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What we learned from the Jan. 6th committee's likely final public hearing

Members of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol vote unanimously to subpoena former President Donald Trump during a hearing in the Cannon House Office Building on October 13, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Members of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol vote unanimously to subpoena former President Donald Trump during a hearing in the Cannon House Office Building on October 13, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

In the likely final hearing of the January 6th House Committee, the members laid out their key findings – detail after detail.

“The vast weight of evidence presented so far has shown us that the central cause of January 6th was one man, Donald Trump, who many others followed,” committee vice chair Liz Cheney said. “None of this would have happened without him. He was personally and substantially involved in all of it.”

Cheney said Trump must be held accountable for the sake of our democracy.

“Why would Americans assume that our Constitution and our institutions in our republic are invulnerable to another attack? Why would we assume that those institutions will not falter next time?” she asked.

Today, On Point: With the hearings seemingly over — What impact have they had on the American people — especially on Trump voters?

Guests

Eric Cortellessa, politics reporter at Time Magazine. (@EricCortellessa)

Elaine Kamarck, senior fellow in the governance studies program at the Brookings Institution.

Sarah Longwell, executive director of the Republican Accountability Project. Publisher of The Bulwark and host of the podcast “The Focus Group.” (@SarahLongwell25)

Jack BeattyOn Point news analyst. (@JackBeattyNPR)

Interview Highlights

On the committee’s vote to subpoena Trump

Eric Cortellessa: “I think the optics were very powerful. I think that it was very much engineered to come at the conclusion of this hearing, which they are saying is probably the last one, though I think there’s some wiggle room for there to be another one, in which they summarize the findings that the committee presented to the public over the first slate of hearings over the summer. And added new evidence that had corroborated some of the previous evidence, and had also advanced their central thesis, which was that this was not some spontaneous riot that spun out of control. This was a premeditated attempted coup by former President Trump.

“And a really big theme that they had hammered yesterday was not only that, Trump was told repeatedly by senior officials at the time that his claims of voter fraud were not true, and yet he continued to spread falsities and conspiracy theories about the election, nevertheless. But that this was actually engineered in advance of the election. Brad Parscale, a top campaign lieutenant, said that the president said as early as July that he would prematurely declare victory. There was a memo from the head of a right-wing judicial group, a conservative judicial group that suggested what Trump should say on election night, that he should claim victory.

“In essence, the president went to war against vote by mail and encouraged all of his supporters to vote in person so that there would be a so-called red mirage on election night in which he would appear to have the lead in key swing states. But that was before the critical mail in ballots were counted, which we knew were going to lean overwhelmingly to Joe Biden.

“And what he would do was declare victory and sue to stop those absentee ballots from being counted. I think one of his problems is that he telegraphed that, you know, very loudly in advance of the election, and it didn’t work. There were a lot of people of goodwill and integrity who stood in his way. But I think the committee really wanted to present in the clearest terms possible that President Trump knew what he was doing, that he had a criminal mind set while he was doing it, and that this was no accident.

“And by the time they got to the conclusion where they did the vote, it was supposed to have a kind of cohesive aspect to it. And of course, this is what you do at the end of an investigation. Right at the end of an investigation, you give the accused the opportunity to present their side of the story and rebut the charges if they can. I don’t think anyone is holding their breath to hear whether or not President Trump appears before the committee. But it certainly was presented as if this was the most sensible thing to do.”

Elaine Kamarck: “I think that they had to do that. In fact, they had to say to him, okay, if you have a different story to tell, then almost all of your White House staff and Justice Department appointees have told us, then come on, we’re going to give you the platform to tell it. And, of course, one of the intriguing things is that from a strictly legal point of view, he probably should not testify. On the other hand, Donald Trump loves being in the limelight more than any politician we’ve seen in recent years. And so he may just take them up on it. Lord knows what he’ll say, but he may take it up. Take them up on it. I think the other thing they did yesterday was they featured three people who hadn’t been featured Mike Flynn, Roger Stone and Steve Bannon.

“And … most of their story had to do with official White House and Justice Department employees saying to Donald Trump, stop, you got to stop this. What was more difficult to get at is what were Trump’s relationships? What were Trump’s communications with Flynn, Stone and Bannon? They all got pardoned by Trump before he left office. And there clearly was something going on there, but they were not really able to bring it out. Because all three of these men pled the fifth when they were asked to testify before the committee.”

On the question of seditious conspiracy

Elaine Kamarck: “If you look into this question of seditious conspiracy, which some of the Oath Keepers are now being tried on and convicted on, one of the things you have to prove here, which is similar to many other crimes, is premeditation. And it is very clear that there are probably some actors around Trump, Steve Bannon, particularly, and Roger Stone, who may have been very involved with the Oath Keepers and the proud boys in a premeditated plan to attack the Capitol.

