What the January 6th Papers Reveal

The Supreme Court ruled to give the House Select Committee access to a trove of documents detailing election-negating strategies that Donald Trump and his advisers entertained—including a military seizure of voting machines—but he continues to peddle a counter-narrative in which he’s the victim.

On January 19th, in the case of Donald J. Trump v. Bennie Thompson, the Supreme Court rejected the former President’s last-ditch attempt to deny the House Select Committee investigating the events of January 6, 2021, access to more than seven hundred documents held by the National Archives. The vote was 8–1; the lone dissenter was Clarence Thomas. The decision wasn’t much of a surprise—Trump had relied on a novel, extreme, and haphazardly presented assertion of executive privilege—but it was a turning point, nonetheless. Thompson is the chair of the Select Committee, and last week the Washington Post reported that, when he and his colleagues finally received the documents, they discovered that some of them had been torn up and then taped back together. Such painstaking efforts had been part of the White House record-keepers’ job, because Trump habitually ripped up things that legally needed to be preserved. Other documents were delivered in unreconstructed pieces.

Illustration by João Fazenda

The receipt of the papers has fuelled a burst of revelations about the Trump White House’s involvement in the events leading up to the assault on the Capitol, and about Trump’s desperate efforts to hold on to the Presidency. One of the documents, as Politico first reported, is a draft executive order, which was not issued, directing the Department of Defense to seize voting machines and associated electronic records in various states. That story was followed by reports, in the Times and elsewhere, about how Trump and his advisers debated the order—and whether there might be better ways to overturn the election. (Rudy Giuliani may have been the one to persuade Trump not to go down that military-backed-coup route.) There also seems to have been a draft executive order instructing the Department of Homeland Security to seize those voting machines, and a separate proposal telling the Department of Justice that it should do so, which D.H.S. official Ken Cuccinelli and Attorney General William Barr both resisted.