January 6 Committee Public Hearings: Day 1

The laying out of the case begins.

I had a long-scheduled engagement last evening and am leaving for vacation first thing tomorrow morning, so didn’t watch the opening night of the public hearings and will likely not see any of it live. The reporting indicates that the opener did what it set out to do. Time will tell what impact, if any, it makes.

Domenico Montinaro, NPR (“New revelations and 3 other takeaways from the first Jan. 6 committee hearing“):

It wasn’t clear what the country could expect from the Jan. 6 select committee’s beginning presentation of its findings, but the prime-time, opening-day hearing Thursday night had lots of new information, and it was presented in a calm and cogent way.

The committee transported the audience back to Jan. 6 with behind-the-scenes and up-close video of what happened that day. It also made a strong case that former President Donald Trump was the central character responsible for what happened — with on-camera testimony from many of the people closest to him, including his daughter Ivanka, who broke with him over his election lies that the election was stolen.

It wasn’t stolen, and the people closest to him knew it — despite Republican leaders who once criticized Trump for his role quickly reversing course to curry political favor with him.

“Tonight, I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible,” said committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”

The committee hopes it all breaks through with most Americans, especially as fewer are blaming Trump as being responsible for the insurrection than they did immediately following it, partisan gaps becoming wider, and with conservative media doing all it can to circle the Trump wagons and downplay the committee’s findings.

As the headline suggests, Montenaro believes new evidence was presented:

•Not previously publicly seen video footage from police body cameras, Capitol hallway and office footage, as well as police radio communication; 

•Trump Attorney General Bill Barr telling investigators in his on-camera deposition that he told Trump his allegations of election fraud were “bullshit.” Barr revealed this in his book, but it carries different weight with him telling it to a congressional committee; 

•Ivanka Trump, the former president’s daughter and a former senior adviser in his White House, saying she accepted what Barr had to say. “I respect Attorney General Barr,” she was shown saying, “so I accepted what he was saying.” [In contrast with her father, one might read between the lines. -ed]

•Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mike Milley saying Vice President Mike Pence was being direct and wanting the military’s help at the Capitol. The response from the White House, on the other hand, was very different. Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Milley said, wanted instead to shape a “narrative” that Trump was in control. Milley said that wreaked of “politics, politics, politics,” and it was a “red flag”; 

•Cheney said Rep. Scott Perry and “multiple other Republican congressmen” sought “presidential pardons for their roles in attempting to overturn the 2020 election”; 

•New texts between Fox News host Sean Hannity and then-White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany; 

•Former campaign adviser Jason Miller saying on camera that he told Trump in “pretty blunt terms that he was going to lose;”

•Trump lawyer Alex Cannon affirming there was no evidence of widespread election fraud or the election being stolen.

•Proud Boys and Oath Keepers on camera saying they went to the Capitol that day because they believed that’s what Trump wanted done, they felt he’d asked them to do it and that after Trump’s “Stand back and stand by” remark in a debate, membership tripled

I’m not sure any of that qualifies as “new,” much less game-changing. One hopes, however, that the curation of all of it into a single, understandable narrative will help.

This, too, was known but something that I’d forgotten:

If you watched this hearing with a split screen between Fox News and everyone else, it was eye-opening.

While every other cable news channel carried the hearing live, Fox did not. It didn’t even cut away during the entire time its top host Tucker Carlson was on the air, making it less likely its audience would switch to any other channel to see the hearing, according to the left-leaning group Media Matters, which tracks conservative media.

Fox instead spun out narratives furthering Trump’s lies and downplaying the evidence presented. Fox’s audience was treated to narratives casting aspersions on the committee’s work, as well as a cast of Trump supporters, including Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, and former Trump administration officials, like controversial former chief of staff to the acting Secretary of Defense Kash Patel, former White House adviser Stephen Miller and former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

Ironically, Hannity, the very person who had been texting the White House, telling them to get Trump to stop the election lies, was on TV Thursday night with banners on the screen, exclaiming that there were “false narratives” from the hearing, calling it a “sham investigation” that was an orchestrated “anti-Trump show trial.”

