First things first: If you have not seen Thursday night’s January 6 committee hearing in full, here it is. Watch that now, save this article for later. It’s not going anywhere.
Given how much political content I consume on a yearly basis, it’s natural for much of it to fade in time. I don’t have enough RAM in my processor to manage it all. Some moments will always linger, though (and here I date myself): Nixon’s bananas farewell address to his staff; Carter in a sweater talking about the energy crisis; Reagan’s eulogy for the Challenger astronauts; Bush Sr.’s “Read my lips” pledge; Wendy Davis’s filibuster; Stephanie Tubbs Jones and Barbara Boxer’s objection to Ohio’s 2004 electors; Clinton’s demand to “Save Social Security first”; the pure fear in George W. Bush’s eyes after he was informed of 9/11; Obama’s 2004 convention speech; Donald Trump at the podium before the January 6 assault; and more. If these moments did not all change history, they made history at least roll over in bed.
A new space has been set aside in my little cathedral of memory. So long as I retain one functioning neuron, I will remember Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi lowering the boom on this entire disgraceful affair with one simple, elegant and altogether damning statement: “Any legal jargon you hear about ‘seditious conspiracy’, ‘obstruction of an official proceeding’, ‘conspiracy to defraud the United States’ boils down to this: January 6th was the culmination of an attempted coup.”
Equally impressive was the performance of Rep. Liz Cheney, who labored last night under a unique set of circumstances. Cheney is one of only two Republicans on the commission (the other being Rep. Adam Kinzinger). She resisted the Trump wave within her party and was all but excommunicated for it. If her hopes for reelection in Wyoming come November were slim before, they are ashes now… and that is worth recognizing. We hear the term, “The hill you choose to die on” often enough. Last night, Liz Cheney chose her hill and did not blink.
Under virtually every circumstance imaginable, I am constitutionally incapable of praising a Cheney; that neuron burned out more than 20 years ago. This Cheney’s policy positions are the stuff of my personal nightmares, but in this moment and with so much on the line, she came through like Adlai Stevenson at the United Nations when the Cuban missiles were revealed: “As you hear this, all Americans should keep in mind this fact: On the morning of January 6, President Donald 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.”
Given the content of her apostasy, Cheney’s finest moment came when she called down the judgment of history itself upon the heads of every Republican who abandoned reason and the country for a taste of Trump’s table scraps: “Tonight I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible. There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”
Peter Baker of The New York Times summed up the proceedings succinctly: “In the entire 246-year history of the United States, there was surely never a more damning indictment presented against an American president than outlined on Thursday night in a cavernous congressional hearing room where the future of democracy felt on the line.”
When I say watch it yourself, I do mean it. There were almost too many astonishing revelations put forth to be recounted by any second party; you have to experience it firsthand, listen to the gasps from the audience when Trump is quoted as saying the insurrectionists seeking to murder Mike Pence had the right idea, and watch as grown men weep in the gallery as they recall their own experiences on that bleak day.
Ivanka Trump believes Bill Barr, who thinks the stolen election narrative is “bullshit.” Rep. Scott Perry went spelunking for a presidential pardon after trying to insert a Trump mole into the Justice Department as part of the larger plot to overturn the election. The scramble to make it seem like Trump was “in charge” after Pence took all the needed actions to regain control of the situation. The fact that Trump was deemed “too dangerous to leave alone” by his aides. The clear connective tissue between militia groups like the Proud Boys and the efforts to overturn the election results… and with every revelation, lined up one after the other, came a sense of genuine horror, again, that such a thing had come to pass.
“What I saw was just a war scene,” recounted former U.S. Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards, who was beaten unconscious by the mob. “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. 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 even describe what I saw. I 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.”
Before the hearings are concluded, the commissioners will seek to establish the following:
- Trump deliberately spread false information about the election.
- Trump sought to install allies at Justice to “support his fake election claims.”
- Trump put enormous pressure on Mike Pence to make him try to overturn the election results.
- Trump similarly harassed various state election officials and legislators to overthrow the results.
- Trump’s legal team “instructed Republicans in multiple states to create false electoral slates and transmit those slates to Congress and the National Archive.”
- Trump invited a mob to Washington, D.C., and deliberately turned them loose on the Capitol.
- Trump appeared to be enjoying the violence as it was taking place, and took no action to stop it for hours.
… and as Axios pointed out in its email newsletter this morning, “Note the first word of each of those sentences.”
As for Trump himself, well, it was just another evening spent rewriting history in his typical bog-standard fashion: “January 6th was not simply a protest,” he puled on his pet platform. “It represented the greatest movement in the history of our Country to Make America Great Again.”
That’s nice, Donnybrook. Have fun storming the castle. Hey, at least he didn’t try to blame everyone in the country for January 6 the way House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy did before the hearing had even begun. I swear, these two were born for each other.
Was history made last night? Has anything changed? That is for time and Attorney General Merrick Garland to ultimately decide. Some 50 years of grim and disappointing history suggest all this will go down as just another television show, but who knows. Whatever else it was, last night’s hearing was deeply compelling. I slept very poorly after it was over, and I suspect I am not alone in that.
The next hearing is scheduled for Monday morning, 10 am Eastern time.