Rep. Jamie Raskin discusses new book on his son’s suicide and the Capitol insurrection

Maryland's Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin gained national attention when he was tapped to lead the second impeachment trial against then-President Trump. The appointment came soon after losing his son to suicide. In a deeply personal book, "Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy," he writes about his son's battle with depression, his death, as well as the Jan. 6 attack.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congressman Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland gained national attention in January 2021, when he was tapped to lead the second impeachment trial against then-President Donald Trump.

    Representative Raskin's appointment came shortly after the January 6 insurrection, and just days after losing his only son to suicide.

    Representative Raskin writes about his son's battle with depression and his death, as well as the January 6 attack, in his deeply personal new book, "Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy."

    Congressman Raskin is also a member of the House select committee tasked with investigating the January 6 attack. And he joins me now.

    Congressman Raskin, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    You have spoken a number of times since January of last year about your son and this — what happened. And you have made it clear you don't want him to be remembered for how he died.

    What do you want people to know about him?

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD):

    Well, Judy, thank you for having me.

    You know, of course, the people that Tommy knew, his friends and his family, will always remember him and treasure him and love him for his brilliance, for his warmth, for his conviviality.

    But, ultimately, I think the most remarkable thing about him was his just surpassing in infinite compassion for the world. And he was a great champion of human rights. He was a great champion of animal rights and welfare. And he felt the pain of the world and the suffering of other people, whether it was victims of the civil war in Yemen or victims of bombings in different parts of the world.

    And he wanted our democracy to be on the side of social justice and peace for people here and all over the world. So, I think that will be an important part of his legacy. We, of course, think about him every single day. We miss him sharply. He was an amazingly funny, lively young person.

    He was a poet. He was a playwright. He was a second year student in Harvard Law School when we lost him. And we're trying to continue on in his memory and in his spirit.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And he comes through on so many pages of this book, even as you're writing about the work you were doing.

    I know, as a parent myself, and I know parents watching have to wonder how you and your family are doing right now.

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin:

    Well, everybody is hanging tough, I would say.

    You know, the period of loss with Tommy was radically intertwined with what happened exactly one week later, on January the 6, with the violent insurrection and attempted coup in the Capitol.

    Our younger daughter, Tabitha, and my son-in-law, Hank, who is married to our older daughter, Hannah, were with me on that day. So that was part of this period of family trauma. And so we're all working to do what we can to keep Tommy's spirit alive.

    The girls share a memorial fund that we set up. More than $1 million in contributions have come from around the world, and they have been investing it in earthquake relief in Haiti and relief for refugees from Afghanistan, as well as for human rights groups and animal welfare groups.

    And we're also working — and this is what I'm centrally involved in — to defend our democratic institutions and values against the continuing threats of authoritarian destabilization of our democracy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I want to ask you about your work on the January 6 Committee.

    I was struck in the book that you wrote that you were asked to take on this most difficult assignment at a time when you were going through such a terrible personal trauma, and yet you talked about how having to deal with them both made it possible, in a way.

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin:

    Well, I wasn't really eating. I wasn't sleeping well. I was kind of drowning in my grief when Speaker Pelosi asked me to become the lead impeachment manager.

    And it was a shocking question for me. But I saw instantly that it was going to be the right thing to do. And the way that I record IT in the book, Judy, is I felt like Speaker Pelosi threw me a lifeline, because that became a sort of salvation and sustenance for me, to be able to put the team together, to put the strategy together, to go through agonizing amounts of footage and photographs and video of what had taken place, but to devote myself really in honor of my son to saving our democracy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    On this January 6 Committee, you're actively involved in that. You have said you think, ultimately, the truth will come out.

    Do you think we're going to learn exactly what President Trump's role, the role of other people around him were by the end of this investigation?

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin:

    Well, yes, I do, because, in a democracy, where the people govern, there's a great hunger for the truth. And you can see it every day.

    People want to know exactly what happened. What was the role of the Proud Boys? What was the role of the Oath Keepers? How were members of Congress working with the president to try to overthrow the election results and seize the presidency for another four years? How did a mass demonstration become a mob riot that injured and wounded 150 cops?

    People want to know the truth. So, to me, the real question is, when will we know the truth? Will we get the truth quickly enough? Will we be able to overcome the resistance in Trump's immediate entourage? Because the vast majority of witnesses have cooperated and come forward. And we have more than 60,000 documents. We have done more than 500 interviews And depositions with people.

    But it is that inner group of Roger Stone and Steve Bannon, the people right around Donald Trump, who have circled the wagons. And so that's the beat-the-clock dimension to this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    If you can't get through them, to them, can you get at the whole story?

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin:

    Well, large parts of the story, we have gotten to.

    I mean, what we're — what I'm focused on which we have not yet completely been able to get is, what was the paramilitary hierarchy, if you will? What was the operational direction of the violent attack on the Capitol? So, how did all of these different pieces work together?

    There were street thugs. There were domestic violent extremist groups. People know that there's been an indictment already handed down against the Oath Keepers. But there were lots of other groups like that, the 3 Percenters, the Proud Boys, the QAnon networks, the 1st Amendment Praetorian.

    How did all of them interact? Who was coordinating all of that? Did that go right to the very top? And so that's why the stonewalling by Trump and all of the former president's men has been blockading that final piece of it, in my mind.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You have also said that you think, at the end of this, it should lead to a set of legislative recommendations, lead to legislation.

    And I want to ask you about the comment today by the Senate majority — minority leader, Mitch McConnell, who criticized the Republican National Committee, said they shouldn't have censured Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, the two Republican members of the House on the January 6 Committee.

    Does that give you some hope that perhaps there will be Republican support for whatever report comes out of this committee?

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin:

    Well, I hope so.

    I mean, the censure and continued hounding of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger is scandalous. And generations to come will look back on this as a period of terrible shame for the Republican Party, if it survives. I mean, the party of Abraham Lincoln has become the party of Donald Trump, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, and real extremists who spout conspiracy theories and QAnon ideology all day long.

    That's a pretty terrifying thing for a major political party. They position themselves outside of the constitutional order. They don't accept our basic constitutional processes. They don't accept the outcome of our elections. And that means that they're basically violating the basic precept of what it means to be a political party in a constitutional democracy.

    So, I hope that Mitch McConnell, himself, will completely come back to his senses and say, this is all unacceptable.

    It's too bad, in my mind, that, at the end of the Senate trial of Donald Trump, when the vote was 57-43, McConnell went out and basically agreed with everything the impeachment managers had been arguing. He said that Donald Trump was himself actually morally responsible for everything that took place, but he went back to a discredited argument about jurisdiction, saying that the Senate didn't really have power to try Trump then.

    And that had been rejected on the first day of the trial.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jamie Raskin, on this story we continue to follow, and author of the book "Unthinkable," thank you very much.

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin:

    It was my pleasure to be with you, Judy.

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