The reality is: a significant portion of the country — and many of the very people who need to hear the facts about what happened on Jan. 6 — will have never heard the primary source evidence presented, making it difficult for Americans to get on the same page about what truly happened that day.

Luke Broadwater, NYT (“‘Trump Was at the Center’: Jan. 6 Hearing Lays Out Case in Vivid Detail“):

The House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the United States Capitol opened a landmark set of hearings on Thursday by showing video of aide after aide to former President Donald J. Trump testifying that his claims of a stolen election were false, as the panel laid out in meticulous detail the extent of the former president’s efforts to keep himself in office.

Over about two hours, the panel offered new information about what it characterized as an attempted coup orchestrated by Mr. Trump that culminated in the deadly assault on the Capitol. The panel’s leaders revealed that investigators heard testimony that Mr. Trump endorsed the hanging of his own vice president as a mob of his supporters descended on Congress. They also said they had evidence that members of Mr. Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office.


“Donald Trump was at the center of this conspiracy,” said Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the chairman of the committee. “And ultimately, Donald Trump, the president of the United States, spurred a mob of domestic enemies of the Constitution to march down the Capitol and subvert American democracy.”


The committee is publicly telling the story of how a sitting president undertook unprecedented efforts to overturn a democratic election, testing the guardrails of American democracy at every turn. Mr. Trump and his allies challenged President Biden’s victory in the courts, at state houses and, finally, in the streets.

“You will see that Donald Trump and his advisers knew that he had in fact lost the election,” said Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the vice chairwoman and one of two Republicans on the panel. “But despite this, President Trump engaged in a massive effort to spread false and fraudulent information to convince huge portions of the U.S. population that fraud had stolen the election.”

Lawmakers contrasted Mr. Trump’s refusal to accept his defeat with every president who came before him. At one point, Mr. Thompson displayed a handwritten note from President Abraham Lincoln in which he said he would be duty-bound to cooperate with the newly elected president should he lose.

A companion analysis piece by Peter Baker (“Trump Is Depicted as a Would-Be Autocrat Seeking to Hang Onto Power at All Costs“):

In the entire 246-year history of the United States, there was surely never a more damning indictment presented against an American president than outlined on Thursday night in a cavernous congressional hearing room where the future of democracy felt on the line.

Other presidents have been accused of wrongdoing, even high crimes and misdemeanors, but the case against Donald J. Trump mounted by the bipartisan House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol described not just a rogue president but a would-be autocrat willing to shred the Constitution to hang onto power at all costs.

As the committee portrayed it during its prime-time televised hearing, Mr. Trump executed a seven-part conspiracy to overturn a free and fair democratic election. According to the panel, he lied to the American people, ignored all evidence refuting his false fraud claims, pressured state and federal officials to throw out election results favoring his challenger, encouraged a violent mob to storm the Capitol and even signaled support for the execution of his own vice president.


Mr. Trump is hardly the first president reproached for misconduct, lawbreaking or even violating the Constitution. Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were both impeached by the House, although acquitted by the Senate. John Tyler sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War. Richard M. Nixon resigned under the threat of impeachment for abusing his power to cover up corrupt campaign activities. Warren G. Harding had the Teapot Dome scandal and Ronald Reagan the Iran-contra affair.

But the crimes alleged in most of those cases paled in comparison to what Mr. Trump is accused of, and while Mr. Tyler turned on the country he once led, he died before he could be held accountable. Mr. Nixon faced hearings during Watergate not unlike those that began on Thursday night and was involved in other scandals beyond the burglary that ultimately resulted in his downfall. But the brazen dishonesty and incitement of violence put on display on Thursday eclipsed even his misdeeds, according to many scholars.

Mr. Trump, of course, was impeached twice already, and acquitted twice, the second time for his role in the Jan. 6 attack. But even so, the case against him now is far more extensive and expansive, after the committee conducted some 1,000 interviews and obtained more than 100,000 pages of documents.

What the committee was trying to prove was that this was not a president with reasonable concerns about fraud or a protest that got out of control. Instead, the panel was trying to build the case that Mr. Trump was involved in a criminal conspiracy against democracy — that he knew there was no widespread fraud because his own people told him, that he intentionally summoned a mob to stop the transfer of power to Joseph R. Biden Jr. and that he sat by and did virtually nothing once the attack commenced.

