WASHINGTON – The Jan. 6 committee on Thursday released its transcript of an interview with former Defense Secretary Mark Esper that indicates former President Trump obsessed about Gov. Tim Walz’s response to protests over George Floyd’s murder and had to be dissuaded from using thousands of military troops to put down demonstrations in Washington, D.C.
On May 29, 2020, the day after Walz activated the National Guard to stop violent protesters, Trump tweeted about “thugs” in Minnesota and warned “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Two days later, Esper testified he discussed the growing number of protests over Floyd’s death with Trump in the Oval Office. Former Attorney General William Barr, former Vice President Mike Pence and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley were at the meeting, too, and all dissuaded Trump from his proposal to send 10,000 active duty troops to a protest in Washington, D.C., Esper said.
“My reaction was that active duty troops were not the means by which this should be addressed,” Esper said. He said he told Trump the job should be done by law enforcement, and perhaps National Guard troops if law enforcement was not sufficient.
“I, along with Attorney General Barr alongside me, went back and forth on multiple times on this issue until we were able to persuade him that law enforcement was the best way forward, supported by the National Guard,” Esper said.
Esper said Milley and Pence agreed with him. But he also said there was a discussion of the Insurrection Act, which would need to be invoked to use active military domestically. It was determined that Barr would be in charge of any response to violence at protests.
After the Oval Office meeting, however, Trump held a conference call with some of the nation’s governors about the growing number of demonstrations over Floyd’s death and said he that Milley, whom he described as a “a fighter, a warrior (with) a lot of victories and no losses” was in charge of the response to the protests. Trump also said he hated the way they were handled in various states.
Esper said he urged the governors to use the National Guard if needed and gave Walz’s performance as an example. Minnesota’s governor, Esper said, “was able to calm the situation so that peaceful protesters can express their concerns without their lives and properties being risked in the process.”
Esper also said he began to ask surrounding states to send guardsmen to the nation’s capital and made plans to move troops from the 82nd Airborne into city because he “felt we were on a precipice of the president ordering active-duty troops into the District of Columbia to quell the protests.”
Later in the day, Esper said that he and Milley were called back to the White House for a meeting. But there was no meeting.
Instead Trump asked them to accompany him for a walk across Lafayette Square, a small park across the White House that had been cleared of demonstrators by tear gas, to a church where Trump posed with a Bible for a photo op.
Drama at the end of session
This last week of the 117th Congress had much more than the usual end-of-session drama.
As has happened before, lawmakers played a game of brinksmanship with the federal budget, preparing to vote for a massive $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill just hours before the federal government would be forced into a Christmas Eve shutdown.
Besides releasing dozens of transcripts of interviews with witnesses, the Jan. 6 committee held its final hearing and sent the Justice Department its recommendations that Trump be prosecuted on four criminal charges related to an insurrection.
The charges are: Obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to make a false statement and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. by assisting, aiding or comforting those involved in an insurrection. That does not mean, however, that Trump will be charged. It’s up to the Justice Department to decide if it has enough evidence to mount a successful prosecution.
The committee also referred several Republican lawmakers who refused to cooperate with the investigation to the House Ethics Committee. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, as well as Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Andy Biggs of Arizona, could face possible sanctions for their refusal to comply with committee subpoenas.
Among the voluminous information the committee collected was a phone log of messages to former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows after the 2020 election from 34 members of Congress, many of whom suggested ways to reinstate Trump as president, including one that involved imposing martial law.
Rep. Tom Emmer’s phone number was among the list, but no details of the conversation Emmer, R-6th, might have had with Meadows were provided. Emmer’s office did not respond to a request for information.
In any case, Emmer did not vote to object to the election’s results. But 147 House Republicans did, including Rep. Michelle Fischbach and former Rep. Jim Hagedorn.
The Jan. 6 Committee also released its final report of its months-long investigation of the storming of the U.S. Capitol. It determined one individual – Trump – was responsible for the uprising.
“The central cause of Jan. 6 was one man, former President Donald Trump, whom many others followed,” the report said. “None of the events of Jan. 6 would have happened without him.”
The report also made recommendations aimed at making sure the United States never experiences anything like this again, including that Congress consider banning Trump from ever returning to office, citing the 14th Amendment, which bars those who have “engaged in an insurrection” or offered “aid and comfort to the enemies” of the Constitution.
This week also featured the surprise appearance of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who received standing ovations from hundreds of lawmakers who attended a special joint meeting of Congress to hear Zelenskyy speak.
The House voted on Thursday to mandate the Internal Revenue Service audit a president’s tax filings every year.
The legislation, supported by all House Democrats and opposed by all House Republicans, would make law an IRS policy about auditing sitting presidents, a policy the IRS violated when it failed to audit former President Trump during two years – 2017 and 2018 – he was in office.
The House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday voted to release Trump’s taxes, documents the committee had sought for years. The panel is redacting personal information from those filings, such as bank account numbers.
But what is known now about Trump’s taxes is that, while the president made millions of dollars from his companies, he often paid little or no taxes, thanks to deductions and losses, some of them considered questionable. In 2016, Trump paid $750 in taxes. The following year he again paid just $750. In 2020, he paid nothing.
Omnibus would boost heating assistance program
The massive $1.7 trillion omnibus bill that would fund the federal government next year would provide a boost for Minnesota’s Energy Assistance Program, which pays the heating and past-due water bills for low-income state residents.
The American Rescue Plan Act, one of the bills Congress approved in response to the COVID pandemic, greatly increased funding for the assistance program, which allowed the state to give more people more money to pay for their heating, be it electric, natural gas or coal. But that money is gone.
So low-income Minnesotans faced a colder-than average winter (which is already showing its brutal force,) much larger heating bills due to massive inflation in the energy sector and much smaller payments from the energy assistance program.
“There’s a lot of need that exists,” said Michael Schmitz, the director of the Energy Assistance Program.
The omnibus bill would boost federal money to low-income heating assistance programs like the one run by Schmitz by about $1.2 billion. Schmitz said he doesn’t know how much of that money will come to Minnesota, but said he guesses it will be “in the tens of millions.”
That will allow him to increase the amount of heating help to those how qualify, and maybe expand eligibility to higher-income households.
“Depending on what we get, it’s an opportunity to help more people,” he said.
Right now, the average benefit is about $592. The assistance program has enrolled about 103,000 Minnesota household since the beginning of the enrollment period in October and expects to sign up more before the program ends in May.
To request and application and find a local energy assistance service program provider that will process that application, visit mn.gov\home.