Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

Ben Wittes: The Worst Story We Told Ourselves Was True

November 30, 2022
Notes
Transcript

January 6 was not merely a conspiracy to break windows and storm the Capitol — for some, it was a conspiracy to resist the lawful authority of the United States. Plus, Musk’s vandalism of Twitter is destroying something precious. Ben Wittes joins Charlie Sykes.

Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

This transcript was generated automatically and may contain errors and omissions. Ironically, the transcription service has particular problems with the word “bulwark,” so you may see it mangled as “Bullard,” “Boulart,” or even “bull word.” Enjoy!
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:08

    Welcome to the Bullework Podcast. I’m Charlie Sykes. Where we start today, we have this. Another remarkable vote, the United States Senate bipartisan vote of sixty one to thirty six to pass landmark same sex marriage legislation. Mitch McConnell is joining the chorus announcing Trump’s Nazi dinner.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:25

    South Carolina Supreme Court tells Mark Meadows that know you have to show up and testify before the grand jury in Georgia. The economy actually amazingly grew fast than anybody expected in the third quarter. Congress is moving to stop a crippling real strike, Russia’s campaign of terror and genocide in Ukraine is continuing. China is cracking down on protests. Elon Musk continues to who the fuck knows what Elon Musk is doing.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:52

    And the good news is the US men’s soccer team finally scored a goal. There was actually scoring at the World Cup. So I’m pretty I’m pretty happy about all of that. So we have a lot to talk about with our guests. Welcome back.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:06

    It’s been too long, been witness, editor in chief at law for senior fellow in government studies at the brookings institution. Ben, welcome back to the podcast. Thanks. It’s good to be back. So where do we start?
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:17

    I obviously wanna talk to you about the seditious conspiracy convictions yesterday, which I think is a BFD. I wanna get your take on all of that. But could we just start with Trump’s dinner with Nick and the latest developments on on that? I actually had to laugh out loud when I saw the headline that Trump aides are now going to be tightening access to the former president as in now. Okay.
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:42

    Now Yeah. Well, I’ve never heard of them before. Yeah. The delusional component of them that Trump aides actually have any control roll over access to, you know, a guy who impulsively reaches out to people by phone and truth social. I mean, there’s a delusional component of thinking they can crack down.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:05

    But look, I am I’m gonna defend the former president. I have been in this position where, you know, you invite a friend to dinner who really wants just to get your advice and your you have no idea. You don’t tell him, you know, bring friends. And then He shows up with, you know, three friends and one of them is HIMSSler. And, you know, there’s just nothing you can do about that.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:32

    It’s would be really rude to say, you can come in, but but your dear friend, Hymer Kimmler, can’t come in. And so, you know, you you do what a gracious host does. You you have dinner with them. And that’s the sort of thing that can happen to anybody for anybody. And I do think it’s just the liberal media that’s that’s making a big deal of it, who among us has not accidentally had dinner with the Nazi
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:59

    Well, that that’s obviously true. And, of course, if in fact, the Nazi does not actually bring up concentration camps to the whole of cause or or talk about Xi’clock and be, then what’s the harm. Right? That’s right.
  • Speaker 3
    0:03:09

    As as long as he compliments you, then, you know, no harm, no foul, that’s right. And as as the president said at the time that people were
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:19

    asking him to denounce Putin, he called me brilliant. What am I supposed to do. Right? Yeah. And and I think, you know, when a Nazi shows up at your house or your club with a friend and you you had no idea who it is and he’s polite to you, you should be polite back.
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:36

    So I think this is really Trump modeling the sort of civility that we should all be asking for in our political culture. And I just think it’s very unfair that that people are are not being more sympathetic to the point, the the the problem that he confronted and the graciousness with which he confronted it, And moreover, I don’t like the way people are abandoning him over this. They, you know, they it’s sad. They they they should show more loyalty. But, you know, the moment he starts losing and meeting with Nazis It’s like all these people who, you know, were fine to be on board with the Trump train when it was doing so much winning and they were tired of winning, you know, they were fine to be on board then.
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:27

    But now, you know, with the first sign of trouble on the ship, you know, Mitch McConnell He’s being all judgmental about it, and he actually said yesterday in what I loved. He framed it as a political analysis rather than a normative statement. He said he didn’t think anybody who dines with Nazis could be the elected as the Republican nominee. Let me
  • Speaker 1
    0:04:52

    play that because what’s interesting about is Mitch McConnell comes out for his, what is it, his gaggle or whatever. And he doesn’t even wait for a question. He just without being prompted, this is what he says.
  • Speaker 4
    0:05:02

    First, let me just say there there is no room in the republican party for anti Semitism or white supremacy. And anyone meeting with people advocating that point of view. In my judgment
  • Speaker 5
    0:05:23

    are
  • Speaker 4
    0:05:23

    highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States. Pretty scathing Ben. Pretty scathing. Yeah. Can I can
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:30

