The January 6 hearings have two basic functions. The first is to reveal, to the degree it is possible, as much as can be uncovered about Donald Trump’s efforts to negate the 2020 election result and remain in office. The second is to expose the allies who are, in one way or another, complicit in his crime. On both counts, the committee is delivering.
Tuesday’s hearings produced numerous revelations. Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to chief of staff Mark Meadows and a first- or secondhand witness to the coup attempt, deepened Trump’s complicity in the insurrection. She testified that Trump instructed Meadows to call Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, two aides who were connected to the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, the main paramilitary organizations that directed the violence; that Trump, after being told his supporters were bringing weapons to his rally, told the Secret Service to remove the metal detectors because “they’re not here to hurt me”; and that Trump was so desperate to join the march on the Capitol that he actually assaulted a Secret Service agent when he was denied on security grounds.
At this point, even with the hearings in progress, it seems safe to rate this as the greatest political scandal in American history. This is true when measured by its depth (the lengths the perpetrators were willing to go extended to the violent overthrow of the U.S. government) as well as its breadth (the guilty parties included elected officials, lawyers, foot soldiers, and, of course, the president of the United States).
It is all the more striking, then, that the Republican Party stance was, and is, that none of this should be investigated. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell opposed the formation of the commission. (“After careful consideration, I’ve made the decision to oppose the House Democrats’ slanted and unbalanced proposal for another commission to study the events of January 6th,” he announced on the Senate floor last year.) House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy appointed a collection of Trump lackeys. When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to seat two of them — Jims Jordan and Banks — on the grounds that they were personally implicated in the investigation, McCarthy ordered his entire caucus to boycott the hearings.
Republicans have responded to the stream of revelations by dismissing them as boring and partisan. Their party-controlled media have either ignored the hearings, engaged in frantic whataboutism, or supplied talking points to distract from the damning news. They have turned against the only members of their party willing to participate in the hearings, branding them as traitors.
This in turn has sent a message to every staffer privy to the coup who is contemplating the choice to share what they know or stick to the omertà. The future in Republican politics belongs to those who do not betray Trump. They may not be required to pledge open obedience to him, but silence is far safer for their careers as Republicans than testifying against Trump is. Republicans could have made cooperating with the committee the safe choice. Instead, they have made it dangerous.
Republicans probably justify all this as simple partisan logic. If you are able to conceive of events only in terms of political benefit, then the function of the hearings is to hurt Republicans; therefore, the Republican task is to engage in damage control.
But this is precisely the kind of rank partisanship that carried most of the party along with Trump through, and past, his reelection campaign. It brought him within a fraction of a percent of the vote of winning a second term and let his postelection coup attempt come harrowingly close, at minimum, to provoking a violent crisis.
After Trump refused to accept the election outcome, a Republican aide infamously said, “What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time?” It was an astonishing quote even then. January 6 revealed how dangerous that mentality is. The party’s response to the hearings reveals that this mentality has not changed.