A video of former President Donald Trump speaking during a rally, as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol holds a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 16, 2022. The traumas of Watergate and Jan. 6 are a half century apart, in vastly different eras, and they were about different things. But in both episodes, a president tried to do an end run around democracy. Friday is the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break-in that eventually consumed Richard Nixon's presidency. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

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The Jan. 6 committee’s hearings are revealing a massive scandal with interlocking parts and multiple criminal conspiracies, before, during and after that fateful day.

The key to it all is the Big Lie, Donald Trump’s false contention the election was stolen. But Trump did much more.

Trying to stop the peaceful transfer of power, Trump sought to corrupt the Department of Justice, pressuring appointees to back his lies. He asked state officials to change legally certified vote tallies.

Another element of this plot was organizing bogus slates of electors contradicting swing states’ legal results. Those illegal electors or some other mechanism could have kept Trump in power if Trump had successfully pressured Vice President Mike Pence to not count legally certified electoral votes on Jan. 6, 2021, the day a joint session of Congress was set to convene to certify the results of the Nov. 2020 presidential election.

Violence and threat of violence were meant to affect Pence and Congress and even the Supreme Court. One Trump ally mused in a Dec. 24, 2020 email that the “odds of action before Jan. 6 will become more favorable if the justices start to fear that there will be ‘wild’ chaos on Jan. 6 unless they rule by then, either way.”

In late September, Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” leading membership to soar. When Trump tweeted “be there, will be wild” about Jan. 6 on Dec. 19, they viewed it as a summons.

Evidence in an indictment shows the Proud Boys and other far-right militias led the Capitol breach. Proud Boys leader Joe Biggs, now charged for seditious conspiracy, told his followers to dress to blend in. One of their roles was to “rile up the normies.”

As we learned last week, at one point Pence was a mere 40 feet from the raging crowd. Trump tweeted a condemnation of Pence; this was quickly followed by a surge of rioters into the Capitol and chants of “hang Mike Pence.” A confidential informant from the Proud Boys told the FBI they would have killed Pence “if given the chance.”

For hours, Trump let violence go on and didn’t order anyone to put down the insurrection.

Along with all this was grift, greed and financial fraud. Trump’s campaign beseeched supporters to donate to the Official Legal Defense Fund to fight election results in court. His people came through, giving a quarter of a billion dollars. But as a campaign staffer told the committee, that fund did not exist. The money instead went to the Trump hotels, to a foundation of Mark Meadows (who is now refusing to testify) and to various political action committees.  

There’s been an argument that, if Trump sincerely believed what he said, he’s not criminally responsible for trying to stop states’ certified electoral votes from being counted in Congress. But that runs contrary to a principle used in criminal cases — willful blindness.

Throughout this time, Trump’s own attorney general and his top campaign staff told him the election had not been stolen.  Trump was also told by his legal staff that trying to get Pence to not count legally certified electoral votes and to instead use phony slates of electors was illegal.

Even advocates of that scheme admitted it would violate the Electoral Count Act and the Supreme Court would unanimously consider Pence rejecting certified electoral votes as unconstitutional. Federal Judge David O. Carter called the effort “a coup in search of a legal theory” and ruled it was “more likely than not” that it broke laws.

Taken together, what happened in these many illegal plots was and remains dangerous — and not only because of the violence. It’s because the Big Lie lives on and is shaping current and future actions.

Numerous Republican candidates, including Maine congressional candidate Bruce Poliquin, won’t say that President Joe Biden was legitimately elected. GOP conspiracy theorists on a New Mexico election board refused to certify the results of a recent primary. Trump-backing election deniers are organizing to aggressively challenge election officials and voters at the polls.

And thus the Jan. 6 events and conspiracies, which could have stopped the legitimate, democratic transfer of power, continue to threaten our long-lived and treasured republic.

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Amy Fried, Opinion columnist

Amy Fried has written about the media and politics, women in politics, Maine and American political culture, and political activism, and works to create change through the Rising Tide Center. A political...