Opinion 5 things we learned from the Jan. 6 committee’s latest hearing

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chair of the House Jan. 6 select committee, swears in witnesses on July 12. (Shawn Thew/AP)

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), in her opening remarks during the Jan. 6 House select committee’s hearing on Tuesday, rebutted the new, favored defense from Donald Trump’s camp that he was bamboozled by advisers and couldn’t tell right from wrong. The former president “is not an impressionable child,” she said. “Just like everyone else in this country, he is responsible for his own actions and his own choices.”

It was an apt remark considering the evidence presented in the committee’s latest hearing. The session detailed the interaction between Trump and his most crazed advisers, and how Trump’s public statements stirred up violent, right-wing groups to storm the Capitol on his behalf to stop the electoral vote count.

Here are five key takeaways from the hearing:

1

Trump knew he lost the election but refused to concede

Committee member Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) walked through documents and testimony showing that not even Trump’s craziest enablers had evidence of fraud. Trump was told this repeatedly.

It was powerful to see Eugene Scalia, a favorite on the right who served as Trump’s labor secretary, as well as former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, former attorney general William P. Barr and even Trump’s daughter Ivanka testify in video depositions that they told the president that the jig was up after the electoral college met on Dec. 14, 2020. It was time to concede, they said. Barr testified that then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows eventually came to the same conclusion. Trump was not persuaded.

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Instead, Trump plunged forward, culminating in a Dec. 18 meeting in which a team of outside advisers paid Trump a visit and clashed with his White House staff. Raskin explained, “The meeting has been called unhinged, not normal and the craziest meeting of the Trump presidency.”

Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, as well as Trump associate Michael Flynn, arrived bearing a draft executive order to “seize” ballot boxes and appoint Powell as a special prosecutor with the power to make election-related charges against people. Cipollone testified that he vehemently opposed the scheme, deeming it a “terrible idea” and “not how we do things in the United States.”

The heated meeting reportedly lasted more than six hours as Cipollone challenged the bizarre conspiracy theories that “Team Rudy” was passing along to Trump, involving foreign countries’ tampering with the results.

2

Far-right militia groups responded to Trump’s call for action and coordinated in broad daylight

After it became clear that the plan to seize the ballot boxes wouldn’t pan out, at 1:42 a.m. on Dec. 19, Trump sent out a tweet targeting the joint session of Congress at which the electoral votes would be certified. He called on his supporters to come to D.C. on Jan. 6 and insisted it would be “wild.”

Far-right online personalities such as Ali Alexander beckoned their followers to promote the event. An anonymous Twitter employee, who had tracked extremist Trump supporters after he told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” during a presidential debate, testified to the committee, “I was concerned the former president, for the first time, was speaking directly to extremist organizations and giving them directives.”

As a result of Trump’s invitation, far-right groups online turned ugly, violent and apocalyptic. The founder of one pro-Trump site referred to Jan. 6 as “D-day.” Trump continued to whip up his supporters on Twitter in the days before Jan. 6. Donell Harvin, a former top intelligence official for the District of Columbia, testified that previously unaligned groups were coordinating and planning a violent event.

3

Trump and his cronies revved up the violent mob he had summoned to D.C.

The committee showed chilling video excerpts of speeches from Flynn, Trump confidant Roger Stone and far-right media personality Alex Jones on the night before Jan. 6. The committee also showed that both Flynn and Stone had connections to violent militia groups.

On the same day, Trump continued to issue tweets urging the mob not to let the country fall to the left. The Twitter employee testified that there were efforts to de-platform Trump from the site, anticipating the violence from the “locked and loaded” crowd. They failed.

Even one of Trump’s allies feared what would happen. Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) said on Jan. 5: “We also have Trump supporters who actually believe that we are going to overturn the election. And when that doesn’t happen — most likely will not happen — they are going to go nuts.”

Despite warnings of violence, Trump insisted on adding incendiary lines to his rally speech on Jan. 6 calling on Vice President Mike Pence to reject electoral votes. The White House counsel’s office edited the line out, but Trump demanded that it put back in after Pence told him on the morning of Jan. 6 that he wouldn’t do his bidding. Trump ad-libbed even more lines that incited the mob.

4

The mob members believed Trump wanted them to fight to reverse the election

Stephen M. Ayres, one of the insurrectionists who swarmed the Capitol on Jan. 6, appeared before the committee on Tuesday alongside former Oath Keeper spokesman Jason Van Tatenhove. Ayres was the first participant in the insurrection that Americans could hear from firsthand.

Ayers described himself as a normal American before being caught up in the Trump cult. In describing the social media chorus that brought him to the Capitol on Jan. 6, he said, “I felt like I needed to get down here.” He also testified that it “definitely” would have made a difference to him had he known that Trump lied about the election being “stolen.” At the conclusion of his testimony, he called on others to “take off the blinders before it’s too late."

Van Tatenhove’s statements provided a window into the mentality of far-right militias. “We have to stop with the dishonesty,” he said, adding, "This could have been a spark that started a new civil war.” He practically pleaded with the country to pull back from the abyss. “We’ve been exceedingly lucky,” he said.

Their appearances before the committee were a sad, almost pathetic illustration of the people Trump preyed upon.

5

Trump tried to contact a witness

At the end of the hearing, Cheney revealed that Trump tried personally to contact a witness who has not been publicly named. The witness told their lawyer, who then alerted the committee. The committee has referred the matter to the Justice Department.

“Let me say one more time," Cheney said, "we will take any effort to influence witness testimony very seriously.” This is yet another vivid reminder that Trump remains a threat to the rule of law.


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The Jan. 6 insurrection

Congressional hearings: The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol held a series of high-profile hearings to share its findings with the U.S. public. In what was likely its final hearing, the committee issued a surprise subpoena seeking testimony from former president Donald Trump. Here’s a guide to the biggest hearing moments so far.

Will there be charges? The committee could make criminal referrals of former president Donald Trump over his role in the attack, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said in an interview.

What we know about what Trump did on Jan. 6: New details emerged when Hutchinson testified before the committee and shared what she saw and heard on Jan. 6.

The riot: On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. Five people died on that day or in the immediate aftermath, and 140 police officers were assaulted.

Inside the siege: During the rampage, rioters came perilously close to penetrating the inner sanctums of the building while lawmakers were still there, including former vice president Mike Pence. The Washington Post examined text messages, photos and videos to create a video timeline of what happened on Jan. 6.

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