'Love and the Constitution': Rep. Jamie Raskin on son’s death, Trump’s coup plot and protecting the vote
As more details emerge about Donald Trump’s role in the deadly January 6 insurrection, we’re joined by Congressmember Jamie Raskin, who serves on the House select committee investigating the Capitol attack and was the lead manager in Trump’s second impeachment trial. Raskin writes about the insurrection in a new memoir titled “Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy” and is featured in the new MSNBC documentary “Love & the Constitution,” which follows Raskin during Trump’s years in office leading up to the January 6 insurrection and the tragic death of Raskin’s son. “We knew that Trump was doing everything in his power to try to overturn the election,” says Raskin. “We had prepared for everything except for a violent insurrection overrunning the House and the Senate.” We’re also joined by “Love & the Constitution” director Madeleine Carter, whose film premieres Sunday.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
As more details emerge about the deadly January 6th insurrection and how Donald Trump and his allies plotted to overturn the 2020 election, we begin today’s show with Congressmember Jamie Raskin, Democrat from Maryland. Raskin serves on the House select committee investigating the January 6th attack. He was the lead manager in the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump following the insurrection.
Congressmember Raskin was inside the House January 6th, as were his daughter and son-in-law, when Trump supporters attacked the Capitol. The January 6th insurrection came at a tragic moment for the Raskin family. Just days earlier, Jamie Raskin’s 25-year-old son Tommy died by suicide. He was a student at Harvard Law School.
Raskin writes about these events in his new memoir titled Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy. There’s also a new documentary about Congressmember Jamie Raskin titled Love & the Constitution, airing Sunday night on MSNBC. This is the film’s trailer.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Some of our members started to say, “Trump’s not worth it. The president’s not worth it.” The question is whether the Constitution is worth it.
I know one thing really well, which is about the Constitution and the rule of law and American democracy. It’s like everybody knows one thing, and my turn came up.
I did not know whether I would be able to do anything again of meaning or substance in my life.
Voltaire said, “Anyone who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Tommy was a person who loved the world, and he loved democracy. I feel like I honor him by doing the work that he’d be proud of.
AMY GOODMAN: The trailer to Love & the Constitution, directed by Madeleine Carter, who began work on the documentary in 2018. Carter was filming inside Congressmember Jamie Raskin’s home on election night 2020 and captured this moment when he spoke with his son Tommy as results came in.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Tombo?
TOMMY RASKIN: Hey!
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Are you staying up, or are you going to sleep?
TOMMY RASKIN: I don’t know, Dad. I kind of think Trump is going to win.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: I don’t think so. I’d be willing to put money on it.
TOMMY RASKIN: Oh, really?
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Yeah.
TOMMY RASKIN: You want to bet?
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Yeah, I’ll bet you.
TOMMY RASKIN: It’s a win-win for me, because if Trump wins, I get money.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: OK.
TOMMY RASKIN: If Trump loses, I get Biden.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: All right. Love you to death.
TOMMY RASKIN: Love you.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Bye. My kids are so freaked out that Trump might win. Everybody is so freaked out. I mean, it’s going to be a long night. It’s going to be — I mean, Trump is going to be suing. We’re going to win this narrowly, and then Trump is going to be fighting it every step along the way. I mean, buckle up. I mean, it’s going to — we’ll be fighting about this until we get into the new Congress. We’ll be fighting about it until January 6th.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Jamie Raskin, speaking on election night 2020 in a clip from Love & the Constitution. Trump’s efforts to overturn the election would soon begin. In the documentary, Raskin goes on to talk about Trump’s efforts to overturn the election.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: The country is still just trying to absorb the emotional impact of events that brought us right up to the edge of a real coup in America. We can’t have healing before we have an honest reckoning, and this president must be held accountable for the role he has played.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ll be joined by the film’s director, Madeleine Carter, later in the program, but first we go to Takoma Park, Maryland, to speak with Congressmember Jamie Raskin. He’s represented Maryland’s 8th Congressional District since 2017. He’s also married to Sarah Bloom Raskin, who has been nominated by President Biden to become the top banking regulator at the Federal Reserve and underwent serious grilling yesterday.
