With televised Trump subpoena, Jan. 6 panel asks voters for a second season
The Jan. 6 committee punctuated what may be its final public hearing with an unforgettable scene: The nine-person panel voted live, on air, to subpoena former President Trump for his role in the 2021 attack on the Capitol.
It’s unlikely Trump will ever appear in front of the group, but the solemn proclamations of “aye” from its members may do as much to shift public opinion as the prospect of Trump testifying under oath. It was a powerful finale in a year of nine public hearings filled with bombshells, while also holding out the promise of more to come.
The dramatic last moments of the broadcast did what any great cliffhanger must: Redirect attention away from what’s already happened to what could happen. After months spent drilling down on all of the alleged schemes and misdeeds that led to a violent insurrection, justice might finally be served. Washington’s bad actors might finally be held accountable for their scheme to overturn an election.
And though the chances of Trump testifying before the committee are slim, the close of Thursday’s telecast carried symbolic weight. The architects of the hearings were sending a message. The midterms are less than a month away, and if the House flips to Republican control, the investigation will certainly halt. If you want Congress to take this investigation as far as it can go, make your voice heard at the polls. With political will, it’s still possible to find the perpetrators of Jan. 6 culpable.
Former President Trump is likely to fight the subpoena in court. With the committee set to disband at year’s end, it has little chance of questioning the ex-president.
The two-hour broadcast focused on Trump’s central role in disseminating the “Big Lie” to stay in power: his unfounded, preelection claims that the process was rigged; pressuring state officials after the election to sway the outcome in his favor; stirring up his followers for the attack on the Capitol. Per usual, it was a clean, cohesive live production that streamlined reams of evidence, taped testimony and new findings into a potent narrative arc.
Each of the members on the bipartisan committee led a section of the hearing where they reiterated previous findings for context and introduced new witnesses, testimony and never-before-seen video. The second half of the presentation revealed disturbing new evidence from the Secret Service that Trump, his inner circle and the agency knew that far-right groups were planning an armed attack on Jan. 6, but they chose to ignore multiple warnings. The new revelations left viewers with the troubling possibility that the country’s top officials, up to and including the president, willfully ignored the threat due to their own thirst for power — and endangered the lives of law enforcement and lawmakers in the process.
Times television critic Lorraine Ali is covering the Jan. 6 committee hearings. Catch up on the big moments you missed with her recaps.
News broke of the committee’s plans to hold the subpoena vote as the hearing kicked off at 10 a.m. Pacific. Social media erupted, and many of the platforms that carried the hearing live responded in kind. During the committee’s short recess, political historians were called upon to address the gravity of the situation. They informed Americans that Trump is one of few American presidents subpoenaed to testify. Thomas Jefferson refused. Richard Nixon resigned. Bill Clinton voluntarily appeared. Trump’s chapter is yet to be written.
But don’t expect every media outlet to cover the outcome, if there is one. In advance of Thursday’s broadcast, “Why aren’t the January 6 [Committee] hearings being televised?” was a trending search on Google — possible evidence that the conservative media blackout on tough coverage of Trump and his closest allies is having the intended censoring effect. Trump has bitterly complained on Fox News and his own social media platform that the committee has not given him the chance to respond to the evidence it has gathered. The panel has called his bluff at the zero hour, playing the other side of the same game.
At the close of Thursday’s proceedings, Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) explained why they chose to take the vote in front of the cameras. “We wanted to take this step in the full view of the American people,” he said. The stakes are “the future of this democracy.” Stay tuned on the off chance that this powerful series gets a second season, with Trump playing a starring role.
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