The Jan. 6 committee’s final public hearing before the midterm election ended with a bang, not a whimper. At the conclusion of the hearing the committee’s nine members voted unanimously to subpoena former President Donald Trump to testify. After their two-and-a-half hour presentation, it’s hard to imagine how they ever could have contemplated doing otherwise. They presented a meticulously documented case which showed that Trump had a premeditated plan of many months to deny losing the election, plotted a coup to overturn the results if he did, incited a violent insurrection when that was thwarted, and then refused for hours to respond to the violence as he watched it unfold on television. Whether he will respond to the subpoena remains to be seen, but either way it’s another black mark on his uniquely corrupt and dishonest political career.
For most of us who closely followed events in real time, both on Jan. 6 and through the subsequent investigations and revelations, much of this was not news. But it’s been a while since we focused on some of these details, and to see it presented in narrative form, with so much video and documentary evidence, is still powerful. For instance, the fact that Trump had planned to contest the election if he lost was no secret. Indeed, he had signaled back in 2016 that he would never concede defeat, famously declaring in the days before that election, “I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election — if I win.” For years after that victory he insisted that he’d actually won the popular vote but had been victimized by millions of immigrants illegally voting in California. He even convened something called the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to try to prove that case. Even his hand-picked hacks couldn’t turn up any evidence, and the “commission” was quietly disbanded without even issuing a report.
So he clearly planned to say the election was rigged long before the first votes were cast, and the coup plot in which Trump and his legal lackeys contested the results in numerous states was also planned well in advance. But those cases got thrown out of courts across the country, by Republican and Democratic judges alike, and as Thursday’s hearing revealed, this made Trump furious. Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified that after the Supreme Court refused to hear the crackpot lawsuit meant to overturn the results in several battleground states (which of course Trump saw as a personal betrayal), she ran into the president in a hallway where he was “raging” about the decision. Trump told chief of staff Mark Meadows, according to Hutchinson, that he didn’t want people to know they had lost the case, tasking Meadows with making sure they didn’t find out. That’s nuts, of course, but it’s also highly revealing.
Hutchinson also testified that during Trump’s diatribe to Meadows, he asked, “Why didn’t we make more calls?” That’s a curious thing to say, and raises the unanswered question of exactly who they were calling as the Supreme Court was considering the case. Is that how things work with the court’s conservative majority?
Since the committee finally got its hands on a considerable number of emails and other Jan. 6-related documents from the Secret Service — although not the missing and apparently erased text messages — there was some disturbing new information about what the agency knew ahead of time about the threats of violence. Something is deeply wrong with the Secret Service, it seems, and it doesn’t stop with them. Law enforcement in general appears to have ignored a mountain of incoming intelligence telegraphing the fact that pro-Trump extremists were highly agitated and violence was possible or even likely.
Trump knew that too. Jason Miller, the Trump campaign’s senior communications adviser, forwarded to Mark Meadows a link to a startling social media page that included such comments as “Gallows don’t require electricity” and “our lawmakers in Congress can leave one of two ways; one, in a body bag, two, after rightfully certifying Trump the winner.” Miller didn’t express alarm or concern; he boasted: “I got the base fired up.” (Miller claimed after the fact that he didn’t know about the more extreme comments.)
As a result of law enforcement’s failure to prepare for Jan. 6, Congress was left vulnerable after Trump gave his big speech on the Ellipse, urging his rabid followers to march to the Capitol. (Some of them, in fact, were already there.) He wanted to go there too but his Secret Service detail refused to take him, leading to the purported fight between Trump and his agents in the presidential SUV. What he planned to do there we can only imagine — but now we know what the leaders of the House and Senate were doing during that time: responding to the crisis, which Trump refused to do.
While the president was sitting in the Oval Office dining room reveling in the images of his mob storming the Capitol and threatening to kill Nancy Pelosi and Mike Pence, congressional leaders had been taken to a secure location where they were working hard to get police and National Guard troops to the Capitol to put down the insurrection. As it happens, a documentary crew was on hand that day to record the historic vote and they captured Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer (then the minority leader) taking charge, calmly reaching out to various government officials and trying to get Cabinet members, including the acting attorney general and acting defense secretary, to persuade Trump to call off the mob. It’s an impressive display of leadership, considering they knew they were being hunted like animals as it was happening.
The cumulative effect of all the Jan. 6 hearings, culminating in Thursday’s wrap-up of the central narrative, has made clear that Donald Trump set up the coup before the election, was personally involved in the various attempts to execute it, understood that violence was possible on Jan. 6, and incited the crowd to storm the Capitol and refused to take any action to stop them. Everything that happened came at his direction and was done in his name.
Beyond that, Trump has turned the country upside down for two years and built an anti-democratic movement dedicated to destroying the right to vote and sabotaging elections, entirely in service to his injured ego and his refusal to admit that he could ever possibly lose. He is a damaged, destructive narcissist, beyond all help. But the really disturbing question now is why so many people are eager to believe his dangerous fantasies.