On this date five years ago, in the run-up to the 2016 election, the Washington Post broke the story of the so-called Access Hollywood tape, a video from 2005 in which Donald Trump told television host Billy Bush about his approach to women. "I don't even wait" to start kissing them, he said. "And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.... Grab 'em by the p***y. You can do anything."
Today's events indicated that, as president, he took a similar approach to the Department of Justice.
This morning, the Democratic majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee released a draft report of its investigation into Trump's attempt to use the Department of Justice to overturn the results of the 2020 election. The report found that Trump repeatedly tried to get the DOJ to endorse his false claims that the election was stolen and to overturn its results, singling out nine specific attempts to change the outcome. Trump, the report says, "grossly abused the power of the presidency."
The report points to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows as a key player in the attempt to subvert the DOJ, and it singles out a number of other officials as participants in the pressure campaign. Those people include Jeffrey Bossert Clark from within the DOJ, whom Trump tried to install as acting attorney general to push his demands; Representative Scott Perry (R-PA); Doug Mastriano, a Republican state senator from Pennsylvania; and Cleta Mitchell, a legal adviser to the Trump campaign. The draft report also notes that under Attorney General William Barr, the DOJ "deviated from longstanding practice" when it began to investigate allegations of fraud before the votes were certified.
The report concludes that the efforts to subvert the DOJ were part of Trump's attempt "to retain the presidency by any means necessary," a process that "without a doubt" "created the disinformation ecosystem necessary for Trump to incite almost 1000 Americans to breach the Capitol in a violent attempt to subvert democracy by stopping the certification of a free and fair election."
The minority of the Senate Judiciary Committee promptly published a rebuttal, defending the former president by saying that "President Trump listened to his advisors, including high-level DOJ officials and White House Counsel and followed their recommendations."
The top Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee is Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who is running for reelection in 2022 and is facing a primary challenger from the right. Grassley will be speaking on Saturday at Trump's "rally" in Iowa. As then–Senate president pro tempore and thus the next person in line to count the electoral votes if Vice President Mike Pence were absent, Grassley was not uninvolved in the events of January 6.
Indeed, on January 5, Roll Call reported Grassley's statement that he and not Vice President Mike Pence would preside over the counting of the certified votes the following day. "[I]f the Vice President isn't there, and we don't expect him to be there, I will be presiding over the Senate," Grassley said. His staff immediately walked the statement back, but it does suggest he might have been aware of some of the White House machinations to overturn the election.
On CNN, host Jake Tapper called Grassley's response to the majority's report "a very, very generous to the point of delusional reflection of what actually happened."
Today was also the deadline for four of Trump's closest allies to turn over documents to the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol and to schedule testimony. Former chief of staff Mark Meadows, social media manager Dan Scavino, adviser Steve Bannon, and former Defense Department official Kash Patel have until midnight tonight to contact the committee.
Trump's lawyers wrote a letter telling the four men not to cooperate with the congressional subpoena. The letter claims that Trump is planning to contest the subpoenas on the basis of executive privilege.
But even if this president does accept his assertion of executive privilege—and there are good reasons for any president to be nervous about depositions from a chief of staff—such an assertion would likely not cover Steve Bannon.
Meanwhile, the committee issued three new subpoenas today, this time for people or entities involved in rallies to protest the 2020 election results to testify. The committee subpoenaed Ali Abdul Akbar, known as Ali Alexander, and Nathan Martin, as well as Stop the Steal L.L.C., an organization affiliated with the January 6 protest in Washington.
After the election, Alexander called frequently for violence to overturn the results and claimed to be in contact with White House officials and Representatives Mo Brooks (R-AL), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), and Andy Biggs (R-AZ) about January 6. In a now-deleted video, Alexander said: "We four schemed up… putting maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting… so that who we couldn't lobby, we could change the hearts and the minds of Republicans who were in that body, hearing our loud roar from outside."
This evening the Senate managed to pass a measure to raise the debt ceiling until December, but it was not an easy sell. Trump continued to object to clearing the way for Democrats to keep the nation from tipping over the cliff into default despite the fact that the nation racked up $7.8 trillion in debt on his watch and raising the debt ceiling is necessary to cover that debt.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) promise that the Republicans would no longer block the Democrats from addressing the issue did not stop a number of Republican senators from continuing to object. Finally, 11 Republicans agreed to join the Democrats to break a Republican filibuster by a vote of 61–38. The Democrats then passed legislation to address the debt ceiling by a strict party vote of 50–48 and sent the measure to the House.
It took a filibuster-proof majority of the Senate not to pass a bill to protect the nation's economic health and international standing, but simply to keep an angry minority at bay long enough to permit Democrats to pass that bill.
The news that the Senate had agreed to a deal made the Dow Jones Industrial Average jump 330 points.