The first hearing of the selected committee on January 6 lived up to the hype surrounding it and delivered a compelling case – with compelling new details † for Donald Trump’s culpability in the violent attempt to undo the 2020 election.
The premise of the commission’s case — that “January 6 was the culmination of a coup attempt” — was laid out at the very beginning of the hearing by Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS). It was backed up with a bleak presentation that aired live over broadcast and most cable networks previewing the seven additional hearings the committee will hold in the coming weeks.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, a committee official said the goal was to present “new details showing that violence was the result of a coordinated, multi-step effort to nullify the 2020 election and halt the transfer of power and that Donald Trump in the center of that effort.” Despite questions about whether the commission could provide new information — there has been extensive reporting, not to mention a full impeachment trial on the matter — it did.
A short summary
This was not your normal congressional hearing. There was minimal preening or boasting by members. Only two, Thompson and Vice President Liz Cheney (R-WY), even spoke during the two-hour hearings. The others remained silent, seated on the podium.
Cheney, one of two Republicans on the committee, presented a cold, prosecution case woven into video testimony showing former President Trump was repeatedly told he had lost the election. It included former Attorney General Bill Barr testifying that he explicitly told Trump that the former president’s allegations of voter fraud were “bullshit.”
“I remember telling the president in pretty blunt terms that he was going to lose.” – Jason Miller, a senior spokesperson for the Trump campaign pic.twitter.com/F8uxTV9cyt
— January 6 Committee (@January6thCmte) June 10, 2022
Its purpose was to make it clear that Trump did not really believe his false claims of voter fraud. Instead, Cheney said, “Donald Trump oversaw and coordinated a sophisticated seven-part plan to undo the presidential election and prevent the transfer of presidential power.”
This was followed by a 10 minute video explicitly report on the events of January 6 with new footage, including from police cameras, to show the brutality of the attack that day. Viewers in the auditorium — including some members of Congress and police officers who responded to the attacks — seemed to struggle to contain their emotion. Afterwards, Representative Madeleine Dean (D-PA), who was in the gallery of the House when the Capitol was breached, told Vox: “It’s hard because it brings it back very deeply rooted, but much worse for me is my fear of our country .”
Sandra Garza, partner of the late Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, and US Capitol Officer Harry Dunn cry as they attend a US House Select Committee hearing to investigate the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Reuters photo by Jonathan Ernst pic.twitter.com/cxoIqzZHJZ
— Jim Bourg (@jimbourg) June 10, 2022
Using clips from the more than 1,000 statements and interviews it has conducted over the past year, compilations of footage from the Capitol attack, and live testimony from two witnesses, the commission outlined the case against the former president, culminating in a video presentation in which rioter after rioter explicitly said they stormed the Capitol because Donald Trump ordered them to do so.
What was new?
The hearing was packed with new information about the attack on the Capitol and the attempt to undo the 2020 election.
The most audible reaction in the room came as Cheney testified that Trump had said, “And maybe our supporters have the right idea, Mike Pence deserves it,” after hearing the crowd chant “hang Mike Pence.” Trump had previously been reported to have responded with approval to the chants, but not in such a stark statement.
Cheney also revealed that Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) explicitly sought a pardon from Trump after the events of January 6 to avoid prosecution for his attempts to reverse the election. She added that several other unnamed members did the same.
In a recorded statement, General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, described an attempt by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to try and cover Trump as the former president let chaos rage in the Capitol. “We need to stop the story that the vice president makes all the decisions,” Meadows told Milley. “We need to establish the story that, you know, the president is still in charge and things are stable or stable.”
The committee also used videos to sketch the extraordinary level of planning and coordination by extremist groups, notably the Proud Boys and the Oathkeepers, on January 6. Nick Quested, a documentary filmmaker embedded with the Proud Boys, testified that the group began marching toward the Capitol even before Trump’s now infamous rally on the Ellipse that day, suggesting a deliberate plan to storm the building from scratch.
What happens now?
The tension in Washington was whether these hearings would be more like those in Watergate or Benghazi. The first became viewing appointments as Americans flocked to the hearings, turning many of the participants into household names. The latter was a wet dinghy that still served to motivate partisans, but had little long-term impact. So far, these are more like the former in terms of their content and potential to resonate.
The committee offered tidbits of the 1,000 statements it recorded, which included short clips of statements from key Trump officials, including Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and excerpts of text messages between Sean Hannity and White House press secretary Kayleigh. McEnany, in the wake of the attack. And they made it clear there was more to come as they outlined future hearings.
The next, on Monday, will outline that Trump knew he had lost the election and did not assume a genuine belief that he was somehow a victim of voter fraud. The second, on Wednesday, will outline Trump’s alleged plot to install Jeffrey Clark, a Justice Department official, as acting attorney general in an effort to use federal law enforcement to reverse election efforts. , to help forward. The third will focus on efforts to pressure Pence to undo the election. Subsequent hearings will focus on Trump’s attempts to pressure state officials and how he “provoked a violent mob and illegally ordered them to march toward the United States Capitol.”
The question is what impact these will have in the long term. Although Thursday’s hearing was broadcast on most major networks, Fox News didn’t make it. Instead, Tucker Carlson had guests such as Darren Beattie, a former Trump White House aide who tweeted on Jan. 6 that several prominent African Americans should “bend a knee to MAGA.”
It’s unlikely that a revelation, however shocking or grotesque, could break through to the right-wing echo chamber and pierce Trump’s support there. But it doesn’t have to be, and that’s not really the goal. The aim is not only to look back, but also to reach out to those who were initially shocked by the attack and have since moved on, reminding them that, as Thompson said, “the cause of our democracy remains in jeopardy. The conspiracy to thwart the will of the people is not over.”
It’s too early to say if those people were watching and if that effort will be successful. But if the commission fails, it will not be due to a lack of effort or preparation.