The Sedition Hearings Begin
The January 6th Committee takes to primetime TV.
I wanted to do a recap of all the insanity last night for those of you who are normal and watching Stranger Things instead of a Congressional hearing. Off the bat, it’s important to describe the hearings correctly: This is a bipartisan committee, made up of mostly Democrats, but with a major Republican Congresswoman acting as the de facto face of it in public. In fact, she had most of the face time last night. Another GOP Congressman - Adam Kinzinger of Illinois - sits on it.
There has been a lot of speculation about their motives. Kinzinger, for instance, has officially announced that he won’t be running for reelection. It’s a move that surprises no one, because his seat in liberal Illinois was always going to be redistricted into oblivion by Democrats. So, you could say that Kinzinger has some personal motivation to swing from one of the most consistently pro-Trump Republicans in the House (he voted with the Administration about 90% of the time) to full-on #NeverTrumper. Maybe Kinzinger saw this as a good move for him career-wise, and maybe he truly believes in the cause of the Committee (I think it’s a little bit of both).
I don’t think you can say the same for Liz Cheney. It seems to me like she is on this Committee and is making the statements she is in public because she truly believes them. Cheney isn’t above political machinations: She once determined that her own sister was an acceptable sacrifice in order to get herself closer to power:
Besides looking more than awkward in a pair of boots and wearing jeans so new that they still stained her hands blue, Cheney attempted to brush up on her conservative bona fides by stressing that it was patriotic to be an obstructionist to Barack Obama’s agenda. But the most galling part of her aww shucks cosplay was her telling Fox News’ Chris Wallace that she didn’t believe in same-sex marriage, a slap in the face to her lesbian sister Mary. […] he tension from within the Cheney family almost immediately spilled out into the public sphere. Mary’s wife Heather Poe issued a statement on Facebook — where else? — about how much Liz’s position stung and cast doubt on the sincerity of Liz’s opposition to gay marriage. To make matters even more dramatic, the Cheney parents also issued a statement, saying:
“This is an issue we have dealt with privately for making years and we are pained to see it become public. Since it has, one thing should be clear. Liz has ways believed in the traditional definition of marriage. Liz’s many kindnesses shouldn’t be used to distort her position.”
The ease at which Liz took an obvious opportunist position in an attempt to do anything to save her campaign isn’t new to politics, but what made it so cruel was the ease at which she decided her sister was acceptable collateral.
I think the easiest explanation for why Cheney has sacrificed her standing in the GOP, possibly her position as a Congresswoman (she has a primary coming up soon), and basically any future ambitions she has in politics, is simply because she really believes what she is saying.
With that out of the way, let’s get into what was discussed at the hearing last night. The hearing itself was way more riveting than I expected it to be. We learned a few nuggets of new information, like Republican members of Congress who objected to the certifying of the election were seeking pardons from President Trump.
The presentation by Cheney was truly wild. She laid out in extraneous detail how the attempt to overturn the 2020 election wasn’t just some haphazard and goofy last gasp, but a strategic and sophsticated attempt by Trump to stay in power. His speech at the ellipse wasn’t just something to rev up a crowd of supporters, but Trump truly thought of himself as Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini, assuming power against the will of the people. Peter Baker summed it up nicely:
Other presidents have been accused of wrongdoing, even high crimes and misdemeanors, but the case against Donald J. Trump mounted by the bipartisan House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol described not just a rogue president but a would-be autocrat willing to shred the Constitution to hang onto power at all costs.
As the committee portrayed it during its prime-time televised hearing, Mr. Trump executed a seven-part conspiracy to overturn a free and fair democratic election. According to the panel, he lied to the American people, ignored all evidence refuting his false fraud claims, pressured state and federal officials to throw out election results favoring his challenger, encouraged a violent mob to storm the Capitol and even signaled support for the execution of his own vice president (emphasis added).
At times, Trump’s plan was clumsy and uncoordinated, but he truly had no interest in rescinding his power and was willing to do whatever it took to retain the Presidency. Trump has been disqualified from holding higher office for a long time, but this really should make the argument clear.
A thing to really watch for during the hearings is any emphasis on Trump truly understanding that he lost. In a cold, brutal move, the Committee played a video of his own daughter admitting that Biden had won the Presidency, and she understood this because Bill Barr had communicated it to her. They played a video of Barr himself calling claims of election fraud “bullshit,” and also showed how members of Trump’s Campaign team told the President on election night that he was going to lose. I can’t remember on which podcast I heard it, but there was reporting from election night that said Trump fully understood that he lost. “How the hell did I lose?” to Joe Biden, was Trump’s question to his team. A well-known Trump whisperer is Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, who has made the case that Trump can eventually convince himself of his own “truth.” So, Trump may truly believe now that the election was stolen from him, but he can also understand that he lost at the same time.
A key witness for the Committee will be Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger. Trump called him after the Georgia results came in and specifically asked him to find 12,000 votes, the exact number he lost by. The number is important, but the criminality of Trump’s statement is him asking Raffensberger to “find” the votes. Trump didn’t actually cared if the votes existed, he just needed them to show up on paper.
There is a Grand Jury currently empaneled in Georgia considering whether or not to indict Trump for election fraud. But what the House Committee is going to show is that not only did Trump have all these plans in place to disrupt the election and stay in power, but he also did it with corrupt intent, not out of any real belief in fraud.
Nick Grossman has a really good piece on what the focus of the hearings should be:
An American president refusing to honor an election, lying incessantly about the results, and scheming to stay in power is new. Violently disrupting modern America’s peaceful transfer of power is new. Preparing to subvert the will of voters in future elections is new. Anything that treats it as more of the same, or about something else, undermines efforts to raise concern about today’s heightened risks.
We—by which I mean everyone who prefers American democracy to the alternative—need Jan. 6 to go down in history as a close call, not a prelude. We can each do our part by keeping the Jan. 6 discussion where it belongs: focused on Jan. 6. That’s how we rally a broad coalition to the used-to-be-concensus position that, whatever our disagreements, we manage them through argument, elections, and courts, not lies, bad faith legal manipulations, and violence.
To hone in on the “bad faith” aspect of this debate, I think we have to mention Fox News. Last night, not only did not they not air the hearings, they didn’t even allow for commercial breaks, lest their viewers change the channel and see coverage of the hearings:
The stories about how the “news” side of Fox News is routinely frustrated with the “opinion” side keep growing, and it culminated in the network’s loss of Chris Wallace last year (who specifically cited Tucker Carlson’s disinformation as a reason for leaving). It’s really hard to see how guys like Brett Baier continue to feel comfortable trying to work at what is essentially a propaganda network.
The most powerful testimony last night was from Caroline Edwards, a Capitol Police officer who was attacked by the mob. She also described how an officer ultimately killed by the mob, Brian Sicknick, was sprayed in the face with a chemical and turned “ghostly pale.”
It is important to highlight what will ultimately be the Committee’s goal: To present a clear case to the Justice Department that argues Trump should be indicted for sedition and trying to stay in power. Whether or not the Justice Department actually indicts Trump is still an open question, but no one should dissuade themselves: That is the Committee’s goal.
Justin Wolfers has a great thread on the inflation numbers that came out today, which were really bad.
Charlie Sykes lays out the case against Donald Trump.
Brookings also has a good outline of what to expect in the hearings.
I’ll be back next week, likely with recaps of additional hearings (or a Supreme Court case). But for Juneteenth and 4th of July, the Jackal will take an extended layoff and return July 11th. See you all next week.