Joyce Vance on Accountability for January 6

This week on “The Tent,” Joyce Vance joins to discuss the three-year anniversary of the January 6 insurrection, Donald Trump's legal accountability, and U.S. democracy.

Part of a Series

Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance joins the show to discuss the three-year anniversary of the January 6 insurrection, legal accountability for Donald Trump and his allies, and how to combat growing political violence and threats to U.S. democracy. Daniella and Colin also talk about the potential new government funding deal and record job growth in 2023.


Daniella Gibbs Léger: Hi everyone. Welcome back to “The Tent,” your place for politics, policy, and progress. I’m Daniella Gibbs Léger.

Seeberger: And I’m Colin Seeberger. Daniella, I hope you’re staying safe out there. Between the ridiculously nasty storms we saw in Washington, D.C., yesterday and sickness going around, I don’t want to leave my house.

Gibbs Léger: Yeah, it was really awful. And there was a huge tree that came down on my block—two blocks away from me, down the street.

Seeberger: No!

Gibbs Léger: But it had the good fortune that it just went into the street, and it didn’t hit a house or a car or anything. I mean, it was massive; like, that tree was probably 100 years old.

Seeberger: Oh, I’m so relieved.

Gibbs Léger: Yes. And yes, there are bugs everywhere, people. It is cold season.

Seeberger: Beware. Also, be safe if you’re traveling these days. It seems like between the wind of planes landing or doors flying off of planes these days, it’s pretty crazy.

Gibbs Léger: Well, I’m glad that you and I are here and we are safe from doors flying off of planes, because we have a great episode this week. I talked to Joyce Vance about the anniversary of the January 6 insurrection, accountability for [former President Donald] Trump and his allies, and how to protect our country from threats of political violence.

Seeberger: Those are really important and urgent topics as we continue to grapple with the aftermath of the insurrection three years later. But before we dive into that, we’ve got to get to some news.

Gibbs Léger: We do. And once again, we’ve got to talk about government funding and the looming threat of a shutdown. You may remember from last week that Congress has until January 19 to agree on a funding deal and avoid a partial government shutdown. It’s the first two deadlines they set for themselves before the holidays, when they punted on funding the government for the gazillionth time.

Over the weekend, House Speaker “MAGA Mike” Johnson (R-LA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) actually came out with a deal that would fund the government through the end of the fiscal year. It also adheres to the terms of the debt limit agreement former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and MAGA Republicans struck earlier last year with President [Joe] Biden. But that deal still has to get through Congress, and far-right members of the House Freedom Caucus are already in an uproar.

Seeberger: I think we’ve seen this film before.

Gibbs Léger: We sure have, and I don’t like it. They don’t think the deal goes far enough on spending cuts. They want a bill that makes steep radical slashes to programs Americans rely on—like funding for public schools, child care, and crime prevention—despite the fact that they already agreed to similar funding levels just last year. It makes no sense. The MAGA caucus is so staunchly opposed to this deal that some of them are already talking about ousting Mike Johnson over it, just like they ousted Kevin McCarthy. MAGA Republicans have made it clear time and again that they’ll continue to move the goal posts and hold up the regular work of governance to carry out their agenda. And they’ll go after members of their own party to get it done.

Seeberger: It’s honestly just sickening. Congressman Chip Roy (R), from my home state of Texas—he actually told reporters he was worried that passing this deal would “give away our leverage.” It reminds me of back during the default crisis when Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz (FL) referred to the economy as their “hostage.” These extremists have been open and honest about their desire to manipulate government processes to achieve their radical political goals no matter the cost. It shows just a blatant disregard for their constituents and a disrespect for the offices they hold as lawmakers.

