Jan. 6 committee heats up as Liz Cheney takes center stage: is it Watergate again?

This happened twice on Tuesday, and one person was involved each time: Liz Cheney. The January 6 House committee has moved in the same direction as the Watergate investigation for some time now, but the thing with Mark Meadows’ text messages is what turned the corner. Cheney took center stage Senator Howard Baker has won the limelight during the Watergate Senate hearings in the summer of 1973 when he asked his famous question: “What did the President know, and when did he find out?”

Baker’s question was prompted by the testimony of former White House attorney John Dean, who had just blown up the roof of the Senate courtroom when he said he discussed the Watergate heist cover-up with Richard Nixon at least 35 times. Cheney’s question was apparently prompted by the revelation of a series of texts between former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and several members of Congress on January 6 as the assault on Capitol Hill was underway. “We know that hours have passed without the President taking action to defend the United States Congress from an assault as we try to count the electoral votes,” Cheney said grimly. “Mr. Meadows’ testimony will focus on a key question before this committee: Did Donald Trump, by action or inaction, corruptly seek to hinder or impede the formal process of Congress for the counting of the electoral votes?

Cheney’s question was sharper than Baker’s, but in both cases it was as if those Tory lawmakers from the same party as the man under investigation were flabbergasted to wonder if the President of the United States had committed a crime during his tenure. , and just as astonished that the question arises around the same time of the survey.

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By the time they asked their questions, Baker and Cheney had access to more information than what was provided to the public. Dean had been questioned for days by staff of attorneys and investigators on the Watergate committee before taking the oath and beginning his testimony in full view of the country – the hearings were covered live by the three major networks of television, which is impossible to imagine today. .

In the case of Mark Meadows, staff lawyers and investigators on the Jan. 6 committee interviewed, under oath, some 300 witnesses and reviewed tens of thousands of pages of evidence that were provided to the committee. By the time Cheney posed his explosive question on the House floor on Tuesday, we were informed that Meadows had exchanged texts with several Fox News hosts as well as Donald Trump Jr., all of whom were trying to convince Meadows of influence the president. to cancel the assault on the Capitol. Cheney read several texts written by lawmakers who curled up in their desks on the floors of the House and Senate chambers, trying to convince Meadows to do the same.

Cheney clearly saw other texts she did not read aloud during the debate over whether to outrage Meadows, and she did not name the lawmakers who sent them. But her question indicates that at least some of the testimony they took from witnesses, and other texts she saw from lawmakers, indicate that the committee concluded there was a conspiracy between Donald Trump and lawmakers on one or both sides of Capitol Hill to disrupt the counting of the ballots and possibly influence several battlefield states to change their voters lists from Joe Biden to Trump.

It’s all speculation at this point, but it’s important to remember that investigations like Watergate and the Assault on the Capitol largely don’t take place in the light of day. Here is how the The New York Times framed it Wednesday: “In closed-door talks held at a nondescript federal office building near the Capitol, Ms. Cheney has become a leader and central figure of the panel, known to have delved into the details of the mission she considers most important to her political career. She is familiar with the penal code and often uses borrowed language to make it clear that she believes the former president and others are at risk of criminal prosecution. ”

According to the Times, Cheney also “lobbied to assemble a team of former intelligence analysts and law enforcement specialists among committee staff, including some Republicans – a move that bolstered the bipartisan good faith of the government. committee”.

Watergate committee staff had their offices in an unoccupied movie theater on Capitol Hill a short distance from the Senate courtroom. The theater floor had been transformed into cubicle-like spaces with fluorescent lighting on the temporary ceiling where the staff worked. David Dorsen and Terry Lenzner, two deputies to Sam Dash, the committee’s main Democratic adviser, shared a desk behind the curtain on the stage of the theater.

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I know this because I used to travel from New York to Washington to meet with Lenzner and Dorsen in mostly futile attempts to glean non-public information from the committee’s investigation. This is how reporting on one of these investigations goes: you run around and report as much as you can and gather information on the topic in question, then one of the places you use to verify the veracity of information is the crime investigation committee.

My particular corner of the Watergate investigation was Baby Rebozo, described at the time as Nixon’s best friend and neighbor in Key Biscayne, Florida, where the so-called Winter White House is located. Rebozo was much more than that, of course, that was why I was writing a series of investigative reports on him.

The Senate Watergate Committee was also interested in Rebozo and his role in laundering illegal donations to Nixon’s re-election campaign in 1972, among others. Rebozo was an interesting guy, the only money launderer I have ever met who actually owned a chain of about 70 laundromats – which he used, in part, to launder money for Nixon using nature entirely. cash from the laundromat to do their dirty work. The other way he did it turned out to be the Key Biscayne Bank, which he owned and which was located in a narrow window of an island mall. I became suspicious of it the day I walked in and attempted to open an account. There was exactly one ‘teller’ and one teller, who informed me that Key Biscayne Bank was not ‘that kind of bank’, like a bank where you open accounts and deposit and withdraw from it. silver.

One day, loaded with a huge suitcase of documents I had gathered about Rebozo, I took the train to Washington, went to the Capitol Hill Theater of the Watergate Committee, and traded my files for at least one. part of what the committee had gathered on Rebozo. They copied my files and returned the originals and I took the train back to New York. I can’t tell you how dramatic it all was, to walk into that old theater and literally go behind the curtain of the Watergate investigation.

A few days later, Lenzner sent one of the committee’s investigators to Florida with a subpoena for Rebozo’s Key Biscayne Bank. Late that night my phone rang and it was Lenzner. “You won’t believe what happened,” he said. The investigator had presented himself to the Rebozo bank as an employee was leaving for the day with a suitcase. He served the summons on the spot and opened the suitcase. It was loaded with $ 750,000 in cash and the man had a plane ticket to the Bahamas in his pocket. It turned out that he was running a concession at Paradise Island Casino and the money in the suitcase was meant to be laundered there.

I’m telling this story because I think that’s about the point we got to in the January 6 select committee investigation. They gathered a lot more information than they made public and on Tuesday night announced they would start holding hearings in January.

But I think we can start to see where they are heading in the question that Cheney asked during the Meadows contempt citation debate. What we know publicly at this time is that the assault on Capitol Hill was planned in advance and organized at least in part by several right-wing militias, including the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, may -being with the help of personalities like Steve Bannon and Roger Pierre. Both have been subpoenaed by the committee and one of them, Bannon, has previously been found in contempt of Congress and faces federal charges for refusing to testify.

We learned early on that the Democratic Party headquarters Watergate robbery was planned by the burglars themselves, aided by figures on the fringes of the Nixon campaign like Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy. What we didn’t know was whether the plot had reached the White House and involved President Richard Nixon.

The White House tapes would reveal the truth about this conspiracy, and it starts to sound like Meadows’ text messages, along with other evidence gathered by the January 6 committee, will reveal a similar connection between the White House and the assault. against the Capitol. The break-in at Watergate was a crime, as was the break-in at the Capitol. Covering up the planning and organization behind Watergate turned out to be a crime that brought down a President. It appears that covering up the same type of conspiracy involving the assault on the Capitol will turn out to be another felony, one that could bring down several members of Congress, possibly to face federal charges for a crime that Liz Cheney has already named. noisy.

Things are getting interesting, guys. The assault on the Capitol is Watergate.

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