Congressmember Jamie Raskin, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: It’s great to be with you, Amy, and thank you for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: So, the name of your book is Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy. You were the lead impeachment manager in President Trump’s second impeachment trial. You’re a member of the House select committee investigating the January 6 Capitol insurrection, which is where I want to start — actually, even before January 6, because you were right there in the House when the attack took place. And I want to take this sequentially, how this went. I mean, you were already reeling, even if that hadn’t happened, because your son Tommy — and I want to offer my condolences to your whole family, because I haven’t had a chance to talk to you personally in this last year — took his own life on New Year’s Eve. So, you were there with your family, some members, your daughter and now your son-in-law. And you decided to go, January 6th, for the certification of the vote, because it was that important to you. Can you talk about that moment? Can you talk about those days and what happened next?
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Well, it was, of course, a constitutional responsibility for me to be there, for the whole Congress to be there. It’s in the 12th Amendment that the first Wednesday in January, Congress meets in joint session just to receive the Electoral College votes.
We knew that Trump was doing everything in his power to try to overturn the election, as he said just this last weekend. You know, first, they were in a relatively legitimate sphere, when they went to more than 60 different courts, federal and state courts, to allege electoral fraud and corruption. And every court rejected their claims. That’s what creates a comprehensive documentary record that their whole attack on the election, the big lie, is based on a tissue of propaganda and nonsense.
But then they moved — they escalated into increasingly illegitimate things, trying to get the state legislatures to void the popular vote and substitute in Trump Electoral College slates, then go into election officials, several dozen of them, most prominently Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in Georgia, to try to intimidate them and browbeat them into concocting a victory for Trump, making up votes in that case, you know, just finding 11,780 votes. And from there, he moved to the plan which they ended up not going forward with because they couldn’t get any department to cooperate, but they wanted to seize the election machinery. And from there, the attack was on Michael Flynn. And this was something that we had predicted, that they would try to get Flynn to announce extraconstitutional powers, powers outside the Constitution, to unilaterally reject and repudiate Electoral College votes coming in from the states, specifically Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania.
So, Speaker Pelosi had tasked me and a few other members with the job of getting ready to answer the objections to particular — the receipt of particular Electoral College votes. And, you know, as I describe in the book, Amy, basically, we had prepared for everything except for a violent insurrection overrunning the House and the Senate.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, it’s not like —
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: And —
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Raskin, it’s not like you didn’t have warning. I want to go back to another clip from the new MSNBC documentary, Love & the Constitution, beginning with Donald Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen testifying before you, testifying in Congress in 2019.
MICHAEL COHEN: Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, that there will never be a peaceful transition of power. And this is why I agreed to appear before you today.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Michael Cohen did issue a stark warning to the country that if Donald Trump lost, there would be no peaceful transition, there’s no way he would accept it. That is a frightening and startling thing for the president’s own lawyer to say about him, but it seemed far off at that point to a lot of people. And people have said from the beginning there’s no way he would do that, there’s no way anybody would do that.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that is Congressmember Jamie Raskin, and at the end, you’re shaking the hand of Mr. Cohen. But you didn’t quite believe what he was saying, is that right?
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Well, actually, you know, when — I looked at some of the footage that Mads Carter had filmed. I was saying — there are some other parts of the movie where I was saying there will be violence all the way up 'til January 6. And I was sort of amazed that I kept predicting that. But what I hadn't predicted was that it would be so overwhelming that we wouldn’t be able to stop it.
I mean, the image — when Tabitha and Hank decided to come with me — and, of course, we were all absolutely devastated on January 6th because we had buried Tommy on January the 5th in a COVID-19, you know, funeral where we could only have 20 people there. And when they decided to come with me, they said, “Well, will we be OK? Because Donald Trump is telling his people to come to Washington.” And I said, “Of course we’ll be all right. We’ll be inside the Capitol.”
And the image I had in my mind, Amy, was of June the 2nd, when Black Lives Matter had a protest at the Capitol, and there was this huge phalanx of National Guardsmen and women holding bayonets and weapons on the steps of the Capitol. And that was immediately the image that came to mind. That was the day after Trump and William Barr had unleashed that paramilitary police riot against protesters in Lafayette Square.