Because shutdowns have real consequences for federal workers, veterans, rural Americans, and more. Even a partial shutdown on January 19 would mean a portion of federal workers would go without pay; important veterans’ legal services would cease immediately; and the Department of Agriculture’s loans for rural community services and rural infrastructure would pause. And this isn’t even mentioning the ramifications if Congress still can’t pass a deal by February 2, which would send us into a full-blown government shutdown. The Center for American Progress recently found that in that scenario, 1.3 million active-duty service members would go without pay, among other consequences, which is why some Senate Republicans have started saying we’re going to need another continuing resolution until March this year to keep the lights on while they try to hammer out these appropriations bills.

It’s a shame that MAGA Republicans are resorting to this kind of brinksmanship yet again. Careening from one manufactured crisis to the next is exactly why a recent CAP Action analysis found the House of Representatives last year has been the least productive in modern American history. Their tactics pose a serious risk to our government, our economic growth, and the financial security of a millions of American families.

Gibbs Léger: It is extremely concerning, Colin. To pivot to something more hopeful, while MAGA Republicans were sowing chaos and trying to stall our economy, recent data confirms that 2023 was a historic year of job growth and economic recovery, thanks in large part to the Biden administration’s efforts. The U.S. economy has gained 14.3 million jobs since President Biden took office. In a little under three years, he’s presided over more job gains than any other president has seen over a full four-year term. Throughout 2023, average monthly job gains were higher than before the pandemic. And we’re seeing the longest streak of unemployment under 4 percent since the Vietnam War. The average annual Black unemployment rate in 2023 was at a record low. And the unemployment and wage gaps between Black and white Americans have both dropped to record lows as well. That means our economy is not only recovering but becoming more equitable. It’s worth noting that wages are also increasing faster than inflation. In November 2023, almost 6 in 10 workers earned higher yearly inflation adjusted wages than they did the year before. That translates to more Americans being able to afford a better quality of life.

Seeberger: It’s a huge deal. We’re seeing the strength of the American consumer continue to increase. But that’s not to say the economy’s perfect. With real wages on the rise and the cost of gas and other essentials having fallen over the last year, though, there’s reason to be optimistic that we’ll continue to see consumer sentiment go up. In fact, data out last month showed that Americans actually were more optimistic about the economy than they have been in two years. Going back to the Reagan era, though, middle-class Americans have felt increasingly squeezed by conditions that favor greedy corporations and the uberwealthy. Over decades, they’ve watched drug companies skyrocket the list price of drugs, and the cost of college go up year after year after year. They’ve watched far-right politicians work to ban unions and drive down wages with so-called right-to-work laws. And they’ve watched these same politicians turn a blind eye to big banks preying on vulnerable Americans with overdraft fees, subprime mortgages, making it harder for them to build wealth.

But the Biden administration has taken important steps to boost the economy by turning the ship and make sure that we’re addressing these systemic challenges. And that’s why it’s produced the strongest growth and lowest inflation among G7 countries—oh, and might I add, driven the stock market to near record highs. President Biden has strengthened Medicare to lower seniors’ out-of-pocket prescription costs and taken on Big Pharma to lower drug prices. For example, every major insulin producer in the country has kept the cost of their products at $35 a month because of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan and Inflation Reduction Act. He’s making multibillion dollar corporations who have long paid nothing in taxes pay more of their fair share. He’s taken on big banks by working to ban overdraft fees and other punitive financial penalties. And he’s boosted the power of American workers to negotiate for better wages and working conditions through pro labor policies—and by becoming the first president in American history to join striking workers on the picket line demanding justice on the job.

Look, even Donald Trump admitted this week how well the economy is doing under President Biden. He said he wished the economy would tank so that it would help him win reelection. So, let’s be clear: He knows things are going all right. It’s clear who’s really working on behalf of the American people here. And I think even President Biden himself would admit that the work’s not done. We need to continue to grow the economy and America’s middle class by lowering the cost of living and creating good-paying jobs, so that everybody in America who wants to work hard can build a better life for themselves and their families. And I anticipate in the weeks and months ahead, we’ll hear more from President Biden about what his second-term agenda to deliver for the American people would look like.

Gibbs Léger: Hear, hear, Colin. And might I just add how absolutely unhinged it is for a former president to wish ill on our nation’s economy. We are truly living in wild times.

