They went straight at President Trump as the instigator and overseer of a violent conspiracy to prevent the peaceful transfer of power, a hallmark of American democracy for two and a half centuries. Interspersing video clips of former Attorney General William Barr saying it was “bullshit” that Trump had won the election and Ivanka Trump saying she believed Barr, the committee laid out the case that no one believed the election had been unfairly decided yet Trump persisted. “There’s no there there,” former chief of staff Mark Meadows conceded in one of many incriminating emails documenting the duplicity.
What followed is a portrait of a White House held hostage to a conspiracy theory invented by a president determined to stay in office. “Donald Trump was at the center of this conspiracy,” committee chair Bennie Thompson stated in the opening minutes of the primetime hearing, the first of six the committee will present over the next ten days.
“January 6th was the culmination of an attempted coup,” he said. “The violence was no accident. It represents Donald Trump’s last stand.”
The hearing may not change any minds but the presentation of the material, damning as it is, was done with respect to the country’s traditions and history. There was no grandstanding, it was matter of fact and dignified, and whether it moves the needle politically is a secondary matter. It’s important for the historical record, and if the worst should come to bear, a resurgence of Trump, we can’t say we weren’t warned.
Committee co-chair Liz Cheney, a rare Republican determined to hold Trump accountable, described in chilling detail the events of Jan. 6 and how Trump did nothing to alleviate the violence and apparently watched with glee as the rampage unfolded on the television screen in the oval office.
His staff pleaded with him to intervene. So did his daughter. “The president did not really want to put anything out,” Cheney said. He was yelling at his advisors and upon hearing the rioters chant, “Kill Pence,” Trump observed, “Maybe our supporters have the right idea. Mike Pence deserves it.” He rejected the advice of those around him while police officers defended themselves against a violent mob that he refused to call off.
He didn’t call his Defense secretary or his attorney general or put in an order for the National Guard. All those functions of a president were left to Mike Pence, who finally stepped in to answer the pleas for support from the Capitol Police. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told the committee Mark Meadows reached him about “killing the narrative that the vice president is making all the decisions,” and to establish the narrative that the president is in charge, and things are stable, something to that effect. “That was a red flag for me—politics, politics, politics,” Milley said.
Trump finally offered up a statement telling those who breached the Capitol to go home. “You’re very special people. We love you. “
Much of what the committee revealed has been reported before in bits and pieces but putting them together in a coherent narrative reveals the enormity of the conspiracy to keep Trump in power. Those who disagreed either humored Trump or threatened to quit. A video clip has Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, telling the committee he chalked up the potential rush of resignations to “whining,” not something he took seriously, that he was too busy working on presidential pardons.
Cheney said the public would learn in the next five hearings that what happened on that fateful day at the Capitol was not a spontaneous event. “On the morning of January 6, President Trump’s intention was to remain president of the United States. Over multiple months, Donald Trump oversaw and coordinated a sophisticated plan.”
This first presentation, in prime time, was a fast-paced collage orchestrated by chairman Thompson and co-chair Cheney in an emotionally detached narrative that relied on facts backed up by testimony from those involved. Jason Miller, a former Trump advisor in good standing said the campaign’s “data guy” told the president in pretty blunt terms that he was going to lose the election.
Lawyers found nothing that would change the outcome. Barr said allegations of fraud were “complete nonsense,” but they were made in such a sensational way that the public was believing it. “I told him it was crazy stuff, and it was doing a great disservice to the country.”
Ivanka Trump in her testimony said simply, “I respect Attorney General Barr. I accepted what he was saying.”
In Cheney’s telling, Trump ignored multiple court rulings, plus his own Department of Justice, and invested millions of dollars of campaign funds running ads to convince people he had been grievously mistreated. There is a straight line from that misinformation campaign to the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“The White House staff knew that President Donald Trump was too dangerous to be left alone,” Cheney said. “These are important facts for the American people to know.” To her Republican colleagues, Cheney added, “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone but your dishonor will remain.”
In the closing hour of the hearing, the committee aired never before seen footage from Jan. 6 that proved even more sickening than what we’ve already seen, a crazed crowd disgracing themselves and the country. Caroline Edwards, a Capitol police officer who suffered a concussion, told the committee she did her best to defend the Capitol during those critical hours while Trump watched TV. “I’m not combat trained,” she said, and wasn’t equipped to deal with the “war zone” the Capitol had become.
British filmmaker Nick Quested, who was following the Proud Boys, captured a meeting in a garage the night before between Enrique Tarrio with the Proud Boys and Stewart Rhodes with the Oath Keepers as they plot their assault on the Capitol.
“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what needs to be done,” Trump tweets. One of the committee’s closing images is a close-up of the gallows with a red noose that awaited Pence, graphically underscoring the seriousness of the day’s events and how close we came to losing our democracy.