And essentially, you know, what I hadn’t seen was that we would not be militarily prepared sufficiently to defend the Capitol building, the House and the Senate, and that there would be this band of violent extremists, white nationalists, Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, militiamen — you know, there were Aryan Nations there — that came to lead the mob and smashed out our windows and began the assault on the police officers. And that was the part that was not foreseen.
I mean, I — like most members of Congress, I was walking around with the assurance in my mind that if one person tried to evade the metal detectors and to run into the Capitol, they would be shot on site. And we were overrun by more than 900 rioters who came in. And like Lindsey Graham said that day, we all could have died, because any one of them could have had a bomb. And we’re lucky that the Secret Service at Trump’s rally were checking people for weapons, because that’s why most of the extremists left their arms back in the car or back in the hotel or motel, because they were going to that rally. But had they not, it could have been a very different situation, and there would have been a lot more deaths than there were. I mean, it was a deadly riot as it was, but that riot surrounded an insurrection, and that insurrection surrounded, of course, a coup, whose details are surfacing now through our investigation.
AMY GOODMAN: And I want to talk about those details. But you were separated from your daughter Tabitha and from Hank, now your son-in-law — right? — because you were on the floor of the House. Talk about where you went and your fear for them, where they went.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Well, Hank, by the way, was my son-in-law then. He had eloped in a COVID-19 wedding with our daughter Hannah. He’s married to our older daughter, and they had an Elvis Presley wedding out in Nevada.
But they had come in to — they wanted to see me speak, which was nice, and they saw the speeches that I was giving defending the Electoral College count and explaining what our constitutional role was. We were not there to pick the president; we were simply there to receive the Electoral College votes from the states as they had been cast, essentially, by the people of the states.
But after that was over, they wanted to go back to Steny’s office. Steny Hoyer had offered his Capitol Hill office. And they went back there. And so, when we were overrun and the siege began, I was separated from them, and they were with my chief of staff, Julie Tagen. They had barricaded themselves in Steny’s office. They locked the door, and then they pushed all the furniture up against the door. And Tabitha and Hank were hiding under a desk for a few hours while people were pounding on the door, and they could hear the riot taking place outside.
AMY GOODMAN: And yet you have so many denying what took place, even though they themselves were threatened like you were. I want to talk about the latest developments and what you think is the most significant revelations to come out of your committee right now, those who have testified, those who haven’t. Vice President Pence has not yet testified, but Marc Short, his chief of staff, has testified, we’ve learned, not to mention others, for example — well, talk about what happened this week. You had testimony from a prison.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Yeah, we did.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about this?
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Well, you know, as I was saying, I view it as taking place in three rings of activity, and each one is fascinating and important to understand in its own respect. I mean, there was a mass demonstration for a “wild” protest, called by Donald Trump, that turned into a riot, and so that’s a very important thing for us to understand, how a demonstration became a riot and how a crowd became a mob and the role that social media played in that; the realm of the insurrection with the domestic violent extremist groups, how they were coordinated and what kinds of contacts they had with the immediate political entourage surrounding Donald Trump; but at the very red-hot core of it was the realm of the coup. And it’s a strange word to use in American political parlance, because we don’t have a lot of experience with coups in our own country, and we think of a coup as something taking place against a president, but this was a coup orchestrated by the president against the vice president and against the Congress in order to overthrow the normal constitutional order and the workings of our electoral process to seize the presidency for another four years.
And from everything I’ve seen so far, I am convinced that Donald Trump was absolutely hell-bent on staying in office. This was not some kind of accidental, improvisational thing that got out of control at a big demonstration. No, this was methodical and organized. And they really were depending on Mike Pence just to negate these Electoral College votes, which, of course, he had no power to do. But that would have activated, under the 12th Amendment, a so-called contingent election, where we would move as the House of Representatives to vote immediately a new president in.
