Season of Treason: A Recap of the First Eight January 6th Committee Hearings
Trump spearheaded a seditious conspiracy to overthrow our democracy. What comes next?
Speeding arrow, sharp and narrow,
What a lot of fleeting matters you have spurned.
Several seasons with their treasons,
Wrap the babe in scarlet colors, call it your own.
—Robert Hunter / The Grateful Dead, “St. Stephen”
As I suggested in the aftermath of the besieging of the Capitol, and have repeated many times since, January 6th was the worst attack on our democracy since Booth shot Lincoln.
The federal government’s response to the latter was a manhunt for the fugitive assassin—John Wilkes Booth was tracked down and shot dead by U.S. marshals—and an investigation into his collaborators. Those found guilty were hanged.
This time around, the federal government is operating more deliberately, more methodically. We don’t yet know what fate befalls the leaders of the seditious conspiracy to overthrow the government. They remain at large, holding rallies, spewing disinformation on rightwing news outlets, hosting podcasts, and marshalling their fascist forces for the next attack.
The Justice Department has been operating so quietly that a debate continues to rage on social media over whether Attorney General Merrick Garland is doing anything at all. With the exception of Steve Bannon, whose indictment and conviction were not directly related to January 6th, none of the big MAGA kahunas have been charged. To date, the biggest fish reeled in by the DOJ are the leaders of the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, the two militia groups that comprised the “boots on the ground” on January 6th. While the slow walk to justice has been frustrating, it is not true that Garland’s crew is doing nothing. In this thread, Allison Gill of The Daily Beans details what actions the Justice Dept. has taken:
In addition to the DOJ, January 6th is also being investigated by the House of Representatives, in what will surely go down as the most important series of Congressional hearings in the history of the United States. This is appropriate. As conceived by the Founders, the representatives in the House are exactly that—representatives; stand-ins for all of us, for We the People. By attacking the House, then, Trump’s besiegers by extension attacked every single person in this country—Democrat, Republican, Independent, third party. There were no exceptions. That’s why Josh Hawley, a few hours after fist-pimping the belligerents to show allegiance, turned tail and ran away as fast as his smooth, skinny legs could carry him. The January 6th Committee is us. All of us. Even the pigheaded who refuse to watch the proceedings, lest the ugly truth of the heinous president they still support seeps into their captured brains.
As we wait for the long arm of the law to put down the fidget spinner and start arresting the top-level bad guys, as the miscreants prepare to transition from “fucked around” to “found out,” and as the J6 Committee breaks for the rest of July and August, I’d like to recap what we learned from the hearings—and what we still don’t know.
Overview of the Committee’s Findings
Trump knew he lost the 2020 election. He knew this because literally everyone in his inner circle told him so, including his campaign people, members of his Cabinet, the White House legal team, his children, and his son-in-law. Fox News, his channel of choice, was the first news network to call Arizona for Joe Biden, effectively ending Trump’s re-election campaign. Even Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s election lawyer, and the most ride-or-die member of his entourage, knew he’d lost, but advised him to refuse to admit defeat. But Trump neither conceded nor promised a peaceful transfer of power.
Despite overwhelming evidence that his fat ass had been handed to him, that the American people had overwhelming chosen to kick him to the curb, that he’d lost decisively in both the popular vote and the Electoral College, Trump repeatedly insisted that the election was stolen, that there was significant voter fraud, and that the result was therefore invalid. A string of humiliating losses in court did not dissuade him.
The fact that the most prominent disseminators of the so-called Big Lie were a recovering crackhead with a creepy moustache who sells pillows, a former remaindered furniture company CEO who was the paramour of Russian spy Maria Butina, and pardoned convicted felons Mike Flynn, Roger Stone, and the leprous Steve Bannon, should have clued people into the fact that this tale of election fraud was, as Bill Barr put it so beautifully under oath, “bullshit,” but no. Trump’s motley MAGA army—radicalized over the last five years to the point that they were effectively cult members—lapped up his lies, and became enraged to the point of violence.
