Trump says he’ll jail his opponents. Members of the House Jan. 6 committee are preparing

Trump says he’ll jail his opponents. Members of the House Jan. 6 committee are preparing

Members of the House committee that investigated the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol have warned America for three years to take former President Trump at his word.

Now, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s major criminal trials face delays that could stall them past election day, his rhetoric is growing increasingly authoritarian — and some of those lawmakers find themselves following their own advice.

Last month, Trump said on social media that the committee members should be jailed. In December he vowed to be a dictator on “Day One.” In August, he said he’d “have no choice” but to lock up his political opponents.

“If he intends to eliminate our constitutional system and start arresting his political enemies, I guess I would be on that list,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose). “One thing I did learn on the committee is to pay attention and listen to what Trump says, because he means it.”

Lofgren said recently that she didn’t yet have a plan in place to thwart potential retribution.

But Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), long a burr in Trump’s side, said he’s having “real-time conversations” with his staff about how to make sure he stays safe if Trump follows through on his threats.

“We’re taking this seriously, because we have to,” Schiff said. “We’ve seen this movie before … and how perilous it is to ignore what someone is saying when they say they want to be a dictator.”

The bipartisan Jan. 6 select committee, which included Schiff and Lofgren, spent months investigating the attack that left five people dead and more than 150 police officers injured as Trump supporters stormed the Capitol while Congress was certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election.

The committee’s broadcast hearings and 845-page final report set the narrative that Trump knew he had fairly lost the election but pursued a scheme to keep himself in power anyway.

A Justice Department investigation by special counsel Jack Smith was expected to confirm what the committee found, setting up the potential for a criminal conviction against Trump for attempting to subvert the election.

But the process has faced numerous delays.

The Justice Department didn’t indict Trump until August 2023, charging him with four felony counts.

The Supreme Court then dealt a severe blow to Smith’s plans for a trial this spring by agreeing to take up a question of presidential immunity at the end of April. The court’s decision is not expected until midsummer, and then Trump’s team will likely be allowed an additional 90 days to prepare for trial.

“I’m fearful that the Supreme Court is deliberately slow-walking this,” Schiff said in an interview.

He said that the court should never have taken up the issue after trial Judge Tanya Chutkan and appeals courts ruled that presidential immunity did notapply in the case.

“The claim is borderline frivolous … they’re drawing it out just enough to make it almost infeasible to try [the cases] before the election,” Schiff said.

“It’s still possible to get it done,” he added. “And I think voters deserve to have that information.“

Read more: Supreme Court will hear Trump’s claim of immunity from Jan. 6 prosecution, delaying his trial

Schiff and other committee members say the Justice Department was too slow to focus on Trump’s role, after the committee had quickly pivoted its investigation to Trump and the plan to have some states’ electors be thrown out by Vice President Mike Pence in order to deny Biden the Oval Office.

“This was the first time in which the Congress was so far out ahead of the department, and given how slowly we move here there was no reason for that to happen,” Schiff said.

He said it appears the Justice Department wanted to reestablish its independent reputation and not embroil itself in controversy, but “it nonetheless delayed accountability for a year, year and a half. And so the case could have been over by now.”

Former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who was vice chair of the select committee, called Trump’s legal moves “a delaying tactic.”

“It cannot be the case that a president of the United States can attempt to overturn an election and seize power and that our justice system is incapable of holding a trial, of holding him to account, before the next election,” she told a crowd at Iowa’s Drake University last month.

Lofgren said it would be best for the federal trial to conclude before the election “just so American voters would know whether they were voting for a convicted felon or not.”

Trump also faces election racketeering charges in Fulton County, Ga., with a cadre of co-defendants. The breadth of the case and number of co-defendants could mean the trial won’t take place before November.

But committee member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said he was still optimistic that one of the 2020 election obstruction cases might conclude before November’s vote.

“I’ve got faith in the American people and … in American democracy,” he said. “So it’s not remotely over yet.”

Read more: Prosecutors in Trump’s classified documents case rebuke judge’s unusual and ‘flawed’ order

Meanwhile, a House Republican inquiry into the Jan. 6 insurrection is underway in an effort to shift away from the narrative that Trump was to blame. The House Administration Committee’s oversight panel is expected to hold several hearings before the election, and recently released a report that countered the Democratic-led select committee’s focus on Trump.

Much of the new investigation has focused on whether the select committee had hidden information that may have exonerated Trump. House Republicans have repeatedly alleged that information, such as some transcripts, is missing.

Cheney has asserted that Trump’s legal team had all of the transcripts from the select committee, including those that the committee has had to return to the White House and the Secret Service since August 2023.

Cheney “should go to Jail along with the rest of the Unselect Committee!” Trump posted on social media March 17.

Cheney replied the same day: “Lying in all caps doesn’t make it true, Donald. You know you and your lawyers have long had the evidence.”

Trump has referred to locking up his political enemies before, in increasingly authoritarian rhetoric.

In August, conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck asked Trump on his BlazeTV show, “Do you regret not locking [Hillary Clinton] up? And if you’re president again, will you lock people up?”

Trump said: “The answer is you have no choice, because they’re doing it to us.”

It’s the kind of talk that has Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands), who also served on the earlier Jan. 6 committee, answering “yes” when asked whether he’s preparing for the possibility of Trump following through on threats to punish political rivals.

Aguilar wasn’t willing to provide details, saying only that “all of us have to be prepared for what Donald Trump could do if he ever gets ahold of power again.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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