    I just point out that the first sentence is absolutely false. There is room in the Republican Party for anti Semites and white supremacists.
  • Speaker 1
    0:05:39

    I I think it’s demonstrated. Yeah. Consider
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:42

    Marjorie Taylor Green and Paul Gossar members in good standing, I could name a bunch. So McConnell’s first statement is is simply a false statement. And the second statement, notice that he does not say I will not support him if he is the nominee. He says he’s extremely anybody who does this is extremely unlikely to be the president. As though he’s a sort of political analyst ponditizing on CNN or something.
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:16

    And so I think even now there’s a degree of care in the way people are talking about it that’s designed to leave them some room for whatever eventuality happens. I
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:31

    mean, basically, he’s saying that meeting with Nazis is likely to hurt him with swing voters that he will need to win the election. Which is really kind of a rather morally accurate statement. Now, you know, it’s a courageous statement. Right. But but the defenses that are coming out of Mago World right now that Donald Trump is the victim here or he’s punk here.
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:50

    Basically, boil down to he’s got lousy staff and a terrible judgment. Which is not the ringing endorsement that I think or ringing defense that I think they imagined it to be because we’re talking about a guy that wants to be president again and he surrounds himself with really bad people. He can’t help himself surrounding himself with bad people. He ignores good advice, and then he exercises extraordinarily bad judgment in the way he handles it and responds to it afterwards. But yes, absolutely, four more years.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:18

    Four more years in the Oval Office for this guy.
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:20

    You know, and I I also just think, you know, it’s been a while since the Nick Fuentes’ of the world had access to the White House. And, you know, they they they need representation too, as Roman Rusca
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:35

    might say. Okay. Now no one is gonna get that reference. And I, you know what, I occasionally will come up with an obscure reference. I actually am old enough that I remember the Roman Rusca reference here.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:50

    But but could you just enlighten the ninety nine point nine percent of our listeners who have no idea what you’re talking
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:56

    about? So Roman Brasca was a senator not known for his intellect. And at the time of Richard Nixon’s nomination of, I believe, it was Harold Carswell to the Supreme Court and Carswell was criticized for being thirdly mediocre and was eventually rejected for the supreme court. And Roman Frasca courageously took to the senate floor and said and I believe this is it’s close to an exact quote. There are a lot of mediocre people in the United states and they deserve representation on the supreme court too.
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:37

    And I think it is one of the great statements of of American pluralism that has ever been made. It is
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:47

    an American classic. You know, I have not thought about that quote in a very, very long time. And at the risk of taking us down a very weird rapid hold of digression here, you know, risk is kind of an unusual name, isn’t it? It is. Okay.
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:01

    So let me tell you what I’m bringing this up. My mother my mother before World War two married her high school sweetheart. Whose name was Lambert Muska. Who then went on to be a genuine hero was awarded the silver star and was killed in in World War two. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be alive.
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:21

    But my mother was actually married to a Russo, so I wonder whether or not in some weird sort of bizarre seven, you know, seven layers of separation, you know, that there might be some connection between me and Roman Rusca and Roman. The champion of mediocrity, which is
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:39

    Yeah. No one has ever accused you of mediocrity, Charlie. So even if you were were married into the champion of mediocrity, his family. I think you escape
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:51

    the the charge but I’m at at the age where now I’m really grasping for some sort of, you know, historical ties and significance. So so maybe it’s going to be and he has some sort of relationship to the fruit whatever. So before we get into because I don’t wanna forget this. Okay? So you have been the architect and the author of what I think is one of the most wonderful political trolling endeavors of the year, harassing.
  • Speaker 1
    0:10:15

    They is harassing too strong or harassing the Russian embassy with the okay. So can you tell me what they do you have anything planned? Well well, what tell me what the last several things your your last several projects I want people to bring people up to speed with this. This is really important. I’ve got some good ones in the works.
  • Speaker 1
    0:10:32

    Oh, good. So first of
  • Speaker 2
    0:10:34

    all, I acquired a laser, which allows me to not merely project images like a projector can do onto Russian diplomatic facilities, but to right on the walls of the Russian embassy, which is a fabulous thing because, you know, you can from very great distances put, you know, pretty precise language on the walls. So I have teamed up with a group of Ukrainian activists in Washington and called US Ukraine activists. And we periodically go out and demonstrate in front of the embassy. Sometimes I go to support their mischief and sometimes they come to support mine. And then I decided this needed an international road trip.
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:25

