(The Hill) — The House committee investigating last year’s attack on the Capitol launched the opening salvo in its public case against Donald Trump on Thursday, accusing the former president of devising an unprecedented plan to take power. which was not only illegal but also led directly to the deadly violence in Washington on January 6, 2021.
In a prime-time hearing aimed directly at television viewers, the select committee presented never-before-seen video testimonials from some of the most powerful figures in Trump’s orbit, harshly dismissing his claims of election stolen.
Those video clips were interspersed with emotional, personal testimony from a Capitol police officer who was seriously injured in the attack; a filmmaker’s performance with unique insights into the white nationalist groups who stormed into the Capitol to undo Trump’s defeat; and unedited footage of violent clashes between police and rioters outside the building, in which more than 150 officers were injured.
However, despite all the ground it covered, the real purpose of the prime-time hearing was to entice the viewing public by teasing the upcoming series of more focused hearings — all scheduled for this month — that the panel promises to show Trump on the center of a multiple struggle to maintain power through illicit actions.
That argument was made strongest on Thursday night by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who was booted by the GOP leadership for challenging Trump and has since been the face of opposition to the 45th president for his role in the riots.
“All Americans should keep this fact in mind: On the morning of January 6, President Trump’s intention was to remain President of the United States despite the legal outcome of the 2020 election and in violation of his constitutional obligation to relinquish power,” Cheney said. , the select committee vice chair said in a lengthy opening statement that offered snippets of forthcoming testimonials from those close to Trump.
Her prominent role in reviewing the evidence shows that the panel is eager to use the Wyoming legislature, one of the panel’s two Republican members, to add dual legitimacy to the investigation and appeal to those who may think there is little left to learn about an attack that happened more than 17 months ago.
She set the stage for a series of hearings that appear to be pitting Trump against his former vice president, Mike Pence, whose refusal to turn down state voters on Jan. 6 — as Trump had demanded — made him a top target of the United States. mob that stormed the Capitol that day.
Cheney said testimonials from multiple White House staffers showed Trump’s disdain for the vice president, even as aides warned him about rioters chanting “hang Mike Pence.”
“The president responded with this sentiment, ‘Maybe our supporters have the right idea,’” Cheney said. “‘Mike Pence ‘deserves’ it.’”
Cheney also issued a stern warning to those Republicans who continue to defend Trump even as evidence mounts of his inappropriate attempts to undermine democracy — a group that includes the same House GOP leaders who kicked her out of leadership.
“Tonight I say this to my Republican colleagues who defend the indefensible: One day Donald Trump will be gone, but your dishonor will remain,” she said.
Much of Thursday’s hearing dealt with details previously known. But throughout the proceedings, new revelations were uncovered by the commission’s years of investigation.
For example, several members of the GOP caucus were known to have asked for a presidential pardon for their role in the January 6 attack. Cheney made the news when she said Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) was one of them — a claim Perry’s office has already denied.
In another revealing anecdote, Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told investigators that he met with former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows on Jan. 6. Meadows, Milley said, had urged him “to tell the story that the vice president makes all decisions” because Trump was silent for much of the day.
“We need to establish the story, you know, that the president is still in charge,” Meadows said, according to Milley.
Investigators also broadcast scathing video testimonials from members of the extremist group the Proud Boys, confirming that Trump’s advice to white nationalists — “stand back and stand by” — helped accelerate the group’s recruitment. One said membership “tripled” in the wake of Trump’s comment.
The hearing also revealed that several people close to Trump, including his daughter Ivanka, knew full well that President Biden had won the election, even though Trump claimed otherwise.
The seven subsequent hearings scheduled by the committee are each devoted to what Cheney described as “an advanced seven-part plan” to stay in power.
Each preview before a hearing was accompanied by a vignette of future testimonials, a quick rundown of evidence the panel otherwise plans to disseminate over hours-long daytime hearings.
Looking ahead to Monday’s upcoming hearing, in which the panel will argue the case that Trump knew his allegations of widespread voter fraud were unfounded, Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller said Trump had been told “in pretty blunt terms that” before the election. he is going to lose.”
And it relied on clips of former Attorney General Bill Barr — one of the more recent witnesses who sat with the panel’s investigators — saying on tape that there was “absolutely no basis for the charges” and that Trump’s claims ” complete nonsense”.
“I told him it was crazy stuff and they were wasting their time on it and it was doing the country a great disservice,” Barr said.
Other hearings scheduled will focus on Trump’s efforts to arm the Justice Department and his efforts to pressure Pence.
“I remember saying towards the end that what you’re proposing is nothing less than the US Department of Justice meddling in the outcome of a presidential election,” former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue told the commission.
The public also heard from Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards, one of the first officers injured in the attack, who gave strong testimony by describing the Capitol riots as a “war zone.”
“It was like I had seen from the movies. I could not believe my eyes. There were officers on the ground. They bled. They were throwing up. They had, I mean, I saw friends with blood on their faces. I slipped in people’s blood. I caught people when they fell. It was carnage. It was chaos. I can’t, I can’t even describe what I saw. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that as a police officer, as a law enforcement officer, I would find myself in the middle of a battle,” Edwards told lawmakers.
“It was just hours of hand-to-hand fighting.”
Nick Quested, a documentary filmmaker who noted that he appeared before the panel with a subpoena, described his work that day following members of the extremist group the Proud Boys and watching those attending the march transform from “protesters to rioters to insurgents”.
The hearing featured never-before-seen footage of Quested showing not only the violence of the riots, but also the encounter between the Proud Boys and another far-right group, the Oath Keepers.
The filmmaker met them at 10:30 a.m. that day as they were walking east through the Mall toward the Capitol.
“I was confused to some extent as to why we walked away from the president’s speech,” he said, “because I felt we were there to report.”
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