Column: The Jan. 6 hearings are sorting real heroes from the fakes

Three Justice Department staffers being sworn in together
From left, Steven Engel, Jeffrey Rosen and Richard Donoghue, all former members of the Justice Department, are sworn in to testify Thursday during Jan. 6 House select committee hearings.
(Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)

This was Heroes Week for the House committee investigating Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his election defeat and cling to power. So Mike Pence wasn’t there.

Real heroes were.

Some analysts have called Pence a hero, and Democrats on the committee repeatedly praise the former vice president for refusing Trump’s demands that Pence, in presiding on Jan. 6, 2021, over Congress’ certification of the presidential election result, work to reverse Joe Biden’s victory.

Opinion Columnist

Jackie Calmes

Jackie Calmes brings a critical eye to the national political scene. She has decades of experience covering the White House and Congress.

Give Pence this much: After four years of sycophancy to Trump, he went far in redeeming himself when it really mattered to democracy. He ensured that the violent insurrection that day failed: After rioters at the Capitol cried “Hang Mike Pence!,” he presided as Congress certified that Biden and Kamala Harris had been elected.


Yet Pence was simply doing his job, as the Constitution provides. Trump has devalued our civil discourse, but “hero” shouldn’t come that cheap.

Pence won’t qualify for the honorific until he raises his right hand and tells the whole truth to the committee, and the American public, about Trump’s coup plotting.

It’s not enough that Pence has sanctioned the committee’s questioning of his former chief of staff, Marc Short, and chief counsel, Greg Jacob, helpful as it’s been to further documenting that top Trump officials repeatedly told him he’d lost and his claims of fraud were “bullshit.”

Three former leaders of the Justice Department testified at Thursday’s Jan. 6 hearing about then-President Trump’s attempts to pressure them to advance debunked election fraud claims.

June 23, 2022

Pence is hiding behind his aides to shield what’s left of his presidential hopes. He made it plain this week how far he is from real heroics.

In an interview Monday with Fox News, he spoke of Jan. 6, 2021, as if it were a one-off, without all the months before and since in which Trump undermined Americans’ faith in elections. Democrats seek to exploit that “tragic day,” Pence said, to “distract attention from their failed agenda.”

He will “always be proud,” Pence added, to have served with Trump.

(Trump, as usual, doesn’t reciprocate. Days earlier, he’d told an audience of conservative evangelicals that “Mike did not have the courage to act” to keep the two of them in office.)


One can wonder just how proud Pence was of Trump on the day after the former vice president’s Fox News interview. On Tuesday, real heroes — including an elderly volunteer poll worker in Atlanta and Georgia’s top election administrator — went before the Jan. 6 committee and described the abuse, threats and torment they’d suffered thanks to the former president’s pressure and incitement, simply for doing their jobs in support of democracy.

Trump targeted Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Republican, right up to the time Bowers testified, falsely claiming on Tuesday morning that the speaker “told me the election was rigged and that I won Arizona.” Bowers, under oath, called out Trump’s latest lie.

Descended from enslaved Black people and Puritans, they each have family histories that seem to have shaped them for this moment.

June 23, 2022

He also described how Trump and his criminally clownish lawyers, Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman, repeatedly pressured him to set in motion a process to award Arizona’s electoral votes to Trump, not Biden. How they promised but never produced proof of their claims of fraudulent votes from “200,000 illegal immigrants” and “5 or 6,000 dead people.” And how he repeatedly rejected their schemes: “You are asking me to do something that is counter to my oath when I swore to the Constitution to uphold it.”

Bowers, who’d voted for Trump, read from a journal entry during that post-election time: “I do not want to be a winner by cheating.”

Provoked by Trump, the cheater-in-chief, MAGA forces flooded Bowers’ office with hostile messages, swarmed his neighborhood with caravans, including a military-style truck, and used bullhorns to call him a corrupt pedophile, upsetting Bowers’ dying daughter, Kacey.

Bowers survived a recall but faces strong Republican opposition for a state Senate seat in Arizona’s Aug. 2 primary. This weekend, however, his concern is getting a gravestone for Kacey, who died a week after Biden’s inauguration.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his chief elections officer, Gabriel Sterling, both Republicans, similarly testified to enduring Trump’s phone harangues, false fraud claims, private threats, public attacks and, in turn, his followers’ abuse. Raffensperger’s wife received “sexualized attacks” online. There was a break-in at the home of his son’s widow and two children. Sterling recounted his public warning to Trump and Congress a month before the insurrection: Somebody is going to get killed.


In a hyper-partisan political environment, the faint glimmers of bipartisanship on display have been one of the hearings’ biggest revelations of all.

June 21, 2022

And yet both Republicans, unlike Pence, showed up before the committee. On Thursday came three more, Trump appointees all — former acting Atty. Gen. Jeffrey A. Rosen; his former deputy, Richard Donoghue, and a third top Justice Department official, Steven Engel — to tell how Trump tried to use the nation’s top law-enforcement department to help overturn the election.

As Raffensperger said, “I think sometimes moments require you to stand up and just take the shots.”

Perhaps the week’s most compelling witnesses, however, were two Black women justifiably introduced as “unsung heroes” by the committee chairman — Wandrea ArShaye “Shaye” Moss, a former election worker for Fulton County, Ga., and her mother Ruby Freeman, a volunteer poll worker.

They told of the vile, racist attacks they’ve suffered since Trump, after the election, circulated a video purporting to show them stuffing fake pro-Biden ballots into voting machines. Strangers entered the home of Moss’ grandmother, Freeman’s mother, saying they were there to make “a citizen’s arrest” of Moss and Freeman.

Moss quit her beloved job. Freeman left her home for two months, on the FBI’s advice. Both women are now afraid to go out, or even to identify themselves in some situations. “Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States to target you?” Freeman asked.

Which suggests that other question:

Mike Pence, are you still proud of Trump now?