Syndicated columnist Susan Estrich: It's not just Trump we should hold accountable for the lie

It's a textbook case. Fraud starts with a lie or, if you prefer the dictionary definition, an "intentional perversion of the truth," which is intended to and does induce others to rely on the lie and part with something of value, like money.

Two hundred fifty million dollars, to be exact, which is how much former President Donald Trump and his team raised off their Big Lie.

It now emerges, not a big surprise, that the president's team was told from the outset that there was no evidence of systemic election fraud, and obviously no need for a quarter of a billion dollars to fight it.

Is it possible that Trump, with an ego the size of his, found it impossible to believe that he had actually lost? Sure. My guess is that Trump, to this day, doesn't believe he really lost. How could that be? But Trump didn't go out and single-handedly raise and spend that money. That took a team of liars and, in many ways, it is the most troubling aspect of this.

Speaking truth to power is never easy. If Bill Barr is to be believed, the former attorney general at least tried.

But what of the rest of them? What of Rudy Giuliani, with his outrageous fees? What about Donald Trump Jr. and his fiancee, raising money to pay themselves? What about the rest of the White House staff and the campaign team? Where were they? How could they go along with defrauding the American people of a quarter-billion dollars - and our democracy?

With inflation battering everyone, gas prices through the ceiling, meat the price of gold, with the market tumbling and the world at war, it's easy to dismiss the latest news about Trump's shenanigans. Jan. 6 seems a long time ago. The hearings are making explicit what most of us knew or suspected. Next.

Not so fast. This is a moment to remember just how close we came to a constitutional crisis. We're not talking about shenanigans, nothing innocent about this. The subversion of democracy is not a political stunt.

And it wasn't a matter of coming close. Whether we realized it at the time or not - and this may be the ultimate lesson of the hearings - we in fact lived through a crisis; we didn't avoid it. We survived is what really happened, and only by the courage and determination of those who stood fast against the invasion of the Capitol and the disruption of the vote-counting.

In the future, students will study this time as a moment when the rule of law and the fate of our democracy were literally on the line. To dismiss it as yesterday's news understates the threat that we faced.

We almost lost it. We could have lost it. It wasn't just the war chest, huge as it was. Trump had an army of his own, ready to do his bidding, to disrupt the most basic exercise of a democracy, the election of the president. And the men and women around him, the ones who needed to tell a bitter and disappointed man the truth, instead joined in a lie. They told the president what he wanted to hear, not the truth. And the country paid the price.

It is not only Trump who should never be empowered again. All the president's men and women failed their country. It is right that they be held accountable. Shame on them. We must remember Jan. 6; we must name names so that it never happens again. And someone really ought to sue for fraud.

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