“What we haven’t really got yet and I’m thinking back to Watergate and to the Watergate tapes, we don’t have a smoking gun in Watergate. The smoking gun was Richard Nixon’s own voice on a tape admitting to the cover up in the Watergate conspiracy and that did him in. We don’t know yet what Donald Trump was talking to Roger Stone or Steve Bannon about. We know what he talked to his White House aides about, but none of them clearly because they came forth to testify.

“None of them were in the middle of communications with the proud boys or any of the groups that mobilized and brought all those weapons to Washington. A final point about seditious conspiracy, because I know that Jack brought this up. Is that in the 1956 amendments to the law on this, one of the final ones says that the person is ineligible for employment in the United States government for five years following conviction.

“And that’s very interesting when you think about it. I mean, he could get prosecuted and convicted of seditious conspiracy. But not sent to jail, which might really tip his people in a nutty direction. But, in fact, be barred from ever being president again. Which if you listen to Liz Cheney, that’s been her purpose from the beginning, is keep this man away from the White House.”

What did we learn more about the potential for violence on January 6th

Eric Cortellessa: “We learned a lot about that. I mean, you know, the committee had obtained nearly a million documents, whether they were electronic communications, emails, etc., from the Secret Service. And of course, this comes after there was a public spat over deleted or lost text messages from the Secret Service in the days around January 6th, that we had over the summer. But they were able to obtain certain materials that had shown that the Secret Service was well aware in advance of January 6th of what the rioters had planned for that day, including plans of violence.

“In fact, there were messages on an online forum called TheDonald.Win that had said quite plainly that they had planned to come and use violence, use force to try to stop the congressional certification of the Electoral College. And, of course, through that quite harrowing video footage that was filmed by Alexandra Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi’s daughter, we saw the acute sense of fear that these lawmakers felt. As they were scrambling, as they were in a secure location and trying to remain safe, as the Capitol was under siege, but also as they desperately made calls and pleas to not only members of the administration, but, you know, then Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.

“Steny Hoyer had called Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to bring in their state National Guard troops as reinforcements, but that none of them really could depend on Trump himself or the administration or, you know, his top aides to try to get the president to actually call off his supporters. In fact, Chuck Schumer said repeatedly when he was talking to someone from the Justice Department, acting attorney general Jeff Rosen, can you get the president to call them off? Can you get the president to call them off?

“And that was essentially something that everybody, it seemed, who worked in the administration who was close to Trump knew was not possible. But of course, when the time came that the president did call them off, hours later, we saw, based on documentary footage of the rioters in the Capitol, that they listened right away. They were certainly taking their call from the president himself.”

What impact do you think the committee hearings will have on Republican voters?

Sarah Longwell: “The way that I’ve described the impact over the course of the hearings is more of a seeping in rather than a breaking through. I think one of the critical differences between today’s environment and the environment of Watergate is just, you know, back then, everybody was hanging on every word of those hearings. And talking to these Republican voters, they mostly aren’t watching the hearings. You know, they mostly aren’t engaged in them. And to the extent that they are aware that they’re going on, and they’re aware. They think that they’re a dog and pony show, they think they are an attempt to get Donald Trump. They are often getting information about the hearings through, you know, more right-wing media sources that are providing rebuttals and defenses.

“And so, you know, I think that what you’re not going to see is just this total collapse of support for Trump as a result of them. You’re not going to hear these voters say, Oh, well, this was terrible and now I don’t support him. But what I did see in the groups that I thought was interesting was prior to the January 6th hearings, you know, we’d always ask the same question, do you want to see Donald Trump run again in 2024? And you’d usually get at least half the group or more saying, yes, we would. After the January 6th hearings started, we started to see sort of group after group in which zero people would say that they wanted to see him run again.

“And I think that that had more to do, again, not with them abandoning support, but they had this sense that he had too much baggage to get reelected, that it was starting to become sort of overwhelming. And they weren’t sure that there wasn’t somebody better suited. You know, they started talking a lot more about Ron DeSantis, who they describe as Trump without the baggage.

“And because voters also really dislike the January 6th conversation, you know, it makes them feel bad about their tribe. It’s not that they think it was a good thing or a good day. They do a lot of, you know, what about the Black Lives Matter protests. But they do want to move on from the January 6th conversation. And so in some ways, it did seem to be leading to moving on from Donald Trump and potentially looking for more palatable alternatives.”

Related Reading

TIME: “January 6th Committee Votes to Subpoena Former President Donald Trump” — “In a move that marks a turning point in the Jan. 6 committee’s investigation, the panel voted Thursday to subpoena former President Donald Trump over his role in the Capitol attack.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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