- Jonah Causin and Grace Choi
A Detailed Analysis of the January 6th Hearings
On Jan 6, 2021, the U.S. Capitol was raided by radicalized supporters of former president Donald Trump in response to his loss in the 2020 Presidential Election. The insurrection sprung from a false claim of election fraud that was prevalent among the violent individuals who stormed the building. Six months later, hearings began to investigate the unprecedented event.
There have been eight hearings conducted by the January 6 Committee to date, with the final planned summertime hearing having ended on July 21. Over the past month, the nation has heard numerous testimonies detailing former President Donald Trump’s plot to overturn the 2020 election results and his involvement before and during the January 6 insurrection.
More than a dozen witnesses including former administration officials and those who worked closely with President Trump presented their testimonies. Many of them were Republicans in order to present and prove Trump’s knowledge of the accuracy of the election counts as well as the march on the Capitol prior to the violence. However, as polls show, its findings may not be as transformative to the public’s opinion as they might at first appear to be. Brookings found that while the investigation enjoys relatively strong support, most Americans (60%) don’t view January 6th as significant as other events in recent decades. Furthermore, while 6 out of 10 Americans report following news of the January 6 Committee, only one-third are following the hearings, with even fewer actually watching them - the majority being Republicans. All this may help explain why recent surveys asking the degree of Trump’s involvement and possible criminality find public opinions of the matter relatively stable.
Nonetheless, let’s take a closer look at what the committee has uncovered so far.
The first hearing essentially laid the foundation for the committee’s central claim: that Trump, despite resistance from close advisors and with the knowledge of the lack of evidence of mass voter fraud, went ahead in orchestrating the events that led up to January 6 and incited his followers to riot in order to overturn the 2020 election results.
The star witness of the hearing was former Attorney General William Barr, one of Trump’s most loyal allies who had resigned in mid-December of 2020. Though initially wary of the threat of voter fraud given the unprecedented circumstances of that year, William Barr, after a thorough investigation, found Trump’s voter fraud conspiracy theory to be unfounded. In an interview with the Associated Press, he stated, “to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election.” Barr also stated, “I was somewhat demoralized, because I thought, boy, if he really believes this stuff, he has lost contact with — he’s become detached from reality if he really believes this stuff.”
Additionally, Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, going against her father’s allegations, also testified to the committee on her reaction to Barr’s findings, saying, “It affected my perspective. I respect Attorney General Barr, so I accepted what he said.”
The second hearing played out similarly to the first, with an emphasis on debunking specific widespread claims of voter fraud. Former deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue also detailed his slew of attempts to persuade the headstrong former president, informing him of the many unfruitful investigations and interviews conducted in contested states Biden had won, such as Michigan, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania.
“There were so many of these allegations that when you gave him a straightforward answer on one of them, he wouldn’t fight us on it, but he would move to another allegation,” stated Donoghue.
The primary focus of the third hearing was the steps taken by Trump to force Pence to overturn the election, a power not granted to him under the Constitution. Despite mounting pressure from President Trump, Pence remained determined to fulfill his duty as vice president in affirming the results of the 2020 election. This refusal subsequently led Trump to launch a pressure campaign against Pence up until January 6th, under the prodding of attorney John Eastman, although being told repeatedly that the plan was illegal. Eastman ultimately sought a presidential pardon following the riot, which he never received.
The committee also went to great lengths in detailing Trump’s hand in inciting the riot on January 6. That morning eyewitnesses testified hearing a heated phone call between Trump and Pence, a last-ditch effort by Trump following a slew of Tweets targeting Pence days prior. Later that day, Trump further incited his followers by making mention of Pence 11 times during his speech in front of the White House, which resonated with the mob, who later shouted “Hang Mike Pence” at the doors of the Capitol. Then, infamously, at 2:24 P.M., Trump, with full knowledge that protesters had stormed the Capitol and despite the urging of staff to calm the rioters, opted to fuel the flames, posting on Twitter, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done..”
The most notable development coming out of the fourth hearing was that, in addition to new details on how Trump attempted to pressure election officials in battleground states, Senator Ron Johnson’s (R-WI) chief of staff attempted to deliver Vice President Mike Pence a forged elector certificate signed by false electors from the Electoral College before the joint session of Congress. Johnson denied knowledge of suspected involvement, shifting blame to Congressman Mike Kelly (R-PA), whom Johnson alleges gave those votes to his staff. Kelly, likewise, denies all allegations.
On the fifth day of the hearing, the January 6th Committee focused on Trump’s almost frantic efforts to pressure the Department of Justice (DOJ) to conduct investigations on dubious claims of voter fraud. His most notable effort was to threaten to install lower-level DOJ environmental lawyer Jeffrey Clark as acting Attorney General to replace Jeffrey Rosen, whom Trump perceived to be unsatisfactory in his pursuit of election lies.
