Steady, Commentary by Dan Rather: Breaking the Republic


Editor's Note: The following guest column was written by Dan Rather, right, following revelations on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022 about former President Donald dan rather 2017Trump during what is expected to be the final House Jan. 6 dan rather steady logoCommittee hearing investigating the pro-Trump insurrection of Jan. 6, 2020 at the U.S. Capitol.

This was first published in Rather's near-daily column "Steady," which he so named to urge readers to stay balanced during our troubled times. This editor is a subscriber to the columns, which are published in collaboration with Elliot Kirschner and benefit from Rather's experience and blunt, colorful style. Rather, whose 91st birthday is Oct. 31 and who is currently based in his native Texas, is the iconic author and journalist who worked for many years as the CBS Evening News anchor and managing editor.

-- Andrew Kreig, Justice Integrity Project editor



Jan. 6, 2020 Capitol Riot (Photo by Brent Stirton via Getty Images).

Jan. 6, 2020 Capitol Riot (Photo by Brent Stirton via Getty Images).

Steady, Commentary: Breaking The Republic, January 6 wasn’t an accident, Dan Rather, Oct. 14, 2022. “That, my fellow citizens, breaks the republic.”

dan rather 2017This was the chilling conclusion of Liz Cheney today at the January 6 hearings over what would have happened if the guardrails of our democracy, exposed for their frailty in 2020, had buckled to an autocrat determined to hold onto power.

And the danger remains. “Without accountability, it all becomes normal, and it will recur,” Cheney warned.

dan rather steady logoCheney’s statement is striking in its simplicity and its power. Her audience is her “fellow citizens,” the ones who will be going to the polls in less than a month to decide who should lead this nation going forward. Her fellow Republicans have cast Cheney as a pariah for having the courage to state the truth: that their leader wanted to destroy America as we know it.

What the committee presented today shed a spotlight on the authorship of this historic tragedy. It is Trump who is the playwright, conjuring and casting the roles of those who would act out his destructive intentions. It was he who dreamt up and directed a frontal attack on American democracy. But he couldn’t have done it without his willing accomplices.

Today, we saw footage of members of Congress grappling in real time with a deteriorating situation on January 6 that could have ended with more bloodshed and the decimation of governmental order. We could feel a visceral fear in their actions and words, not only for their own personal safety but for the safety of the nation they had sworn an oath to serve. Those who could have intervened, starting with the president but including his top aides inside the White House, were absent. And that is just as the president wanted it. We heard today evidence that Trump knew he had lost, and he didn’t care what it would take to retain power.

Or are we now so divided that we can no longer be sure? This is the overriding question as our beloved America evolves in the first quarter of the 21st century.


djt flag

President Donald J. Trump is introduced on stage Saturday, March 2, 2019, at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Oxon Hill, MD. 


This man who shamelessly pounds his chest with protestations of patriotism, who literally wraps himself in the American flag, who demonizes his political opponents as haters of America, is really the one who views our imperfect experiment in self-governance with disgust. Elections. The rule of law. Peaceful transfers of power. The will of the people. These are the pillars of our nation’s foundation. But for Trump, that’s all just for suckers. He had the presidency, and he didn’t plan on relinquishing it, no matter what the voters or the Constitution said.

January 6 wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t a rally that spun out of control. It was a dangerous and violent storm threatening our nation’s core principles and our whole system of representative democracy. Stop and ponder that. Then remember that it should have been no surprise. The committee has made clear that the plan had been on the radar for weeks. There was plenty of evidence in advance that Trump and his cronies were planning to disregard the verdict of the election if it went against him.

But details and evidence uncovered since have been stunning, including documentary footage of longtime Trump loyalist Roger Stone played today. Here is what Stone had to say even before Election Day (excuse the language, please): “I say fuck the voting, let’s get right to the violence.” Was what we saw on January 6 a Plan B, or really a Plan A?

One of the great attributes of this committee is expert storytelling, laying out, with gripping detail, a narrative — a true story — about the attempted destruction of our democratic order. They have carefully traced the origins of this horror to before the election. They have shown the rising danger and threats of violence. They have identified villainy, led by the president. They have explained with breathtaking intimacy what took place on January 6. And they have made very clear that that day’s actions, while dramatic, were not a denouement. How this story ends is currently unknowable. We will have a better sense after the midterm elections and with the Department of Justice’s decision if, how, and whom to prosecute.

There is a lot about what we heard today, and in the previous hearings, that is infuriating. It also is hard not to feel a deep sadness about the precariousness of our democracy. But we can find hope in the service of this committee. They are saying to all of us, “This happened. Let us not let it happen again. And let us hold those responsible, accountable.”

