The House committee set out to expose the truth about Trump’s vast conspiracy to tarnish the 2020 election with false allegations of voter fraud. House Republicans are so determined to keep the American people from learning this truth that they are working to discredit the committee with a public relations attack.
The committee is racing against time as Republicans whitewashing Trump’s role as they seek to win back the House in the midterm elections are sure to end its investigation.
The hearings are also expected to highlight the extraordinary scale of the attempt to overturn the election, from Trump’s efforts to “find” votes to reverse his loss in Georgia to the extraordinary, and often insane, schemes pushed by Trump’s legal associates revealed in hundreds of text messages to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows that were obtained by CNN. While the committee doesn’t have the power to bring criminal charges, it could recommend prosecutions against Trump or his cronies to a degree that would put the Justice Department in the eye of a political storm over the election year.
The tumultuous political backdrop adds an extra layer of tension to Thursday’s big TV spectacle.
It would be one thing if the investigation revealed the conspiracies, schemes and crimes that took place during a tragedy that was in the past. But the ex-president still spreads his lies about a stolen election. Many of those who defend him, including GOP leaders in the House, want to stay in his good graces as they seek to return to power. And Trump is considering another White House campaign that could use the same undemocratic methods to push for a new term that would likely be more autocratic than the first.
“We’re actually in a situation where he continues to use even more extreme language, frankly, than the language that prompted the attack,” committee member Rep. Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney. News in an interview this week.
“And so, people need to be careful. People need to watch, and they need to understand how easily our democratic system can crumble if we don’t stand up for it.”
The committee faces a big challenge
While the committee has spent months conducting hundreds of witness interviews, waging legal battles with Trump cronies who have defied subpoenas, and sifting through tons of documents, the circumstances of January 6, 2021 are intimately familiar to most Americans. This poses a challenge for the panel to create a new understanding of outrage since almost all potential viewers have watched Trump trash the election for weeks and watched on TV as his supporters maraud Congress as he certifies Biden’s victory. in 2020.
Many Americans are now more concerned about current crises, including record gas prices, soaring costs of living and a pandemic that never seems to be ending, so the odds of hearings sparking a new revival politics seem weak. And many voters have long spoken out about Trump, a hugely polarizing figure who commands revulsion but also great partisan loyalty.
The potential political impact of the hearings could be further diluted by the fact that they will be largely ignored by the powerful conservative news machine. Fox does not plan to bump up its regular opinion lineup to broadcast Thursday’s hearing live in its entirety, relying on hosts who frequently misrepresented the events of Jan. 6.
But even 17 months later, the events of that day remain shocking and historic.
In 2020, a president lost a free and fair election but refused to accept defeat, mounted a protracted attempt to discredit the result with lies about voter fraud, then called a crowd in Washington and incited them , before the first attack on the Capitol – – the citadel of American representative government – in generations. For the first time in American history, a democratically defeated president attempted to thwart the will of the voters and disrupt the peaceful transfer of power, the golden thread that separates the United States from totalitarian states around the world.
Given the life-altering implications, there has been strong push for the type of independent commission held after prior national traumas, such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 or the September 11 attacks in 2001.
Broadly, the committee investigated Trump’s attempt to discredit the election result, why he didn’t move quickly to quash the insurgency, and a broader attempt by pro-Trump conservative lawyers to overthrow the Electoral College and steal Biden’s presidency from Congress — a plan that then-Vice President Mike Pence, who had a constitutional duty to preside over vote certification, refused to agree to.
The panel has multiple audiences: Americans who want to know what happened, potential voters in 2022 and 2024 concerned about Trump’s autocratic instincts and posterity.
CNN legal analyst Jennifer Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor, said the committee needed to deliver a simple message that focused on Trump’s role but also encompassed the entirety of the larger conspiracy.
She said the hearings should focus on “not just January 6, (but) the disinformation campaign, the frivolous lawsuits, the fake voter scheme, the pressure on Mike Pence, the pressure on lawmakers and election officials of the States, campaign planning for the January 6 rally, the involvement of members of Congress…all of which led to the insurrection.”
“They have to repeat, repeat, repeat, ‘That was Trump’s coup.'”
A nation divided over the worst attack on democracy in history
The highlight of the committee’s work is conferred by Trump’s continued role as the de facto leader of the Republican Party and his apparent intention to launch a new White House campaign. Therefore, the hearings have contemporary political as well as legal and historical implications. McCarthy, for example, needs Trump’s help to become president if the Republicans win the House in November. The proximity of the midterm vote also adds an additional political dimension, not least because Trump tainted another election cycle with his allegations of fraud in 2020 and made adherence to his lies about a stolen election the price of entry. for GOP candidates who want his endorsement.
A strong statement from the committee debunking Trump’s false claims would undermine claims by Republicans he seeks to exploit in state power positions and state legislatures to influence the administration of the 2024 election. Nationwide , Republican leaders have meanwhile sought to use Trump’s lies as the basis for efforts to suppress voting and curb options such as mail-in voting popular with Democratic voters.
The deeply politicized mood in the country over Trump likely means that the committee’s eventual findings will also be viewed through a partisan lens. An April poll by The Washington Post and ABC News found that 40% of Americans believed the committee was conducting a fair and impartial investigation while 40% disagreed. In a CBS/YouGov poll in May, 89% of Democrats said it was at least somewhat important to know what happened on Jan. 6, 2021, while only 48% of Republicans thought so.
This kind of national divide helps explain why the January 6 hearings are unlikely to have the same effect as the 1973 Watergate television blockbusters that ultimately helped force Nixon’s resignation.
Yet, for the broader fate of American democracy, they might be even more important. In the conversation with Nixon that Dean referred to, caught on the record system that ultimately led to the ex-president’s downfall, the former White House attorney said: “There’s a cancer inside – near the chair, growing. It’s growing every day. It’s getting worse.
Replace the word presidency with “democracy” and you have a fair summary of the bleak political environment awaiting the House committee’s conclusion in 2022 and the critical importance of its mission.