In the theater when a show bombs so terribly that producers start canceling performances its called “cutting the run of the show.” When this happens in political theater it’s called the House January 6th Committee. After months of promising bombshells and big thrills in their live hearings, the committee head a dull prime time special, netting a lackluster 20 million viewers, then abruptly postponed their third hearing, and finally announced that their final hearing would move from a coveted evening slot to a far less visible 3pm Eastern Time. None of these are the actions of a panel that thinks it is doing well.
To carry the theater analogy a bit further, this is at least the fourth or fifth revival of a particular show called “Watergate” since that blockbuster opened in 1973. We had Iran Contra, the Clinton impeachment, Benghazi, and so on. None of these hearings or investigations ever reached the heady heights of Watergate for many reasons, among them that Nixon was short sighted enough to literally record himself committing crimes, and also because it actually led to the resignation of an American president.
But what makes this Capitol riot iteration of Watergate the worst one yet is that it’s not so much a hearing as it is a powerpoint presentation. In hearings there are heated exchanges that sometimes lead to revelations, information is discovered, not simply presented. Here there is no cross examination, no pressing for facts, just solemn committee members and their witnesses nodding with profound conceit at all the supposed evils of Donald Trump and his treasonous minions.
During the prime time opener Rep. Liz Cheney, the Vice Chair of the Committee and one of two Democrat appointed members of the one sided panel, laid out what the committee would seek to prove. There are three basic elements of the alleged crime. First, that Trump knew or should have known that he lost the election and yet lied about it, second that he sought to influence federal and state election officials, and finally that he summoned and directed the crowd to storm the Capitol.
The evidence that Trump knew, or crucially, “should have known” that he lost the 2020 election came mostly from video testimony of associates who told him so leading up to January 6. We saw former Attorney General Bill Barr, leaning back in his chair, casually gesticulating with his right hand saying, “I told him it was bull****.” Trump advisor Jason Miller testified that he was present when a digital election expert gave Trump the unwanted news. But importantly, the edited video left out the part where Miller went on to say that Trump told the expert he “disagreed.”
But of course Trump had other advisers, such as Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman, urging him to press his fight to “stop the steal” until the bitter end. It is perhaps the least surprising thing in the world that faced with a choice between a group of people who said he lost and another calling him the winner, that Trump chose as he chose.
As to Trump pressuring officials, particularly Mike Pence and Georgia state officials, the hearing focused on the former Vice President in its third episode. Pence’s attorney Greg Jacob, appearing live, and his Chief of Staff Marc Short via video told us that Pence heard out Eastman’s contorted constitutional claim that the Vice President could simply stop the count, and almost immediately rejected it. In the fourth hearing we will hear from Brad Raffensburger, the Attorney General of Georgia who Trump asked to “find” enough votes to get him over the top. A request that again was denied. Not only is all of this evidence that we already had and knew about within days of the riot, in the Raffensburger’s case we knew about it before January 6.
Ultimately it is Cheney’s third allegation, essentially that Trump knowingly incited the riot, that stands out as decisive. But here, Republicans point out a quandary in the Committee’s logic centered around the question of whether the attack on the Capitol was premeditated. If it was, then how could Trump have “incited” something already planned before January 6? If it wasn’t premeditated, then how could Trump have plotted a spontaneous coup? After the hearing, Chairman Thompson told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the committee would prove a connection between Proud Boys, some of whom have been charged with seditious conspiracy, and people “in Trump’s orbit.” Thus far, however, we don’t know what that connection is.
Unless what the Committee has is something close to a direct communication between Trump and an agitator saying, “hey, let’s storm the Capitol,” which is to say, something like Nixon’s tapes, then it really won’t matter. And if it had something like that, why would they have canceled their second evening TV extravaganza as the chance
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