July 13, 2022
The January 6th hearing on Tuesday covered so much ground that finding a unifying theme for the hearing is a challenge. It was an extraordinary hearing, nonetheless. The Committee’s goal on Tuesday was its most ambitious undertaking to date: To show that Trump intended to call protesters to violence on January 6th to interrupt the electoral count.
The Committee succeeded in telling that story in a convincing way. Whether the same presentation can establish criminal culpability is a closer question. But the Committee has gathered an astounding amount of relevant evidence that should be of intense interest to a prosecutor. We are incredibly fortunate that the January 6th Committee is writing the definitive history of this tragic event.
The key takeaway is this: After Trump realized he could not convince the Department of Defense to seize voting machines to overturn the election, Trump concluded that his only option was to incite an attack on the Capitol to stop the electoral vote count. Indeed, only hours after the most “unhinged” meeting in the history of Trump’s presidency, he sent the “tweet heard around the world”—“Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” The rest is history.
The Committee first demonstrated that Trump was repeatedly advised in November that he had lost the election and should concede—a fact relevant to establishing Trump’s criminal intent in his later actions. Despite that advice, Trump continued to explore extra-constitutional means to overturn the election.
The most depraved plan was promoted by Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and Michael Flynn at an unhinged meeting at the White House on December 18th. The meeting was a six-hour slugfest in which Trump’s co-conspirators urged Trump to impose martial law, appoint Sidney Powell as a Special Counsel to prosecute alleged voter fraud, and order the Department of Defense to seize voting machines in states where Trump lost. The military would then “re-run” a national election—which Trump would magically win!
Anyone with a casual knowledge of the Constitution should immediately know that the Giuliani-Powell-Flynn plan was nothing short of a coup d'état—a fact that his White House advisers repeatedly told Trump (often shouting at Trump and his co-conspirators). Trump nonetheless wanted to proceed with the plan and went so far as to appoint Sidney Powell as Special Counsel to prosecute non-existent election fraud. White House advisors told Trump that “no one would listen to Powell” and then refused to take any steps to complete her appointment.
As the six-hour meeting raged across three rooms and two wings of the White House complex, Cassidy Hutchinson messaged Tony Ornato that “the meeting in the West Wing is UNHINGED.” The White House advisors ultimately wrestled the coup plotters to a draw, and Trump withdrew to his private quarters. Having failed to convince his White House advisors to agree to martial law, Trump then tweeted to his followers to come to D.C. on January 6th, promising, “Be there. It will be wild.”
The Committee then demonstrated the effect of Trump’s call to action on right-wing paramilitary groups. The Committee has tens of thousands of internal communications from those groups, which show members gleefully planning coordinated violence on January 6th. The timeline created by the Committee creates a strong inference that Trump anticipated violence on January 6th.
Of particular note was the timing of a call between Trump and Steve Bannon on January 5th. Minutes after completing a call with Trump, Bannon made the following statement on his podcast:
All hell is going to break loose tomorrow. It’s all converging, and now we’re on, as they say, the point of attack. I’ll tell you this: It’s not going to happen like you think it’s going to happen. It’s going to be quite extraordinarily different, and all I can say is strap in.
As Bannon was making that eerily prescient statement, he looked like the ‘cat that ate the canary.’ Bannon seemed to be reveling in secret knowledge of impending chaos. The clear implication is that Trump told Bannon there would be an assault on the Capitol on January 6th.
The Committee also demonstrated that some members of the paramilitary groups (e.g., Ali Alexander) had foreknowledge of Trump’s plan to tell protesters to march to the Capitol from the Ellipse. Cassidy Hutchinson had previously testified that Trump planned an “off the record” movement to the Capitol from the Ellipse on January 6th. Such “off the record” movements are closely guarded secrets within the White House (for security reasons). The fact that paramilitary groups had 24 hours’ notice of the “off the record” movement indicates that someone close to Trump was communicating with the insurrectionists.
The Committee then heard from a protester arrested for entering the Capitol on January 6th and a former spokesperson for The Oathkeepers. Both made important points that justified the risk of including them as live witnesses. The protestor, Stephen Ayres, established that the violent mob was looking to Trump for orders. They assembled and marched on the Capitol because Trump told them to do so, and they retreated when Trump finally said, “We love you; you are very special . . . but go home.”
