capitol riot

The January 6 Hearings Exposed Trump’s Criminality. Will It Matter?

The House committee on January 6 presents its case on October 13, 2022. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The big news hook for what was presumably the final public hearing of the House select committee on January 6 was its vote to subpoena Donald Trump. Drama aside, the committee knows Trump will ignore or defy this summons. But it will add another count to the committee’s possible referral of criminal charges against Trump to the Justice Department. Whether anything actually comes of the case the committee has ably built against the former president is an open question.

The timing of Thursday’s hearing was obviously dictated by the upcoming midterm elections. There were no new witnesses and no bombshell revelations, though the committee did add a few new details about Trump and company’s duplicitous actions. The purpose of the hearing was to tidy up and condense the case against the former president. The committee focused on recapping the central points it presented over the previous eight hearings:

  1. Trump planned to overturn any 2020 electoral loss before Election Day.
  2. Trump knew he lost and was repeatedly told by his own team that challenging the results was a mistake.
  3. When Trump’s various other plots failed, he focused on blocking the certification of Biden’s victory in Congress via pressure on Mike Pence.
  4. Trump also encouraged his supporters to rally to his defense, knowing the mob could become dangerous.
  5. Once the violence broke out on January 6, Trump did nothing to stop it until it was too late.

On the first item, the committee shifted a bit from its previous depiction of Trump’s Election Night victory claim as a spontaneous action suggested by an inebriated Rudy Giuliani that horrified everyone else in the president’s circle. Instead, testimony showed that campaign manager Brad Parscale, staff for Vice-President Mike Pence, and unofficial advisers Roger Stone and Steve Bannon were fully read in on Trump’s plan to exploit a “Red Mirage” (i.e. in-person votes being counted first, giving Trump an ephemeral lead) to claim that his defeat was fraudulent.

One of the few bits of new evidence presented on Thursday was a montage of Stone saying Trump needed to declare he won even if the election result was unclear. “When that happens, the key thing to do is to claim victory. Possession is nine tenths of law. ‘No, we won, fuck you. Sorry, you’re wrong, fuck you,’” he said.

In another clip, Stone said, “I say fuck the voting; let’s get right to the violence.”

The committee appeared a bit frustrated by its inability to secure testimony from the Secret Service agents who could establish that Trump himself intended to lead a violent mob to the Capitol on January 6. And Trump defenders can always claim — as Trump has asserted — that he never wanted the mob to enter the Capitol, and might have dissuaded them from rioting.

But overall the committee successfully demonstrated that at every step on the long road that led to January 6, 2021, Trump knew exactly what he was doing, was told by the people around him that he was behaving irresponsibly or even criminally, and took the next fateful step anyway. Without question, he was, as the committee repeatedly called him, the “central figure” in the Capitol riot. He knew he was lying about the “stolen election,” as new testimony from top White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson on his reaction to an adverse Supreme Court ruling in late December 2020 showed.

What’s less clear is whether the committee’s political strategy to refute accusations of partisanship by eliciting most of its damning testimony from Republicans will work. At Thursday’s hearing the panel re-aired public remarks from both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy deploring Trump’s conduct on January 6. But both men refused to testify, and are now leading the GOP drive to reconquer Congress and quite possibly present a future Trump administration with a unified congressional vehicle for vindication — and vengeance.

If McConnell and McCarthy succeed in November, the January 6 committee will file its report and go out of business on January 3, 2023, when the new Congress is sworn in. Committee vice-chairman Liz Cheney, who offered the motion to subpoena Trump, has already been chased out of office by the MAGA movement. If Republicans flip the House, that chamber’s investigative organs will turn on Hunter Biden, the FBI, and other efforts designed to help the GOP reconquer the White House.

Between now and 2024, it will be up to Merrick Garland’s Justice Department to decide whether to proceed with criminal charges against Trump and his cronies. The ultimate verdict on the January 6 committee’s work will come from the legal system that Trump tried unsuccessfully to corrupt and bend to his will.

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The 1/6 Hearings Showed Trump’s Criminality. Will It Matter?