On Thursday night, the House select committee on Jan. 6 held its eighth public hearing, presenting damning evidence that Donald Trump’s failure to halt the assault on the Capitol was itself a vital part of the coup plot. In the process, the committee drew an underscore under a series of hearings that showed: how Trump plotted, even before the election, to overthrow democracy; how he worked through various scheme and attempts before landing on the Jan. 6 plot; how he raised a crowd of armed white supremacists with the intention of fueling violence; and how he put that plot into action.
The evening started out by confirming the earlier testimony of White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson. Multiple witnesses testified that Trump was aware that members of the crowd around his Jan. 6 rally were armed. A D.C. police officer who was part of the presidential motorcade confirmed that Trump had argued with his driver and Secret Service personnel, and tried to force them to join the crowd bashing their way into the Capitol.
But the main focus of the night was on the three hours after Trump returned to the White House. Hours in which he sat at a table in a White House dining room, staring at a TV playing Fox News, and resisting efforts from members of Congress, staff members at all levels, and members of his own family who attempted to get him to call off the assault. As the hearing would ultimately show, Trump’s refusal to even make a call for the insurrectionists to leave the Capitol was an active, not passive, part of the plot. And Trump didn’t move until it was clear that his forces had been unsuccessful and the National Guard was on the way.
Testifying in person were former deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger and former deputy White House press secretary Sarah Matthews, both of whom found Trump’s actions on Jan. 6 so disturbing that they resigned in the hours following the storming of the Capitol. However, their disgust at Trump’s actions were echoed by other Trump staffers up and down the line and underscored by recorded testimony from former White House attorney Pat Cipollini who said that everybody wanted the rioters to leave the Capitol building … everybody except for one man.
In particular, it was in the tweet that Trump delivered at 2:24PM, placing even more of a target on Mike Pence even after the mob had smashed their way into the Capitol and surrounded the chambers of Congress, that some of Trump’s staffers found their breaking point.
Just before a brief break, those watching the hearing got an unexpected bonus when the camera turned momentarily to Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, pointing out that when Hawley raised his fist to spur on a crowd that was at that moment attacking police lines, he did so from a position safely behind those police lines. And later, when the crowd actually broke into the Capitol, Hawley sprinted for safety behind the same police he had endangered.
The heart of the hearing was the long line of phone calls and texts, directed at Trump and at chief of staff Mark Meadows, begging for the rioters to be called off. But even though Trump was approached over and over by staffers and members of his own family, he refused to make that call. As Rep. Elaine Luria made clear, Trump’s failure to stop the people he had sent to the Capitol from threatening the lives of lawmakers and the process of the nation wasn’t inaction. It was a deliberate and calculated action.
When Trump finally agreed to make a video telling the insurrectionists to leave the building, he did so both reluctantly and in a way that focused more on his lies about a stolen election than on protecting the nation. He praised their actions, called them “patriots,” and extended his “love” for their assault on America.
In a series of clumsy outtakes from that night and another video made a day later, Trump could be seen refusing to read a line stating that the election was over, adding his own self-praise into the story, and rambling on as if he and the people who had attacked the Capitol were the real victims. Previously heard comments from both Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy drove home how even the Republican leaders thought Trump should resign or be removed … until they got down on their knees and surrendered any pretense of honesty.
At the close, Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger delivered a stinging summation of Trump’s actions. “Whatever your politics, whatever you think about the outcome of the election, we as Americans must all agree on this: Donald Trump’s conduct on Jan. 6 was a supreme violation of this oath of office and a complete dereliction of his duty to our nation,” said Kinzinger. “It is a stain on our history, it is a dishonor to all those who have sacrificed and died in service to our democracy.”
Rep. Liz Cheney, filling in for COVID-positive chair Rep. Bennie Thompson, said of Trump’s involvement on Jan. 6, “You saw an American president faced with a stark, unmistakable choice between right and wrong. To ignore ongoing violence against law enforcement. To threaten our constitutional order. There is no way to excuse that behavior. It was indefensible.”
Rep. Luria again drove home that even though, “virtually everyone told President Trump to condemn the violence in clear and unmistakable terms,” Trump refused to do so, and while, “those on Capitol Hill, and across the nation, begged President Trump to help” he stood back until it was certain that his mob had lost the fight. Then Trump staged a tactical withdrawal, rather than admitting defeat.
How the nearly three hour hearing landed with the public remains to be seen, but there were moments that will certainly stick—Trump bumbling through his lines as his staff tries to get him to say something even halfway reasonable, Kevin McCarthy on the phone demanding that Trump had to go, the horrific realization of so many in the White House that Trump intended to do nothing, because violence was exactly what he wanted.
The House select committee will continue it’s work over the next month before returning in September for at least three more public hearings. Those hearings signal that the committee certainly has enough additional material to put hours of more testimony before the public. Republicans have to wonder how much of it has to do with the unknown senators and congressmen who Trump was chatting with during those long three hours.
If you weren’t able to watch the hearing, you can still feel like you did by reading through the live coverage provided by Brandi Buchman.
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