After his son's suicide and the Jan. 6 attack, Rep. Jamie Raskin is not giving up
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., asked Raskin to serve as the lead manager in the second impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. Looking back now, Raskin sees Pelosi's request as a lifeline. He has a new memoir.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. When I watched my guest, Congressman Jamie Raskin, give his closing remarks at Donald Trump's second impeachment trial in the Senate, I wondered, how is he managing to get through this? His 25-year-old son, Tommy, who had been suffering with mental illness, had died by suicide December 31, 2020. The funeral was January 5. Despite Raskin's grief, he showed up at the Capitol the next day to do his constitutional duty and certify the election. His daughter, Tabitha, and his other daughter's husband, Hank, went along with him. They didn't want him to be alone that day. They were not expecting a violent mob to storm the Capitol, trying to overturn the election results. Tabitha and Hank hid in the office of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer under Hoyer's desk, afraid they were going to die.
After the insurrection, at the request of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congressman Raskin served as the lead manager in the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump. He had been a professor of constitutional law at the American University Washington College of Law before entering politics. Now he's a member of the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack, the events leading up to it and the people behind it. Getting back to my question, how did he manage to get through this work after his son's death? He tries to explain how and why in his new memoir "Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth And The Trials Of American Democracy." The book is about what he describes as the two impossible traumas that he will probably spend the rest of his life trying to disentangle and understand, the death of his son and the insurrection. Prior to serving in the House of Representatives, Raskin served three terms in the Maryland state Senate. Our interview was recorded yesterday morning.
Congressman Raskin, welcome to FRESH AIR. I'm so sorry about your son, Tommy. And I want to tell you what I told you before the interview, which is that your book really made me wish I knew him. You know, about accepting the position of lead manager of the impeachment trial, you write, it was the hardest thing I've ever been asked to do professionally at the most difficult time I have ever experienced personally. But the assignment became, paradoxically, a salvation and sustenance for me, a pathway back to the land of the living. How did it do that for you?
JAMIE RASKIN: Well, I wasn't sure whether I was ever going to be able to do anything again. When we lost Tommy on December 31 of 2020, my chief of staff, Julie Tagen, who came over to the house, said that, you know, just for hours I just sat in one seat. And I was just repeating over and over, I've lost my son. My life is over. My life is over. And that pretty well captures my state of mind at the time. And he had - Speaker Pelosi, I see in hindsight, threw me a lifeline because she reached out to me. And she said, we need you. And the country needs you. So I was forced to galvanize all of my love for Tommy and my daughters, Hannah and Tabitha, and my wife, Sarah, and our family and our country, and to throw myself into the trial to make the case that Donald Trump had incited this violent insurrection and effort to overthrow the 2020 presidential election.
GROSS: Your family was worried about you accepting the position because they thought your life might be in jeopardy. So many people who opposed Trump end up with death threats against them. How did you overcome in your mind their concern about your safety?
RASKIN: Well, one thing I told them was that in a way, I would be safer as an impeachment manager because the impeachment managers would have protection during the course of the trial. But they had reason to be concerned about what was going on in Washington because, remember, there were tens of thousands of people who had shown up. There were the bombs that were found at the DNC and the RNC and, of course, the bloody violence that took place on that day when several people died. And Officer Sicknick, of course, died the day after. And several other officers took their lives in response to the violence that had taken place. So it was a scary moment. And most of these people were still in Washington. And a lot of the extremist, right-wing websites were calling for a return engagement on Inauguration Day, you know? They were claiming, as they continue to claim, that the presidential election was invalid and that Donald Trump had really won.
And so there were lots of reports and rumors about other efforts at violence that might be underway. So people were afraid. But for me and, I think, ultimately, for my family, there was just - there was no going back. And I personally felt no fear because the very worst thing that ever could have happened to me had already happened to me. And I felt no fear on January 6. And I really haven't been afraid since then. And I know there have been a lot of death threats out there. And a lot of my colleagues have been afraid. But, you know, I lost my son. And so my feeling to, you know, the people who want to take down our democracy is, you know, they're not going to scare me out of doing my job.
