We arrived home from the UK just in time for the first primetime hearing of the findings of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. Since that hearing held on June 9th, there have been three more during the daytime with several more on the schedule.
Because I follow the news closely, I had thought that the hearings might not be very revelatory for me but I have found them to be very powerful. Part of the impact is that the testimony is all under oath. While some of the information had been revealed by investigative reporting or published in books by various participants, one was never quite sure of the veracity of claims. Knowing that witnesses are sworn to tell the truth makes it more likely that they are, given that committing perjury before Congress or a court can result in imprisonment. The vast majority of the 1000+ people who have been interviewed in the investigation came forward voluntarily without being compelled by subpoena, so they intended to tell what they had seen and heard for the good of the country. The committee also has access to hundreds of thousands of pieces of evidence, enabling it to stitch together a detailed timeline of the web of activities that led to the January 6th attack as well as what happened on that day and in the aftermath.
In the daytime hearings, a different member of the Committee has taken the lead in questioning, sometimes paired with a member of the staff. The staff includes experienced lawyers and investigators who have done the lion’s share of the work with witnesses and evidence.
At this point, the Committee is providing a preliminary review of its findings; a written report will be issued later in the year. They are doing a very comprehensive job of laying out evidence in an organized and cogent way. It probably helps that many of the committee members are themselves lawyers with courtroom experience. Their questioning of live witnesses is very straightforward so that each witness can tell their story without the distraction of political grandstanding. Most of the witnesses, whether appearing live or in recorded clips, are Republican officeholders, officials, or staff, so that it is clear that the Committee is not just interviewing critics of the Trump administration or engaging in hearsay. The Committee is putting forth actual evidence that you would expect to find in a court of law.
Chair Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, presides and does opening and closing statements at each hearing; Vice-chair Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming, also does opening and closing statements each time. She has been particularly vocal in calling out Trump and the Republicans who assisted him in the lies about the 2020 election that led to the Capitol attack.
The testimony has revealed some previously undisclosed details. For example, in the hearing that centered on threats to then Vice-president Mike Pence, we learned that attackers got within forty feet of him as he was being evacuated, that he refused to leave the Capitol grounds, and that he was acting as commander-in-chief in calling in the National Guard as Trump refused to act.
It’s sobering and terrifying to see through this evidence how close our country came to an actual collapse of our democracy. If Pence and Republican members of Congress had delayed certification in violation of the Constitution, there would likely have been widespread violence in all regions of the country; Trump would have declared martial law and it would have been very difficult to recover our democracy. It’s also chilling to see the continuing impacts on our electoral process. A number of states have enacted provisions that make it easier to disenfranchise voters or ignore their legally cast ballots. Supporters of the lies about the 2020 election are winning elected office in some states, enabling them to interfere with government from within.
It’s very tense to be in the middle of all this, gaining all this knowledge but not knowing if/when there will be consequences for those who engaged in wrongdoing. We know the Justice Department is investigating but we don’t know if they will charge Trump, members of his administration and staff, and members of Congress with crimes pertaining to attempts to stage a coup. The Committee will make recommendations for legal reforms to the Electoral Count Act and other measures to try to avert another attempt to interfere with the certification of the election. These should be widely endorsed and enacted with large majorities of both parties but it remains to be seen if they will.
It scares me that so many current Republicans still cling to lies about the 2020 election and refuse to take responsibility for their activities that supported it. Even after the attack, eight senators and 139 representatives voted against acceptance of some of Biden’s electors, even though there was no factual basis to do so. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, a Georgia Republican who led a group on a long tour of the House office buildings the day before the attack though the entire Capitol complex was closed to visitors due to the pandemic, is denying he did anything wrong, even with evidence that a member of the tour group was part of the January 6 mob. There are dozens of members of Congress who should resign over their shameful disregard for their oath to uphold the Constitution but there is not even the possibility of Republican votes in favor of censure, much less removal from Congress.
I’m trying to remain hopeful that these hearings will break through the denial bubble that surrounds many Republican voters. After being the only major broadcast/news outlet to not air the initial primetime hearing, Fox News has begun to provide some coverage. I think that the powers that be at Fox News knew that the hearings would be important because during the primetime hearing, they did not take their usual commercials breaks so that their viewers wouldn’t be tempted to check in on the hearings. It’s also important to remember that Fox News, despite its name, is not really a news channel. While there are actual journalists who work for Fox News, they only have a few hours of airtime per week. The vast majority of their programming is classified as “entertainment” with pundits/personalities who are not constrained by any standards of truthfulness or propriety. The breath-taking amount of fear-mongering that Fox News and other right-wing outlets echoes and engenders the civic divide that Trump and the Republicans created and which threatens our democracy.
If Republicans watch the hearings, they will hear a number of familiar people and themes. Retired Judge J. Michael Luttig, one of the most revered conservative jurists, was featured in one hearing, speaking about the current dangers to our democracy. A number of the witnesses have spoken about the role of their faith in their actions. Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers was particularly eloquent in this regard.
I have been moved by the real-world consequences for those who protected the integrity of the election and of the Capitol. Speaker Bowers’ account of the threats against him and his family, including harassment at his home as he and his wife attended to their terminally ill daughter. US Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards’ testimony on being injured on January 6th and still trying to aid her fellow officers in what amounted to hand-to-hand combat, not the policing work for which they had been trained. The appalling loss of any sense of safety or security for election workers Shaye Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman, including even the ability to use their own names in public for fear of being attacked after being repeatedly vilified by Trump, Giuliani, and their followers.
I will continue to watch the hearings and the analysis and urge all the people of the United States to do the same. I hope that they will mark a turning point for the electorate so that we can root out all those who have failed in their oaths to uphold the Constitution before it is too late.
The hearings are showing us how close we came to disaster and how little time we have to strengthen our democratic institutions against attack.