“What did Nixon know and when did he know it?” was the central question of the Watergate investigation. You might reasonably think, therefore, that the parallel question for today’s January 6th investigation might be “What did Trump know and when did he know it?” But there’s a subtlety here that everyone in the mainstream media keeps missing about that parallel. Let’s work it out ourselves, brothers and sisters.
The real question, the question that wasn’t asked during Watergate is, “What would have happened had the Watergate break-in been successful?” There’s a good reason why that question wasn’t asked, because the answer probably would have been, “nothing much.” Had that 1972 burglary gone unnoticed, Nixon would have won a second term of office — which he did anyway. With the strategic advantage that Republicans gained from the covert bugging of the Democratic National Headquarters perhaps Nixon would have won by a few thousand more votes than he actually did. But he beat George McGovern by a landslide anyway, despite, and not because, of the Watergate burglary.
To what extent a successful Watergate burglary would have changed history, for better or for worse, no one can say. But we can say something quite dramatic when we ask the question “What would have happened had the January 6th insurrection been successful?” More to the point, what exactly were they hoping would happen? And by “they,” are we able to include Donald Trump?
I have a pretty good idea what Steve Bannon and the Proud Boys were hoping would happen on January 6th. They were hoping that the attack on the Capitol building would overturn the election. Some of them were hoping that several Democratic members of Congress would have been murdered, including Nancy Pelosi and the Republican Vice President Mike Pence. By January 7th they were hoping that Trump would be declared the winner of the 2020 election and we would be helpless to change it back.
So what did Trump know and when did he know it? According to Seth Abramson of The Reader, quite a lot. “Prior to January 6,” Abramson writes, “Trump was provided with a security assessment for the Capitol by the Secret Service, per Reuters. [Steve] Bannon was Trump’s top political advisor post-election according to numerous media outlets.”
But it gets worse. “Every attendee at a Trump ‘war room’ event on January 5 either fled the city or fled the Capitol area either before Trump’s speech or just after it. None went to the Capitol. The reason is that all of Trump’s inner circle knew violence was coming. And that includes Trump himself.”
Abramson insists that the rest of the country is “far behind” on the real driving forces and premeditations of January 6th, that it was in fact a planned coup and Trump was an active part of it. The January 6th insurrection is often compared with Hitler’s “Beer Hall Putsch,” but that analogy doesn’t always go far enough. The Beer Hall Putsch itself was carefully (albeit ineptly) planned, and it was planned well in advance. So were the dreadful events of January 6th.
According to Abramson, video exists from January 5th of Proud Boys and ordinary Trump voters talking about storming the Capitol on the following day. “The idea Bannon alone knew is laughable,” Abramson insists. These forces didn’t materialise out of thin air but had to be mustered well in advance. Clearly the assault on the Capitol on January 6th was several orders of magnitude worse in intent and implications than the Watergate burglary.
These are the central questions that need to be addressed by the January 6 Select Committee. We have the right to know what Trump knew, what he and the rioters intended, and what might have happened had they been successful. Donald Trump needs to be called as a witness, if for no other reason than so he can perjure himself. But he was the reason behind the coup and he must answer for it.
I am convinced that Trump knew everything and hoped the net result would be an overturned election. In short, January 6th was no accident of an enthusiastic crowd gone out of control, but a carefully (albeit ineptly) planned coup d’etat. Donald J. Trump is the only president in American history to deliberately attack his own country. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.