Jan. 6 – Hearings Delivered Prime Time and Revealing Testimony
Though these hearings have consistently been lopsided and partisan, the final hearing included audio of former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon bellowing days before the November 2020 election, “He’s going to declare victory, but that doesn’t mean he’s the winner.”
To the degree that the man, whom Trump has called “Sloppy Steve,” can directly speak on what was in Trump’s mind, this would back up a core claim of the committee: That Trump never believed the election was fraudulent and was lying to his supporters.
What the committee didn’t prove was a seditious conspiracy. The final hearing focused mostly on Trump’s actions while the Capitol riot raged. If anything, the trial made a case for “dereliction of duty,” a phrase repeated a few times during the hearing since Trump waited so long to tell the rioters to cool it and leave.
That’s not a new point. National Review legal analyst Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor critical of the earlier probes and first impeachment of Trump, consistently argued that “dereliction of duty” would have been clear cut impeachment charge against Trump. He argued that “incitement to insurrection,” which the House brought, was a relatively weak one. Dereliction of duty is a charge under the military code. Therefore this is not one that Trump could be charged with. For Democrats, that might be the rub.
If it Succeeds, This Will Be Trump’s Next Impeachment
But this brings us back to the fact this is Trump’s January 2021 impeachment, which would have been the appropriate and constitutional time to hash things out. If Congress was going to impeach him with days left in his term, it should have had a point. Congress again proved it wasn’t serious. The January 2021 Senate impeachment trial would have been the appropriate venue to obtain evidence, call witnesses, and determine if there was any premeditation to the riot or dereliction of duty. It would not have required the full Senate because the full Senate must only sit for the entire trial of an impeached president. Trump is now a former president.
So, the same as when a federal judge is impeached, the Senate should have named a special committee to conduct the dual-purpose trial/investigation that would not have had to be rushed. But senators didn’t want to yield airtime, and held a pointless full-Senate trial rehashing what was already known that wrapped up in a week.
Forming a Select Committee
Instead, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed seven Democrats and two anti-Trump Republicans to a House select committee. Perhaps House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy shares some blame for pulling three members. But after Pelosi took the unprecedented move of blocking appointments, she pretty well knew party leaders had to provide some solidarity with members. Pelosi established a new precedent that could yet bite the Democrats one day.
The committee had a slow start, as noted. But it certainly has had its moments. The most extensive hearing was Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony, who told the panel that Trump was aware some of the people coming to the rally might have had weapons and nevertheless wanted to take down the metal detectors because “They are not here to hurt me.” Also, she testified that Trump desperately wanted to be at the Capitol himself. Though, some juicy details of her testimony came under suspicion, the most substantive aspects didn’t.
Jan. 6 Was Like No Other Day
The committee showing the video of Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley pumping his fist for the crowd, and then showing him evacuating, seemed more than a bit gratuitous. Before the riot commenced, there was little reason for Hawley or any other lawmaker to think this was more than a typical Trump rally. Crashing the Capitol stunned everyone.
It was also gratuitous to slam Eric Herschmann, a White House lawyer who was quite cooperative with the committee and critical of Trump’s post-election claims. Herschmann said the White House staff was “emotionally drained.” The response by committee members and pundits after the hearing was, “what about those in the Capitol facing physical danger.” It was perhaps tone deaf, but it wasn’t likely his intent.
The weakest aspect—which came in earlier hearings—was implying evidence that Trump or his inner circle conspired with the militant groups Oath Keepers and Proud Boys to make trouble. So far, we’ve only seen that they were inspired by Trump’s “will be wild” tweet.
Where the committee did win is that it might have established new ground for future hearings. The tightly produced, made-for-TV spectacles placed a premium on video production over live witnesses. That includes video snippets of depositions to build a narrative.
The storytelling techniques are effective, but the committee isn’t doing itself any good by always cutting off Trump’s reference in the speech to ordering those at the rally to go to the Capitol “peacefully and patriotically.” It unnecessarily undermines their case by making you wonder what else is getting spliced. The committee members would have been better served to make the case about why one line doesn’t exonerate the former president.
Let’s stipulate that Trump looks worse after the summer hearings than before. But maybe not by that much. It’s still a huge stretch to see what we know now that we didn’t know before, and how it can be grounds for a prosecution.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., one of two Republicans on the panel, said in the panel’s final report, that the committee will make recommendations to ensure Jan. 6 doesn’t happen again. That’s at least constructive. There is a bipartisan Senate bill to reform the Electoral Count Act, the 1888 law that allows members of Congress to challenge the certification.
Still, it’s clear the committee had three key goals, 1.) harm the Republican Party’s chances in the 2022 midterms; 2.) make it likely Trump will be indicted; 3.) prevent Trump from running for president in 2024.
It’s not likely they will achieve any of those three.
Fred Lucas is chief national affairs correspondent for The Daily Signal and co-host of “The Right Side of History” podcast. Lucas is also the author of “Abuse of Power: Inside The Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump.”