Jun 17, 2022 - Podcasts

The "Clear and Present Danger" of Donald Trump

The third day of eight planned public hearings from the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack took place yesterday. The idea that former President Donald Trump is still a danger to American democracy was one of the main themes.

  • Plus, a forgotten history lesson from Watergate

Guests: Axios' Margaret Talev and Russell Contreras

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Lydia McMullen-Laird and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Friday, June 17th. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Here’s what you need to know today: a forgotten history lesson from Watergate. But first, today’s One Big Thing: why the January 6 panel says Trump is still a threat to democracy. If you liked “threat to democracy isn’t over” better, go for it

J. MICHAEL LUTTIG: Still, Donald Trump and his allies and supporters are a clear and present danger to American democracy.

NIALA: That's retired Republican Judge, J. Michael Luttig as part of the third day of eight planned public hearings from the House Select Committee on January 6th. That idea - that Donald Trump is still a danger to American democracy was just one of the main themes yesterday. Axios’ Margaret Talev joins us as she does most Fridays for her political analysis. Hey Margaret.

MARGARET: Hi, Niala! That line, that Judge Luttig said about the clear and present danger is so interesting for a couple reasons. I think, most of us, you hear that expression, you think of that Harrison Ford movie but what clear and present danger really is, is a test about when the Supreme Court can, infringe on the first amendment, right? What are the limits of the first amendment? Do you have the limit under the first amendment in this case to overthrow an election, a valid election result. So I think, while it sounds like a catchy phrase, Judge Luttig is actually getting at something bigger here. And it is what the panel is trying to get to. It's the question of criminality or criminal culpability, whether any of this is prosecutable either for the former president or for the advisors close to him who were telling him yeah, go for it. See if you can stay in the presidency.

NIALA: We heard from many Republicans yesterday, including Vice President, Mike Pence's, chief of staff, and lots of attorneys. What did they establish when it comes to former president Trump's attempt to get Mike Pence to overturn these election results?

MARGARET: Niala in, testimony after testimony and this included live testimony, as well as some of the tape depositions that we saw, we just consistently heard two patterns and one was that everyone else around the former president was saying, what John Eastman is telling you is not true. It is not accurate. It's not a real legal theory. There's no historical precedent uh, for this, there is no legal substantiation for this. It's not a real thing you lost the election.

NIALA: To that point. Here's former Trump White House attorney, Eric Herschmann, describing a conversation he had with Eastman.

ERIC HERSCHMANN: I said to him, are you out of your F in mind? I said, I said, I only want to hear two words coming out of your mouth for now on: orderly transition

NIALA: Margaret, I read something yesterday that the witness list for the hearing was like a meeting of the Federalist Society. There were so many different Republicans who were testifying in this really damaging testimony, indicting president Trump.

MARGARET: It's really true. I mean, look Niala hen you think about this, these are not Democrats, uh, advising Mike Pence or Democrats condemning what the former president and John Eastman tried to do. These are conservative Republicans with conservative legal backgrounds deeply criticizing and taking issue with what former president Trump and John Eastman tried to do. And, when we actually started thinking about the way everybody was connected, your mind kind of spins there's Justice, Clarence Thomas, who's married to Ginny Thomas. Who is a conservative activist and deeply involved with the Federalist Society. Ginny Thomas is talking to John Eastman, this conservative lawyer, who's advising Donald Trump on the theory that has no legal precedent. Then John Eastman is also talking to Mike Pence. But then don't forget, John Eastman also previously clerked for two very important people: Judge Luttig and Clarence Thomas. And by the way, so did a guy named John Wood who was one of the lawyers leading the questioning in the hearing who had also clerked both for Mike Luttig and for Clarence Thomas. So the people that we're talking about here, the people who are taking issue with John Eastman and with Donald Trump, these are conservative. Republicans, but they're deeply, deeply uncomfortable with what the former president was trying to do. Deeply uncomfortable that they were being pressured to take apart in it and deeply, deeply uncomfortable with what the implications could be for American democracy, both in 2020 and going forward.