    So I went up to Ottawa and projected against the embassy in Canada, the Russian embassy in Canada, and that led to a very amusing set of interactions with the Royal Canadian mounted police who were baffled by it and had no idea whether it was legal And then I went to France, and I did it in Paris where the French
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:48

    national You have taken this global. You have taken this rolling global. I had no idea. And so
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:54

    we we did special military operation, Paris. The French national police were really not amused. And we escaped arrest by the skin of our teeth. What what
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:05

    had you been doing? What were you up kid? We were
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:08

    projecting with the laser against the embassy, only in French. Of course, we wouldn’t want to offend local sensibilities by projecting in English. But, you know, you know, good appropriate slogans like stop killing Ukrainian children and that sort of thing. And the Russian embassy staff in Paris did not appreciate it. Not a French national police did not appreciate it.
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:32

    So the next operation I have planned is a woman who survived Búcha and wrote an incredible diary of her time in Búcha during the occupation is writing me an essay that I’m going to project line by line line onto the embassy with her narrating it in both English and Ukrainian. And so that’s the next operation And then I have invitations from a number of foreign capitals and there will be an international tour early in the year of Lord Laser, as we call him, he’s committed to special military operations in both Finland and Sweden to celebrate NATO accession and also to do an operation in Tallinn Estonia where the former president, Thomas Silva’s, has offered to host the operation. So We have a busy schedule of harassment to Russian diplomats all over. If you if any listeners are in foreign capitals where they can where they think the Russian embassy really needs a wake up call, please get in touch. And, you know, we’re we’re gonna keep bothering them.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:58

    It really does bother them. They take extraordinary measures to try to stop it. And so, you know, there’s not that much we can do to help Ukrainians from here in Washington, but keeping the Russians very aware of how unwelcome they are in our city is one of the things we can do. So has the laser now replaced the little cannon, the
  • Speaker 3
    0:14:21

    tiny cannon? Is it the successor? The cannon has jurisdictional limit case.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:25

    Oh, okay. Baby Canon announces
  • Speaker 1
    0:14:28

    I have not seen baby cannon. Was our baby cannon yesterday for the the store in
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:33

    order? No. It only deals with Trump accountability matters. So there will certainly be a baby cannon detonation if and when Trump is indicted. But I like, if you bring ballistics to foreign indices, the Secret Service really doesn’t like that.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:51

    But
  • Speaker 3
    0:14:51

    we are lasers. Is lasers, I I’ve worked out a protocol with the secret
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:57

    service. You don’t shine them at people. You don’t shine them anywhere near people’s eyes. You don’t do anything that could seem to be targeting a person. But if you’re just projecting against a wall, it’s harmless light.
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:11

    Okay. I’m a little concerned for you here, Benjamin. I I don’t wanna see you ending up, you know, next to Brittany Greiner somewhere. Well, I
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:19

    won’t be going to Russia.
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:21

    Okay. So deep breath here. I was wondering whether it was gonna be a baby cannon for this, but we had a landmark decision yesterday after two months of trial, three days of deliberations, this jury, this federal jury, in DC found leader of the O’Keeper Stuart Rhodes and in the main arena’s Florida chapter, Kelly Meggs, guilty of seditious superiority for their attempt to keep Donald Trump in power. So it there were there was a mixed verdict. There were some acquittals here, but I think that the the the main the top line is the Justice Department’s most aggressive charges, biggest case coming out of January six today resulted in major convictions for very high profile figures.
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:08

    So let’s start at thirty thousand feet. How big a deal is this? What is the significance of the Department of Justice Victory yesterday, the conviction of
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:15

    the oathkeeper leaders? Well, so it’s a very significant victory. It’s perhaps not in the way a lot of imagine, which is this. I don’t think this is one of the roads that leads to Donald Trump. But it is very significant in its own right.
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:34

    So the oath keepers are one of two major groups, the other one being the Proud Boys. Whose leadership is going to trial on a different seditious conspiracy indictment in late December. If you think about January sixth as basically several different conspiracies happening at the same time, Right? One is the conspiracy by the president and the people around him to stop the counting the votes and to, you know, fake Georgia electors and to put pressure on my pants. Right?
  • Speaker 2
    0:17:14

    That stuff is the highest level political conspiracy. The second thing that’s going on at the same time is a bunch of spontaneous you know, hey, let’s storm the capital and a whole bunch of people run and, you know, beat up cops and stuff and, you know, invade Nancy Pelosi’s office. The third thing is several discrete conspiracies to do that. There were groups of people who had, you know, plans to organize trouble And the fourth, which is related to the third, is groups of people like the Proud Boys and the oathkeepers who planned to do that stuff and by doing that stuff basically install a different government. Overthrow the government of the United States, resist the authority, block the transition of power, and there has been a lot of questioning of whether that really happened.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:17