They believe that most Americans cherish our self-governance, our stability, and our rule of law. They believe that if we know the truth, that we will do everything in our power, as a people, as a nation, to protect against its recurrence.

Does that belief still hold?


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Related News Coverage



House Jan. 6 Select Investigating Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS.) (Photo via NBC News).

House Jan. 6 Select Investigating Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS.) ((Photo via NBC News).

ny times logoNew York Times, Jan. 6 Panel Votes to Subpoena Trump, Luke Broadwater and staff colleagues, Oct. 14, 2022 (print ed.). “He is required to answer for his actions,” said the chairman of the committee investigating the Capitol attack. The panel revealed new video of congressional leaders desperately seeking help from the Trump administration and the National Guard as rioters stormed the building.

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol voted unanimously Thursday to issue a subpoena to former President Donald J. Trump to question him about his role in events that led to the violence that consumed Congress

“He is required to answer for his actions,” said Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the chairman of the committee, at the end of what was possibly the panel’s final public session. “He is required to answer to those police officers who put their lives and bodies on the line to defend our democracy.”

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack voted Thursday to subpoena former President Donald J. Trump, but has yet to settle on whether to enforce subpoenas issued to four key Republican members of Congress who have refused to cooperate with the inquiry.

Representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader, did not comply with subpoenas to testify at depositions that were scheduled for May, despite 22 former Republican members of the House urging them to cooperate.

The panel wanted the lawmakers to answer questions about their communications in the run-up to the Capitol riot. For refusing to comply, the members could face charges of contempt of Congress or be referred to the Ethics Committee.

Mr. Jordan, Mr. Perry and Mr. Biggs sent letters to the committee objecting to the investigation, and Mr. McCarthy filed a court brief arguing the panel’s subpoenas were illegitimate.

In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Jordan, who is in line to become Judiciary Committee chairman if his party takes control of Congress after November’s midterms, wrote that participation in such a “political stunt” by House Republican leaders “would change the House for­ever.”

The committee was initially reluctant to issue subpoenas for information from sitting members of Congress, citing the deference and respect lawmakers in the chamber generally show one another, but ultimately concluded it was necessary.

There have already been consequences for failing to cooperate. Stephen K. Bannon, a Trump ally who was found guilty of two counts of contempt of Congress in July for refusing to comply with the committee’s subpoena, making him the first close aide to former President Donald J. Trump to be convicted as a result of one of the investigations into the Jan. 6 attack. (Mr. McCarthy filed a brief in support of Mr. Bannon.)

The committee has also previously laid out its case for a contempt of Congress charge against Mark Meadows, the chief of staff to Mr. Trump, who refused to appear for a scheduled deposition or to turn over additional documents, citing Mr. Trump’s assertion of executive privilege.

Some witnesses who did offer testimony cited their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during questioning, including Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official; Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser; John Eastman, a conservative lawyer; and Roger Stone, a political operative.

“At some point, the Department of Justice may well unearth the facts that these and other witnesses are currently concealing,” Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming said at the hearing on Thursday, minutes before the panel unanimously voted to subpoena Mr. Trump.

Thompson tells reporters that the committee has no plans to subpoena former Vice President Mike Pence.

Chilling new footage shows congressional leaders scrambling to secure the Capitol.

New video shared by the House committee investigating the attack on the Capitol shows how top lawmakers scrambled to secure the building on Jan. 6.CreditCredit...House Select Committee, via Associated Press

Huddling with congressional leaders in a secure location as the Capitol was under siege, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was emphatic: There had to be a way to show the public that the government could function and the transfer of power could continue.

Was there a way to return to the Capitol and continue certifying the election, she asked.

Politico, Trump secretly ordered troops withdrawn from Afghanistan and Somalia before 2020 election, Nicholas Wu and Kyle Cheney, Oct. 14, 2022 (print ed.). The revelation emerged during a Jan. 6 select panel hearing, billed as a “closing argument,” that's expected to be its last before the midterms.

politico CustomDonald Trump sent military leaders into a panic by secretly ordering all U.S. troops withdrawn from Afghanistan and Somalia days after losing reelection, the Jan. 6 select committee revealed Thursday.

The Jan. 6 panel showed testimony from Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, describing Trump’s withdrawal move as “potentially dangerous” but said Trump suggested leaving the problem to “the next guy.” While the order was never implemented, Trump’s intent was to complete the withdrawal before Inauguration Day — and panel member Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) argued that it was evidence that he knew “his term would shortly end.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: The Jan. 6 Panel Detailed the Attack. Accountability Is Another Matter, Peter Baker, right, Oct. 14, 2022. The peter baker twittercommittee has not moved the needle of public opinion of former President Trump. But it may have laid the groundwork for criminal prosecution.