NIALA: But Margaret, the reality is what does the polling say when we look at Republicans in this country and what they believe about the 2020 election and president Trump's role in January 6th?

MARGARET: NBC had a poll recently that pretty much says it all. What NBC found is that time has been on President Trump's side when it comes to the way Americans perceive and hold responsible for those attacks. Uh, the latest number is 45% of Americans now saying that the former president was solely or mainly responsible for the attack. And, look at the splits on these numbers. When you look at just Republicans alone, it's down to 9%. 9% of Republicans say that they hold the former president primarily responsible for that attack.

NIALA: This false claim that the election was stolen is also actually a centerpiece of many Republican political candidates and campaigns this year in 2022.

MARGARET: The Republican primaries are full of contests between two GOP candidates trying to outdo each other by showing how closely the aligned they are with the former president or contests in primary elections, between what you might consider a more traditional Republican, someone who says something like “it's time to move on beyond 2020,” or they believe the election was legitimate. And the candidates who are continuing to repeat president Trump's lies about the election. And the Washington Post reported, in recent days, that by their count, at least 108 candidates, either in statewide office or for Congress, who have aligned with president Trump's lies, have, have advanced in ballots.

NIALA: Margaret Talev is Axios’ managing editor for the White House and politics. Thanks Margaret.

MARGARET: Thanks Niala.

NIALA: In a moment, we’re back with a piece of history about Watergate: the Cuban-American burglars behind the infamous break-in.

NIALA: Today's the 50 year anniversary of the Watergate break-in that led to the fall of President Richard Nixon. You're going to hear lots of stories and history about this this weekend, but the story of three Latinos on an anti-communist crusade who WERE PART OF THE GROUP THAT carried out the burglary is still not known to many. That’s why I asked Russ Contreras - our Forgotten History Correspondent - to share the story.

RUSSELL CONTRERAS: Hey, thanks Niala. These Latinos broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee and were trying to find information that was linking the Democratic nominee for President George McGovern to Fidel Castro. Then they were arrested when they got caught breaking in, and this started the whole scandal that led to the downfall of Richard Nixon.

These men each served around 15 months in prison and they believe they were on a higher crusade. Years later, they would say they had no regrets about Watergate, but among Cuban-Americans, these people were seen as heroes. But - the large Latino population which happened at that time to be Mexican-American as its majority - as it is today, did not see them as heroes. They were opposed to Nixon from his policies about the Vietnam war to fighting Cesar Chavez, and Dolores Huerta who were involved in a great boycott against Nixon. Nixon was opposed to that boycott and actually bought grapes and sent them to soldiers in the Vietnam War. So this was the beginning of divisions that were out there between Cuban-Americans and Mexican-Americans that still exist today.

NIALA: Axios Today's forgotten history correspondent, Russ Contreras. Thanks Russ.

RUSS: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: We’re off Monday for the Juneteenth holiday - but we’re producing an extra episode this weekend for our series Hard Truths. That’s our series on systemic racism - and this year, we’re focusing on solutions.

We’ll be talking housing - specifically, evictions. We’re focusing on Philadelphia, where - In part because of a new eviction diversion program there - about 90% of potential evictions were avoided in the first year of the program. Residents like Mafieyah Robinson.

MIFIEYAH ROBINSON: It seemed like I was never catching up and I was always, you know, falling short. So with it allowed me to gave me some time to build some money, to save some money so that I can start fresh.

NIALA: That drops tomorrow in the Axios Today feed.

And that’s all for us this week – Axios Today is produced by Nuria Marquez Martinez and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Our sound engineers are Alex Sugiura and Ben O’Brien. Alexandra Botti is our Supervising Producer. Sara Kehaulani Goo is Axios’ Editor In Chief. And special thanks as always to Axios co-founder Mike Allen.

I’m Niala Boodhoo, thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here on Monday

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