The January 6 Hearings May Be Surprisingly Worthwhile
The House select committee investigating January 6 put on a good show in its first public performance, teasing the major plot points Americans can expect to hear over the coming weeks and offering juicy glimpses of the evidence it has been gathering.
Most congressional committee hearings seem set up to give each member a few minutes of public grandstanding and that’s about it. They’re polemical. They tell rather than show. But last night’s (widely-televised and streamed) hearing of the House select committee on January 6 was different.
In lengthy opening remarks, Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney displayed a TV prosecutor’s command of narrative, weaving together video footage and commentary from January 6, 2021, with post-hoc video testimony and tidbits from key Trump administration players and GOP lawmakers, plus statements from people who partook in storming the Capitol. The result was a cohesive and disturbing view of the lead-up to the day’s events and their aftermath.
Cheney’s presentation “is specific and uses snippets of evidence very effectively to make the case,” suggested University of California, Irvine, law and political science professor Rick Hasen. “It is a strong opening argument short on invective. Showing not telling.”
Many photos and videos from January 6 depict people who were plausibly clueless—wandering the Capitol rotunda, gawking, taking selfies—or engaged in only the mildest of mischief. But footage aired during the committee hearing vividly presented the day’s much more sinister side.
The footage aired last night showed people rushing Capitol Police officers and fighting them, tearing down barricades, and throwing tear gas. We saw people vividly engaging in what appeared to be knowing, furious, and violent actions, as Capitol Police talked in terrified voices about being vastly overpowered and impotent.
Amid this footage we saw and heard from former President Donald Trump, doing things like riling up the pre-riot crowd with election fraud lies and demands that former Vice President Mike Pence refuse to certify the Electoral College results.
Told people had chanted “hang Mike Pence,” Trump allegedly said “maybe our supporters have the right idea. Maybe Mike Pence deserves it,” former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told the committee, according to Cheney.
And as the MAGA mob took the U.S. Capitol building by storm, Trump gave no order to deploy the National Guard.
Cheney: Trump “did not call his Sec. of Defense… He gave no order to deploy National Guard that day and made no effort to deploy law enforcement assets… Vice President Pence did each of those things.”
— Jacqueline Alemany (@JaxAlemany) June 10, 2022
Clips of some of Trump’s closest allies showed they weren’t on board with all this.
Former Attorney General Bill Barr thought Trump’s stolen election claims were “bullshit” and told the former president so, Barr told January 6 committee investigators in a deposition clip played during yesterday’s public hearing.
“I made it clear I did not agree with the idea of saying the election was stolen and putting out this stuff which I call the bullshit” – former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr during his #January6thCommitteeHearings deposition. Photo by Jonathan Ernst pic.twitter.com/OiSH5B8KPA
— corinne_perkins (@corinne_perkins) June 10, 2022
And Ivanka Trump “accepted what [Barr] said and what he was saying,” she told the committee.
Holy shit they got Ivanka to denounce the Big Lie?!?!
— Zack Beauchamp (@zackbeauchamp) June 10, 2022
Details like these breathed life into the narrative that we all know well by now—how Trump lobbied the Department of Justice and Pence to help him overturn the 2020 presidential election results, how he urged his supporters to descend on Washington, D.C., that day (“will be wild!”), and how slow he was to act when the rally turned into a dangerous riot.
Trump never directly told people to take over the Capitol or to commit acts of vandalism and violence. And yesterday’s hearing presented no smoking gun to this effect. But it did crystalize the case that Trump was “not just a rogue president but a would-be autocrat willing to shred the Constitution to hang onto power at all costs,” as Peter Baker at The New York Times put it.
The hearing also del
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