With public hearings kicking off today, the House select committee investigating January 6 is zeroing in on former President Donald Trump, and is preparing to use its platform to argue that he was responsible for grave abuses of power that nearly upended US democracy.
Here’s a breakdown of what the panel — and the press — unearthed about Trump’s leadership role in the anti-democratic scheme, and how it all fits into the ongoing criminal investigations:
Trump’s election subversion before Jan. 6, 2021: The committee has interviewed officials from Michigan and Georgia, among other states, where Trump unsuccessfully tried to cajole local officials into nullifying Biden’s votes and name him the winner. Trump also tried to enlist senior Justice Department officials to assist with these efforts.
Lawmakers have also dug into the “fake electors” plot, which was led by Trump campaign officials and was an attempt to undermine the Electoral College process in December 2020.
Congressional investigators have obtained hundreds of emails from right-wing attorney John Eastman, who directly advised Trump to pursue legally dubious methods to stay in office. This included a plan for then-Vice President Mike Pence to throw the election to Trump on January 6 while presiding over a joint session of Congress to certify Biden’s Electoral College victory.
In another victory for the committee, the judge in Eastman’s civil case said Tuesday that the potentially criminal scheme between Trump and Eastman to obstruct the Electoral College proceedings was formed in December 2020, weeks earlier than previously established. The ruling paves the way for the panel to get additional emails that Eastman tried to keep secret.
Trump and his allies pushed ahead with these efforts, and promoted the “Big Lie”, even after he was told by top officials, including then-Attorney General Bill Barr, that the election results were legitimate and that he lost. Even Eastman acknowledged in emails at the time that his plans were not legally sound. Lawmakers have said this suggests Trump had a corrupt state of mind.
“The data is going to be compelling from the committee,” former Rep. Denver Riggleman, who was a Republican advisor to the committee, said on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360°” last week. “I think it is up to the American people, after that is presented, to come up — using facts, not fantasies or opinions — on what the culpability of the President is, and the people around him.”
Trump, Eastman and the other GOP figures who were involved have denied wrongdoing. Spokespeople for Trump did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Trump’s dereliction of duty during the Capitol riot: Once Trump failed to stop states from certifying their results, he started focusing on Jan. 6, 2021 as his last chance to cling to power. The facts of that tragic day are well-known, but the panel is going to attempt to drive home a clear narrative from the chaos: Trump knew his supporters could get violent, but egged them on anyway, and was derelict when he didn’t do try to stop the violence.
“They were warned that January 6th could, and likely would, turn violent,” Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the Republican vice chairwoman of the panel, said at a committee hearing in March.
Pence’s staffers were so concerned before Jan. 6, 2021 that they warned the US Secret Service that Trump might stoke violence against him, because he wasn’t willing to overturn the election, according to The New York Times. (The Secret Service has since claimed it has “no knowledge” of that conversation happening.) Some of Pence’s senior advisers, who have cooperated with the committee’s inquiry, could potentially be called as witnesses during the public hearings.
Prominent Republican officials and right-wing media figures knew in real-time that only Trump could call off the mob and bring an end to the deadly carnage at the Capitol, according to text messages that these Trump allies sent to Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows on January 6. CNN obtained his texts after he partially complied with a subpoena to turn over the messages.
Despite those pleas, according to committee members, Trump spent 187 minutes during the riot watching TV and working the phones, seemingly pleased with how his supporters were fighting for him at the Capitol. He reacted approvingly when he learned that some of the rioters were chanting “hang Mike Pence,” according to testimony that the panel got from a Meadows aide.
To zero in on these crucial hours inside the White House, the panel interviewed people who were there with Trump that day, including his daughter Ivanka Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Clips of their videotaped depositions will likely be played at the public hearings for the first time — which are just some of the never-before-seen details that lawmakers have teased.
Read more about the investigation here.