January 6 panel’s case against Trump lays out roadmap for prosecution
"After more than a year of work that consisted of interviewing 1,000-plus witnesses and reviewing hundreds of thousands of documents, the committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol chose a simple message for its final public hearing: Donald Trump was singularly responsible for the attack.
Since its first hearing in June, the committee’s work has been aimed at two audiences. One of those has been the broad American public. Tactfully using video, the committee has told a disciplined, clear story of what happened on January 6, and the days leading up to it, filled with jaw-dropping soundbites from Trump’s closest aides.
But the committee’s public coda on Thursday appeared more directed at its second audience: an audience of one, the US attorney general, Merrick Garland.
Garland will ultimately decide whether to bring criminal charges against Trump over January 6, and the committee’s work, which has run parallel to the justice department’s investigation, has made a public case for bringing charges, attempting to bring along public support for doing so.
Working chronologically from months before election day until January 6, each of the panel’s nine members on Thursday laid out the signposts of what a criminal case against the former US president could look like.
Pointing to volumes of evidence, they explained how Trump had decided months before election day that he won, regardless of the actual result. When his closest aides informed him that he lost, Trump intentionally chose not to concede. And even though he knew there was the threat of violence at the US Capitol on January 6, Trump fomented it anyway.
“None of this would have happened without him. He was personally and substantially involved in all of it,” Liz Cheney, the Republican representative who serves as the panel’s vice-chair, said in her opening remarks.
Thursday’s hearing continued much of the strategy successfully deployed in previous hearings. It heavily featured video depositions and there were dramatic reveals. There was new, stunning, behind-the-scenes footage of Nancy Pelosi and top congressional leaders as they pleaded for security assistance on January 6.
The panel also presented new evidence it obtained from the Secret Service showing the White House was warned of the potential for violence on January 6. And there was a last-minute dramatic twist as the committee voted 9-0 to subpoena Trump.
And just like previous hearings, nearly all of the testimony the committee presented on Thursday came from Republicans who were part of Trump’s inner circle.
There was video from Bill Stepien, Trump’s campaign manager, who advised the president against declaring victory while votes were being counted.
There was Greg Jacobs, a top adviser to Mike Pence, who said they were aware Trump could turn on the vice-president on January 6.
And there was more devastating video of Cassidy Hutchinson, a top aide to the White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who told the committee how Trump fumed after the supreme court rebuffed his request to overturn the election.
“‘I don’t want people to know we lost, Mark. This is embarrassing. Figure it out. We need to figure it out. I don’t want people to know that we lost,” Trump told Meadows after the supreme court ruled against him, Hutchinson said.
That kind of testimony may be the committee’s most consequential legacy.
In getting top Republicans and Trump’s inner circle to publicly describe observations and conversations in the lead-up to January 6, the committee has blunted attacks that its work is a partisan exercise. It has created a record of some of the most powerful Republicans in the US government telling Trump that what he was doing was illegal. And the committee has slowly and meticulously isolated Trump, establishing his culpability, showing how he deliberately chose to ignore what those around him were telling him.
“When you look back at what has come out through this committee’s work, the most striking fact is that all this evidence comes almost entirely from Republicans,” Bennie Thompson, the committee chairman and a Mississippi Democrat, said in his opening statement.
That nonpartisan framing is an enormous gift to Garland and his justice department as it investigates and weighs bringing charges. It helps establish the case against Trump as an apolitical one, driven by the law. And even though Trump and other Republicans are likely to claim any charges are a political witch-hunt regardless, the voluminous testimony from top Republicans will help undercut that defense.
The committee will probably make public a final report later this year and decide whether to refer Trump and others to the justice department for potential criminal prosecution.
But regardless of its actions, the lie that Trump fomented after the 2020 election has taken deep hold across the United States. The 147 Republicans in the House who tried to overturn the election results have faced few consequences. Denying the results of the 2020 election has become orthodoxy in the Republican party. Candidates who have spread baseless conspiracy theories about voting machines and elections are now on the verge of winning offices with statewide election oversight in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona and Michigan – all presidential battleground states.
Those developments have made the committee’s work all the more pressing.
“Our institutions only hold when men and women of good faith make them hold, regardless of the political cost. We have no guarantee that these men and women will be in place next time. Any future president inclined to attempt what Donald Trump did in 2020, has now learned not to install people who could stand in the way,” said Cheney, who lost a primary earlier this year because of her opposition to Trump.
“With every effort to excuse or justify the conduct of the former president, we chip away at the foundation of our republic. Indefensible conduct is defended, inexcusable conduct is excused. Without accountability, it all becomes normal and it will recur,” she added."
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