The House of Representatives has launched its hearings on the Jan. 6 insurgency amid grimly low expectations.
Didn’t we already know what happened? After two impeachment trials and countless revelations, is there anything new to learn about Donald Trump’s mismanagement?
Conventional wisdom turned out to be wrong.
The hearings were informative, often gripping, sometimes dramatic. Former Trump aides have been blunt about their boss’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen. (“Bullshit,” in the succinct assessment of former Atty. General William Barr.)
Less prominent figures have described what it was like to become the butt of the former president’s wrath, such as Ruby Freeman, the Georgia poll worker who mistakenly referred to Trump by name as a “professional election fraudster.”
“You know how it feels when the President of the United States takes aim at you?” the 62-year-old shopkeeper testified through tears. “I don’t feel safe anywhere.”
What made the hearings such an unexpected success is not, as some have claimed, Hollywood’s production values. They’re not that smooth.
The hearings have worked because they are unusually well organized — and refreshingly bloat-free for Congress.
Each session focused on a chapter in Trump’s sprawling conspiracy: his false allegations of fraud, his pressure on state officials to change the election results, his bullying of then-Vice President Mike Pence, all culminating in the riot he unleashed on January 6.
The basic facts were known, but many details are new, particularly the first-hand testimonies of Republican officials.
It is the equivalent of Trump’s third impeachment – this time more devastating than his first (2019 against Ukraine) or his second (2021, immediately after the uprising).
That was not the intention of the House Committee – at least not consciously.
“I don’t think we designed this as another impeachment trial,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), a committee member who participated in the two previous investigations. “But it could have these effects.”
The word “impeach” originally means “to discredit,” Schiff noted.
“I would hope that what the public has seen in these hearings discredits and disqualifies Mr. Trump from ever holding office again,” he said.
In that sense, they have served as a kind of metaphorical impeachment process.
The hearings also served another purpose: They provided the public with a roadmap for the criminal charges Trump could face if Atty. General Merrick Garland decides to prosecute him.
The committee and its leaders have already identified at least three possible offenses: inciting a January 6 riot, obstructing a federal process (by attempting to block the counting of the ballot), and conspiring to defraud the United States (e.g., by organizing fake lists of “alternative voters”).
“President Trump had no factual basis for what he was doing and was told it was illegal,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the committee’s vice chair, said in the opening session of the hearing.
Some Democrats have complained that Garland is not moving quickly enough to prosecute the former president. You should be careful what you wish for; An impeachment against Trump ahead of November’s congressional election could boost turnout among GOP voters.
In any case, there is plenty of evidence that Justice Department investigators are already pulling all of these strings.
On June 6, a federal grand jury indicted five leaders of the right-wing Proud Boys militia on charges of seditious conspiracy.
In April, the Justice Department obtained subpoenas against Rudolph W. Giuliani and John Eastman, attorneys who had advised Trump on his plans.
Last week, his investigators served subpoenas against pro-Trump activists who organized the fake “alternative voter” lists.
And they searched the Virginia home of Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official who was pushing for the department to agree with Trump’s allegations of voter fraud.
Prosecutors don’t seem to need a roadmap from Congress, but the House hearings have given us all — at least a rough version — one.
“The greatest contribution of these hearings was to establish Donald Trump’s personal guilt,” Donald B. Ayer, who served as Justice Department No. 2 official under President George HW Bush, told me.
“We already knew the broad outlines of the case. But now we know that Trump was the engine – the driving force… We don’t know the whole case yet, but it’s gotten a lot stronger through these hearings.”
Legal scholars are already debating prosecution issues: Can prosecutors convince a jury to convict a former president? Will the side effects of law enforcement outweigh the benefits?
Last week, Jack Goldsmith, who served at the Justice Department under President George W. Bush, warned that the prosecution of a former president would be “a catastrophic event from which the nation would not quickly recover.”
Ayer disagrees. “The need for deterrence is really enormous,” he argued. “We already know that Trump and his supporters plan to do this again.”
It should be noted that both Ayer and Goldsmith are Republicans who have long been critical of Trump.
These are sensitive issues for Garland to weigh. What the House hearings have made clear is that if he chooses not to press charges, it will not be for lack of evidence.
https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-06-26/the-january-6-hearings-have-become-trumps-third-impeachment-and-the-road-map-for-his-prosecution Jan. 6 hearings offer a road map for prosecuting Trump