If the goal was to essentially put former President Donald J. Trump on trial, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol succeeded in presenting a powerful case full of damning testimony mainly from the defendant’s own advisers, allies and even relatives.

But as the panel wrapped up what was likely the last of its evidentiary hearings on Thursday, it was not at all clear that it had persuaded the jury. Americans who already blamed the rampage on Mr. Trump came away from four months of sensational and at times jaw-dropping hearings with more evidence for their belief, while those who started out in his camp largely remained there.

The relatively little movement in public opinion since the hearings opened in June, at least as measured by an array of polls, underscored the calcification of American politics in recent years. Many voters have been locked into their viewpoints, seemingly immune to contrary information. Mr. Trump’s supporters for the most part have remained loyal to him, brushing off the congressional investigation as the partisan exercise he claims it to be.

As a result, a former president who tried to overturn a demonstrably free and fair election to hang onto power in defiance of the voters, the Constitution and nearly two and a half centuries of democratic tradition remains the dominant figure in his political party and the odds-on favorite to win its nomination to run again. While the committee extensively documented the plot for history’s sake, it could not enforce accountability for it.

“Our nation cannot only punish the foot soldiers who stormed our Capitol,” said Representative Liz Cheney, the Wyoming Republican serving as vice chair of the committee. “Those who planned to overturn our election and brought us to the point of violence must also be accountable.

“With every effort to excuse or justify the conduct of the former president,” she added, “we chip away at the foundation of our republic. Indefensible conduct is defended. Inexcusable conduct is excused. Without accountability, it all becomes normal and it will recur.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Jan. 6 committee hearing shows Trump knew he lost — even while claiming otherwise, Ashley Parker, Oct. 14, 2022. The evidence portrays an American president who embarked on a premeditated plan to refuse to cede power regardless of the election results; The latest: Judge orders Pence aide to testify to Jan. 6 grand jury; Analysis: What the Jan. 6 hearings accomplished — and what they didn’t; Take a look: Why the Jan. 6 committee voted to subpoena Trump and other takeaways.

The likely final hearing of the Jan. 6 panel painted a portrait of an American president who, with the help from a cabal of right-wing allies, embarked on a premeditated plan to refuse to cede power regardless of the election results and who — despite privately acknowledging that he’d lost to Biden — ultimately executed that plan to deadly effect on Jan. 6, 2021.

“All of this demonstrates President Trump’s personal and substantial role in the plot to overturn the election,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.). “He was intimately involved. He was the central player.”

Before voting unanimously to subpoena Trump, the panel made a case against Trump as relentless as it was damning: In the days and weeks before he encouraged a frenzied mob of his supporters to storm the Capitol, close advisers and others had repeatedly told Trump he had lost the election — and Trump himself had privately acknowledged the defeat.

Analysis: The case against Donald Trump

Through roughly 2.5 hours of pretaped testimony, riot footage, stark lawmaker statements and incriminating text messages, the committee argued that despite Trump’s immense capacity for self-deception and dishonesty, the former president fully understood he had lost the election — and yet continued to contest the results anyway.

washington post logoWashington Post, What does a Jan. 6 committee subpoena mean for Donald Trump? Perry Stein, Tom Hamburger and Spencer S. Hsu, Oct. 14, 2022. After the Jan. 6 House committee vote to subpoena Donald Trump, here’s what to know about congressional subpoenas.

washington post logoWashington Post, Perspective: Nancy Pelosi held it together, Monica Hesse, Oct. 14, 2022. In footage taken by her daughter during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Pelosi appeared calm, focused and pragmatic under unthinkable circumstances


marc short white house file Custom

washington post logoWashington Post, Judge bucks Trump, orders Pence aide to testify to Jan. 6 grand jury, Spencer S. Hsu, Josh Dawsey and Jacqueline Alemany, Oct. 14, 2022. A former top aide, shown above, to Vice President Mike Pence returned before a grand jury Thursday to testify in a criminal probe of efforts to overturn the 2020 election after federal courts overruled President Donald Trump’s objections to the testimony, according to people familiar with the matter.

In a sealed decision that could clear the way for other top Trump White House officials to answer questions before a grand jury, Chief U.S. beryl howellDistrict Judge Beryl A. Howell, right, ruled that former Pence chief of staff Marc Short probably possessed information important to the Justice Department’s criminal investigation of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol that was not available from other sources, one of those people said.

Trump appealed, but the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit refused to postpone Short’s appearance while the litigation continues, the people said, signaling that attempts by Trump to invoke executive privilege to preserve the confidentiality of presidential decision-making were not likely to prevail.