And you ask, “Well, why would they want the House to be voting, with Speaker Pelosi in charge?” Well, under the 12th Amendment, we’re not voting one member, one vote; we’re voting one state, one vote. And after the 2020 elections, they knew well they had 27 state delegations in the House, we had 22. Pennsylvania was tied right down the middle. Even had they lost the at-large representative from Wyoming’s vote, Liz Cheney’s vote, as I think they would have, they still would have had 26 votes. They would have moved “immediately,” under the terms of the 12th Amendment, for a vote. They kept talking about, well, returning the votes to the states, letting the states, giving them time, giving them weeks and months. I think they understood there would have been an immediate vote in the House of Representatives, and they would have declared victory for Trump.
He likely would have invoked the Insurrection Act and declared martial law, as his disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn was urging him to do. And he would have called in the National Guard, that had been held at bay for several hours over the course of the rioting, to come in and put down the insurrectionary chaos he had unleashed against us. And he would have pronounced himself a hero for doing that.
And I think we were very close to that having happened. And any a number of things could have gone in a number of different directions that would have led to that outcome. And anything could have happened there with an insurrection and a coup. There could have been civil war in the country.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what did you learn this week about the founder and leader of the far-right Oath Keepers, the militia group, who appeared from prison — he’s facing sedition charges — Stewart Rhodes? What did he testify? And what connections do you believe he has to either Trump or Trump’s inner circle?
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Well, I’m afraid I can’t answer that, Amy. Forgive me. We haven’t release that transcript yet. The chair has not made the decision to do that. So we can’t talk about the details of specific interviews and depositions until the committee has made them public.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Madeleine Carter into this conversation, the director of the documentary that’s going to be airing on MSNBC at 10:00 Eastern on Sunday night, following the life and political journey of you, of Congressmember Jamie Raskin. Madeleine, can you talk about when you decided to do this film?
MADELEINE CARTER: I spent months trying to convince Jamie to do this film. And I think I started trying to convince him in January of 2018. And I didn’t start filming ’til July 4th of 2018.
AMY GOODMAN: And what was most important to you then? In fact, Congressmember Raskin is your congressmember.
MADELEINE CARTER: That is true. Well, what had happened is that on the same day — excuse me, same month, January of 2017, Donald Trump became my president, and Jamie Raskin became my congressman. And literally from the early weeks, Jamie became a Trump gadfly. And I watched Jamie as he was valiantly trying to bring the public light to Trump’s — just Trump’s endless atrocities and lawbreaking. And so, about a year into both of their terms, I thought I’d really like to make a film about Jamie kind of holding up democracy against Trump.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to another clip of your film, Love & the Constitution.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Why is America such an extraordinary country? We are not unified by virtue of being one ethnicity or one ideology or one religion. We’re unified by one Constitution and one rule of law and then the values under our Constitution. It is an aspiration. It’s a challenge to us. The Constitution shouldn’t be some kind of fetish document. It should be the living commitment that we all have to make democracy work in service of the common good.
AMY GOODMAN: There you have a clip of the film Love & the Constitution. How did your film change over these just few years — you’ve been working on this now for four years — from when you started to what it has become?
MADELEINE CARTER: It changed radically. I mean, when I started, Mueller and his team had been investigating for about a year. And I and many others expected that the Mueller report would come out at some point in the summer or fall of 2018. And I expected that that would lead to the House Judiciary Committee investigating and impeaching Trump. And Jamie was on that House Judiciary Committee. So, when I started out, I thought I was going to make a one-year film following the impeachment of Trump sort of through the eyes of Jamie, who was on the House Judiciary Committee. But, of course, things kept — I mean, things did not happen that way, and other things kept happening. So I just kept filming, because I kept not having an ending.
AMY GOODMAN: But you ultimately did. I mean, at this point, what has happened, January 6th, to say the least, has not been resolved.
MADELEINE CARTER: That is true. And to this day — to tell you the truth, I wish I were still making the film and still following Jamie as he is working on the select — the January 6th select committee, because — but there may never be an ending to our Trump woes, so maybe I’ll have to do a part two.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the final clip that we have from the film Love & the Constitution. This is Congressmember Raskin reflecting on the death of Tommy, his son, and the pandemic.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: We were not the only family in that god-awful year to lose a family member. If you add up COVID-19, opioid deaths, gun violence and all of the other normal causes, millions of people lost loved ones.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Amen.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: We are indeed surrounded now by American carnage.