In early November, after it was clear he did not have the votes to win re-election, Trump purged key members of the administration, installing or elevating MAGA loyalists like Kash Patel, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, and Christopher Miller. After the resignation of Attorney General Bill Barr, Trump sought to replace him with the sedition-friendly DOJ environmental lawyer Jeffrey Clark, who at Trump’s direction would weaponize the Justice Department to support the loony-tunes claims of mass voter fraud. He was unable to install Clark as acting Attorney General, however, as top DOJ staff threatened mutiny if he went through with the plan.
A disgraced law professor named John Eastman, best known for writing an op-ed in Newsweek during the 2020 campaign suggesting Kamala Harris was not an American citizen, came up with another ridiculous idea lacking in legal merit: that during the official state electoral vote count on January 6, the Vice President has the power to refuse the certification. Trump believed Eastman, and began a pressure campaign on his VP, Mike Pence, to do just that. After consulting with legal experts and with former VP Dan Quayle, like him from Indiana, Pence determined, rightly, that this was unlawful and refused. Trump kept up the pressure, and on January 6, he set his MAGA attack dogs on his number two—with the aim, apparently, of taking him out.
Pence was not the only one to feel pressure. Trump pressured lawmakers and election officials at the state level to alter election results in his favor. He concocted a wild fiction about two election officials in Georgia, Shaye Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman, whom he and Giuliani claimed had altered the election results with the aid of a smuggled-in thumb drive. This was an ugly (and racist) lie. By making these claims public, Trump and Giuliani put both of the election workers in mortal danger. Moss and Freeman were two of the many innocent people whose lives were upended by Trump’s illicit scheme to overthrow our democracy.
Trump and his legal team—spearheaded by Giuliani and Diet Dr. Pepper aficionado Sidney Powell—directed Republicans in seven states to round up and send to Washington “alternate slates of electors.” This was actually voter fraud, as states had no legal right to do this, and “alternates” was really a euphemism for “fraudulent.”
For the two months after the election was called for Biden, MAGA militia groups, especially the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, began to devise plans to storm the Capitol on January 6. There were two rallies in Washington ahead of that date, one in November and one in December, that gave the militia groups the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the terrain.
A D.C. rally was planned for January 6th. Trump tweeted about it, promising it would be “wild.” Ali Alexander, head of a group called Stop the Steal, was one of the planners of the rally. Ginni Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas and per her text messages with Mark Meadows a true believer of the Big Lie, reportedly helped arrange transportation. On the eve of January 6, fiery speeches were delivered by chaos agent Alex Jones, Roger Stone, Mike Flynn, Senator Ted Cruz, Rep. Mo Brooks, and others, riling up the angry crowd. Also that night, two pipe bombs were planted outside the headquarters of the DNC and the RNC, reportedly set to detonate early the following afternoon.
The January 6, 2021 timeline looks like this:
10:30—Proud Boys begin to leave rally, heading towards the Capitol
10:50—Rudy Giuliani calls for “trial by combat” in his speech
11:00—Trump is supposed to begin his speech
12:00—Trump begins his speech
12:16—Trump says, “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”
12:30—Acting on Trump’s orders, the MAGA crowd arrives at the Capitol
12:53—Rioters break through perimeter around the Capitol
1:00—Stated start time for a rally at the Capitol, per “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander
1:00—Bombs at DNC and RNC were supposed to go off
1:05—Congress opens meeting to certify election
1:10—Trump ends his speech. “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore. We’re going to try and give them [Republicans] the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”
1:10-1:21—Trump is driven back to the White House. It is at this time that he demands to be taken to the Capitol and grabs for the steering wheel of the “Beast.”
1:21—Trump is back at the White House, where he is immediately told of the initial breach of the Capitol perimeter. He repairs to the dining room and turns on Fox News.
1:39-1:43—Trump speaks via telephone to Rudy Giuliani.
1:49—Trump tweets a clip of the earlier speech in which he urges his followers to go to the Capitol.
2:03-2:11—Trump speaks again with Giuliani.
2:11—Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola breaks a window in the Capitol building with a police shield, the first breach of the complex. A minute later, besiegers are inside.
