I admit to having been skeptical, ahead of time, of the hearings planned by the House select committee investigating the events of Jan. 6, 2021. What more is there to be said, I wondered? The evidence of Donald Trump’s guilt in inciting an insurrection was already so obvious that it was hard to imagine that the committee would have much to add. This was not, after all, a situation such as Watergate, where the scandal happened behind closed doors. The entire nation saw Trump’s incendiary remarks and tweets, and the riot that followed, on national television.
I am happy to say I was wrong. The committee’s hearings are exceeding expectations, because it is not behaving like a typical congressional committee. There is no grandstanding and no preening. There are no petty partisan squabbles. There is not even the disjointedness that normally occurs when a bunch of politicians are each given five minutes to question each witness. There is only the relentless march of evidence, all of it deeply incriminating to a certain former president who keeps insisting that he was robbed of his rightful election victory.
The committee’s recent hearings — there have been two in the past week, with more planned — have been organized like carefully choreographed television productions, and I mean that as a compliment. The committee has been focused on doing what all good television productions, whether factual or fictional, do: telling a story that enthralls the viewer.
Only a few of the committee members have spoken so far. Imagine what heroic self-restraint it takes for elected officials to understand that they can make a greater impact with their silence than with noisy blather. The members are allowing their staffers to play an unusually prominent role not only in questioning witnesses on tape but acting as narrators for mini-documentaries laying out what they have found.
The biggest complaint against the committee, heard at ever-increasing decibels from Republicans, is that it is a partisan hit job — and never mind that two prominent Republicans sit on the committee. Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) are denigrated as RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) because they had the courage to act on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s convictions. (McCarthy initially held Trump responsible for the mob attack but voted against impeaching him.)
Accusations of partisanship have been amply refuted by the hearings, which have been entirely factual and notably free of partisan rancor. There have been no anti-Trump, much less anti-Republican, rants. The committee members are focused with forensic, factual intensity on the question of Trump’s responsibility for the events of Jan. 6. They are making a case beyond any reasonable doubt in the court of public opinion, even if it remains to be seen whether there is sufficient evidence to indict Trump in an actual court of law.
The committee’s most potent weapon is the words of Trump’s own aides. One after another, we have heard Trump loyalists say that the election was fair and that Trump has no rational basis for thinking otherwise. Last week’s star witness was Ivanka Trump, who testified that she accepted then-Attorney General William P. Barr’s conclusion that her father lost the election. This led the former president to go on a public rant against his own daughter, claiming that she was “not involved in looking at, or studying, Election results.” The implication is that if only Ivanka had been as deep in the weeds as dear old Dad, she would have been convinced that the vote was the “crime of the century.”
Except that the committee has now heard from many Trump aides who were deeply involved in the vote count, and they also concluded there was no significant fraud. The only people who thought otherwise were weirdos like Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, who was described by Trump adviser Jason Miller as being “definitely intoxicated” on election night. (Giuliani denies it.) Bill Stepien, Trump’s campaign manager, testified that he was part of “Team Normal” and that Powell, Giuliani, et al., were on the opposite team. Presumably that would be Team Crazy. Guess which team Trump was rooting for?
The most damaging witness for Trump was his own attorney general. Barr described Trump’s election lies as “bulls--t,” “crazy stuff,” “complete nonsense,” and suggested that Trump “has become detached from reality if he really believes this stuff.” Barr said he had tried to set Trump straight, but there was “never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were.”
Barr’s statement was seen by some lawyers as evidence of the “criminal intent” that would be needed to convict Trump of crimes such as sedition. Whether that is accurate or not, Trump’s own aides have made an open-and-shut case that he is not fit to run Mar-a-Lago, much less the United States of America. Either Trump is spectacularly delusional or spectacularly dishonest. Take your choice. Or maybe he’s both? Whichever the case, he has no business returning to the nation’s highest office.