In the days before the 1/6 Select Committee opened its hearings on the Capitol attack, the airwaves were filled with the usual cynical, desultory baby-nihilism that rises along with anything worth hoping for these days. Will anyone watch? Will the right people watch? Will it make any difference? The pre-game answers, in the main, were no, no way and hell no, not necessarily in that order.
What a difference a few hearings make. The 1/6 Committee — thanks in no small part to the GOP’s own-goal error in not stuffing the panel with distraction machines like Jim Jordan — has put forth a presentation as riveting as it has been damning. Even Fox News has been forced to broadcast them. If Attorney General Merrick Garland is still playing Hamlet over whether or not to prosecute Donald Trump for his 1/6 seditions, it won’t be for lack of evidence.
In fact, that may be the most remarkable aspect of these hearings: So much evidence to present could have overwhelmed the proceedings, but instead, a steady conveyor belt of information and revelation has transformed these events into riveting must-see TV. They are the new center of gravity in the Washington, D.C. political universe; they have apparently frightened the living hell out of Trump; and there are at least two more to go this week before the curtain comes down.
A significant portion of the Tuesday hearing appears to be focused on the tweet heard round the world — Trump’s invitation to the “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” — and how various right-wing extremist groups reacted to it. This is profoundly significant; with this, the committee seeks to show Trump as more than merely a giddy bystander to the mayhem, and as a central instigator of the subsequent violence. If they can make that case, Trump’s legal woes will be compounded by an order of magnitude.
“People are going to hear the story of that tweet,” committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin told CBS News’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, “and then the explosive effect it had in Trumpworld, and specifically among the domestic violent extremist groups, the most dangerous political extremists in the country at that point.”
As of this writing, no official witness list for Tuesday has dropped. Odds are good, however, that we may be hearing from some or all of the following: Jason Van Tatenhove, a former Oath Keepers spokesman from Colorado; Joe Biggs, a Proud Boys member from Florida charged with seditious conspiracy; Ethan Nordean, a Proud Boy from Seattle also charged with seditious conspiracy; and Kelly Meggs, an associate of Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and member of Roger Stone’s “security detail” in the days before the insurrection.
It goes without saying that the gold standard for these hearings was set by former White House Aide Cassidy Hutchinson, whose measured yet devastating testimony turned the country on its ear. Worthy of note: Tony Ornato and Bobby Engel, the two Trump allies who contradicted Hutchinson’s description of a violently unhinged Trump attacking his security detail on 1/6, have yet to make a peep under oath regarding their claims. There appears to be no effort underway to make that happen.
That was all very big, but Tuesday’s testimony could prove to be even more significant. If the committee has actually secured cooperation from members of the Proud Boys or other extremist groups, the country is about to be given a guided tour through a terrifying realm many never knew existed. These people are the fist in Trump’s authoritarian glove, and to date they have reveled violently in that role. They are the fire Trump was playing with on 1/6, and he damn near burned the whole thing to the ground. I will be listening to these people with my big ears on, and expect to emerge with a stomach ulcer the size of a car battery.
Not to be outdone by a clot of fascist street brawlers, we may also be seeing one of the bigger fish in the 1/6 pond on Tuesday. “As White House counsel, Pat Cipollone was privy to the tumultuous final months of the Trump administration,” reports Politico, “weighing in and pushing back on Trump’s efforts at key moments. Hutchinson described him as raising legal concerns about plans to appoint alternate slates of electors, the plan to appoint Sidney Powell as a special counsel to investigate election fraud and Trump’s proposed march to the Capitol on Jan. 6.”
Cipollone testified on camera for the committee for about eight hours on Friday. Reports suggest he was mostly cooperative, but did invoke privilege on occasion when the questions veered too close to his professional relationship with the former president. Galling but fair: The committee understands attorney-client privilege, and apparently was at pains not to trigger that response too often. “[I]nvestigators focused mainly on Mr. Cipollone’s views on the events of Jan. 6,” reports The New York Times, “and generally did not ask about his views of other witnesses’ accounts.”
The last “person in the room” testimony we got was from Hutchinson, and she blew the roof off the joint. Cipollone has the potential to bury Trump entirely. Clearly, he vehemently disagreed with Trump’s actions on that day, and now he will have the opportunity to explain why. Worse for Trump, if Cipollone is brutally honest within the bounds of privilege, his testimony could sound the death knell for the loyalty shield Trump has enjoyed to date. If Pat rolls, it’s hats over the windmill.
There is noise that former Trump adviser and anthropomorphic hate potato Steve Bannon could testify somewhere down the line, but that’s mostly smoke at this point. The consensus seems to be that Trump, having released Bannon from a privilege that actually has no legal bearing on his testimony, is expecting Bannon to act as some sort of human bomb to go in and blow up the proceedings. The committee members, who did not come down with the last drop of rain, intend to thoroughly interview Bannon in private before letting him anywhere near a camera. Jury selection for Bannon’s contempt of Congress charges begins a bit more than a week from now, and his motive to speak to the committee may well be connected to those proceedings. The Justice Department certainly thinks so.