What was expected to be a largely perfunctory beginning to the Jan. 6 Committee’s historic hearings started with a few bombshells.
Less than 20 minutes into the hearing, ranking Republican on the panel—Liz Cheney from Wyoming—revealed that, when then-President Donald Trump heard insurrectionists were calling to hang his vice president, Trump had an incredible reaction.
“Maybe our supporters have the right idea,” Trump said, according to Cheney. “Mike Pence deserves it.”
That was the message that Trump aides relayed to the Jan. 6 Committee, and it was just one of the incredible disclosures the panel made Thursday night during its first and historic hearing.
Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) also revealed during his opening statement that Trump’s own attorney general, Bill Barr, told the Jan. 6 Committee that he quit at the tail-end of the administration because he could no longer sit idly by while the nation’s leader plotted to stay in power based on lies of electoral fraud.
“I made it clear I did not agree with the idea the election was stolen, which… I told the president was bullshit,” Barr said, leaning back in a chair during a videotaped deposition.
The committee also played snippets of previously unreleased video interviews with Trump aides, including his daughter Ivanka Trump, to prove that Trump knew his claims of election fraud were lies; he had been told repeatedly that he had lost fairly.
Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller recalled how the campaign’s top data expert, Matt Oczkowski, spoke to Trump himself and “delivered pretty blunt terms that he was going to lose.” Alex Cannon, a Trump Organization lawyer who later joined the candidate’s campaign, remembered telling White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows “we weren’t finding anything that would be sufficient to change the results in any of the key states”—to which Meadows responded , “So there’s no there there.”
Even Ivanka Trump told the committee that Barr’s assertion that there was no widespread fraud swayed her personally.
“It affected my outlook. I respect Attorney General Barr, so I accepted what he was saying,” she told the committee during a videotaped virtual interview.
Cheney also made clear that this investigation turned the spotlight on some fellow members of Congress, revealing that Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA)—now the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus—sought a pardon from Trump for his role in the attack on Jan. 6.
Cheney called out her fellow Republicans who continue to profess loyalty to the former president, saying, “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone. But your dishonor will remain.”
Thompson kicked off the proceedings by stressing that “it was domestic enemies of the constitution who stormed … and occupied the Capitol.” And he put the blame squarely on Trump, saying the attack was “the culmination of an attempted coup.”
“He spurred a mob of domestic enemies of the constitution to march down the capital and subvert American democracy,” he said.
The committee on Thursday night also shed more light on Trump’s inaction and the role of the military in failing to intervene and defend the Capitol building. Cheney said Trump did not call the Secretary of Defense, nor the Attorney General, nor the Secretary of Homeland Security. “Trump gave no order to deploy the National Guard… no effort to work with the Department of Justice to deploy law enforcement assets.”
Instead, it was Pence who assumed the responsibility to defend legislators by demanding that the military intervene.
The committee played a video of testimony from top military official General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who tested that he had “two to three calls” with Pence.
“He was very animated, very direct, very firm… get the military there, get the guard down here, put down this situation,” he said.
And instead of addressing the actual threat that day, the White House apparently attempted to cover up Trump’s inaction by trying to coerce Milley—a military official who should have never been subject to politics—to frame Trump as still in charge.
Milley recalled being told by Meadows that “we have to kill the narrative that the vice president is making all the decisions. We need to establish the narrative that you know that the president is still in charge and things are steady or stable or words to that effect.”
The committee isn’t just investigating the attack on the Capitol; the investigation is also about the multi-layered attempt to form President Donald Trump and his loyalists to keep him in office after losing the 2020 election.
Thursday’s presentation marks the first of roughly half a dozen public hearings in which the committee will reveal its findings. The committee will show what it has learned on a number of fronts: Trump’s role in what’s been described as an attempted coup, the plot by his loyalists and advisers to overturn votes in several states, the intense campaign to pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence to misuse his role and refuse to certify electoral college results, and the mob’s insurrection.
Committee aides told reporters Thursday’s hearing would focus on documenting “the reality of that violence and how horrific it was” by presenting “previously unseen” video and audio of the way the crowd attempted to occupy the seat of Congress.
The panel is telling the broader story about what happened that day, something the Justice Department has been quietly doing in hundreds of prosecutions in federal courtrooms as it pursues criminal charges against the insurrectionists who pummeled police officers, broke windows and doors to illegally enter the Capitol building, ransacked politicians’ offices, took furniture and electronic devices, searched for members of Congress with kidnapping tools, and erected gallows outside.
This effort has faced an uphill battle from the start. Plans by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to initiate a formal, independent commission—like the 9/11 Commission put together after the terrorist attacks on US soil by Al-Qaeda—failed when Republicans refused to support its creation in May 2021 .
Instead, House Democrats forged ahead by creating a temporary investigative committee with nine members.
When Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) volunteered five Trump loyalists for the panel, Pelosi rejected two of his picks—Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN)—citing their role in undermining the election. In response, McCarthy pulled all of his selections. And in response to that move, Pelosi offered the positions in July to two other Republicans who were willing to put aside the party’s growing adherence to the MAGA movement: Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL).
Then the legal challenges came pouring in. In the months that followed, the Republican National Committee sued the committee with an attempt to have it declared illegitimate. A federal judge summarily tossed out the suit.
Then Trump sued to stop the committee from accessing his White House records at the National Archives, claiming he had some kind of leftover executive privilege. That also failed to convince a federal judge, an appellate panel, and even his own appointees on the Supreme Court.
The committee was also met with fights when seeking records and testimony from witnesses. John Eastman, an attorney who advised Trump on bogus legal theories to keep him in power after losing the national election, sued the committee to stop it from getting damning emails that a federal judge ultimately ruled had to be turned over to investigators because they likely showed evidence of a crime.
Taylor Budowich, a Trump flack who tested under oath and turned over more than 1,700 pages of documents to the committee, also sued to try to stop investigators from getting his bank records. Former White House advisers Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro are now being prosecuted by the Justice Department for ignoring the committee’s subpoenas forcing them to testify and turn over documents.