    And a lot of denialism about whether that really happened. And this is a jury after listening to more than a a month and a half of evidence after listening to what was actually a quite confident defense saying, okay, there are some smaller matters on which the government didn’t prove its case, and it didn’t prove the seditious conspiracy case as to all of the defendants. But as to Stewart Rhodes and Kelly Meggs, the oathkeeper’s leadership, yes, this was a conspiracy to resist the authority of the United States using violence, using weapons, It involved more than just Braggadocio, more than just what my colleague, Roger Parloff, called seditious fetching, involved an actual coordinated objective between multiple people to prevent Joe Biden from becoming president that by the way continued after January sixth. So I think, you know, establishing that one of the two major seditious conspiracies that the government alleged actually happened to a jury, that it happened beyond a reasonable doubt, that it was not merely a conspiracy to break windows or, you know, storm the capital, but it was a conspiracy to resist the lawful authority of the United States, that’s extremely important. And it it establishes as a matter of fact in the American judicial system that at least some group of people was, you know, was doing what we all saw as the worst on January sixth that the the worst story we told ourselves was true.
  • Speaker 1
    0:20:20

    So let’s talk about the decision by the Department of Justice to charge seditious conspiracy in in in particular. The the fact that with a conspiracy, you don’t have to show that Stewart Rhodes even entered the capital because it’s a conspiracy. But also, how aggressive it was to use a statute that is very, very rarely applied. Let me just read the, I think, the relevant language here. This is the statute.
  • Speaker 1
    0:20:43

    If two or more persons in any state or territory or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States conspire to overthrow, put down or to stroy by force the government of the United States or to levy war against them or to oppose by force the authority thereof or by force to prevent hinder or delay the execution of any law of the United States or by force to seize take or possess any property of the United States, contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined or in prison not more than twenty years or both. So this was and and tell me if I’m wrong. This strikes me as the maximum kind of charge that the federal government could bring against people like Stuart Rose. Very aggressive decision, has not been used for decades, very problematic getting convictions on all this. So talk to me about the decision to go for seditious conspiracy as opposed to any of the other possibilities.
  • Speaker 1
    0:21:43

    I mean, I guess what I’m getting is for all the criticism of America Garland, I mean, he he pushed it to ten on this one, didn’t he? Yes. And
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:50

    rightly so, I mean, the evidence in this case is pretty dramatic. And so for a really good summary of that evidence, I refer people to Roger Parloff’s summary of the evidence in lawfare that came out while the jury was out deliberating. And Roger very precisely predicted the split verdict both because he thought the evidence was stronger on some counts than on others and because he thought that some defendants had a better fence against Sidious conspiracy than did roads and megs. So look, Sidious conspiracy is the closest thing the United States has to a treason statute that is applicable when the country is not at war. Treason doesn’t really work when there’s no military enemy.
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:43

    And you’re right, it has been used pretty sparingly over the years. The last successful case, I believe, was the blind sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman and his co conspirators in the nineties, following in the wake of the World Trade Center bombing, although the first World Trade Center bombing, that is they were actually charged with a much broader range of stuff than that. There have been other attempts to use it. There’s a bizarre case in, I believe, it’s Michigan involving a group called the Hutari. I believe that that case didn’t stick.
  • Speaker 2
    0:23:26

    And I think there were some there may have been some seditious conspiracy see charges in connection with the the kidnapping plot involving Gretchen Whitmer, but those fell apart as well. And so, you know, it’s been used sparingly partly because it is pretty hard, although the wording of it is quite broad. It’s pretty hard to make charges under its stick. And so to bring to seditious conspiracy, cases that are actually have been divided into more. The oathkeeper’s case was divided into two.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:02

    Another one is going to trial next week. And then you also have the Proud Boys case. I mean, what the Justice Department is saying here is there are a bunch of people who just basically were there at a political protest and ended up trespassing. And those are the cases that everybody’s been criticizing them for resolving on the basis of misdemeanors or very small amounts of jail time. Then there are people who did that, but also fought with and attacked cops.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:36

    Or who, you know, sought to obstruct the Congress from doing its business. And those people are getting, you know, some real time. And then there are people who were involved in conspiracy is either too obstruct or
  • Speaker 5
    0:24:54

    in the case
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:55

    of these organized groups, actually to resist the authority of the United States. And that is a smaller group of people, but those charges are extremely serious. And what the Justice Department showed yesterday is that, you know, they can they can get convictions on those for the right people.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:16

    Well, then that’s what’s so significant about it is because you can certainly imagine I wrote this in my newsletter. Imagine if it had gone the other way. If in fact the defendants have been acquitted of all the charges that the jury had rejected the Department of Justice’s most important case, you know, going out of the interaction. You can sort of imagine the way the Magna Wright would have, you know, exalted about it. You can imagine what the media spin would have been the blowback against the DOJ.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:41

    And obviously, the inevitable doubts and second guessing within the Justice Department, I mean, obviously, there’d be a step back to say what went wrong here. It obviously would certainly not provide any momentum to Jack Smith. But I wanna go to a point that you made before. You said that this does not like some people are thinking, well, you know, this is, you know, more bread crumbs headed toward an indictment of Donald Trump. This does not lead directly to Trump.
  • Speaker 1
    0:26:08