WaPo’s Amber Phillips had “6 takeaways from the Jan. 6 committee’s first prime-time hearing.” The most important is the first,

1. The committee holds Trump responsible for the attack

“President Trump summoned the mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack.” That is the top Republican on the committee (and one of only two who agreed to participate with Democrats), Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) directly laying the blame for the violence on Trump.

“[W]hen a president fails to take the steps necessary to preserve our union or worse causes a constitutional crisis,” she said, “we’re at a moment of maximum danger for our republic.”

Cheney said that over the next month, the committee will present evidence that Trump made not a single call to the Defense Department or other national security agencies during the attack. The committee played testimony from Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, saying that it was Vice President Mike Pence who made those calls.

The committee said it will present evidence that the president “refused for hours to do what his staff, his family and many of his other advisers begged him to do, immediately instruct his supporters to stand down and evacuate the Capitol.” He also yelled at advisers who told him to act, the panel said.

And, perhaps most damning, the committee said that he cheered on the protesters’ most violent tendencies. Cheney said, “Aware of the rioters chanting to ‘hang Mike Pence,’ the president responded with this sentiment ‘Maybe our supporters have the right idea. [Mike Pence] deserves it.'”

I continue to be of mixed minds on this:

3. A sharp attack on Trump’s Republican defenders

Top Republican lawmakers — even Pence, whose life was threatened by the attackers — have spent the year and a half since the attack downplaying what happened. It’s now a badge of honor in some circles to have been in D.C. protesting election results or to be labeled an insurrectionist.

Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) compared those who have justified what happened to those who defended slavery and the civil war.

“I’m from a part of the country where people justify the actions of slavery, the Ku Klux Klan and lynching,” Thompson said in his opening remarks, his Southern drawl evident. “I’m reminded of that dark history as I hear voices today try to justify the actions of the insurrectionists.”

And Cheney, whose party has isolated her for her strong criticism of Trump and willingness to serve on this committee, said, “Tonight, I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible. There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”

The committee also shared new information: A number of Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), asked the White House for pardons in the weeks after the attack, for their alleged involvement in trying to overthrow the election. Last month, the committee had subpoenaed Perry, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and several other House Republicans, who refused to cooperate with their investigation.

To be clear: not a bit of this is untrue. If anything, it understates how despicable some of these people are. But it also helps feed the counter-narrative that this is a partisan witch hunt.

The hardest point to prove is this one:

4. How Trump influenced the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys

So if the attack wasn’t spontaneous, as the committee flatly says it wasn’t, what led to it? The committee alleges that right-wing extremist groups were motivated by Trump himself. The committee spent a large chunk of Thursday’s hearing introducing Americans to two of these groups — the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers — and making the case for how Trump’s statements and tweets influenced their actions, and eventually, their violent acts.

The committee presented evidence that membership of the Proud Boys “tripled” after Trump praised them in a presidential debate toward the end of the election campaign. The hearing also featured footage of rioters reading aloud, over a bullhorn, a tweet Trump sent attacking Pence for his lack of “courage. And when Trump tweeted ahead of Jan. 6, “be there and be wild,” the committee said that these extremist groups took it as “a call to arms.”

Filmmaker Nick Quested, who embedded with the Proud Boys that day, testified that some Proud Boys went to the Capitol early that morning; others left the “Stop the Steal” rally to march to the Capitol before Trump’s speech even began. They didn’t seem very interested in hearing Trump’s speech, which Quested said confused him at the time. But he described the group’s atmosphere as “much darker” than usual.

“What you witnessed was what a coordinated plan effort would look like,” Thompson said, after Quested finished speaking. “It was the culmination of a months-long effort spearheaded by President Trump.”

The hearing also featured interviews with several men charged in the riot who said they came because Trump told them to. “We were invited by the president of the United States!” an attacker yells in footage from that day.

And the committee presented evidence that the groups took credit for the attack. “Make no mistake. We did this,” the leader of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, said in an encrypted text, according to a Justice Department indictment of Tarrio. He and four of his top lieutenants were recently charged with seditious conspiracy — alleging they conspired to overthrow the government. The leaders of the Oath Keepers have also been charged with this.

