How Jan. 6 committee hearings forced America not to look away

Viewers tuning in on Thursday’s first night of public hearings by the House Committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 riot were not the usual political theater in Washington. On the contrary, the aired portion of the largest investigation in Congressional history was a clean, concise production of real substance. And yet, despite all the facts, the riveting two-hour prelude was top-notch television drama – probably because the riotous, violent attempt to overthrow the US government was no mere fiction or even spectacle. It was a bloody true story, well told.

For nearly a year, the committee has been working behind closed doors, gathering testimonies and combing through videos, phone records, emails and other documents to investigate former President Trump’s involvement in the attack on the Capitol, as part of his broader effort to bring the peaceful Stop passing power to Joe Biden. And on Thursday, the committee successfully orchestrated the January 6 chaos in a narrative of concerted action to undermine American democracy — with Trump at the center of the conspiracy.

The committee hired James Goldston, former president of ABC News, to produce a prime-time show that expertly co-authored opening remarks from committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and vice chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.). Video clips combined testimonies, previously unreleased footage of the attack, powerful timelines, witness statements and more.

But perhaps most impressively, Thursday’s convincing proceedings were just a taste of what’s to come. Cheney said Trump has a seven-part plan to overturn the 2020 presidential election, promising the American public watching at home “you will see evidence of every element of this plan.”

“Over the next few weeks, you will hear testimony live and on video from more than a half-dozen former Trump administration employees at the White House, all of whom were in the West Wing on January 6,” Cheney said. “You’re going to see never-before-seen footage tonight. You will see evidence of what caused this violence. … President Trump called the mob together, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack.”

In a more chilling moment, Cheney also opened up about an aide’s upcoming testimony about Trump’s response to rioters trying to hang former Vice President Mike Pence. “And the President, aware of the calls from the rioters to hang Mike Pence, responded with this feeling, ‘Maybe our supporters have the right idea.’ Mike Pence, quote: ‘Deserves it.’”

With a large screen hanging over the room that read, “Elect a committee to investigate the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol,” Thompson made the committee’s target within the first 15 minutes of the Hearing clear: “Donald Trump was at the center of this conspiracy,” he said while sitting on a long wooden pedestal with eight other members. “[Trump] spurred a mob of anti-constitutionalists to march on the Capitol and subvert American democracy. All the legal jargon you hear about seditious conspiracy, obstruction of an official process, conspiracy to defraud the US boils down to this: January 6th was the culmination of an attempted coup. A brazen attempt, as one rioter put it shortly after January 6, to overthrow the government. The violence was no accident. It represents Trump’s last stand, the most desperate chance to stop the transfer of power.”

The hearing should draw the attention of viewers, worn down by the constant drumbeat of partisan news and bad news from the Capitol. The committee’s decision to bring in media professionals was wise: the opening day of the proceedings resolved complicated legal issues with multimedia explanations, organized events in a relatable order, without impressing the audience with Maury Povich-style plays.

Emotions ran high in the room as two witnesses testified live, but the passion didn’t come from great politicians. It was spawned by the harrowing story of Caroline Edwards, a Capitol police officer who was injured trying to hold back rioters. She gave a chilling account of being crushed by members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers as they made their way into the Capitol. As video of the incident and other filmed moments of violence played in the chamber, there was a visceral reaction on Edward’s face, as well as the faces of other Capitol officials attending the hearing. Nick Quested, a documentary filmmaker who became involved with the Proud Boys that day, also testified what he saw the day before the attack while following the far-right group.

One of many devastating pieces of evidence against Trump was the former Atty clip. General William P. Barr testified in affidavit that he told the President that his insistence that the election was stolen due to fraud was “bullshit.” When asked in another statement, Trump’s daughter Ivanka said she believes Barr.

Cheney said the upcoming hearing will be split into parts, the second showing how Trump and his advisers knew there was no voter fraud and yet spread the “big lie.” The third will focus on how Trump corruptly plotted to replace the Attorney General so the Justice Department would disseminate his bogus, stolen election claims. The fourth will focus on Trump pressuring Pence to refuse to count the ballots, and the fifth will hear evidence of how Trump pressured lawmakers and state election officials to change the results. In the last two public hearings, Cheney promised Americans they would hear Trump “summoned a violent mob and illegally ordered them to march on the US Capitol.”

She stressed that the investigation is ongoing and the committee is still working with witnesses. And as if to remind us to tune in to another episode of this must-see drama where democracy is at stake next week, she urged American not to look the other way: “Please remember what’s at stake.” How Jan. 6 committee hearings forced America not to look away

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