The former Proud Boys spokesperson, Jason Van Tatenhove, raised the alarm about the threat posed by the Proud Boys and similar groups. He said that we should stop “mincing words” and call January 6th what it was: “an armed revolution.”
The presentations and examinations by Representatives Jamie Raskin and Stephanie Murphy were superb. Liz Cheney, as always, delivered a strong closing argument with a new bombshell. She revealed that Trump had “reached out” to a witness who will testify in the next January 6th hearing. The witness declined to take the call and informed their lawyer, who then told the Committee. Cheney issued the following warning to Trump:
[T]his 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.
Trump has a long history of witness intimidation and tampering. It is about time the Department of Justice impaneled a grand jury to investigate Trump’s tampering. That is the only way it will stop.
The Committee continues to do impressive work. Its mission is to write the historical record of the events surrounding Trump’s coup attempt, not to affect the results of the 2022 midterms. But there are some indications that the hearings are affecting public perceptions about January 6th and Donald Trump. Good! Let’s hope that the Committee’s last hearing is the best of all!
There are other important stories to cover, but it has been an intense month of news, so let’s take a break to talk about how we react to the news. As I hope most of you know, this newsletter’s purpose is to synthesize important news “through the lens of hope” while remaining firmly rooted in reality. The newsletter began because some members of my family could not bear the sight or sound of Trump on television after his unexpected victory in 2016.
It turns out that many people feel the same way about Trump and the news in general. It is too much, too negative, too divisive, and too dire. Many people look away. Some do so in secret, others are open about their aversion to the media’s daily onslaught. Some of you have found your way to this newsletter for respite. I am honored that you have!
If you feel that way, you are not alone. A reader sent a link to an article that discusses “news aversion” in a helpful way. See Amanda Ripley in Washington Post, Opinion | I stopped reading the news. Is the problem me — or the product? Even if you don’t avoid the news, Ripley’s discussion of the unhealthy impact of the news paradigm on our lives is worth reading.
Ripley is a journalist who stopped reading the news six years ago. As she began sharing her secret with friends and therapists, she learned she is not alone. America ranks near the top among world nations in “news avoidance”—4 in 10 Americans “sometimes or often” avoid contact with the news. The reasons are many, but this description resonated with me:
As Krista Tippett, the journalist and host of the radio show and podcast “On Being,” puts it, “I don’t actually think we are equipped, physiologically or mentally, to be delivered catastrophic and confusing news and pictures, 24/7. We are analog creatures in a digital world.”
Are there any solutions? Ripley says that “We need hope to get up in the morning” and “We need a sense of agency,” —i.e., “feeling like you and your fellow humans can do something” about the problems of the world. Ripley’s article is a balm. I recommend it heartily.
Some readers criticize me (or quit the newsletter) because they are bothered by my “ceaseless optimism” or effort to find hope in the face of daunting situations—to which I say, “Guilty as charged!” Every generation before us faced challenges they viewed as daunting or hopeless. Thankfully, they persevered and prevailed. We stand on their shoulders. Future generations are hoping that they will be able to stand on ours.
Hope and optimism are good things but should never be an excuse to avoid confronting reality. So, as many politicians and pundits look to the midterms and see an abyss of fear and failure, I see another challenge that we will survive, win or lose. And let me say that my least favorite opinion these days is that “Democracy will end in 2022 (or 2024) if Republicans cheat their way to victory.” Wrong!
The only way democracy will end is if we quit fighting to preserve it. If all it takes to end democracy on our watch is to lose control of the House and Senate, we are not worthy of the gift bequeathed to us through the blood and sacrifice of our ancestors. If we lose Congress in 2022 (and I don’t think we will), the question we must ask ourselves the day after Election Day is, “How do we win it back?” If Republicans cheat their way to the presidency in 2024, the question we must ask ourselves the day after Election Day is, “How can we restore the rule of law?”
Apologies for drifting from my original thesis, but once I start talking about hope it is hard to get me to shut up. Here’s my point: The news is the news; it isn’t you, and it isn’t your destiny. You get to decide how you react to the news, whether you read it or not. Choose hope; choose perseverance; choose to lead others by example. If we all do that, we will surely win. It is only a matter of time.
Talk to you tomorrow!