Two men are back-to-back in front of a white background.
Phil Harriman (left) and Ethan Strimling Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

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Phil Harriman, a former town councilor and state senator from Yarmouth, is the founding partner of Lebel & Harriman, a financial services firm. Ethan Strimling, a former mayor and state senator from Portland, is the president of Swing Hard. Turn Left, which promotes progressive policy at the local, state and national levels. 

Ethan: As I am sure you saw, conservative Republican U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, daughter of former ultra-conservative Republican Vice President Dick Cheney, said during the opening of the Jan. 6 Investigative Committee hearings examining the insurrection that, “President Trump summoned the mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack.” Do you agree?

Phil: I think it is a tricky business to blame someone who took no direct part in the riot, other than to speak at a rally in which he said he wanted people to be peaceful and patriotic, to then say he was the leader of the mob. Suffice it to say that I will need more evidence before I can jump to Rep. Cheney’s conclusion.

Ethan: He made the “peaceful and patriotic” remark, right before he told the crowd to “stop the steal” and “never concede,” before calling Joe Biden an “illegitimate president” who was stealing the election and therefore, “you’re allowed to go by different rules.” Exactly what were those “different rules,” Phil?

Phil: Who knows, but if that’s as good as you’ve got, you are making my point. He gave a bombastic speech. Your man Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer behaved similarly in front of the Supreme Court.That doesn’t make him guilty of inciting. 

Ethan: I think you are missing the point. The plan was already in place and being executed. From Trump’s claiming before the election that it will be rigged, to his telling the Proud Boys to “stand by,” to his stoking the big lie that the election was stolen, to his tweet telling people to come to DC on the day the electoral vote was to be counted, to his refusal to tell the insurrectionists to stop in their attempt to block Biden from becoming president, his role is much more significant than that one speech.

Phil: Free speech is a right we all have. And while I disagree with him on the election, it’s what he believed and many Americans agree with him.

Ethan: There is nothing to “disagree with” here. The fact is the election wasn’t stolen. He is lying to incite a response and to hold onto power.

Phil: I have seen nothing showing that he participated in organizing the attack on our capitol, that he ordered it, or that he did anything to help it succeed (which, of course, it didn’t). He also didn’t go on TV during every BLM riot and tell everyone to go home. Does that mean he is responsible for all the death and looting after George Floyd’s death?

Ethan: No, but he also didn’t summon those protesters to break the law. When he summoned his band of traitors to Washington, D.C., by saying “It will be wild!” did you think he meant there would be booze and a band?

Phil: I don’t know what he meant, which is the point. 

Ethan: At what point are you going to be willing to hold him accountable for his words?

Phil: When someone shows me that his words were intentionally responsible for an illegal act. Were they dumb? Were they wrong? Were they irresponsible? Yes, yes, and yes. But were they criminal? No evidence of that yet, from what I see. I don’t want Trump to come back as president as much as the next person, but I don’t see the evidence that he “summoned,” “assembled” or “lit the flame” of this attack. If I did, I would be the first to call for him to be indicted.

Ethan: I think you are being very naive, my good friend.

Phil: All I ask is to see the evidence, including defense witnesses. Too much to ask?

Ethan: It’s already there, but rest assured I will ask again when the committee is done.

Phil: And I will answer.