GROSS: The first part of your new book is about your son, Tommy, who - from the way you describe him, he was exceptionally smart, had a great sense of humor, was committed to progressive causes from anti-war to protecting animals. He was a vegan. He believed people should work to try to end poverty. He was a student at Harvard Law School. When did you start seeing signs of a mental health problem? What did you notice that had changed?
RASKIN: Tommy, as you capture, was really an extraordinary young man and an extraordinary boy. He was exceptionally funny and good-natured. And everybody wanted to be around him. He was just the life of the party. And he loved games. And his big game towards the end of his life was Boggle, which he introduced to all of his classmates at Harvard Law School. And they still have Boggle games and tournaments in his honor, I think. But he was beset with depression. And it really manifested seriously when he was in college, towards the end of college. And it arrived as sleeplessness and obsessive anxiety, where he would wonder whether he had hurt someone's feelings. And he would, you know, revisit, you know, having said something to this person or that person. And it was just a way out of proportion to the reality. And then these things would obsess him.
And then, you know, on the weekend, he would go and he would drink - not, you know, abnormally for a college kid. But he would drink. And then he would wake up in the morning. He would feel kind of hung over. And then he would obsess about whether or not he had, you know, damaged his cognitive powers. And then he would go online obsessively and take standardized exams - the SATs, the LSATs, whatever - to test his mental prowess, you know? And then if he got one wrong, he would start all over again. And he was doing this in addition to his homework and his papers and so on. And this was a dark time when that started.
GROSS: Were you able to talk with him about the problems that you perceive? Did he deny there was a problem? Did he resist help?
RASKIN: No, he didn't deny it. And we did get him help, and so he had a very good doctor back home in Maryland. And, you know, we worked with him to find what help we could away at school, both when he was at Amherst and then later when he was at Harvard Law School. So he had good doctors, and he had medication. But that, of course, is a radically imperfect process, as anybody will tell you who's been through that. And so there was a constant effort to adjust the medication to meet his - you know, to meet his depression.
GROSS: Was there a period when he started to shift and you couldn't tell the difference between his dedication and his sensitivity and his motivation - between that and obsession?
RASKIN: Well, we had to trust Tommy's own sense of that. I mean, from a very young age, he was an enormously sensitive person. He felt the pain of other people and of animals in a way that certainly I'd never seen before and people describe as unique. You know, he would read an article in the newspaper about the civil war in Yemen and the hunger of children there or about children who were displaced in Iraq, and it would stay with him the entire day, and he would think about it, and then he would get in touch with groups that were working on it. He felt these things like these people were members of our family. So he was an extraordinary empath and had this overwhelming sense of responsibility for the world. And so these episodes of war and civil war and famine and hunger and violence struck him really hard. That was just in his nature.
What happened towards the end I think we all associate somewhat with COVID-19, which has been an extremely difficult thing for young people across the country, across the world. It was intensely isolating and demoralizing for a lot of young people. And for someone who's struggling already with depression or some other kind of mental or emotional illness, it can become unbearable, and it did become unbearable in Tommy's case.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Congressman Jamie Raskin. His new memoir is called "Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, And The Trials Of American Democracy." We'll talk about serving on the House select committee investigating January 6 and the attack on the Capitol after a break.
This is maybe a good time to mention, if you're having thoughts about suicide or are concerned about somebody who is, one of the places you can reach out to is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The phone number is 800-273-TALK or 800-273-8255. That's 800-273-TALK, which translates to 800-273-8255.
We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Congressman Jamie Raskin. He served as a lead manager of the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump and is now on the House select committee investigating January 6. His new memoir, "Unthinkable," is about the two greatest traumas he's faced - the death of his son, Tommy, by suicide after succumbing to mental illness on December 31, 2020, and the violent storming of the Capitol six days later. When we left off, we were talking about his son, Tommy.
You were alone with him the night before he died because the rest of the family was away. And you didn't see signs that were especially alarming, except that his laughter seemed a little forced, he was a little disengaged, went to bed a little early. And like I think anybody who is close to someone who dies by suicide, you kept asking yourself, what could you have done differently? What could you have noticed that you didn't notice? Do you think it was even worse for you because you were the only one with him and you were the one who had to call the rest of the family and tell them what had happened?
