Happy Holidays! The Jan. 6 final report is out, so what now?

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Julian E. Zelizer of The New York Times says that now that the select committee has issued their final report, the real work for necessary reform begins.

When I look back at Watergate, what I see is not a self-correcting constitutional system. Rather, I see an era when a reform coalition of legislators, organizations and journalists took it upon themselves to try to fix the institutional problems that had enabled President Richard Nixon to do the bad things that he did — not just his campaign’s involvement in the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, but also the broader abuses of executive power that were part of what the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. called the “imperial presidency.” The reforms that followed required sustained effort, and they didn’t happen quickly: It took almost a decade to set in place a suite of laws to deal with the toxic foundation of Nixon’s presidency.

This response to Watergate was not inevitable. Reform depended on the establishment or expansion of a robust network of organizations, including Common Cause and Congress Watch. Those organizations insisted that legislation creating stronger checks on the executive branch, strengthening Congress and imposing laws to make it easier to hold officials accountable were the only ways to check bad behavior.

The “Watergate Babies” elected in the 1974 midterm elections devoted political capital toward reform. A young generation of investigative journalists were inspired by The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who doggedly exposed corruption. This coalition lobbied legislators, kept media attention focused on these issues and nurtured electoral pressure.

Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post says the most important finding of the Jan. 6 Committee is the effort by Number 45 to enable right-wing extremist groups.

…from a historical, legal and national security perspective, the most alarming information comes in Chapters 6 and 8 and Appendix 1. Those sections cover the right-wing extremists who jointly planned and executed the violent uprising — and the degree to which Trump enabled their attack.

First and foremost, the report busts a myth promoted by right-wing apologists that because some insurrectionists began the assault on the Capitol before Trump concluded his “Stop the Steal” speech, he was not the inspiration for the attack. Wrong.

Chapter 6 details the degree to which members of extremist groups (e.g., Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, Three Percenters) seized upon Trump’s “big lie” of a stolen election. They heard his call to come to D.C. and believed he wanted them to do what was needed to keep him in power. The Proud Boys planned to move ahead of the crowd, which later — at Trump’s instruction — followed them down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Nicole Hemmer of CNN says that the big question now is whether this final report will spur the government and its citizenry to urge accountability. Ms. Hemmer notes both the successes and failures of past government reports to do so.   

The report now joins a long line of government reports meant to persuade the public, promote reform and make the case for accountability. Such reports have become prominent in the half-century since Watergate, as special commissions and independent prosecutors have vied with investigative journalists in their quests to hold the executive branch, especially the president and intelligence community, accountable for corruption and failures. That’s both because the post-Watergate era held out the potential for reform — Congress in the mid-1970s was a hive of activity as it created new constraints and oversight mechanisms — and for political retribution.

These high-profile reports often captured public attention for the secrets they revealed. The Church Committee report, the result of investigations in the mid-1970s into the intelligence community, exposed wide-ranging wrongdoing: assassination attempts, support for international coups, drug experiments, domestic spying. It led then-President Gerald Ford to issue an executive order barring political assassinations, but it also broke the reign of secrecy that had allowed intelligence operatives to act in lawless and often bizarre ways. […]

But sales and awards, while signs of public interest and literary merit, are not the best measures of a report’s success. What matters most are the accountability and reforms that follow. In the case of the Church Committee, intelligence agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Security Agency were brought to heel. In the case of the Tower Commission and Independent Counsel reports that followed the Iran-Contra affair, however, accountability was short-circuited.

Niels Lesniewski of Roll Call reports that one fix that will be signed into law are updates in the Presidential Transition Act.

“In addition to necessary fixes to the Electoral Count Act, updates to the Presidential Transition Act are important to our national security and the health of our democracy,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said in a statement. “The transition between presidential administrations is a critical process and we need to protect it from becoming another political battleground. I’m glad to see our bill included in the Omnibus and move closer to the president’s desk for signature.”

The bill clarifies the role of the GSA administrator and allows for transition resources to be offered to both major-party candidates within five days of the election if there are legitimate grounds for a contest, or if the outcome actually is unknown and no candidate has conceded. […]

The delayed ascertainment of Biden’s victory was the first recent case, with the exception of the 2000 election, when the outcome was actually in doubt because of the Florida recount and the eventual Supreme Court decision that led to the certification of George W. Bush as the winner. The joint session of Congress certifying that electoral count was presided over by the candidate Bush beat, Vice President Al Gore.

E J Montini of the Arizona Republic notes that one of the possible remedies for the Jan. 6 insurrection is there to be utilized but the political will to use it is not.

One thing the House select committee investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection proved beyond a shadow of a doubt is that the U.S. Constitution means essentially … nothing.

If the Constitution meant something, really meant something, none of those who participated in the attack on the Capitol and none of those who gave them “aid or comfort” would ever again have anything to do with the U.S. government.

As part of its 845-page final report the committee suggests that former President Donald Trump should be banned from holding public office. They suggest Congress create a “formal mechanism” to do such a thing. As if the mechanism doesn’t already exist.

When they all know it exists.

We simply choose not to enforce it.

The mechanism to send the treasonous supporters of the Jan. 6 insurrection packing is laid out, simply and succinctly, in Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

Kimberly Atkins Stohr of The Boston Globe concurs with Montini.

That post-Civil War language was drafted specifically to prevent former Confederate officials from holding elected office. The teeth to enforce that provision came with the passage of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1870, a law designed to stop the reign of terror against Black people through force, intimidation, and violence. It was one of the vitally important legal provisions that rung in the era of Reconstruction, the crucial effort to rebuild a nation torn apart by a war over slavery and enfranchise Black Americans with the rights to vote, run for office, have access to education, use public accommodations, own land, gain employment, and more.

That effort was short-lived. 

Backlash quickly took the teeth out of the Klan Act. With a vote of more than two-thirds of Congress, the Amnesty Act allowed those who fought for and defended the Confederacy to hold office again – and could now allow Trump to do the same.

The committee also left unanswered questions about how the Disqualification Clause operates today. Does it even work anymore? And if so, how? Is conviction of the crime of inciting an insurrection – which expressly includes the penalty of being banned from holding federal office – required?

Legal minds differ.

Page 690 of the Jan. 6 committee final report lists a few recommendations and procedures for disqualifying insurrectionists from holding elected office under the 14th Amendment. However, given the composition of both houses of Congress, the furthest I can see this particular recommendation getting is a Senate committee.

Finally today, Rex Huppke of USA Today tells us why he still believes in Santa Claus.

That’s right. I, a 51-year-old columnist in a profession famous for cynicism, still believe.

Some will laugh at that, and that’s fine. Some think I’m being schmaltzy. That’s fine too.

But what matters, I think, is what’s in your heart, and this is what’s in mine:

I cannot tell you I’ve witnessed a man in a red and white suit riding a sleigh through the sky, dropping down chimneys and delivering toys. I don’t personally know how much of the lore surrounding Santa Claus is accurate or how much has been embellished over decades of speculation.

Like any good journalist, I look at the facts I can verify.

Is there a feeling of magic around the Christmas season, something that makes children bounce with excitement and struggle to sleep? Absolutely.

Have a happy holiday, everyone!

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