Seeberger: It’s really important: We can’t get used to this, OK?

Gibbs Léger: Right.

Seeberger: We can’t get used to it. Well, that’s all the time we have for this week. If there’s anything else you’d like us to cover on the pod, hit us up on Twitter @TheTentPod. That’s @TheTentPod.

Gibbs Léger: And stick around for my interview with Joyce Vance in just a beat.

[Musical transition]

Gibbs Léger: Joyce Vance is a distinguished professor at the University of Alabama Law School, a legal analyst for MSNBC and NBC News, and host of the podcasts “Sisters in Law” and “Cafe Insider.” She served as a U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama from 2009 to 2017. Before that, she served as an assistant United States attorney in Birmingham, a criminal prosecutor, and chief of Birmingham’s Appellate Division.

Joyce, thanks so much for joining us on “The Tent.”

Joyce Vance: It’s my pleasure to be with y’all.

Gibbs Léger: We just passed the three-year anniversary of the January 6 insurrection. So, I wanted to start by asking you, where are we in terms of accountability for the events that took place in the Capitol that day? What kinds of consequences have we seen for rioters and insurrectionists as well as for organizers?

Vance: It’s such a great question. We’re in a moment where we need to take stock because we have not arrived at complete accountability. Donald Trump, instigator of the insurrection, instigator of the effort to steal an election that he had lost, has not yet been held accountable, either in courts or by the voters. We will have an opportunity for both of those to happen later this year. And that’s why I think we’re in a moment of waiting. DOJ [the Department of Justice] has prosecuted an enormous number of people who were present at the Capitol that day, including some militia members who’ve been successfully convicted for insurrection-related crimes. But as far as the top dogs go, we’re still in that moment of uncertainty.

Gibbs Léger: So, you mentioned Donald Trump, and he is facing his own potential consequences for his role in the insurrection. But his lawyers are trying to argue that his attempts to overturn the 2020 election were part of his job as president. So, just this week, you were listening when a D.C. appeals court heard arguments on presidential immunity in this case, and you wrote about how flat this argument fell? What did you hear that made you draw this conclusion? And what does it mean for how his presidential immunity defense will play out?

Vance: Yeah, it’s important to understand which of Donald Trump’s many criminal cases this motion is happening in because there are so many that it’s easy to lose track. This is the D.C. prosecution brought by the special counsel, and it is the case most directly related to Donald Trump’s responsibility, both for election interference and for events on January 6. And so, Donald Trump has done what many defendants do if it’s available: He has filed a motion to dismiss the indictment in its entirety, so he never has to stand trial. As a former president, though, he has raised a unique legal argument. He says he is immune from prosecution because he’s a president. And although there’s a policy inside of DOJ that prevents indictment of a sitting president—people have hotly debated whether that’s merited, but that’s the policy—there is no standing doctrine of immunity for former presidents for anything that they did while in office that was a potential crime. And so, Trump is arguing for the first time in our nation’s history that a president cannot be prosecuted after he leaves office for crimes committed while he was there.

That argument is a stone-cold loser for, I think, obvious reasons. I mean, it would set up a president to be a king. There have been a lot of hypotheticals floated both in the briefs and by the judges at oral argument. Maybe the most insightful one was Judge [Florence] Pan who asked, “Well, wouldn’t this mean that a president could order SEAL Team Six to assassinate a political enemy and then walk away without consequence?”

Gibbs Léger: That’s pretty striking and remarkable. If the Supreme Court hears this case, can you talk about the larger stakes at play here—especially considering that the bench is kind of stacked with far-right justices, including Clarence Thomas, whose wife helped organize events on January 6?

Vance: Yeah, I sort of feel like we’re in “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” territory here. Who among us thought that the Supreme Court would actually reverse Roe v. Wade? And they did. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I have a little bit more confidence, even in this court, or at least a majority of the justices, when it comes to an issue that’s so fundamental to democracy. And there’s a little bit of tit for tat here, because if presidential immunity applies to Donald Trump, it also applies to Joe Biden. And Joe Biden, who is not inclined to do anything like this, could just as easily do anything that he wanted to do to keep Donald Trump from reclaiming the White House. I mean, this is just an argument that has to fail.