    However, they have established that they can get convictions on conspiracy. They can get convictions on obstructing the certification of the election during a joint session of of congress. Are there any implications here for the decision that Jack Smith has to make involving the conspiracy led and pushed by Donald Trump? Yeah, I
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:33

    think there are, but they’re indirect. So first of all, I don’t know of any evidence other than little
  • Speaker 1
    0:26:42

    breadcrumbs
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:42

    here and there of direct relationship between the conspiracy yesterday that was convicted yesterday and the activity that Trump was involved in. Their there are certain threads that connect it, particularly involving Roger Stone. But I don’t think what we’re gonna see is, you know, Jack Smith now filing a seditious conspiracy indictment against Donald Trump for some role in this oathkeeper’s project. I think if there were any glimmers of that First of all, the special council would not have been walled off from the January sixth riot process accusions the way he was. He was given the political Echelon cases, but not the on the ground cases.
  • Speaker 2
    0:27:39

    And if they were if they were really connected in a deep way, I don’t think Merrick Garland would have separated them that way. And then the the other thing is, I don’t think we would have had presentation of evidence that went on for a month and a half and didn’t implicate the president at all. So I think in that sense, You can probably take as your working assumption that there is no direct work your way up from the oathkeeper’s case to Donald Trump. I could be wrong about that. Like, sometimes you don’t show all your cards, but I am assuming that that is not the direct action the January sixth special counsel investigation will go.
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:20

    Here’s the sense in which I think it does have implications for Trump. If this conviction had been unattainable and you were Jack Smith and you were thinking about bringing a case against the former president of the United States. You would
  • Speaker 1
    0:28:38

    say, my
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:38

    god, even a DC jury, is thinking twice, thinking hard and not convicting against a thug with an eye patch whose you know, has a giant cache of weapons at a Virginia hotel. How are we ever gonna get a conviction against the former president who, to this day, has the support of very large numbers of Americans. So I think there would have been an incredible negative disincentive message sent by an acquittal.
  • Speaker 1
    0:29:14

    Okay. So let’s just switch perspective just a little bit from what happened with the court yesterday to what’s going on with the January sixth select committee, which is very clearly specifically focused on Donald Trump and whatever conspiracy or incitement he was engaged in, they have about a month left. I mean, they they the the clock is very much running on them. They they cease to exist at the end of this congress. It doesn’t even take an action by the the new Republican majority to get rid of them.
  • Speaker 1
    0:29:43

    And yet, what we’re hearing is they are continuing to have interviews. Kellyanne Conway for five hours. Apparently, Steven Miller, talk to them, report today that the speaker of the Wisconsin state assembly, Robin Moss, is talking with them. So do you end, of course, we’re getting reports there’s a little bit of controversy within the committee or with the committee staff about what the focus of that final report should be with Liz Cheney apparently reportedly saying I want the focus to be really laser locked onto. Donald Trump is opposed to anything else.
  • Speaker 1
    0:30:17

    So give me your sense of where we’re at on this. And I just, you know, putting it in in the perspective that this verdict I think kind of resets the political environment for this report to come out. Had there been acquittals, it would have been you know, would have undermined the case of the January six committee. This is a very, very big deal. This was not a normal tourist trip.
  • Speaker 1
    0:30:42

    This was a fundamental seditious attack on, you know, the foundations of our republic. So where are we at with the January sixth committee? What are you looking for? What are you expecting? First of all, I applaud the committee for working
  • Speaker 2
    0:30:57

    right up until the end. I think, you know, that is something you very seldom see Congress do. They did not put out their report before the election, which was kind of what everybody expected them to do several months ago, they just kept working. As to the dispute between vice chair Cheney and the committee staff, it does not appear incidentally to be a dispute between Cheney and her colleagues. It’s a legitimate dispute.
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:31

    And there is a good case for the staff position, which is that, hey, there’s all these other aspects of it, FBI intelligence failures and capital police failures, were supposed to be a comprehensive body. We did all this work. Don’t throw it on the floor. Don’t leave it on the floor. Liz Cheney’s position on the other hand I think also has a lot of merit, which is we faced intelligence failures before.
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:58

    We’ll face them again. And there’s a lot of opportunity to address those issues. There is a fundamental difference that between this and all other such failures, which is that this was perpetrated by the president of the United States, and we need to focus single mindedly on Trump’s accountability. I actually on the merits can argue this either way. I think there’s a good case for both positions.
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:25

    There’s a reason why Liz Cheney is the vice chair and the staff is the staff. And I think this is a question that has to be worked out between Cheney and her colleagues, not between Cheney and the staff. And I think it was frankly wrong and inappropriate for the staff member’s current and former, and there were apparently fifteen of them who talked to the post about it. I thought that was in bad form. Honestly, it’s a legitimate dispute.
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:55