I have no doubt that the extremists had violence on their mind when they arrived. And I condemned Trump’s “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by, but I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem” statement the next morning—months before the riots—observing, “As loathe as I am to assign strategic thinking to this President, this doesn’t come across as his typical word salad. He’s sending a clear message to his most violent and loathsome supporters. And they heard him just fine.” Further, I noted, “Granting that these people don’t need a lot of encouragement to be violent, the fact that they immediately understood these words as a call to action rather than a rebuke speaks volumes.”

At the same time, the proof on hand wouldn’t rise to the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of a criminal trial. I just don’t know who it is that doesn’t already think Trump is guilty who will be swayed.

Bulwark founder Bill Kristol (“The Jan. 6th Committee Starts With ‘Just the Facts, Ma’am'”) is pleased with the evening. And I’m in full agreement with this:

I have no idea whether tonight’s January 6th Select Committee hearing changed any minds, or even opened some. I don’t know what effect this first primetime hearing, or the subsequent ones, will have on American politics in the months and years ahead. I wish I were more confident they will help strengthen the guardrails of American democracy. But I am open to the possibility that the hearings will have little practical effect. Churchill’s great speeches in the 1930s made little difference in the short term.

One can’t guarantee an effect. One can’t control if one makes a difference.

What one can do is act in a way that makes one’s fellow citizens proud. That is what the House January 6th Committee did tonight. And that is what Liz Cheney in particular did tonight.

Cheney’s opening remarks tonight were in their way very American, and very democratic in the best sense. It was a “Just the facts, ma’am” presentation. Its eloquence lay in its clarity, its directness, and its straightforwardness. Cheney’s presentation was far more factual than rhetorical, laying out the evidence calmly and clearly. It reminded me of some of Lincoln’s speeches from the 1850s—some of the less famous but nonetheless very important ones—which were similarly plainspoken and evidence-heavy.

The viewers of Fox News were presented none of it live and are living in an alternate reality is scary. But all the Committee can do is present the evidence plainly and forthrightly.

He’s perhaps a wee bit more hopeful than me as to the near-term impact:

As I listened to Cheney, I thought of other notable speeches and hearings I’ve seen here in Washington, and of course of many others from history that I’ve read about. But somehow I kept thinking less of the famous speakers of the past and more the audiences for those speeches—and for tonight’s.

The Federalist Papers are famous for not expecting too much of the citizenry. But near the end of Federalist 55, we read:

“As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form.”

Do we the people of this republic in the year 2022 have the qualities a republican citizenry should have which would justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence?

The problem is that, perhaps as much as at any time since the Civil War, we don’t have one republic but two. My hope is that the time will come again when that won’t be the case.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mikey says:

    To be clear: not a bit of this is untrue. If anything, it understates how despicable some of these people are. But it also helps feed the counter-narrative that this is a partisan witch hunt.

    The Republicans had the opportunity to get on board with an independent commission of the kind that investigated the 9/11 attacks and they squashed it. For them to now assert a “partisan witch hunt” is the most egregious bullshit.

    Not that you’re wrong, of course, they will absolutely do so. But we should all understand they are hypocrites on a galactic scale.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Mikey: Yup. The problem is that we shouldn’t be the target audience—we were persuaded of Trump’s complicity while the riot was unfolding and, indeed, were predicting that his words would lead to violence months in advance.

  3. CSK says:

    Ivanka Trump said that she respected Bill Barr, so she accepted what he said about the dearth of voter fraud.

    Trump’s response: “Ivanka Trump was not involved in looking at, or studying Election results. She had long since checked out and was, in my opinion, only trying to be respectful of Bill Barr and his position as Attorney General (he sucked!).”

  4. Mikey says:

    @James Joyner: Sadly, those who should watch won’t. Tucker Carlson ran his whole show without commercials last night so there wouldn’t be an opportunity for any of his dupes to change the channel and see the actual hearing rather than his lies about it.

    Also, yes, we knew Trump’s words would likely end up spurring violence, but I think the committee is making an additional point: it wasn’t just Trump talking on January 6 and a mob getting out of hand, this was an actual conspiracy of long planning that was intended to keep him in power even though he knew full well he had lost. That is far worse.

