In a riveting two-hour prime-time hearing Thursday, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack did more than just remind Americans of that day’s horror. It revealed new evidence about President Donald Trump’s state of mind during the day, his dereliction of duty as the violence unfolded and how his words fed directly — and predictably — into a frontal assault on U.S. democracy. As ever with Mr. Trump, the situation was even worse than it appeared.
As the committee’s sober hearing proceeded, one could only wonder about what the panel might reveal if uncooperative witnesses were forced to appear, underscoring that only those who have something to fear from the truth would refuse to share what they saw.
Perhaps the most damning revelations Thursday were accounts of Mr. Trump’s behavior during the Capitol invasion. The then-president made not a single call to any federal agency to quell the violence, according to the committee’s vice chairwoman, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.). Vice President Mike Pence, one of the mob’s targets, tried in Mr. Trump’s stead. As he watched the riot on television, Mr. Trump apparently approved of chants to hang Mr. Pence — “maybe our supporters have the right idea,” Ms. Cheney quoted him as saying — and reportedly yelled at advisers begging him to call for an end to the carnage. Meantime, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified that White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows was worried about optics, asking the military to help “establish the narrative” that the president was still in charge.
Ms. Cheney said the White House got specific reports before Jan. 6 that some in the crowd intended to commit acts of violence. Mr. Trump’s words had spurred them. He encouraged the Proud Boys during the 2020 campaign, galvanizing the fringe group. His promise of a “wild” Jan. 6 served as “a call to arms,” concluded committee investigator Marcus Childress. “Trump asked us to come,” one rioter said in footage the committee shared. “He called me there,” said another. Underlying all of it was Mr. Trump’s relentless campaign to overturn the 2020 presidential election, an effort the committee showed Mr. Trump’s top staff and family knew was wrong. Ms. Cheney also disclosed that allies in this effort, including members of Congress, sought pardons from Mr. Trump.
Some Americans might feel that this is all ancient history. It is not. Not only is Mr. Trump a walking, talking national security threat, considering a 2024 presidential run, but his allies and enablers are trying to remake the Republican Party in his image, and they are on the ballot all over the country. The Electoral Count Act, which governs how presidential electoral votes are counted and whose vague language Mr. Trump tried to hijack on Jan. 6 to remain in power, has yet to be reformed. Many of those who have firsthand knowledge of his wayward behavior, such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), are bowing to Mr. Trump and his forces, in an attempt to benefit politically. Mr. McCarthy, Mr. Meadows and others have even refused to comply with Jan. 6 committee subpoenas.
Thursday’s solemn hearing should ease concerns about prosecuting those who have flouted committee subpoenas — and persuade judges considering such cases to move quickly, while the committee is still investigating. The full story has not yet been told. And time is running out to complete the record.