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At the committee hearing on Thursday, Jan. 6, retired federal judge J. Michael Luttig issued a stark warning to the country. Luttig, who advised former Vice President Mike Pence, said 17 months after the riot at the US Capitol, “Donald Trump and his allies and supporters are a clear and present danger to American democracy.”
Luttig said the United States was at a crossroads similar to the one the country faced during the Civil War, and he said America needed help.
Luttig was appointed to the federal bench by George HW Bush and served in the Bush and Reagan administrations. He said in his written testimony that the United States is in a “war” for national democracy and that “only the party that started this war can end it”, calling on the Republican Party to begin a process of reconciliation.
Speaking to NPR on Saturday, Luttig reiterated his message that lawmakers need to start talking to each other as “fellow Americans who have a common destiny and shared hopes and dreams for America.” But Republicans must start the process, he added.
Luttig spoke with NPR All things Considered on the chances of members of the Republican Party starting these conversations in good faith, pro-Trump candidates currently in the running, and whether the January 6 committee hearings can help bridge the gap.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Do you think there is a significant constituency within your party, i.e. the Republican Party, willing to have good faith conversations about this? And if so, where are they?
On the day I testified, no, there hasn’t been, and there hasn’t been for these few years. I’m not a politician, I don’t do politics, but that’s what I propose. And it is with my fervent hope that at least a number of our elected leaders will hear the words I spoke on Thursday and understand what I said, which is that they have an obligation, a high obligation, that they undertake by oath to act in the interests of America and Americans contrary to their own personal political interests.
If you look at the most recent primaries, pro-Trump candidates are still competing across the country and winning on the lie that there was voter fraud in 2020. How to build trust in our democracy, in the idea that we can get to a better place in our country when you have people at these high levels denying the 2020 election results?
You don’t and you can’t, and that’s why I testified Thursday that the former president and his party are a clear and present danger to American democracy today. And I specifically contrasted that with the circumstance, if that had been the case, that the former president and the Republican Party withdrew after the 2020 election and accepted the results. But as I told the select committee on Thursday, that’s not what happened.
To this day, the former president and the Republican Party have insisted – and they persist in asserting – that the 2020 election was stolen, and not only that, but they are committed to executing the same plan in 2024 that they attempted in 2020. But their intention is that if they execute this plan in 2024, they will win in 2024 where they failed in 2020.
The January 6 hearings are clearly important for the country to understand what happened that day and why it happened, and I know you feel that way, but many Republicans don’t. . They call the audiences an effort to divide. And so I wonder if you think they are more likely to end or further fuel this division that you believe is destroying our democracy?
Well, when I turned my statement around discussing the two political parties in the United States, the most important words to me…were that the two political parties in America are the political guardians of our democracy. That is why I went on to say that it is imperative that both sides end this one war for democracy and suggest that it is the obligation of the Republican Party to begin this reconciliation.
We cannot have either political party in America behaving the way the Republican Party has since the 2020 election. As long as this continues, we will have an unstable democratic order in the United States, and we will forever fight for American democracy. As I said in my statement, the war for American democracy is not a war America can win.
If the two political parties literally fight for American democracy, it is an endless and destructive war of the United States of America. And no one in this country can disagree with that. They can argue over whether, as Republicans have continued to do, the former president’s 2020 activities in the party threatened democracy. They are foolish to even suggest that. But they can’t argue about the abstract point, the conceptual point that I raised, that if the two sides can’t agree on the orderly transfer of power to the United States, then this war will continue, and as long as it continues, we will not have democracy in the United States.
Do you think the January 6 hearings that are happening right now could somehow break through and encourage politicians to maybe start standing up on this issue?
Well, you know I’m a former judge and lawyer, and to my knowledge, I’ve never spoken a single word of politics publicly. So count me cynical towards politics and all politicians. Do I think maybe these hearings can break through to some patriotic Americans who are currently our political leaders? I hope with all my heart and with all my heart that the hearings will reach these political leaders.