I suppose that there’s a question of how many justices will be on board. Clarence Thomas should certainly recuse given the issues involved with his wife’s activities. I don’t think that we’ll see him do that. I’m sure the chief justice would like to have a unified court render an opinion in a case this important, and he may not get there. But I think that there will be just enough justices to get this one across the finish line. The real question is the matter of timing and how quickly that will happen, because the clock’s ticking. There’s a March 4 trial date for this case. I think that that is sliding away. But it’s still reasonable to believe that if the courts act quickly that this case could be tried in late spring. The question is whether the courts are willing to act quickly.

Gibbs Léger: All right, there’s a little bit of a surprising optimism in there, so I’m going to go run with that. Despite all of his legal turmoil, Donald Trump continues to laud the actions of rioters on January 6 and promised to pardon those convicted if he’s elected president. And he’s even called people who were sentenced to prison time “hostages.” It is all part of his larger platform of wannabe fascism and weaponizing the government for political revenge. What are the ramifications if he’s able to enact this extremist rewriting of history and use a second term to reverse the progress toward justice?

Vance: I think it was Trump’s final attorney general, Bill Barr, who said that “victors get to write history.” And that’s certainly what Donald Trump would love to do. These people who stormed the Capitol on January 6, first, they were patriots. Then, they were characterized as tourists. And now, we reached the stage where they’re hostages, which I think is appalling for anyone with any comprehension of world events right now. We know what hostages look like. These people are criminals who have either pled guilty or been convicted and sentenced to prison, where they should stay. So, look, if Donald Trump is reelected, I fear that the fate of these people who’ve been convicted of crimes is the least of our worries. Many of us have seen Donald Trump’s 2025 plan. It’s nothing less than a mass weaponization of government. It is a prototype for fascism in this country, and it’s deeply frightening. And I think Trump will attempt to rewrite history in many ways. But chief among them, we know Donald Trump is always self-serving, a narcissist, and he will try to write a history in which he is the hero and he is the star, and he most definitely will be none of those things.

Gibbs Léger: That’s right. I want to talk a little bit about Trump’s comments that he’s been making and how they’re a part of a larger, troubling trend of political violence becoming more mainstream and commonplace. Could you talk about some of the growing threats we’ve seen in recent weeks to lawmakers, election sites, and figures like Judge Tanya Chutkan and special counsel Jack Smith.

Vance: This tolerance for violence—for political violence—that’s creeping into our society is deeply troubling. I can remember a time when an attack on a federal judge was a horrific event that everyone in the country would denounce and that people were horrified by. Now, we have a former president who actually animates some of those attacks. At this point, Donald Trump appreciates the impact that his words have on some of his followers. And there’s no way that he can disclaim responsibility for the sort of violence that he triggers.

I think it’s important to say at the outset, it doesn’t matter who’s victimized by this sort of nonsense. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Republican or a Democrat; it’s reprehensible. And people on both sides of the aisle should stand up and condemn it. But today, the condemnations only seem to be coming from one side of the aisle. And so, when Paul Pelosi—former House Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi’s (D-CA) husband—was attacked in their home by someone who is animated by Trump’s philosophy, there were no ringing condemnations, no calls for the former president to stop his divisive rhetoric from the leadership in his party. They simply remained silent. These more recent outbursts have taken different forms. There have been swatting attacks on a number of federal judges, on Jack Smith, the special counsel’s home. And this is where someone calls a fake report of a crime into a police department. They, of course, respond. Someone calls in and says, “There’s been a murder” or “I’m a murderer. I’ve killed my girlfriend. I have a gun.” Police go in. Often, they go straight into the home without warning. It is not just difficult for the occupants of the home. It can be very dangerous. If you don’t realize it’s the police making an entry at some point, there’s a real threat of violence.