RASKIN: That was an agonizing experience, making those calls to Sarah and Hannah and Tabitha and then the rest of our family. But what happened in the last several days is that Tommy might've seemed normal to anybody who didn't know him, and we were all somewhat seduced by the act as well. He was acting "normal," in quotes. He didn't seem depressed. You wouldn't recognize his behavior as being depressed. And, you know, he saw his therapist the day before, who also didn't see any signs of depression or crisis. Having been through some other episodes with him, we wouldn't have recognized it because he didn't seem listless and lethargic and upset. He was proceeding normally.
In hindsight, that normality looks counterfeit to me, like he was doing an act - in other words, as if he knew what he was planning to do, as undoubtedly he did know what he was planning to do. And he didn't let us in on it, obviously, and we were taken aback and shocked by what had happened. But he did not want to talk to us about it, obviously. He didn't want us implicated in his decision. And he obviously did not want to give anyone the chance to talk him out of it.
GROSS: Would you mind if I read the suicide note?
RASKIN: No, no. By all means.
GROSS: He wrote, (reading) please forgive me. My illness won today. Look after each other, the animals and the global poor for me. All my love, Tommy.
When he writes, my illness won today - you explain in the book you never suffered with depression. Even when you were sick with colon cancer and sick from the recovery, from the treatment, you were never depressed. You wanted to live. You were determined to live. Have you tried to understand, have you been able to comprehend at all what Tommy was experiencing internally that led him to end his life?
RASKIN: I was totally bewildered and baffled by it because, as you say, I did go through an experience with cancer over a decade ago, and all I could think about was living and, you know, wanting to see Hannah and Tommy and Tabitha grow up and graduate from college and get married or fall in love, or I wanted to see their lives unfold. And so I couldn't figure out what Tommy was going through.
And then something happened after we lost him which opened my eyes. I had an MRI on my stomach, and turned out to be nothing. But I went into this MRI machine. And it seems rather pedestrian, but I was just staring at the top of the machine, which was 6 inches away from me, for about 37 minutes. I had never experienced such a sense of panic and desperation and entrapment before. I mean, I basically hypnotized myself to think that I was somewhere else doing something different. But even when that broke, I was just overwhelmed by this desperate sense of being trapped and wanting to get out. And I realized I would do anything to get out of that situation of feeling completely claustrophobic and caged in. And that was the moment when I realized that that was the sense that Tommy had had.
And, you know, I write in the book about how I was just tormented by not knowing whether his note meant that he did what he was doing because of mental illness, or he voluntarily chose to do it in reaction to the mental illness. And after I had that experience in the MRI machine of just feeling desperate and caged, I realized it was the same thing. I think that - I think Tommy felt he had no choice, and this was his only option.
GROSS: During the second impeachment trial, at which you were the lead manager, you had your closing remarks, and you choked up during those remarks. You were talking about how your daughter Tabitha and the husband of your other daughter were trapped under Steny Hoyer's desk, barricaded in his office during the insurrection. And you choked up in talking about that, about how frightening it was for you, how frightening it was for them. How did you feel about choking up at the end of the impeachment trial? I mean, for me, for somebody who was watching, it was a very dramatic moment that underscored the horror of it all for you personally and for us as a country. But how did that feel for you?
RASKIN: Well, when my voice started to catch and break, I got extremely nervous because I thought that I might not be able to recover. You know, I thought I might just go down that road, and that would've been - beyond being a private humiliation, publicly, it would've been very bad for us in the trial. And I was luckily able to catch myself. I had talked about that episode one or two other times before. I had not broken down. But just the enormity and the intensity of the whole experience got the better of me. And I was glad I was able to pull it back together before completely dissolving.
But at the end of the day, I was describing the moment where, finally, we got Tabitha and Hank back. And, you know, it'd been a very long day. Everybody was exhausted. Everybody was drained. There was no food. And they just wanted to leave, and we finally figured out a way for them to get home. And they were about to go, and I said to Tabitha, I'm so sorry; I promise it will never be like this again when you come back to the Capitol. And she said, Dad, I don't want to come back to the Capitol. And, you know, to me, what that felt like was her saying that - or her remarking upon the fact that my whole chosen career and my whole way of life had become a danger to us. And it was just devastating to hear her say that.