  5. Kathy says:

    Take the Hate Week scene in 1984.

    The streets are full of banners attacking Eurasia. People carry signs attacking Eurasia. Speakers speechify about the evils of the evilest enemy Eurasia. Then, mid-speech, a speaker changes the name of the enemy to Eastasia, and people are indignant that the libtards fooled them to think it was the most benign ally Eurasia they were angry at.

    We have always been at war with Eastasia.

  6. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Kind of a mixed bag, last night. I’d love to see the overnights. I bet there were a lot of eyes on that hearing.
    I think the best possible outcome that can be expected is if the Committee somehow establishes that the former guy did indeed stage an insurrection and/or rebellion and is thus prohibited from office by Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.
    Perhaps also cleaning up and tightening up the Electoral Vote Certification process.

  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    I suspect the committee has something directly linking Trump to the Proud Boys. They leaned into that pretty hard.

    It was a good presentation. I’d have cut 5 or 10 minutes from Chairman Thompson’s opening statement. Liz Cheney was great. The use of video was excellent, and about time Congress learned techniques that have been in use in everything from corporate board meetings to book tour presentations by yours truly. I’m quite pleased.

    No doubt we’ll hear from easily discouraged Democrats in a hurry to surrender, and I don’t pretend to have any idea what the effect of this will be, but it’s always good to present the truth.

  8. DK says:

    The viewers of Fox News were presented none of it live and are living in an alternate reality is scary.

    How long until Suzanne Scott and Lachlan Murdoch are — rightly — tagged as enablers of fascism and enemies of America, and shunned from polite society?

    Should have happened long ago.

  9. Kathy says:


    After either WWIII or the second American Civil War, should the good guys win it.

  10. gVOR08 says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    and is thus prohibited from office by Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.
    Perhaps also cleaning up and tightening up the Electoral Vote Certification process.

    The insurrection part of the 14th would, I expect, only come into play if he were convicted of such. Or at least that’s how the DC chapter of the Federalist Society would hold. And there’s bloody little chance of Garland getting a conviction before the clock runs out. As to tightening up the EC vote certification process, I fear various red state legislatures are handling that.

  11. gVOR08 says:


    How long until Suzanne Scott and Lachlan Murdoch are — rightly — tagged as enablers of fascism and enemies of America, and shunned from polite society?

    They have money.

  12. Robert in SF says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Perhaps also cleaning up and tightening up the Electoral Vote Certification process.

    When you say the electoral vote certification process, are you referring to the counting of electoral votes that congress does? Or the various State’s certification of their electoral votes and submission to Congress to count?

    Cause I think that’s all Congress does…count. They don’t certify, it’s not a phrase for their role at all that I can find in the Constitution or the Electoral Count Act.

    Congress can object to a count, but in the process of electoral voting, the various States certify the electoral votes they submit and Congress only counts the votes.

    The whole description in the Constitution of course really reads to me a legacy of horse carried votes to DC without the modern invention of otherwise speedier communications (as though what’s in the vote box as it were that’s delivered is unknown to Congress).

  13. Kathy says:

    So, after Joe finishes an account of the time he had a massive heart attack, the subsequent emergency quadruple bypass surgery, and the long months of recovery, Paul L. pipes up and says “I know. I had a hangnail once.”

  14. wr says:

    @Paul L.: Yawn.

  15. Gustopher says:

    There was another bit of new information — the Proud Boys skipped the President’s speech and went to the Capitol at 10:30. They weren’t just prepared for a riot, they were anticipating it.

  16. CSK says:

    Indeed. They did reconnaissance–and then went out for tacos.

  17. Gustopher says:

    @CSK: As divided as this nation is, at least we can all agree that tacos are great.

  18. dazedandconfused says:

    Hannity launched a wild theory that Pelosi was the person actually in command of the National Guard at the time, so she should be the one being investigated.

    Hannity has correctly identified the most damning charge, that Trump did nothing for 3 hours while it was happening so he deploys his shovel there. His case is ridiculous, but Sean must go to war with the BS he has, not the BS he might wish to have at a later time.

  19. Kathy says:


    “If you must give them bullshit, then at least give them good bullshit. If you can and if there is such a thing.”