The first select committee hearing on January 6 met the widespread hype surrounding it by providing a compelling case – with compelling new details — for Donald Trump’s culpability in the violent effort to overturn the 2020 election.
The thesis of the committee’s case – that “January 6 was the culmination of an attempted coup” – was presented by President Bennie Thompson (D-MS) at the beginning of the hearing. It was bolstered by a somber presentation broadcast live by broadcast and most cable networks that previewed the seven additional hearings the committee will hold in the coming weeks.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, a committee official said the aim was to present “new details showing that the violence was the result of a coordinated multi-step effort to overturn the 2020 election and prevent the transfer of power and that Donald Trump was at the center of that effort.” Despite questions about whether the committee could provide any new information – there was extensive reporting, not to mention an entire impeachment trial on this – it did.
A brief recap
This was not your normal congressional hearing. There was little presumption or arrogance on the part of the members. In fact, only two, Thompson and Vice President Liz Cheney (R-WY), spoke during the two-hour hearings. The others remained silent, sitting on the dais.
Cheney, one of the two Republicans on the committee, presented a cold case for the prosecution, weaving video testimonies that showed former President Trump was repeatedly told he had lost the election. It included former Attorney General Bill Barr testifying that he had explicitly told Trump that the former president’s election fraud allegations were “bullshit.”
“I remember he told 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 6th Committee (@January6thCmte) June 10, 2022
The aim was to make it clear that Trump did not genuinely believe his false allegations of electoral fraud. Instead, Cheney said, “Donald Trump oversaw and coordinated a sophisticated seven-part plan to overturn the presidential election and prevent the transfer of presidential power.”
This was followed by a 10 minute video explicitly narrating the events of January 6 with new footage, including from police cameras, to show the brutality of the attack on that day. Onlookers in the courtroom – including several members of Congress and law enforcement 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 Chamber when the Capitol was invaded, told Vox: “It is difficult because it brings it back so viscerally, but much worse for me is my fear for our country. ”
Sandra Garza, partner of late Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick and US Capitol police 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 more than 1,000 depositions and interviews he conducted over the past year, compilation of footage from the Capitol attack, and live testimony from two witnesses, the committee outlined the case against the former president, culminating in a video presentation where rioters after rioters have explicitly said that they stormed the Capitol because Donald Trump told them to.
What was new?
The hearing was filled with new information about the attack on the Capitol and the effort to overturn the 2020 election.
The loudest reaction in the room came when Cheney relayed testimony that Trump had said, “And maybe our supporters have the right idea, Mike Pence deserves it,” after hearing the crowd was chanting “Hang Mike Pence.” Previously, it had been reported that Trump reacted approvingly to the chants, but not in such a harsh statement.
Cheney also revealed that Representative Scott Perry (R-PA) explicitly asked for Trump’s pardon after the events of January 6, in order to avoid prosecution for his efforts to overturn the election. She added that several other unnamed members did the same.
In recorded testimony, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described an attempt by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to try to cover up Trump as the former president left the Capitol in chaos. “We have to kill the narrative that the vice president is making all the decisions,” Meadows told Milley. “We need to establish the narrative that, you know, the president is still in charge and things are stable or stable.”
The committee also used videos to describe the extraordinary level of planning and coordination by extremist groups, particularly the Proud Boys and Oathkeepers, on January 6th. rally at Ellipse that day, indicating a deliberate plan to storm the building early on.
What happens next?
The suspense in Washington was whether these hearings would be more like Watergate or Benghazi. The first became viewing appointments as Americans tuned in to mass audiences, making many of the attendees household names. The latter was a wet abortion that still served to motivate supporters but had little long-term consequential impact. So far, they are looking more like the former in terms of substance and resonance potential.
The committee offered previews of the 1,000 testimonies it recorded, showing brief clips of testimonies from key Trump officials, including Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and snippets of text messages between Sean Hannity and White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany after the attack. AND they made it clear that there was more to come in outlining future audiences.
The next one, on Monday, will describe that Trump knew he had lost the election and was not proceeding from a sincere belief that he was somehow a victim of election fraud. The second, on Wednesday, will outline Trump’s alleged plan to install Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark as acting attorney general in an effort to leverage federal law enforcement to advance efforts to overturn the election. The third will focus on efforts to pressure Pence to overturn the election. Later hearings will focus on Trump’s attempts to pressure state officials, as well as how he “summoned a violent mob and illegally directed them to march against the United States Capitol.”
The question is what long-term impact this will have. Although Thursday’s hearing was broadcast by most major networks, Fox News did not broadcast it. Instead, Tucker Carlson introduced guests like Darren Beattie, a former Trump White House official who spent January 6th tweeting that several prominent African Americans needed to “kneel at MAGA.”
It is unlikely that any revelation, no matter how shocking or grotesque, could make its way into the right-wing echo chamber and pierce Trump’s support there. But it doesn’t have to, and that’s not really the point. The aim is not just to look back, but also to reach out to those who were initially horrified by the attack and have since moved on and remind 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 whether these people were watching and whether this effort will succeed. But if the committee fails, it will not be for lack of effort or preparation.