In riveting Season 1 finale, Jan. 6 committee used Trump’s allies against him
The season finale of the Jan. 6 committee hearings was a tour de force of emotion, violence, deception and bravery that detailed the fallout of President Trump’s actions — or lack thereof — during the deadly attack on the Capitol.
Thursday’s live, prime-time broadcast tied up the first six weeks of hearings with a powerhouse presentation focused on the former president’s dereliction of duty on Jan. 6, 2021.
In unflinching detail, the committee described the 187 minutes between Trump’s inflammatory Ellipse speech and his begrudging appeal for peace from the Rose Garden, appealing to viewers’ traumatic memories of that day and giving them a behind-the-scenes account of his inaction as lives were lost and threatened at the seat of American democracy.
The hearing skillfully resurfaced the distress during one of American history’s darkest hours through a series of never-before-seen clips, chilling radio traffic, and new testimony from former Trump advisors Matt Pottinger and Sarah Matthews, edited together into a crisp timeline that showed what Trump knew and when he knew it.
One of the president’s strongest supporters, Fox News, was turned against him to that effect, as were a host of his most ardent supporters, from a cowardly Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who ran from the building after earlier egging on the crowd, to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), who according to the committee’s collected evidence was scared for his life on Jan. 6.
In deposition after deposition — not to mention text messages and other communiques, witnesses who were once part of Trump’s inner circle all made clear that the commander in chief sat watching Fox News from the safety of the dining room off the Oval Office, fully aware of the danger facing former Vice President Mike Pence and others in the building thanks to Fox’s own on-scene reporting. (The network notably failed to cover Thursday’s hearing live.)
Times television critic Lorraine Ali is covering the Jan. 6 committee hearings. Catch up on the big moments you missed with her recaps.
Even so, Trump never called for backup forces to secure the building and continued to let the mob run wild via Twitter. A floor plan of the West Wing was even produced to illustrate how easily Trump could have moved from the dining room to the briefing room to make a statement to the press.
Trump’s self-proclaimed prowess as a master showman was also blown to smithereens when outtakes of his taped Jan. 7 address to the nation were produced at the hearing. Meant to condemn the insurrection, the clips instead showed him refusing to denounce the attack or the violent mob without qualification.
Raw footage showed him refusing to stick to the script: “I don’t want to say the election is over,” Trump says. “I just want to say Congress has certified the results.”
Perhaps more embarrassing, the clip revealed that a president who launched himself with the help of a television reality show stumbled over the simplest of words once the camera was on. “‘Yesterday’ is a hard word for me,” he said, after blowing it several times. (Ivanka Trump is heard off camera helping him along; just take it out, she advises.)
The hearing was led by Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who took over after a recorded introduction by Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.). He missed the proceedings after contracting COVID-19.
A series of congressional hearings about the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol have been televised. Here’s what you need to know.
Most of the hearing was directed by Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Elaine Luria (D-Va.), both military veterans who referred to Trump’s betrayal of his oath of office to protect the country: “President Trump did not fail to act. He chose not to act,” said Kinzinger.
As Cheney herself emphasized, in the committee’s numerous interviews with senior law enforcement and military leaders, Pence’s staff and D.C. government officials, none said they heard from Trump during the attack with orders to offer assistance.
Indeed, the committee’s timeline showed that Trump called Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) to ask him to keep stalling the proceedings even while he knew Pence was trapped in the building.
A particularly stressful portion of the hearing featured newly released audio from the Secret Service agents who were guarding Pence as the mob flooded the hallways of the Capitol. Footage from security cameras inside the building showed protesters just feet away from where the vice president was secured as his detail discussed the walls closing in and their fear for their own lives — to the point, according to one source, that they were calling their families to say goodbye.
By foregrounding the horror felt by seasoned security agents and his own supporters, the committee brought back to life the intensity and terror of the attempted coup, fulfilling its promise to show the American people that Trump not only participated in creating and disseminating the “Big Lie,” but also had a hand in the violence that followed.
Though this initially was intended to be the grand finale of the hearings, the committee informed viewers that there would be a second season — or at least a reconvening of the committee’s public proceedings — in September.
And based on the committee’s allusion to new information, and new witnesses, emerging from this round of hearings, Season 2 is poised to be as full of treachery, valor and intrigue as the first.
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