And, you know, I describe in the book how this whole thing has been such an episode of cognitive dissonance for me because people will tell you that before we lost Tommy, before January 6, I was the happiest, funniest member of Congress you could ever care to meet, and suddenly I was just thrust into a world of complete tragedy and pain and now, you know, the madness of the insurrection and the attack on our system of government.
GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you here. My guest is Congressman Jamie Raskin. His new memoir is called "Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, And The Trials Of American Democracy." We'll talk more after a short break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Congressman Jamie Raskin. His new memoir, "Unthinkable," is about the two greatest traumas he's faced, the death of his son, Tommy, by suicide on December 31, 2020, and the violent storming of the Capitol six days later. The memoir is also about serving as the lead manager of Trump's second impeachment trial following January 6. Raskin now serves on the House Select Committee investigating the storming of the Capitol and the events leading up to it.
So the January 6 committee that you serve on is looking into what led up to January 6, who was behind it, who funded events leading up to it. What is the difference between what the committee is doing and what the Justice Department is doing or could be doing?
RASKIN: The Justice Department could be and should be looking for crimes that were committed as part of the attack on the U.S. government on January 6. So they are prosecuting everything from criminal trespass to interference with a federal proceeding to assault on a federal officer and, undoubtedly, other offenses that are being looked at, including seditious conspiracy and, you know, whatever other plots may have been taking place against particular individuals, such as Vice President Pence. The charge of the select committee on January 6 by the House of Representatives under HR 503 is to determine all of the events and the causes of the events on January 6, and then to make specific legislative and policy recommendations to the people and to the Congress about how we fortify American democracy against future attacks both inside political coups and attempts to overthrow our Electoral College system, as well as violent insurrections levelled against Congress itself. So there's a lot of work for us to do.
I mean, the way that I conceive of what happened on January 6, Terry, is that there were three rings of activity. And one ring was a mass demonstration culled for a wild protest by Donald Trump that turned into a riot. That's the outer ring that included tens of thousands of people. The middle ring was the ring of the insurrection itself. And that was the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, the Aryan Nations, the militia groups, the Qanon networks - the organized, militant, political extremist groups that showed up, many of them having trained for weeks for this event, the first people to break our windows, attack our officers, injured people and, you know, help turn the demonstration into a riot. But the very inner ring, the inner core of it, was the realm of the coup. And it's a weird word for us to use in American political parlance because we don't have any experience with coups. And we think of coups as being things undertaken against presidents. But this was a coup perpetrated by the president against the vice president and against the Congress. And that was an attempt to, essentially, steal away the presidential election result and to preserve himself in power for another four years.
GROSS: You use the word coup. If Trump did, in fact, alert the National Guard to be on duty - so if Trump supporters managed to get the certification of the Electoral College sent to the House, and if the House ended up voting for Trump and Trump then called on the National Guard to put down any protests against this overturning of the vote, would that be the definition of a coup - if a president has managed to overturn the results of an election and get the military, the National Guard, to uphold that and put down any protests?
RASKIN: Yes. This is what the political scientists call a self-coup, where you have an incumbent president or office-holder who thwarts the electoral process and circumvents the general constitutional rules in order to entrench himself into power. So this would have been a textbook example of a self-coup by a president who is fearing being ousted in an election, as Donald Trump was, and then tries to galvanize the different levers of power to keep himself in.
GROSS: Liz Cheney, who's a representative from Wyoming, is on the January 6 committee and believes that Trump committed dereliction of duty. And as evidence of that, she offers that, you know, the committee now knows that he was watching the riot on TV, that Ivanka, his daughter, came into the room twice to ask him - to try to get the rioters to stop, that others from Fox News and others in his inner circle, his staff, came to him and said, make this stop. And he didn't. So how does it change things to know that he was watching TV and not - and basically ignoring the pleas from people close to him to try to get the rioters to stop?
RASKIN: Well, it was an absolute dereliction of duty. We knew that also from the trial when Jaime Herrera Beutler's statement was entered into evidence on a stipulated, undisputed basis, where she told the story of Kevin McCarthy reaching Trump in the middle of the violence, begging him, essentially, to call off the dogs - and Trump saying, well, maybe they're just more interested in a fair election than you are, Kevin. And so we have had now multiple reports of people making entreaties to Donald Trump to call off the dogs but him refusing to do so. And that is obviously proof positive of his incitement and what his purpose was in inciting. But it also demonstrates his role in helping to propagate the violence. So that's very serious business. I mean, we're talking about, really, the most serious offense ever committed by a president of the United States against his own government and his own people.
