The Jan. 6 Committee began the dramatic finale of its summer series Thursday night with the announcement of a second season after its seven two-hour show trials failed to yield the desired results of partisan panel members.
“We have far more evidence to share with the American people and more to gather,” said committee Vice-Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., at the onset of the hearing, which was supposed to be a final performance. The following two and a half hours, however, illustrated why lawmakers might feel their work is unfinished: The finale failed to be the summer showstopper it was made out to be.
Thursday’s prime-time extravaganza featured another pair of former White House aides who defected from the Republican president in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot. Former Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Matthews and former National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger testified as the committee walked play by play through the White House, combing through the president’s conduct to corroborate their former colleague, Cassidy Hutchinson.
“There will be no question over her veracity,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., told CNN of Hutchinson’s prior appearance ahead of Thursday’s hearing.
The two new witnesses’ corroboration, however, did nothing more than offer more evidence highlighting former President Donald Trump’s desire to march with his supporters to the Capitol, a desire the president expressed openly in his Jan. 6 speech.
“We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women,” Trump said of lawmakers supporting his election challenges. “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”
Yet the committee has framed Trump’s ambition to travel down Pennsylvania Avenue as a grand revelation worthy of indictment with witness after witness testifying to something the president expressed openly.
At no point in the more than two-and-a-half-hour hearing, however, did lawmakers or their witnesses put forward any evidence to corroborate Hutchinson’s most sinister claim, which has been left unsubstantiated: that Trump violently assaulted a Secret Service agent to hijack the presidential limousine so he could drive himself to the Capitol. Nor did witnesses patch other holes in Hutchinson’s testimony, such as her story that White House Counsel Pat Cipollone told her on the morning of Jan. 6, “Please make sure we don’t go up to the Capitol,” and “We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable,” which doesn’t square with multiple other sources who have said Cipollone was absent from the White House that morning.
Even if the president had gone to the Capitol, the trip would not have been out of character. Trump is known to cheer his supporters at every opportunity. When well wishers in 2020 stood outside Walter Reed Medical Center hoping for a speedy recovery from Covid, Trump jumped into a motorcade for a drive-by appearance.
Meanwhile, the overarching image the committee presented on Thursday, of a president failing to govern as the Capitol suffered under siege, undermined the broader narrative they’ve promoted for weeks of an active “insurrectionist” engaged in an open coup.
The panel’s season finale focused on “187 minutes” wherein Trump allegedly remained apathetic to the turmoil interrupting a joint session of Congress. But not only is the “187 minutes” figure a contradictory message to the story of Trump viciously demanding to go to the Capitol immediately, it’s a made-up timeline conceived by Cheney in December when she ignored the president’s tweets urging demonstrators to remain peaceful and go home.
According to a Jan. 6 timeline by the New York Times, the first barriers of the Capitol building were breached at 2:13 p.m. The Washington Post timestamps the first break-in at 2:15 p.m. The president’s first tweet addressing the rioters was published at 2:38 p.m., meaning Trump pled for peace after just 23 minutes.
“Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement,” Trump wrote. “They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!”
About 30 minutes later, Trump addressed the demonstrators again on the same platform.
“I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence!” the president wrote. “Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order — respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!”
At 4:17 p.m., or two hours after the first barriers of the building were breached, the president tweeted out a video demanding rioters leave the Capitol — a video Twitter promptly removed.
Yet the committee got the headlines it was looking for, with media blindly adopting the “187 minutes” across their front pages. CNN aired the chyron, “NOW: Jan. 6 Cmte Details 187 Minutes of Trump Inaction” for much of the hearing’s first half.
While the panel aired Trump’s speech urging rioters to go home, members glossed over the president’s posts that demanded protests remain peaceful.
Operating without any minority-appointed opposition, whom House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred, lawmakers on the select committee will continue in September ahead of the fall midterms with show-trial proceedings reminiscent of the Soviet-era show trials. While the committee will also likely hold new hearings later this year to give itself more time to find the smoking gun — plus a book deal — the September timeline happens to coincide with elections. Democrats on the probe conceded in March that the investigation was all about the midterms as vulnerable members fret about losing voters who are worried about crime, high inflation, and unsustainable energy prices.
“Their challenge: Making the public care deeply — and read hundreds of pages more — about an event that happened more than a year ago, and that many Americans feel they already understand,” the Washington Post said.
It seems eight hearings produced with the help of a former ABC News executive failed to do the trick.