January 6th Committee is clearly playing for all the marbles. Oftentimes the Democrats in Congress just don’t have the practical leverage to come out swinging in the ways that liberal activists mistakenly think they do. This isn’t one of those times. The Democrats on this committee are going for it all – and they’re going to succeed.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report