    And I have a lot of respect for Cheney’s position, which is that there’s only going to be one headline when we release this report. It only really gets to be about one thing. So what’s the right answer? The right answer is, I think, First of all, they gotta release all the evidence, you know, all the deposition transcripts. And if you do that, then you kind of crowdsource the stuff you don’t treat if if there are issues involving law enforcement failures and intelligence failures.
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:33

    Let the New York Times have a crack at that. Let the scholars have a crack at that. You don’t have to do everything in your report. So I think there’s the the the probably the best position for the committee to take is they are going to focus on Trump. They are going to flag other issues, but the report will really focus on Trump.
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:57

    But they’re also going to release this incredible library of evidence that they’ve collected over time and let other people mine through it for their own work. I think the the instinct to keep interviewing people right up to the buzzer is very laudable, and I really look forward to the work that they’re gonna do and the written report that they’re gonna put out. So Liz Cheney is arguing that there’s only going
  • Speaker 3
    0:34:26

    to be one headline from the report. What do you think that headline is going to be? Well, I think if the the members clearly all believe that the story
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:38

    is
  • Speaker 2
    0:34:38

    January sixth, was the culmination of a three month plot by Donald Trump to not honor the results of the election that he knew he had lost and that he tried other means legal and illegal of contesting the election. And when they failed, he resorted to
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:06

    violence. And
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:07

    that is the story they told in their hearings over the the summer. Is story they told, I think, largely, very effectively and convincingly. But we know that story. I guess, I guess, we know that story. So I guess the question is, how
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:24

    do they, in this report, you know, come up with something that will be the headline? What will it be? What are they going to say? Now, I mean, there’s a lot of certain speculation about, will they make a criminal referral to the justice department? And I don’t even Which is a question
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:37

    that profoundly doesn’t matter. You’re right. It
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:40

    doesn’t because my sense is, and I wanna get your take on this, is that the entire report will in effect be a criminal referral to the Department of Justice. The entire report. They don’t need to say it explicitly.
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:53

    Yes. And moreover, the Justice Department doesn’t need a criminal refer. Right? The purpose of a criminal referral is to get the justice department to investigate some. And they’re on and they’re already investigating it.
  • Speaker 2
    0:36:05

    There’s a special counsel appointed the other day to make prosecutorial judgments about it. The question of whether there may be some pieces of evidence that the committee has that are important to the justice department, but the direction, please investigate this is of no consequence whatsoever. I think the much more important role And by the way, the justice department has investigative tools that the committee lacks, specifically the ability to compel witnesses who might assert privilege before the committee, those privileges do not obtain in front of a grand jury by and large. So the justice department is in a position to investigate however, you know, as effectively as it chooses to. The sense in which the committee has a unique contribution to play is in releasing material to the public.
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:04

    And that is something that the justice department cannot do because of the rules of grand jury secrecy. And so, you know, if if we’re gonna if we’re gonna, like, think about how much information is in the Cassidy Hudgins interview that we have not seen.
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:21

    Yes. Absolutely. The all of that that evidence is going to be a a true for historians for for many, many years. And it’s gonna be the father for hundreds of of news articles. But I also think that they are going to have to boil it down.
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:34

    They’re going to have to come up with and, you know, you you pointed out, what is the one headline going to be? And I think I’m gonna go on a limb here and make a prediction that there will be a line in the report that says that it’s our conclusion however they wanna put it. That president Donald j Trump engaged in a months long seditious conspiracy to overturn this election I think they will use the word seditious conspiracy, not necessarily as a criminal referral, but as a way of summing up everything that we’ve been talking about here, his plot to overturn the election, his attempt to obstruct the the role of of congress. And what the jury did yesterday was to give them that, I think, that opening to use that particular phrase against Donald Trump. I’m just I’m gonna just throw it out there.
  • Speaker 1
    0:38:25

    I’m gonna bet you a dollar that’s gonna be in the report.
  • Speaker 2
    0:38:29

    It’s a very interesting point. So And
  • Speaker 1
    0:38:32

    that will be the headline.
  • Speaker 2
    0:38:34

    Yeah. So as a colloquial matter, I have no problem with that prediction. The question of I I don’t think based on the evidence that I’ve seen that you could convict Donald Trump of seditious conspiracy. The reason being that it’s hard for me to see the evidentiary connective tissue that would allow you to proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that he conspired to use force. Right.
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:01

    That’s it. There’s two there’s two courts.
  • Speaker 1
    0:39:03

    Right? I’d agree with you about that. There’s also the Court of Public Opinion. That’s right. That’s why
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:08

    I say it. Like, as a colloquial matter, I don’t have a problem with it. Just they shouldn’t do it with reference to the statute — Right. — unless they have the evidence to support the charge under the statute. Okay.
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:22

