The Biggest Surprises of the Jan. 6 Hearings So Far
After interviewing more than 1,000 witnesses and assembling a trove of well over 140,000 documents, the House committee investigating the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021, is finally unveiling its findings to the public.
So far, the panel has held three televised hearings: a tightly curated prime-time session previewing its overall conclusionsand two sprawling daytime sessions digging more deeply into the inquiry’s findings and their implications for American democracy.
We’ve learned of Donald J. Trump’s determination to plow ahead with his plan to overturn the results of the 2020 election despite being told by his own advisers at the time that it was illegal and that there was no evidence of widespread fraud. We’ve also heard new details about Mike Pence’s harrowing day hiding from the rioters, and we’ve seen previously unreleased footage from the perspective of the police officers struggling to hold off the mob, among other revelations.
To try to make sense of it all, I spoke with the Times reporter Maggie Haberman, who has been covering Jan. 6 and its aftermath and is finishing up her forthcoming book on Mr. Trump. Our conversation has been edited lightly for length and clarity:
You’ve reported extensively on the events surrounding the Capitol riot, including a recent scoop about fears among Pence’s aides before Jan. 6 about his safety. Has anything surprised you during these hearings or changed the way you think about that day or the months leading up to it?
The biggest surprise has been that John Eastman, a lawyer who advised Trump on his strategy for overturning the 2020 election results, put in an email that he was interested in a presidential pardon.
What was striking was that Eastman apparently asked for it after two White House aides, the Trump adviser Eric Herschmann and the Pence adviser Greg Jacob, warned him that he was proposing things in violation of the law. So I think the hearings have adjusted the aperture on what we might expect about possible criminality involved here.
What is your read on how a certain former president is reacting to the hearings so far?
My understanding from multiple people is that he’s been unhappy watching them. He’s frustrated in particular seeing the clips of his family — Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner — being used against him.
Does Trump fear a possible federal indictment?
He has always feared a possible indictment, since long before he became president, according to many people who’ve known him. Whether he does specifically here is an open question. Some of his aides are adamant that he doesn’t think these hearings will lead to anything that touches him.
From the outside, the hearings appear to be proceeding smoothly for the Jan. 6 committee. What kind of internal turmoil, if any, has there been inside the panel in the run-up to this moment? Are there important disagreements among members or their aides about how to proceed?
Our colleague Luke Broadwater has done more reporting on this, but the committee has not always been aligned on where the key areas of focus should be. One of the areas in which we’ve seen that come into play has been what to do about Ginni Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas.
The Themes of the Jan. 6 House Committee Hearings
- Making a Case Against Trump: The committee appears to be laying out a road map for prosecutors to indict former President Donald J. Trump. But the path to any trial is uncertain.
- Day One: During the first hearing, the panel presented a gripping story with a sprawling cast of characters, but only three main players: Mr. Trump, the Proud Boys and a Capitol Police officer.
- Day Two: In its second hearing, the committee showed how Mr. Trump ignored aides and advisers in declaring victory prematurely and relentlessly pressing claims of fraud he was told were wrong.
- Day Three: Mr. Trump pressured Vice President Mike Pence to go along with a plan to overturn his loss even after he was told it was illegal, according to testimony laid out by the panel during the third hearing.
There has also been frustration among some of the members and their staffs about leaks, as there often is with committees or institutions.
What is your assessment of Representative Liz Cheney’s role on the committee, and what is your understanding of what is driving her? It often seems as if she is one of the more aggressive members of the panel, despite being one of only two Republicans on it.
She’s clearly one of the leaders, and she’s a co-chair, so that shouldn’t be a surprise. But she has been important for them because it’s very hard to dismiss her as a political opponent.
In addition to her Republican bona fides — she is a daughter of Dick Cheney, far from some liberal plant — she was actually a Trump supporter until he began trying to undermine the 2020 contest vocally in the lead-up to Election Day. Trump allies have pointed to that as evidence of hypocrisy, but the reality is that for her, a line was crossed.
But people can have more than one motivation, and I think she’s also been deeply troubled by how Representative Kevin McCarthy — who has targeted her and removed her from her Republican leadership position in the House — has enabled Trump, beginning shortly after the riot.
How, as a matter of political calculation, would you evaluate McCarthy’s decision to reject the committee and allow Speaker Nancy Pelosi to dictate its shape and scope? Do Republicans have any regrets?
Republicans mostly blame Pelosi for not allowing McCarthy to seat the members to whom she objected. But, privately, some Republicans are angry with him, believing he walked away too soon and could have had input on all of it had he negotiated names.
What about the electoral impact of these hearings? To what extent do they matter for the 2022 midterms or for the presidential race in 2024?
Blake, I think people’s lives are economically so bleak right now, save for the superrich, that anyone who is being influenced by these hearings may have already had their minds made up.
Is any of this a good set of facts for Trump? Absolutely not. But in terms of the midterms, I think it’s too soon to say.
That’s different from the question of whether this is making it harder for Republicans to avert their gazes from Trump’s conduct, which the hearings most definitely are accomplishing.
It’s also very difficult to look at the aggregate of testimony so far — and I don’t anticipate it will get better for Trump — and see how someone takes it and says, “That wasn’t that bad.” This is the chief of staff and chief counsel to the former vice president, Marc Short and Greg Jacob, laying out these arguments. It’s not Nancy Pelosi.
I could see it being used by folks running against Trump in a 2024 primary. But we are a long way from that right now.
What to read (and watch) tonight
Using court documents, text messages and hundreds of videos, The Times’s visual investigations team examined how the Proud Boys coordinated to instigate multiple breaches of the Capitol on Jan. 6. The 17-minute video is worth your time.
Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi has spent his long career in Washington fighting to protect the right to vote. Now, he is serving as the chairman of the Jan. 6 committee, responsible for investigating an assault that his allies say he took personally. Richard Fausset and Luke Broadwater have the story.
The gun control movement is gaining big donors and political will once again, but can money buy the same kind of zeal shown by gun rights advocates? Nicholas Kulish, Katie Glueck and Michael Bender explore that question.
A unique vantage point
On Politics regularly features work by Times photographers. Here’s what Kenny Holston told us about capturing the image above:
As a photojournalist, I face many challenges that vary from assignment to assignment. One frequent difficulty when I’m working at the White House is getting into a position for a storytelling photo with a fresh view of a common occurrence.
The White House press pool is often confined to small, sectioned-off areas at events involving the president or vice president. There’s very little latitude to find creative vantage points.
The image above came from the East Room, as President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris entered for a bill-signing ceremony. As the press pool crammed into the usual roped-off area, I decided to place myself opposite my colleagues in a different area designated for the press.
For these types of ceremonies, this area serves as a bit of a visual disadvantage. But I knew there might be an opportunity to create a type of image that isn’t often seen and that other photographers probably wouldn’t have. So I rolled the dice and was able to capture the image above.
Thanks for reading.
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