Miller’s opening statement was previewed Tuesday evening. In it, he stated that although he couldn’t offer an official conclusion about Trump’s culpability, “I stand by my prior observation that I personally believe his comments encouraged the protestors that day.”
What resulted in the hearing was plenty of parsing about exactly what that meant. Did he truly believe Trump had incited the mob that stormed the Capitol that day?
Miller, notably, did not include that particular statement in his oral opening remarks. Such remarks are often distilled down because of time constraints, but this was arguably the most newsworthy section of his prepared statement, and Miller didn’t say it out loud.
As things progressed, that seemed less like a coincidence. When Miller was pressed on the subject by Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.), he backed off the emphasis on Trump.
“He clearly offered that they should march on the Capitol,” Miller said of Trump’s Jan. 6 speech. “So it goes without saying that his statement resulted in that. The question — ”
Lynch, though, pressed further. He wanted to know specifically whether Miller thought Trump incited the rioters.
On this, Miller was less willing to commit, and he actually acknowledged he had “reassessed.”
“I think now I would say that that is not the unitary factor at all,” Miller said, adding: “I would like to offer — I’ve reassessed. It’s not the unitary factor at all. It seems clear there was an organized conspiracy with assault elements in place.”
This set Lynch off. He accused Miller of walking back his written testimony that Trump had encouraged the protesters that day. Miller called the accusation “ridiculous,” to which Lynch responded, “You’re ridiculous.”
“Thank you for, um, your thoughts,” Miller said diplomatically.
Once things calmed down, they got to the crux of the matter. Miller maintained that he was, in fact, somehow drawing a distinction between those who “marched” on the Capitol and those who broke into it and rioted.
“There’s a difference between marching on the Capitol and assaulting the Capitol,” Miller said. “That’s the delineation I’m trying to make, despite the partisan attack that I just was subjected to.”
But crucially, that’s not at all a distinction Miller drew before.
In comments to Vice News two months ago, he drew no such line between Trump’s speech resulting in people marching on the Capitol and storming it. Indeed, he lumped them together in the same breath while talking about what Trump spurred. And he said Trump’s speech was a necessary ingredient for both.
“The question is, would anybody have marched on the Capitol and tried to overrun the Capitol without the president’s speech? I think it’s pretty much definitive that wouldn’t have happened,” Miller said at the time.
Miller did allow for the possibility that Trump might not have intended for such a thing to happen. But that’s different from saying this wouldn’t have happened at all without Trump’s speech. This appears to be what Miller has “reassessed.”
But even that reassessment is odd and somewhat inexplicable. If you’re drawing that fine line — and knowing the narrative about Trump’s potential role — why not more clearly specify that’s what you’re doing in your statement. And why omit that from your spoken remarks in a way that you had to know would be noticed?
Even more than that, what actually changed over the past two months? By the time Miller gave his interview in mid-March, it was well known — for more than a month — that certain elements of the Capitol riot included planning. But not even that would absolve Trump of incitement, especially given his many comments before then claiming the election was stolen and otherwise suggestively pointing to violence by his supporters. And there’s no indication there is suddenly some new, game-changing evidence Miller wouldn’t have been aware of in March.
It’s clear that Miller has, at the very least, changed the thrust of his commentary on what happened Jan. 6. And it seems he has indeed “reassessed” the substance of it, too. The questions is why, but the answers weren’t exactly forthcoming Wednesday.