Wineke: What did he know and when did he know it?

MADISON, Wis. — As the Senate prepares to try former President Trump next week, it might do well to recall a previous investigation about Richard Nixon.

The late Senator Howard Baker kept asking the question, “What did the President know and when did he know it?”

Some of the accusations against Trump are unquestionably true. The President did call a rally of his supporters for January 6. And, once the rally began, Trump did incite them to march on the Capitol. He did, in his exhortation, suggest they act peacefully and respectfully (though that took up less than five seconds of a long speech), but he urged them to march and he promised to be alongside them.

What is open to question is whether Trump expected the insurrection that followed, the sacking of the Capitol and the death chants against Vice President Pence.

We now know a couple of other things. One is that police agencies and the FBI knew that right-wing terrorists planned to exploit the rally and seize the Capitol.

Why the authorities didn’t do more to protect the building and its occupants is still open to question. But they did know about the danger.

So, then, the question becomes, did the authorities inform the White House of the dangers?

I would think it inconceivable that the White House wasn’t informed, but I don’t know that for sure. However, there are people who do know whether the White House was informed. Investigators should be able to track that down.

The next question is, if the White House staff knew of the dangers, did they inform the President?

Again, the idea that Trump wouldn’t be warned seems inconceivable, but investigators should be able to find that out.

Because, if Trump was told and he nevertheless encouraged the demonstration, then there should be some consequences and those consequences should be severe.

One argument his supporters keep claiming is that Trump, like any citizen, has freedom of speech. That goes not only for his January 6 rally but for his continual claim that the 2020 election was rigged and that he was the rightful victor of the campaign.

But Trump isn’t “any citizen.” He was the President of the United States. His claims, which were rejected by every state legislature, numerous federal courts and, even the United States Supreme Court, served to undermine public confidence in the government he was elected to serve.

Let me use me as an example: I have been privileged to be a writer for more than 60 years. Like every American, I am blessed with freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

And, like everyone who is privileged to use a business’s printing press or website to express my opinions, I am under obligation not to undermine the validity of that corporation. I can say anything I want but I can’t say it via your printing press. If I commit libel, it is my employer who gets sued.

We, the American people, employ the President and, when he undermines our government, he can’t just claim to be a private citizen.