But this has reached epidemic proportions, along with violent storming of state capitals. I mean, the tolerance for this is the problem. If bipartisan leadership would condemn it, would take a strong stand, I think that we live in a society where we would be able to prosecute the cases that occur, condemn and deter people from engaging in it in the future. But, I will say again, today’s Republican Party is not in a place where they will condemn this behavior when it stems from Donald Trump.

Gibbs Léger: So, we like to end these interviews on a note of hope and action when we can. We’ve seen the president and Congress put a lot of effort into educating the public about the gravity of January 6 over the past year. And it seems to be having an impact. A majority of Americans think Trump bears some responsibility for the insurrection. And 59 percent of voters recently said they would not vote for him if he’s convicted for his role. So, how do we ensure these democracy issues remain front of mind for folks as we head into the fall?

Vance: You know, my former boss, Loretta Lynch, when she was the attorney general, in her last speech at the end of the Obama administration, she was here in Birmingham. She spoke at historic 16th Street Baptist Church. And she told people, “Don’t be discouraged. We have work to do. The most important job that any of us can have in this country is that of private citizen.” And her words have stayed in my mind for all of the years since then. The work that we do in this country as private citizens is the work that does keep us strong. The voters prevailed against the forces that backed Donald Trump and against Trump himself in 2020. I’m the wife of a Democratic politician, an elected judge. Every time there’s an election, politicians go out and tell the voters the next election is the most important election of your life. It is so true in 2024. This election will determine whether or not we remain a democracy. It might take some traction this election for us to outgun some of the efforts to suppress voting, but we can do it by organizing, by being focused on helping those around us vote, and by making sure that our votes count when we place them.

Gibbs Léger: Well, Joyce Vance, I want to thank you so much for joining us on “The Tent” and thank you for all the educating that you do about all the legal issues surrounding this president. It’s going to be a really interesting year. Thank you so much.

Vance: Thanks for having me.

[Musical transition]

Gibbs Léger: As always, thanks for listening. Be sure to go back and check out previous episodes. Colin, we got to talk about the Golden Globes.

Seeberger: Do we, Daniella?

Gibbs Léger: We do. Listen, I love award season—the outfits, the comedy, the horror from stage. Speaking of, Jo Koy—he’s hilarious. I’ve seen his stand-up. He’s really funny. He proves that just because you’re a stand-up, that does not mean that you’re going to be a good host of the show, because he bombed.

Seeberger: The reviews were not pretty.

Gibbs Léger: He was so bad. That joke about Taylor Swift landed like a thud.

Seeberger: I mean, maybe he could get a place on Fox News. I see that they’re going after her this week, accusing her of being PsyOps [psychological operations] for the American government.

Gibbs Léger: Oh, my gosh. They better leave mother alone. Did I say that right?

Seeberger: Amen.

Gibbs Léger: Is that what you guys call Taylor, mother?

Seeberger: Amen.

Gibbs Léger: OK.

Seeberger: Well, better news though: The fashions were incredible.

Gibbs Léger: Lovely.

Seeberger: Yes. Any highlights on your end?

Gibbs Léger: Speaking of mother, I thought Taylor—I gasped when I saw Taylor Swift. The green.

Seeberger: It was so beautiful.

Gibbs Léger: The shimmer, the cut of it—she looked amazing.

Seeberger: You’re saying that she made the whole place shimmer?

Gibbs Léger: Oh, is that like a lyric?

Seeberger: It is.

Gibbs Léger: OK.

Seeberger: “Bejeweled,” Daniella. “Bejeweled.”

Gibbs Léger: Yes, I am saying that. I thought she looked great.

Seeberger: I also really loved Jennifer Lopez. I thought that she looked stunning. The pink was beautiful. Her hair, the arms. It really worked for me. In terms of the guys, I loved Chris Perfetti’s little white getup with the little black flower. I thought he looked so fine.

