Published On: Thu, Jun 9th, 2022

January 6 hearings start tonight and America (and Trump) should watch. But we already know a lot.

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection spent almost a year deposing 1,000 witnesses, collecting 140,000 documents, examining videos and following leads. Except for a few leaks (noticeably increasing in frequency over the past few weeks) and clues from court filings, the committee has kept much of its findings under wraps.

To tell that story, the committee’s senior investigative counsels say they will present previously secret White House records, photos and videos in real time.

On Thursday, we will learn (more) of what they have discovered. The committee says it will present “previously unseen material,” offering “a summary of its findings about the coordinated, multistep effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and prevent the transfer of power.” To tell that story, the committee’s senior investigative counsels say they will present previously secret White House records, photos and videos in real time to illustrate witnesses’ live testimony. Committee member Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said, “It’s important that we tell the American public, to the best we are able, exactly what happened.”

The committee is calling these proceedings hearings, but they shouldn’t be confused with a judicial hearing in which a court examines and weighs evidence and reaches a verdict. In the upcoming presentations, the judge and jury will be the American people.

And indeed, while the committee has promised tantalizing new information, it’s worth refreshing our memories before the hearings start, because in fact, we already know a great deal about the lead-up to Jan. 6, and how the events unfolded.      

We know, for example that the efforts to overturn the election began early in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic upended normal life and led states to promote voting by mail. Then-President Donald Trump spent months sowing seeds of doubt about mail-in ballots (a voting method which coincidentally was predicted to be favored by Democrats). This allowed Trump to falsely declare himself the winner on election night. “This is a fraud on the American public,” Trump claimed as ballots were still being counted. “This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election.” The day after the election, as more of the mail-in ballots were counted and Biden’s lead increased, Trump falsely claimed that his “lead shrank” as “fraudulent” mail-in ballots were counted. (Trump never, in fact, led in the electoral count vote.)

After the election, Trump associates launched dozens of lawsuits alleging voter fraud. These claims were widely rejected by the courts — but that didn’t stop Trump, the Republican National Committee and other groups from using lies about election fraud to raise hundreds of millions of dollars.

Simultaneously, in what has been called the fake elector scheme, seven groups of state Republicans signed comments presenting themselves as duly authorized electors (they were not duly authorized).

Meanwhile, with the inauguration on the horizon, Trump led a pressure campaign against various state governments and federal agencies, including the Department of Justice, to help him stay in office. On Dec. 27, Trump told the DOJ to “just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen.” He also pressured Republican leadership in key states, most famously, perhaps, on Jan. 2, when he and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows tried to get Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” more Trump votes.

Former Chapman University law professor John Eastman and lawyer Kenneth Chesebro wrote memos for Trump’s inner circle falsely stating that under the Constitution, Vice President Mike Pence had the authority to throw out electors and prevent Joe Biden from being certified as the next president. Trump used these bogus legal theories to apply enormous pressure on Pence to comply with the plan.

And that was all before Jan. 6. On that day, the date Congress — with Pence presiding — was set to certify the election, Trump directed the crowd at the Ellipse toward the Capitol. Leaders of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers militia groups who stormed the Capitol have since pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy and admitted that they intended to use violence to prevent the peaceful transfer of power. While the violence was unfolding, Trump resisted pleas to call off the insurrectionists.

That’s a lot of information, and it paints an ominous picture. But of course, while there is much we do know, there is still much we don’t know. (Just Security, based at the Reiss Center on Law and Security at the New York University School of Law, compiled a helpful primer on what to look for at the hearings.)

Here are some of the questions the committee may yet be able to answer:

Are there direct or indirect lines between the top of the Republican hierarchy and what Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., calls the “violent hooligans and street fascists” who stormed the Capitol?

Did high-ranking Republicans or members of Trump’s inner circle know (or suspect) in advance that the Capitol would be breached?

Did high-ranking Republicans or members of Trump’s inner circle know (or suspect) in advance that the Capitol would be breached?

Did any high-ranking Republicans take any steps either in advance of the attack or during the attack to facilitate the breach?

Did Trump know that he had lost the election and that his claim of fraud was, in fact, a fraud?

Did other groups that fundraised using the election fraud lies know that they were lies? (In other words, did they intentionally perpetuate a fraudulent money-making scheme?)

Who funded the insurrection?

Did Eastman and Chesebro know that Pence did not, in fact, have the authority to halt the counting of the votes and prevent Biden from being declared the winner?

Was Trump personally or directly involved in the false elector scheme?

Did senior military officials avoid sending federal troops to protect the Capitol out of concern Trump might invoke the Insurrection Act?

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What we won’t learn from the hearings is whether Trump or any other high-level politicians are definitively guilty of crimes. This is not a criminal trial. The select committee, as a legislative body, has different goals. Their stated goals are to learn the truth about what happened, to present that truth to the American people and consider legislation to prevent additional attacks.

The Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was carried out with the intention of preventing the peaceful transfer of power and upending democracy. The American people therefore deserve to know the entire story of how it happened and who was responsible.

On Wednesday, the day before the hearings, committee member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., promised that the hearings will “present new and publicly known information” that will “demonstrate the multipronged effort to overturn a presidential election, how one strategy to subvert the election led to another, culminating in a violent attack on our democracy.” The committee will show “how close we came to losing our democracy. And why it’s still deeply at risk.”

We will thus be looking to the select committee hearings to fill in the gaps of an already harrowing story. Again, to quote Schiff, “It is a story that must be told, to make sure it never happens again.”


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