GROSS: Is dereliction of duty a violation of the Constitution? Is it a criminal charge? What is the penalty?
RASKIN: Well - let's see. Within...
GROSS: I mean, he's no longer president. So it's not like you can remove him from the office.
RASKIN: Look; let's start this way. Donald Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives for the high crime and misdemeanor of inciting violent insurrection against the union, and we took the position which we continue to hold that if that is not a high crime and misdemeanor against the government, then nothing is. If you can actually incite a violent attack on your own government and that's not impeachable, then you basically don't believe in impeachment. You've just - you've basically nullified the whole process. And 57 senators to 43 agreed that he had engaged in that conduct. So I believe he's been convicted in the court of public opinion, and I believe he's been convicted in the eyes of history and in the eyes of the world.
In terms of criminal actions, of course, that's not up to us. But there are a number of criminal offenses that potentially apply in a situation like this, including interference with a federal proceeding, conspiracy to do that, seditious conspiracy. So you know, there are probably a dozen different offenses. I mean, that violent insurrection destroyed federal property, costing us millions and millions of dollars. Was there a conspiracy to make that happen? Well, all of these things are not within the province of the January 6 Select Committee, but would be appropriate to be considered by the Department of Justice.
GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Congressman Jamie Raskin. His new memoir is called "Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, And The Trials Of American Democracy." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Congressman Jamie Raskin. His new memoir, "Unthinkable," is about the two greatest traumas he's faced, the death of his son Tommy by suicide on December 31, 2020, and the violent storming of the Capitol six days later. He served as the lead manager of the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump and is now on the House Select Committee investigating January 6.
Mark Meadows, who was Trump's chief of staff, said he'd cooperate with the committee. He turned over thousands of documents, but then reversed himself and decided not to testify. The House voted to hold him in contempt, but he hasn't been indicted. Meadows seems key to your investigation. Do you have any understanding of why he changed his mind?
RASKIN: Well, it looks like Donald Trump got mad about Mark Meadows' book. Mark Meadows wrote a book. And Donald Trump, although he had given him a blurb, perhaps without having read it, upon reading it or having someone else read it, declared it to be fake news. And he got Mark Meadows himself to pronounce that his own book was fake news, which is really quite a feat. And at that point, Meadows, who had turned over thousands of documents to the committee and was on course to come and testify, suddenly pulled the plug on his cooperation.
So look - Donald Trump continues to exercise this spellbinding power over people within his circle and people within his political party. And they live in abject terror and fear of him. You know, he could send out social media where he denounces someone, and then suddenly they've got a right-wing opponent in their primary. If they're a member of the House or the Senate, he threatens to cut off money to people who don't do his will. And look at the people who stood up for fair elections and our constitutional process, like Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in Georgia, are now facing opposition in their primaries, retaliation, denunciation by Donald Trump.
And so Mark Meadows, unfortunately, he's a former colleague of mine and somebody that I got along well with. He has now basically, you know, run away from the whole process because he apparently is afraid of Donald Trump.
GROSS: The House is proceeding to hold Meadows in contempt, and Meadows is suing to block the subpoena, saying it's overly broad and too burdensome. What are the things that go through your mind in determining whether to try to hold someone in contempt or whether that would, like, slow down the process in some way?
RASKIN: Well, look. This is not even a close call, and nobody knows it better in America than Mark Meadows himself, who was a very aggressive investigator for Congress when he was in Congress. And he was always the first one to say that Congress has the authority and the power to get the information that it wants. And the Supreme Court has been totally clear about that, that the people's representatives in Congress cannot effectively legislate if we cannot obtain the information that we need from everyone. And if you think you've got some kind of Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, then go ahead, and you show up and you assert it against a particular question if you think it might incriminate you. But you can't just blow it off the way that Steve Bannon did, and you can't just say you're not going to show up like Mark Meadows did. That just doesn't work. And the courts have been very clear about that.