    I I I
  • Speaker 1
    0:39:23

    agree with you there. Yes. But do I think
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:25

    that Donald Trump engaged in a conspiracy to undermine the constitution of the United States and prevent the peaceful transition of power by means including but not limited to violence? Yes. I absolutely do. And and that that is reasonably described as a seditious conspiracy. Yeah, I have no problem with that.
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:49

    A violent
  • Speaker 1
    0:39:50

    seditious conspiracy. I guess, I’m I’m imagining them sitting around and they’re drafting it, and you know how the editing process goes. And and the bottom line is that Liz Cheney is gonna be sitting there and saying, the language in this report has got to emphasize what a big fucking deal this is. And to try to break through the kind of same old same old numbness. So I think they are going to have to come up with a phrase that has that kind of legal constitutional residence.
  • Speaker 1
    0:40:15

    Again, perhaps not in direct relationship to that statute because I’m not a lawyer and I’m not prepared to discuss that. But but I do think that if the headline is, committee accuses Donald Trump of leading a violent, seditionist conspiracy. Then the the report will have accomplished what I think Liz Cheney wants it to. Well,
  • Speaker 2
    0:40:36

    we will know pretty soon because I
  • Speaker 1
    0:40:38

    know it turns in
  • Speaker 2
    0:40:39

    turns into a pumpkin in a month, and the report will have to be out before then. Actually
  • Speaker 1
    0:40:46

    lessen that because you know that they’re gonna have to have it done before Christmas. I mean, there’s that whole week between Christmas and New Year’s. So that’s why it’s extraordinary that they’re continuing to have these discussions today on November thirtieth, considering that this thing has to go to printer within several weeks and you know how that goes. Okay. So Ben, in the time that we have left, do you want to talk about Elon Musk at all?
  • Speaker 1
    0:41:10

    And the confusion that Elon Musk seems to have about free speech. We’re having this incredible debate, which which I welcome about free speech and its enemies. Unfortunately, it seems to have taken a very very weird turn. So I’m interested in in your take on Elon Musk claimed that he is a savior of western civilization and the values of free speech. Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:34

    I don’t know how to respond to this. First of all, I love Twitter and I am one of the people who when people will write for years — Mhmm. — on Twitter, this hellscape of a website I would be like, I love Twitter. I’ve met so many wonderful people on Twitter. Yes, I’ve been harassed on Twitter.
  • Speaker 2
    0:42:01

    It’s not the biggest problem in my life. Twitter has forced me to confront lots of ideas that I don’t normally confront in my day to day life. I am just a kind of unapologetic Twitter enthusiast. So I find Elon Musk’s vandalism of Twitter, and I I think it is a kind of form of ownership corporate vandalism. Really sad.
  • Speaker 2
    0:42:28

    I mean, it’s actually forced me to think about how do I move that community that I’ve found on Twitter, how do follow it to where it’s gonna go or how do I help bring it somewhere else? So I say this with no triumph, but, like, his conception of free speech is so juvenile. I mean, it really is reminiscent of the thirteen year old whose idea of freedom of speech is sort of the freedom to make fart jokes and snap the girls’ brine and sits in front of him in class. Right? And, you know, that’s like actually not a useful conception of free speech.
  • Speaker 2
    0:43:12

    For adults who have to be that feels
  • Speaker 1
    0:43:14

    like the intellectual level of much of this discussion, though. Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:43:18

    And so I I guess I I I don’t really want to be part of a Twitter where hundreds of thousands of Marjorie Taylor Greens and Donald Trump’s are back. And I think, you know, the previous leadership of Twitter did a very good job of trying to isolate and remove people who were not playing by basic rules of truth and civility and non harassment. You know, the word that keeps coming to mind is vandalism, that there’s just, you know, just working to undo that as he has and doing it of all things in the name of free speech strikes me as it’s very hard to reconcile to me with the apparent brilliance of his prior career. Yeah. I think
  • Speaker 1
    0:44:17

    the emphasis is on the word apparent there. So since you have express the unfashionable thought that we actually like Twitter. And I I, of course, have engaged in the, you know, Twitter as hellscape rhetoric in the past myself. However, I guess my appreciation for the community that it formed, that we were all able to be part of, has increased now that it’s now that it’s possibly at risk. And also, I’m I’m sure you’ve done the same thing, you know, checking out some of the alternatives, which I I in intend to encourage.
  • Speaker 1
    0:44:47

    I tend to support. I’m over at post news. I I’ll go over to Mastodon at some at some point. But you get a sense of how convenient, how easy Twitter was, and also how it becomes such a fabric of our of our culture and of the this debate, the dialogue, and the relationships that have been formed. It’s going to be a terrible loss if this adolescent, nurses this does in fact vandalize it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:45:14