Gibbs Léger: He did. Jonathan Bailey was—again, I gasped.

Seeberger: Yeah.

Gibbs Léger: He’s just … but yeah, he looked great.

Seeberger: Amazing. What did you think about Barry Keoghan?

Gibbs Léger: Barry Keoghan …

Seeberger: It was a lot?

Gibbs Léger: It was a lot, but it works for him.

Seeberger: Yeah.

Gibbs Léger: Like, I don’t know that anybody else could have pulled off that collection of things on their body.

Seeberger: Yes.

Gibbs Léger: But he made it work. And he worked with the red carpet. So, I was with it.

Seeberger: So did Gillian Anderson. And I will let you all go Google search what she wore. It was stunning.

Gibbs Léger: It was very stunning with a very important message.

Seeberger: Hear, hear.

Gibbs Léger: And then, I have to give an honorable mention to Colman Domingo: a) for having the best name in Hollywood, but also he looked amazing in his outfit.

Seeberger: Well, I hear there were other important things that happened on Sunday, Daniella. Do you want to share a little bit more?

Gibbs Léger: Oh, you mean the Giants won a game, and we beat the Eagles.

Seeberger: I did. I did catch that. I also caught that the Dallas Cowboys won the NFC East division and are the No. 2 team headed into the playoffs for the NFC.

Gibbs Léger: I mean, honestly, just awful. Just terrible. The Commanders are a horrible team. So, I knew.

Seeberger: We knew it was coming.

Gibbs Léger: I knew it was coming. But I held out hope when the score was close for a hot second. I was like, maybe? No, absolutely not.

Seeberger: They always want to keep people on their toes, those Cowboys. But I am very much looking forward to having home-field advantage for the next few weeks if we make it through this week. But we play Green Bay. And I am looking forward to putting the Green Bay curse behind us. I think if we get a W under our belt, we take them out, I think that we could really go places here. We’ve beaten Detroit previously this season, if they make it through. I’m just relieved that we don’t have to play San Francisco in either the first or second round. That’s huge.

Gibbs Léger: That is big. I don’t know. I mean, you guys do look pretty good right now, which just pains me to say. And I think San Francisco is the team to beat as far as I’m concerned. I mean, I don’t know. The Lions are playing really well, too. I think on the AFC side, my husband being a Dolphins fan that he is. It’s like, on the one hand, they don’t have to play the Bills, but they lost home-field advantage by losing that game.

Seeberger: Yep.

Gibbs Léger: And now they got to go to Kansas City. And it’s supposed to be 0 degrees.

Seeberger: Oh, dear.

Gibbs Léger: Zero degrees!

Seeberger: What?

Gibbs Léger: Yeah.

Seeberger: I hear that’s a no-go for Dolphins fans. Yes. Give the people what they want.

Gibbs Léger: Yeah, so it’ll be interesting. On the one hand, I want my husband to be happy. But on the other hand, I want more Taylor sightings at football games.

Seeberger: Exactly.

Gibbs Léger: Oh, he’ll live. That’s all we got for this week. As mentioned, it’s cold and flu season. So please, continue to take care of yourselves and mask up when necessary. And take care yourselves. We’ll talk to you next week.

“The Tent” is a podcast from the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It’s hosted by me, Daniela Gibbs Léger, and co-hosted by Colin Seeberger. Erin Phillips is our lead producer. Kelly McCoy is our supervising producer. And Em Espey is our booking producer. You can find us on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.


Daniella Gibbs Léger

Executive Vice President, Communications and Strategy


Colin Seeberger

Senior Adviser, Communications

Erin Phillips

Broadcast Media Manager

Kelly McCoy

Senior Director of Broadcast Communications

Mishka Espey

Senior Manager, Media Relations



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Politics. Policy. Progress. All under one big tent. Produced by CAP Action, “The Tent” is a news and politics podcast hosted by Daniella Gibbs Léger and co-hosted by Colin Seeberger. Listen each Thursday for episodes exploring topics that progressives are focused on.


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