Another surprising revelation was, according to multiple witnesses, lawyers, and White House staff, that at least five Republicans sought pardons around the time of January 6th - Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Scott Perry (R-PA), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), and Andy Briggs (R-AR). Since this information has come out, all officials have denied these accusations.
The most shocking charges brought against former President Trump come from the sixth hearing from Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. She detailed how Capitol Police warned that extremist groups such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers were to be present on January 6, a danger of which many Trump advisors were apprehensive yet still went ahead.
At the January 6 rally in front of the White House, Hutchinson also testified overhearing a conversation with the former president regarding intel that members of the crowd were armed.
"When we were in the off-stage announce tent,” recalled Hutchinson in her videotaped testimony, “I was ... in the vicinity of a conversation where I overheard the president say something to the effect of, 'You know, I don't effing care that they have weapons. They're not here to hurt me. Take the effing [magnetometers] away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.'"
She also told how she had heard that the president, upon learning that he would have to return to the White House due to no security assets at the Capitol where he planned to give another speech, attempted to grab the steering wheel of the car. She recalled him demanding, "I am the effing president, take me up to the Capitol now."
Even while rioters were storming the Capitol, Trump, Hutchinson testified, didn’t plan to do anything nor thought he should. She recalled in detail a conversation between White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Mark Meadows, in which Cipollone pleaded with Meadows to do something.
"You heard him [Trump], Pat,” Hutchinson recalled Meadows saying to Cipollone, “He thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn't think they're doing anything wrong,"
On July 11th, the congressional committee completed its seventh meeting investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The seventh meeting contrasts the prior six meetings in which it focuses on the role of the right-wing extremist groups such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers.
The panel consisted of ten representatives, former President Trump supporter Stephen Ayres, and journalist Jason Van Tatenhove. Tatenhove functioned as the Oath Keepers' national spokesperson and Stewart Rhodes' close assistant from 2014 until 2018.
Jason Van Tatenhove, an independent journalist who covered the Oath Keepers, described them as a “violent militia” and stated that they were “having a conversation at that public area where they were talking about how the Holocaust was not real.”
“I saw radicalization that started with my beginning of my time with them and continued over a period of time as the member base and who it was that Stewart Rhodes was courting drifted further and further right into the alt-right world into white nationalists and even straight up racists,” stated Tatenhove.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD.) discussed “outside lawyers who'd been involved in dozens of failed lawsuits had lots of theories supporting the big lie, but no evidence to support it.” Still, they “brought to the White House a draft executive order that they had prepared for President Trump to further his ends.” Raskin also shared Trump’s work to overturn the election “by getting Mike Pence to abandon his oath of office as vice president and assert the unilateral power to reject electoral votes. This would have been a fundamental and unprecedented breach of the Constitution that would promise Trump multiple ways of staying in office.”
Raskin also discussed Trump’s motivation towards the two groups to collaborate together to lead the attack. She stated, "On December 19th at 10:22 a.m., just hours after President Trump's tweet, Kelly Meggs, the head of the Florida Oath Keepers, declared an alliance among the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, and the Florida Three Percenters, another militia group.”
Katrina Pierson, one of the organizers of the January 6th rally and a former campaign spokeswoman for President Trump, also testified that she had heard regarding multiple activists who had been assigned as speakers for the January 6th rally. This signified the prior planning of former President Trump’s attack on the Capitol Hill.
Finally, on Thursday, July 21, there was an eighth hearing led by Reps. Elaine Luria (D-VA) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL). The main focus of the hearing was on Trump’s absence in the middle of the insurrection.
"This man of unbridled destructive energy could not be moved, not by his aides, not by his allies, not by the violent chants of rioters, or the desperate pleas of those facing down the rioters," said Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS).
According to Committee member Rep. Elaine Luria, after being informed about the Capitol attack, former president Trump proceeded to head to the Oval Office to watch Fox News for two and a half hours.
"President Trump sat in his dining room and watched the attack on television while his senior-most staff, closest advisers, and family members begged him to do what is expected of any American president," Luria stated. "When lives and our democracy hung in the balance, President Trump refused to act because of his selfish desire to stay in power."
Former Trump deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews, also testified that Trump had the opportunity to stop the violence “almost instantly” if he wanted to and stated that the former president was resisting sending a message of peace to the rioters.
The committee stated that the former president had 187 minutes (three-plus hours) to prevent the proceeding of the riot but did not take automatic action. The members of the committee received an overwhelming amount of evidence and struggled to complete the meeting in time. They reached a conclusion to proceed with the investigation in September.
Though this most recent hearing helps further connect the dots between Trump, his advisors, and the mob that gathered on January 6, the committee still has yet to provide hard, prosecutable evidence that would definitively prove that Trump coordinated the assault on the Capitol. But given Trump’s prior knowledge of what would likely occur on January 6, his incendiary rhetoric before and during that day, and his refusal to immediately act and quell the riot provide solid groundwork for his indictment by the committee.