Five takeaways on the Jan. 6 panel’s public case against Trump
The Jan. 6 committee’s prime-time hearing was its opening argument in making its public case that former President Trump was at the center of a plot to remain in power.
The two-hour hearing offered a mix of visceral video showing the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol paired with footage from some of those closest to Trump outlining their pushback to multiple efforts aimed at keeping him in office.
“All Americans should keep this fact in mind: On the morning of Jan. 6, President Trump’s intention was to remain president of the United States despite the lawful outcome of the 2020 election and in violation of his constitutional obligation to relinquish power,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the vice chair of the House select committee investigating the insurrection, said in a lengthy opening statement that outlined the bulk of the evidence the panel has gathered against Trump.
Here are five takeaways.
The committee used Trump’s own team to counter him
Even with Cheney’s strong words against the former president, the panel largely used the words of those close to Trump to back up its assertion that he was at the center of a “coordinated, multistep effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election.”
The panel had promised to showcase videotaped testimony from former aides, but its short clips served as video citations as Cheney offered a rapid-fire overview of evidence it otherwise plans to lay out over hours-long daytime hearings.
Former Attorney General William Barr — one of the more recent witnesses to sit with the panel’s investigators — made two appearances, saying on tape that there was ”absolutely zero basis for the allegations” and that Trump’s claims were “complete nonsense.”
“I told him that it was crazy stuff and they were wasting their time on that and that it was doing great, great disservice to the country,” Barr said.
Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump’s face briefly flashed on screen as she was heard saying she knew her father had lost the election.
“I respect Attorney General Barr, so I accepted what he was saying,” she said of Barr’s assertion there was no widespread election fraud.
The committee played a recording of acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue recounting how he pleaded with Trump to stop his pressure campaign at the Department of Justice.
“What you are proposing is nothing less than the United States Justice Department meddling in the outcome of a presidential election.”
The narrative will focus on Trump vs. Pence
Though he will not appear before the committee, the string of references to former Vice President Mike Pence show he will be a focus of the panel as it aims to sidestep the appearance of partisanship in their case against Trump.
Cheney relayed the testimony of White House staffers who alerted the former president that rioters were chanting “hang Mike Pence.”
“The president responded with this sentiment: ‘Maybe our supporters have the right idea,’” Cheney recounted. “Mike Pence ‘deserves it.’”
Her role in walking through the evidence shows the panel is eager to use the Wyoming lawmaker, one of the panel’s two Republican members, to add bipartisan legitimacy to the investigation and appeal to independents and even those in the GOP following the hearings.
In another revealing anecdote, Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told investigators that he spoke with Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows on Jan. 6. Meadows, Milley said, had urged him “to kill the narrative that the vice president is making all the decisions” because Trump went silent for much of the day.
“We need to establish the narrative, you know, that the president is still in charge,” Meadows said, according to Milley.
Expected in the coming weeks is testimony from Pence’s legal advisers, one of whom emailed a Trump campaign attorney during the riot.
“And thanks to your bullshit, we are under siege,” Greg Jacob wrote as the attack was underway.
An emotional review of a day many watched unfold
The committee played graphic video of the assault on the Capitol, much of it never-before-seen footage taken by documentarian Nick Quested, a filmmaker who was following the Proud Boys that day.
But to grab the attention of viewers on a topic where scenes of rioters violently rushing into the Capitol has become the norm, the committee sought to make it personal.
Also on the witness stand Thursday was U.S. Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards, one of the first officers injured in the attack and who returned to the scene once she regained consciousness.
The panel played a clip showing the moment Edwards suffered a concussion, pushed back by rioters, including members of the Proud Boys, until she fell backward and clipped her head on stairs.
When she returned to the Capitol, she described a “war zone.”
“It was something like I’d seen out of the movies. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were officers on the ground. They were bleeding. They were throwing up. They had, I mean, I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people’s blood. I was catching people as they fell. It was carnage. It was chaos. I can’t, I can’t even describe what I saw. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that as a police officer, as a law enforcement officer, I would find myself in the middle of a battle,” Edwards told lawmakers.
“It was just hours of hand-to-hand combat.”
The structure of the hearing is a review of ‘a sophisticated seven-part plan’
The seven subsequent hearings planned by the committee are each dedicated to what Cheney described as “a sophisticated seven-part plan” to remain in power.
Its second hearing, slated for Monday, will delve into how Trump knew his claims of widespread election fraud were baseless. The committee showed video testimony of Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller saying that Trump had been told in the days after the election “in pretty blunt terms that he was going to lose.”
The next hearing on Wednesday will focus on Trump’s efforts to get the Justice Department to kick off investigations into his baseless allegations of voter fraud as a way to stall certification of the vote.
The fourth hearing on Thursday will focus squarely on Trump’s efforts to pressure Pence.
“As you will hear, President Trump engaged in a relentless effort to pressure Pence both in private and in public. You will see the evidence of that pressure from multiple witnesses live and on recorded video,” Cheney said.
The fifth hearing is dedicated to the effort to convince state legislators and election officials to find “alternate electors” that would falsely certify that Trump won key states that he actually lost.
Its sixth and seventh hearings will focus both on how Trump encouraged the march to the Capitol while the certification was underway and then “failed to take immediate action to stop the violence and instruct his supporters to leave the Capitol.”
A tease of what’s to come on GOP lawmakers
Cheney also revealed Thursday that the number of GOP lawmakers who sought pardons from Trump was larger than previously known.
Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) was one of “multiple” GOP lawmakers who asked Trump for pardons given their roles in seeking to undo the 2020 election results, she said.
Perry’s office forcefully denied the allegation.
“Laughable, ludicrous, and a thoroughly soulless lie,” his spokesman Jay Ostrich told The Hill.
Perry, who helped introduce Trump to a mid-level Justice Department attorney willing to forward his election fraud claims, was among several seeking pardons due to their roles.
“As you will see, Rep. Perry contacted the White House in the weeks after Jan. 6 to seek a presidential pardon. Multiple other Republican congressmen also sought presidential pardons for their roles in attempting to overturn the 2020 election,” Cheney said.
It was previously reported that “several” GOP lawmakers who were involved with the Jan. 6 rally on the White House Ellipse, where Trump spoke before the Capitol riot, had sought pardons from him. Republicans members of Congress who spoke at the rally include Arizona Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs, as well as Rep. Mo Brooks (Ala.).
And according to an October Rolling Stone report, Gosar floated the idea of “blanket pardons” for some of those organizing the Ellipse rally.
But lawmakers on the panel who spoke to The Hill after the hearing were mum on who else sought pardons from Trump.