The president of the United States, Joe Biden, has said there is no executive privilege that is warranted in this case. He has refused to invoke it. So you've got the executive branch and the legislative branch together in saying that these people have got to come and testify. And all you've got is a former president who, according to the D.C. Circuit, is not even identifying an interest. What is Donald Trump's interest in not having these documents disclosed? Well, there really isn't one unless it's an interest in preventing public disclosure of evidence of insurrection - violent insurrection against the union or attempt to perpetrate a political coup against the union. But my God, have we lost so much common sense that we think that a former president can tell the Congress of the United States and the president of the United States and the Supreme Court, no, I'm not going to participate; I'm not going to give my evidence because it might reveal that I was involved in a criminal plan against the government? That's pretty outlandish.
GROSS: Are you feeling the pressure of the race to get the investigation done before the midterm elections?
GROSS: Could you be more specific about the timetable?
RASKIN: Well, we're hopeful that hearings will take place early in the year, perhaps in February, and that we would be able to produce a complete report to Congress and to the American people by the summertime.
GROSS: What would happen to the committee if the work was not done and the Republicans took control of the House?
RASKIN: They would terminate the committee. They refused to participate in it. Remember, originally, the Republicans said, we want an outside 9/11-style committee with five Republicans and five Democrats and equal subpoena power on both sides, and we gave them that. Bennie Thompson, as the chair of the Homeland Security Committee, negotiated that with Republican Representative John Katko. But then Donald Trump got upset about it because he didn't want any investigation at all. And when Kevin McCarthy got those orders, he turned on a dime, and then he broke off from the agreement that he had asked for. And then they opposed not only the outside commission, then they opposed what we were forced to do, which is to create a select committee within the House of Representatives, which is why today we have only two Republican representatives on it - Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger - both of whom are great constitutional patriots.
And I should tell you, Terry, that I've never been on a more effective and serious bipartisan committee than the Select Committee on January 6 because we don't spend all of our time in partisan polemics and food fights. We are actually engaged in a serious investigative research assignment. And we're going to get to the answers, and we're going to report them this year to the American people because the people deserve it. I mean, it's all about the future of our country.
GROSS: Well, let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Congressman Jamie Raskin. His new memoir is called "Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth And The Trials Of American Democracy." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Congressman Jamie Raskin. His new memoir, "Unthinkable," is about the two greatest traumas he's faced - the death of his son Tommy by suicide on December 31, 2020, and the violent storming of the Capitol six days later. He served as the lead manager of the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump and is now on the House Select Committee investigating January 6.
I want to change the subject here and ask you about your father, Marcus Raskin. He founded - in the 1970s, I think - the Institute for Policy Studies.
RASKIN: Actually, it was 1963 when he founded it.
GROSS: Wow, that's really early. So it was one of the very early think tanks and I think the first, like, left-wing think tank.
RASKIN: Yeah, the first liberal think tank, yeah.
GROSS: And you found out at age 5 on the newscast following an episode of "The Flintstones" that your father might go to jail. He was indicted in 1968 as part of what was known as the Boston Five antiwar conspiracy for allegedly conspiring to aid and abet draft evasion. What was it like for you to - at age 5 to think your father might be going to jail?
RASKIN: Well, it was very confusing and upsetting. I tell the story in the book of how I confided to my doctor, Dr. Washington, who was a lineal descendant of George Washington's brother, that I was upset about this. And I asked him whether he knew about it. And he said, yes. And I said, I just want to ask you, is my dad one of the good guys or the bad guys? Because when you're 5 years old and you hear your father might go to jail, you don't know what that's all about, you know? And he said, your father is one of the best guys we have.
But I remember sitting in the trial. We were taken up to Boston, and this was the famous Dr. Spock trial because it was my dad and Dr. Spock and William Sloane Coffin and Michael Ferber and Mitchell Goodman. And - but I remember sitting in the courtroom with my big sister, Erika. My younger brother, Noah, I think had just been born, and I don't know if - I don't think they brought him in. But we would sit there and we just played tic-tac-toe and the connect-the-dots game just for day after day in the middle of that trial.
And then my dad was actually the only one of the five who was acquitted by the jury. And when he was asked about this by The New York Times, they said, how do you feel about being acquitted? He said, I feel like demanding a retrial. Because unlike, you know, what you see with all the Trump people where they, you know, run out and get their own lawyers and point fingers, the defendants in the Boston Five trial were active in opposing the Vietnam War. And my dad's strategy was to put the war on trial because he felt that it was never declared by Congress and it was an unlawful war and it was in violation of the Geneva Conventions. But they stood together, and he didn't want to, you know, abandoned Dr. Spock and the other defendants.