    And it’s going to be very, very difficult to replace. So I have I have to say that I have a sense of appreciation as we always do belatedly when we’re about to lose something, we suddenly realized how valuable we thought it was. Yeah. So I
  • Speaker 2
    0:45:27

    will just say three things related to that point. For everybody who is part of the it’s fashionable to hate Twitter community the pro democracy movement in the United States, the cross ideological movement that both you and I have been a part of would have been impossible without Twitter. Agree. If you think about how, like, Twitter there are a few listservs, but the fundamental organizing place public square of that group. The place where the built crystals and the Sarah Long wells engaged the will’s salatans — Mhmm.
  • Speaker 2
    0:46:17

    — first —
  • Speaker 1
    0:46:18

    Right. — is
  • Speaker 2
    0:46:19

    all Twitter. I I just made that fact up, but somebody should, you know, ask Sarah or Will, whether I’m right. But I I mean, I really think the Twitter was the meeting square for that place. Similarly, I don’t believe the Ukraine war happens the same way as it did without Twitter. Twitter was the means by which Ukrainians shouted out to the rest of the world and engaged the rest of the world.
  • Speaker 2
    0:46:52

    And think about how the last nine months would have been different had thousands of individual Ukrainians not been able to make little furry dog images and talk to us. And then finally, even as late as this weekend. You wanna know what’s going on in Iran? You wanna know what’s going on in China in these protests? The best news source in the world is Twitter to this day.
  • Speaker 2
    0:47:25

    And so I have a very deep sense of loss at what is happening to Twitter and that compounds my discase for Elon Musk and his behavior. He’s actually vandalizing something that is very precious although has big problems and, you know, managing that amount of content is is a very, very difficult problem, and Twitter has done better at it in some iterations and sometimes on some issues than it has with others, my sense of loss at the destruction is is real
  • Speaker 1
    0:48:09

    and big. And it’s also very apparent, and I think this was evident right from the beginning that he had really no idea what he was getting into. He was weighing over his head that he hadn’t really thought through these issues. So right now, you know, he’s in the position of, basically, I decide all content moderation, but in a world of billions and billions of posts, that’s an unsustainable position. So, you know, he thinks that he can sort of govern by Wim but it will be absolutely consuming to have to make all of the judgments.
  • Speaker 1
    0:48:40

    Now especially now that he’s pulled down all of the barriers, all of the limits, know, it’s interesting online since we’re doing pop culture here. I think the comparison that works the most since we’re going with dated references is member in ghostbusters, the EPA guy that shows up at the ghostbusters headquarters and decides he’s gonna turn off the containment unit. And they say, don’t do that. Don’t let them out. And he’s like, no, I’m gonna, you know, I’m gonna do it anyway.
  • Speaker 1
    0:49:04

    And they release all of the demons into the universe. It feels like that’s kind of what Elon Musk is doing that he has no idea what he is releasing, what he is doing, what it’s going to mean for the culture. And frankly, he doesn’t give a damn about it. But it’s a sad story. It’s a tragic story.
  • Speaker 1
    0:49:22

    I cannot take any pleasure in it, and I just, you know, emphasize your point. Over the last five, six, seven years, this has been the public square, this has been where these issues have been debated, where ideas have been exchanged, where relationship been formed, and for people who have held, you know, aloof from all of that in order to, I don’t know, protect themselves, Well, you know, if you weren’t in the public square having the debate, maybe you want to sit out this particular discussion of what’s happening with Twitter. Benjamin Wittus, it has been way too long to have you back, and I cannot wait for the next laser troll of the Russian embassy somewhere in the world. It’s great to hear your voice,
  • Speaker 2
    0:50:03

    which I do regularly anyway, but it’s great to dialogue with your voice again and let’s do it again soon. The Bologuard podcast is produced by Katie Cooper with audio production
  • Speaker 1
    0:50:13

    by Jonathan Seres. I’m Charlie Sykes. Thank you for listening to today’s Bologuard podcast ask, we’ll be back tomorrow. We’ll do this all over again. Yep.
  • Speaker 2
    0:50:28

    You’re worried about
  • Speaker 5
    0:50:28

    the economy. Inflation is high. Your paycheck doesn’t cover as much as it used to, and we live under the threat of a looming recession. And sure, you’re doing okay, but you could be doing better. The afford anything
  • Speaker 2
    0:50:39

    podcast explains the economy and the market detailing how to make why choices on the way you spend and
  • Speaker 1
    0:50:45

    invest.
  • Speaker 5
    0:50:46

    Afford anything talks about how to avoid common pitfalls, how to refine your mental models, and how to think about how to think. Make smarter choices and build a better life. Afford anything wherever you listen.
Want to listen without ads? Join Bulwark+ for an exclusive ad-free version of The Bulwark Podcast! Learn more here.