AMY GOODMAN: “American carnage,” which, of course, is echoing President Trump’s inaugural address. Jamie Raskin, do you — can you talk about what happened and how that has shaped all that you have done? It was incredibly brave of you, after losing your son, to move forward and be at the center of both the impeachment, the chief impeachment manager, and then, of course, chief congressmember on the January 6 select committee.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Well, I just felt that I had no choice. I felt Tommy was with me. He was in my heart. I felt him in my chest. And those were scary days, because we didn’t know which way things were going. I mean, the extreme-right websites were continuing to agitate for finishing the job. There were death threats flying all over the place. And I felt then, as I do now, that democracy is on the line and in danger. And, you know, for most of the history of our species, people have lived under kings and queens and bullies like Donald Trump. And democracy, as Lincoln said, is a very fragile experiment. And, you know, every generation has got to ask whether government of the people, by the people and for the people is going to perish from the Earth, because it could very easily do that. And the enemies of democracy all over the world, including in America, including people like Steve Bannon, are agitating for the destruction of democracy, or what they call the deep state, the deep state based on government by the people, as opposed to dictators and would-be dictators like Donald Trump. So, yeah, I —
AMY GOODMAN: Are we — are we going to see Donald Trump come before the committee? And are we going to see public hearings? I mean, can you talk about how the Watergate hearings affected you, and how significant they were for the country, and what it would mean to have the same thing today around January 6th?
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Well, the Watergate hearings had a cleansing effect on at least the psyche of the country. I don’t know that it fully dislodged all of the structures of power that had been immobilized against democracy. But we have to have hearings that give people the truth. You know, my dad used to say that democracy needs a ground to stand on, and that ground is the truth. So, the people have to be aware of exactly what took place, so we can fortify our institutions and our processes against the next coup, against the next violent insurrection.
You know, people understand the way that Donald Trump exploited these domestic violent extremist groups, these white nationalist groups, but they exploited him, too. They used him. I mean, when they had their “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in August of 2017, they could only muster together 500 people. They were much more isolated. And then, after several years of Trump and Trump’s own organizing for January 6th, they were several thousand at the front of a march of 40,000 or 50,000 people. And they almost knocked over the government of the United States. And, you know, if you look at what they say, their only regret is they didn’t bring all of their guns with them and they left them back in their hotel and motel rooms.
AMY GOODMAN: Jamie, what concerns do you have for the upcoming elections? The New York Times recently reported that nearly two dozen Republicans who have publicly questioned or disputed the 2020 election results are running for secretaries of state across the country.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Well, Trump and his forces clearly want to seize the electoral apparatus so they will be the ones making all of the decisions about which votes count and which votes don’t count. It’s not only an obvious plan, it’s an explicit plan on their part. I mean, one of my colleagues, Jody Hice from Georgia, is leaving the Congress of the United States to run for secretary of state in Georgia to oust Raffensperger, who they of course accuse of disloyalty to the Trump regime. So that’s where we are right now.
So, you know, we can’t fight the last battle alone. We’ve got to fight the last battle, too. We’ve got to fortify the Congress and the presidential electoral process the best we can. But we’ve got to be fighting in every state to try to defend the neutral administration of the election laws and traditions of nonpartisan, or at least bipartisan, election administration, which they want to replace with partisan election administration. And in some places, they just want the state legislature, in Republican hands, to be controlling the elections. So, we’ve got to deal with that threat, which is an overwhelming one, as well as do whatever we can to defend the right to vote, even though they have used the filibuster as one of their anti-democratic instruments to prevent us from passing voting rights legislation.
So, what we’ve got, really, is the will of the majority. Remember, Hillary beat him by 3 million votes. Joe Biden beat him by seven-and-a-half million votes. And our numbers are growing. And it’s the will of the majority versus a bag of tricks that they’ve got — the voter suppression, the gerrymandering of our districts, the manipulation of the Electoral College and planting booby traps throughout it, and then just stealing elections, which is what this whole attack on election administration is all about.
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