The Jan. 6 Committee, in its seventh hearing on Tuesday, revealed the underbelly of a violent extremist movement—which had been aided and abetted by Donald Trump’s allies, and egged-on by the former president in his attempt to stay in office.
Today’s hearings showed that—having exhausted bogus legal appeals after losing the 2020 election to Joe Biden—Trump convened a December 18 meeting in the Oval Office that ended after midnight in a flurry of profane shouting between the outside “crazies” and the inside White House lawyers. Upon concluding that unhinged meeting, at 1:42am, Trump tweeted about the planned protests on Jan. 6: “Be there. It will be wild.”
That was the call to arms that summoned the mob to Washington—more evidence of how (in committee vice-chair Rep. Liz Cheney’s telling) Trump was “substantially and personally” involved every step of the way in the events that led to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Cheney also promised that next week’s (supposedly) final hearing will feature a witness we have not yet heard from—who refused to take a phone call from the former president, then told their lawyer about it, who then told the Jan. 6 Committee, who told the Justice Department.
The committee is hot on the right trail, and this is what it needs to do in the big finale:
- Dig into Trump’s dereliction of duty for the 187 minutes that he was AWOL.
- Get the answers for why it took so long to send reinforcements to the U.S. Capitol.
- Lay out exactly who knew that (and when) the violent attack on the Capitol was coming.
Committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin, who led much of the questioning in Tuesday’s hearing, said Watergate is “like a Cub Scout meeting” compared to the conspiracy to overthrow the 2020 election. He said next week’s scheduled hearing will be “a moment of reckoning.”
Last month’s testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson blew the roof off the carefully constructed bunker that Trump aides had built. Once the 26-year-old stared down Trump, others would follow. Though it’s not quite a herd, In the words of recently ousted British prime minister, Boris Johnson, “When the herd moves, it moves.”
The Jan. 6 Committee is a court of record that will inform future generations charged with keeping our democracy. They deserve to know that the evidence compiled before Jan. 6—and on the day itself—points to a president who intended violence, watched the violence unfold, and savored the violence.
“A sitting president asking for civil war,” former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale texted around 7pm on Jan. 6 to former Trump campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson (who also helped plan the “Stop the Steal” rally on the Ellipse).
“I feel guilty for helping him win,” Parscale added.
The committee has put all the pieces in place to establish the insurrection was part of a larger plan to overthrow the election, not a rally that got out of hand. You can draw a line from the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, where Trump declared there were “very fine people on both sides,” to what was more than an off-hand comment at the first presidential debate in 2020—when he told the far-right street gang the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”
The Proud Boys took the message literally, as did other far-right groups.
Jason Van Tatenhove, former Oath Keepers spokesman, testified before the committee. “They’re a violent militia,” he said, recalling the group’s “stacked military formation going up the stairs of the Capitol.” He admitted to once being “swept up” by the group, but bailed after learning they were Holocaust deniers, and also being asked to create a deck of cards featuring top targets to take out (like the U.S. military did upon the invasion of Iraq in 2003)—with Hillary Clinton as the Queen of Hearts.
A report last month from Politico found that the social media company, Parler, had flagged dozens of incendiary messages to the FBI that apparently went unheeded. “Don’t be surprised if we take the Capitol building,” said one post. “Trump needs us to cause chaos to enact the Insurrection Act.”
Raskin asked the Oath Keepers’ former spokesman why the group was interested in the Insurrection Act, an 1807 law that authorizes the president to deploy military forces inside the country. It was last used by President George H.W. Bush in 1992 to quell riots in Los Angeles. Referring to Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, the former spokesman said it was “a path to legitimacy,” that he envisioned an armed revolution. “He has visions of being a paramilitary leader. The president’s messaging gave him the nod.”
Former White House counsel Pat Cipollone—who the committee had pursued for months—in video testimony confirmed that he and others pushed for Trump to make a strong statement to disperse the mob. Trump resisted, fiddled with the wording, and ultimately didn’t get it out until after 4pm. By then, people had died, and 140 law enforcement officers were injured. Rep. Raskin honored one of them who was in the hearing room, noting that the officer has since had to rebuild his life, as the injuries he sustained on Jan. 6 prevented him from returning to the job he loved.
The U.S. Capitol Police, the Washington Metropolitan Police, and numerous local officials requested help from the D.C. National Guard twelve times while the Capitol was under attack, according to a report last month by House Oversight Committee Democrats.
Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller authorized the National Guard to “re-mission” to the Capitol at 4:32 pm. They finally arrived at 5:20 pm, more than four hours after the Capitol was breached—“a shocking failure,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
In the committee’s final hearing, Cheney promises a minute-by-minute documentation of what Trump was doing in those 187 unaccounted-for minutes while the U.S. Capitol was under siege. He wasn’t calling his attorney general or the Department of Homeland Security or the Pentagon, she noted. That was left to Vice President Mike Pence who stepped in after it became obvious that Trump wouldn’t intervene.
The testimony from far-right extremists who had been taken under Trump’s cult-like spell is a fitting bridge to where the committee is headed next. And if the next hearing does prove to be the committee’s last—it’s up to Cheney and company to hit their marks and solidify the case that Donald Trump, alone, is responsible for Jan. 6 and the conspiracy that led to one of the darkest days in our nation’s history.