GROSS: Why were you in court? Why did your mother think, like, you should be there?
RASKIN: Well, that's a good question. You know, in my family, you know, what is personal and what's political is kind of all blended together. And that's the way it was for me growing up. And I'm afraid that's the way it's been for my kids, too.
GROSS: So what impact did it have on you as a child and as a father to have experienced your father being on trial?
RASKIN: Well, it was a scary thing to understand the power of the government from that perspective. And, you know, I remember something that Larry Tribe, who was my constitutional law professor, said when I got to law school, which is that two of the most beautiful words in the English language are due process. He may have been quoting somebody else, I'm not sure, but I loved that. You know, due process is all about fairness and not rushing to judgment, giving people an opportunity to speak and to be heard and to provide their own evidence. And so I felt that significantly. I think the fact that I went to law school probably had a lot to do with the fact that my dad was on trial when I was a little boy, and it's certainly what I wrote about when I applied to law school.
And, you know, at the same time, it made me realize that the rule of law is important not just to protect individuals with due process against the government, but to hold government accountable. I mean, what the rule of law is really about is making sure that the people who get into government don't abuse their power by trampling the rights of the people and violating the dictates of the Constitution. And that's what happened with Richard Nixon, who ended up resigning because of his crimes while in office. And I think that's...
GROSS: And your father was on his enemies list.
RASKIN: And my dad was on his enemies list and, you know, was the subject of lots of FBI surveillance and, you know, different kinds of dirty tricks. But I think that's the situation with Donald Trump. And I just hope that we have the civic health and resiliency to repel this major threat to the future of our constitutional system.
GROSS: It sounds like you learned so much from your father being on trial. At the same time, you were 5 years old and playing tic-tac-toe in the courtroom. Were you bored in the courtroom?
RASKIN: Yes, I remember days of very intense boredom. I would watch when my dad was being cross-examined, and I remember at one point the prosecutor asking him about something and how he knew that. And my dad cited a passage in "The Congressional Record." And I remember asking him afterwards what "The Congressional Record" was, and then he explained to me that it was the record of the proceedings of Congress. And I don't know, for some reason that moment stuck in my mind.
But, no, I think it was a powerful experience for everybody in our family. But my dad was tough. He was brave, and he never wavered from the truth. And, you know, all through his life, he would say to us, when everything looks hopeless, you're the hope. And we've taught that to our kids, too.
GROSS: You and your wife, Sarah, keep Tommy's suicide note on your dresser drawer. Why does that seem like the appropriate place for it? It means probably that you see it - the last thing when you go to bed and the first thing when you wake up.
RASKIN: Well, it's definitely the first thing I look at every morning. And for me, it's just - it's like how-to instructions for how to live. Look after each other and the animals. Don't forget the animals and the global poor. Don't forget the global poor, which means the poor all over the world, including the poor in America. And, you know, Tommy never stopped looking at that level of the Maslow hierarchy of need. I mean, he understood there are people who could focus on nothing other than, where is their next meal coming from or how are they going to be safe from violence or how do they get out of a war zone? And so before we think about, OK, you know, how are we going to get people on trips to Mars and stuff like that, we've got to be thinking about people who are just struggling to survive, even at a subsistence level.
GROSS: Well, Congressman Raskin, I want to thank you so much for talking with us. Stay safe. I wish you good health.
RASKIN: Thank you very much, Terry.
GROSS: Congressman Jamie Raskin represents Maryland's 8th Congressional District. He's now serving on the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol. His new memoir is called "Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth And The Trials Of American Democracy." Our interview was recorded yesterday morning.
Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, our guest will be Wall Street Journal columnist Christopher Mims. In his new book, "Arriving Today," he examines the global supply chain, how relentless efforts to make moving freight more efficient, bring us cheaper goods but impose costs on workers. Also, we'll listen back to an interview with the Pulitzer Prize-winning evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson. He died last week. I hope you'll join us.
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GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Kayla Lattimore. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Therese Madden directed today's show. I'm Terry Gross.
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