“Can I say a word about Vice President Pence? I think the vice president did the right thing, I think he did the courageous thing,” former White House attorney Pat Cipollone said via videotape before the January 6 House Select Committee yesterday. “I think he did a great service to this country. I suggested to someone he should get the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his actions.”
Thus was Donald Trump, Master Troll, himself trolled to the Oort Cloud and back, and by an in-house lawyer no less, right there on live television. Can you imagine the reaction? One of the slobs still hovering around Mar-a-Lago will write a book someday with a tidbit about how Trump turned into Armus from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” when he heard Cipollone suggest that medal for Pence. Of course Trump saw it, because of course he’s watching, because of course he is. Oh, the humanity.
Yesterday’s session was filled with moments like this. The architects of these hearings have pulled off a nifty hat trick: 1. They are informative in a way the general public can completely understand; 2. They are informative in a way Attorney General Merrick Garland cannot fail to understand; and, 3. They are just marvelously entertaining. To crib a line from Harper Lee, the average congressional hearing tends to leave one with the sensation of settling slowly to the bottom of the ocean. These ain’t those. These are something else again. Former White House Aide Cassidy Hutchinson set the standard some weeks back, and yesterday’s gathering rose to that benchmark with cool gusto.
The world has long known about Trump’s post-midnight December 19 “Be there, will be wild!” exhortation to his followers. For many, this was prima facie evidence that Trump was helping to plan the January 6 insurrection long before the day arrived. On Tuesday, the hearing fleshed out the context and timing of that fateful tweet, and it turns out to be among the most undistilled mayhem stories in the history of United States politics. Rep. Jamie Raskin called it “the stuff of legend.” There was this Oval Office meeting on the night of the 18, you see, and… well, let The Washington Post tell it:
Late on a Friday night about six weeks after Donald Trump lost his reelection, a fistfight nearly broke out in the White House between the president’s fired national security adviser and a top White House aide. A motley crew of unofficial Trump advisers had talked their way into the Oval Office and an audience with the president of the United States to argue the election had been stolen by shadowy foreign powers — perhaps remotely via Nest thermostats….
Even for a White House known for its unconventional chaos, the Dec. 18, 2020, meeting was an extraordinary moment, demonstrating how Trump invited fringe players advocating radical action into his inner sanctum, as he searched for a way to remain in office despite losing an election. “The west wing is UNHINGED,” declared Cassidy Hutchinson, a top aide to Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, in a text message sent as the meeting unfolded.
The rolling, hours-long shouting match was absurd, said Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), a committee member. But nevertheless, the night was “critical,” he argued, since it provided a forum for Trump to watch as his own advisers shot down, one by one, the false theories to which he had been clinging in hopes of staying in office.
As Trump administration attorneys nearly came to blows with some of the meeting’s participants — among them being the deeply erratic Michael Flynn, the U.S.’s worst lawyer Sidney Powell, the mossy stump formerly known as Rudy Giuliani, and Overstock.com guy Patrick Byrne, maybe because the MyPillow guy was indisposed — Trump was raked repeatedly with the impossible nature of his position. Giuliani and the others were not having it, but Cipollone and fellow White House attorney Eric Herschmann did not waver: What is being proposed has no bearing in the law.
Not long after that meeting concluded, Trump sent the “will be wild!” tweet to his followers, confirming which side of the bread he had chosen to butter. The case against him has been made, which means it’s just about time for Trump’s allies to switch gears on their defense. Gone are the days of delay and denial, according to Committee Co-Chair Liz Cheney:
Now the argument seems to be that President Trump was manipulated by others outside the administration. That he was persuaded to ignore his closest advisers, and that he was incapable of telling right from wrong…. President Trump is a 76-year old man. He is not an impressionable child. Just like everyone else in our country, he is responsible for his own actions and his own choices. As our investigation has shown, Donald Trump had access to more detailed and specific information showing that the election was not actually stolen than almost any other American. And he was told this over and over again. No rational or sane man in his position can disregard that information and reach the opposite conclusion. And Donald Trump cannot escape responsibility by being willfully blind.
Speaking of Representative Cheney, the co-chair did not let the curtain come down without leaving a ticking bomb in the middle of the stage. It seems Mr. Trump has been a naughty boy who has personally tried to manipulate — read “intimidate” — at least one committee witness. “After our last hearing,” Cheney said on Tuesday, “President Trump tried to call a witness in our investigation, a witness you have not seen in these hearings. That person declined to answer or respond to President Trump’s call and instead alerted their lawyer to the call. Their lawyer alerted us, and this committee has supplied that information to the Department of Justice. Let me say one more time: We will take any effort to influence witness testimony very seriously.”
In the immortal words of Uma Thurman from Pulp Fiction, “I said Goddamn! Goddamn… Goddamn.” That’s, like, a whole new horizon of legal trouble… witness tampering, obstruction of justice, and it sounds for all the world like they have him dead bang cold on it. This was not the first time these hearings brought forth vivid evidence of witness tampering, either. I said Goddamn, Merrick Garland. Goddamn.
Any review of yesterday’s events would be incomplete without noting something that went down away from the hearing room. Former Trump National Security Advisor John “I-Will-Drink-Human-Blood-in-Tehran-Before-I-Die” Bolton was on CNN discussing how difficult and complicated the average coup can be. Host Jake Tapper opined, “One doesn’t have to be brilliant to attempt a coup.” To which Bolton replied, “I disagree with that. As somebody who has helped plan coups d’état, not here, but, you know, other places, it takes a lot of work. And that’s not what he did.”
Not here, but other places — OH WELL THAT’S FINE THEN. Bolton and Henry Kissinger need to play a bracing game of Scrabble to see who can score the most points with words like “abattoir,” “bloodlust,” “genocidal” and “slaughter.” My money’s on Kissinger, but just barely.
The next hearing was set for tomorrow, but the committee bounced it into next week, presumably to buy time for all the new areas of investigation and questioning created by Pat Cipollone’s recent interview. “I think that Cipollone’s testimony has opened up a number of different avenues,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, who described the hearing next week as “a profound moment of reckoning for America.”
It is impossible to speak to the impact these hearings may come to have; it’s an open question with too many moving parts (and one seemingly immobile part named Garland, but I digress). We can’t even begin to assume that their revelatory nature will result in a true reckoning for the country… but goddamn, I’m still going to miss these things when they’re gone.