Jan. 6 committee closes summer with Trump outtake revelations: Five takeaways
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection held its final hearing — only its second in prime time — before a summer break on Thursday.
The latest event stretched over almost three hours and featured two key live witnesses, Matthew Pottinger and Sarah Matthews, both of whom resigned from Trump’s administration on the day of the riot, as well as a plethora of new details.
Here are five key takeaways:
Raw Trump footage reveals a lot
Former President Trump was caught on candid camera — and the results were damning.
The panel obtained raw footage of two crucial Trump addresses to the nation.
One was on Jan. 6 itself, when, after hours of violence at the Capitol, he recorded a video in the White House Rose Garden saying the rioters should go home; the other was an address delivered the following day.
The latter was the more startling because it showed Trump repeatedly objecting to the script that had been loaded into his teleprompter.
His irritation bubbled up at the idea that he should declare the election “over.”
“I just want to say Congress has certified the results, without saying the election’s over,” Trump insisted. “OK?”
The previous day, the then-president had bridled at the idea of following a script at all.
Instead, his off-the-cuff speech included his “love” for the protesters, whom he called “very special.” He also repeated the fiction that 2020 was a “fraudulent” election.
Matthews, a former deputy press secretary, said at the hearing she found the Rose Garden video “disturbing.”
The footage from Jan. 7 displayed something even more powerful, however.
It showed the then-president refusing to back down from his false claims of election fraud, even after one of the darkest days in American history.
As a result, it helped make the committee’s central case: that Trump incited a mob, loosed them on the Capitol and, even after the results were grimly apparent, just didn’t care.
New details emerge of Pence — and his protectors — in peril
The single most vivid section of Thursday’s hearing underlined the dangers that faced then-Vice President Mike Pence and those around him.
Pence, who had journeyed to the Capitol to certify the election results, had to be hustled to safety by his security detail, with insurrectionists sometimes only feet away.
An anonymous former White House security official, apparently testifying with his voice distorted to conceal his identity, said that Pence’s Secret Service detail were in fear of their lives.
This person said that there were “a lot of very personal calls over the radio, so it was disturbing. I don’t like talking about it, but there were calls to say goodbye to family members.”
The hearing also played excerpts from radio conversations among the agents, expressing near panic about Pence’s plight, and their own.
“If we lose any more time, we may … lose the ability to leave,” one agent was heard to say. “So if we’re going to leave, we need to do it now.”
The visceral force of the radio transmissions cuts hard against continuing efforts by Trump loyalists and their media allies to minimize what happened on Jan. 6.
Liz Cheney, facing primary defeat, pulls no punches
The House select committee’s chair is Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), but its star is Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.).
The conservative congresswoman is the most effective Trump critic among Republicans on Capitol Hill, and she has made some of the most forceful speeches lambasting his actions.
Her opposition to Trump has been disastrous for Cheney’s political fortunes, however. She was long ago ousted as a member of the Republican House leadership. Now, she looks likely to lose a House primary to a pro-Trump candidate, Harriet Hageman.
A poll from Cheney’s home state Casper Star-Tribune last week put her down by 22 points. The primary is set for Aug. 16.
By the time the hearings resume in September, Cheney might be officially on her way to becoming an ex-congresswoman.
But if Thursday was a swan song of sorts, Cheney at least tried to make it count.
At the hearing’s opening, she asserted that, in the immediate wake of the insurrection, “almost no one of any political party would defend President Trump’s conduct — and no one should do so today.”
At its close, she accused the former president of engaging in a macabre con. She said Trump had been “preying on” the patriotism of his supporters. He had, she added, “turned their love of country into a weapon against our Capitol and our Constitution.”
No one who had acted as Trump had done, she argued, should “ever be trusted with any position of authority in our great nation again.”
New testimony bolsters Cassidy Hutchinson
One of the panel’s most dramatic public hearings so far came last month with the appearance of Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to Trump’s final White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows.
Hutchinson appeared on June 28, revealing explosive details about conversations she said had taken place inside the White House.
But one part of Hutchinson’s testimony became a particular point of contention.
She said she had been told about an altercation in Trump’s vehicle after his Jan. 6 speech at a rally at the Ellipse. Hutchinson said she had been told that Trump had lunged for the steering wheel and physically tangled with a Secret Service agent.
Almost immediately, media reports emerged that three people, including the agent and the vehicle’s driver, were willing to testify that this had not happened in the way Hutchinson relayed.
But Thursday’s hearing brought some support for Hutchinson.
Video testimony was played from a retired Washington police officer, Mark Robinson, who was part of the presidential motorcade that day. Robinson said he was told that “the president was upset, and was adamant about going to the Capitol, and there was a heated discussion about that.”
An unidentified former White House employee also recalled a story, similar to the one recounted by Hutchinson, in which Trump was “irate” at not getting to go to the Capitol.
There are, of course, fine points that remain disputed, including whether Trump lunged for the steering wheel. These disputes are also taking place against a backdrop of the apparent deletion of Secret Service text messages — something that is now under investigation.
But the bottom line is that Thursday’s hearing buttressed Hutchinson’s earlier testimony.
There will be more hearings
The committee has often left its precise plans unclear until the last minute — the June 28 Hutchinson hearing, for example, was announced just 24 hours in advance.
There had been some speculation that Thursday’s hearing would be the final one of its kind.
Instead, the panel will return in September.
Thompson said in his opening remarks — delivered virtually, after he tested positive for COVID-19 — that the panel would “reconvene” then.
Cheney put things more colorfully.
“Doors have opened, new subpoenas have been issued and the dam has begun to break,” she asserted.
Of course, the closer the hearings get to November’s midterm elections, the sharper the criticism will become that they are nothing more than political theater.
But that doesn’t seem to worry Cheney.
“We have much work yet to do,” she said at the close of Thursday’s proceedings, “and we shall see you all in September.”