2:15-4:00—Even as staffers, media allies, members of Congress, friends, and family members plead for him to call off the besieging, Trump does not do so. Instead, he places calls to Republican Senators, requesting that they keep trying to delay certification of the electoral vote.
2:24—Trump tweets, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”
4:17—With the besiegers losing ground after hours of hand-to-hand combat and confrontations with Capitol Police, Trump releases a short video in which he urges the besiegers to call it quits. “Go home,” he says. “We love you. You’re very special.”
4:32—Almost four full hours after the first breach of the perimeter of the Capitol, Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller—appointed after Trump fired Mark Esper the day after the election was called, which raised eyebrows even in the moment—finally deploys the National Guard.
6:00—The National Guard arrives at the Capitol—under the command of VP Mike Pence.
8:06—Congress reconvenes. The coup has failed.
That long and bloody afternoon, many, many people wrote Trump via his inept chief of staff, Mark Meadows, requesting—if not outright begging—him to call off the MAGA horde and call in the National Guard, including: Fox News talking heads Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, former chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and Donald Trump, Jr. But Trump ignored them all. He sat in the private dining room all the livelong day, watching the violence unfold on Fox News, tweeting only to offer support to the besiegers and venom for Mike Pence.
Only when it became clear that the coup had failed—that Pence and Nancy Pelosi had not been killed by MAGA belligerents, that Congress would reconvene to certify the electoral vote—did Trump relent. And even then—even now—he refuses to admit that the election is over, and that he lost.
We have been trained by TV producers to consume story serially. We watch an episode of a show, we think about it for a week, we process what happened, we watch the next episode, we think about it for a week, we process what happened, and so on, until the season ends. Recognizing this, the J6 Committee did a masterful job of structuring the hearings to hew to this format, going so far as to bring in a TV producer, Dan Pryzgoda, as an advisor.
Each episode had a clear theme, a different cast of secondary characters, and enough surprises to keep viewers—including viewers in the easily-bored mainstream media, whose attention was critical—tuning in for more. It helped that most people had never heard Bennie Thompson or Liz Cheney speak before, and that, in terms of performance, both of them slayed.
(Note: LB and I discussed this idea at length on The Five 8 after the first hearing, along with our guest, The Guardian’s Hugo Lowell. We revisited it after the Cassidy Hutchinson episode, and again after the Season Finale.)
The episode titles below are mine. I’m including links to the full hearings, in case you want to binge during the break:
E1: Pilot: “Calling Bullshit”
Aired: June 9, 2022
A summary of the case against Donald Trump, and his seven-point plan to overthrow the will of the people. The events of the day. The horrors that unfolded on the perimeter, as officers were wounded and died protecting the Capitol.
Key line: “I told the president [it] was bullshit.”—Bill Barr
Witnesses: Caroline Edwards, Capitol Police officer; Nick Quested, documentary filmmaker
E2: “The Big Lie About the Big Lie”
Aired: June 13, 2022
Trump knew he lost, but he and his surrogates disseminated false claims of voter fraud, hoping to convince his supporters that he’d won. A desperate attempt by the more rational faction in his inner circle to distance themselves from the Rudy Giuliani clown-car group.
Key line: “Team Normal.”—Bill Stepien
Witnesses: Kevin Marino, attorney; Chris Stirewalt, former Fox News political editor and election caller; Benjamin Ginsberg, counsel to the George W. Bush campaign; BJay Pak, former U.S. Attorney for Northern District of Georgia; Al Schmidt, former Philadelphia city commissioner.
E3: “Playing for Veeps”
Aired: June 16, 2022
Trump and his surrogates lean on Mike Pence—hard. A distinguished retired federal judge, a hero to Ted Cruz and others on the right, is brought in to opine on the egregious attempt to destroy our democracy and the urgency of action.
Key line: “Donald Trump and his allies and supporters are a clear and present danger to American democracy. They would attempt to overturn that 2024 election in the same way that they attempted to overturn the 2020 election, but succeed in 2024 where they failed in 2020.”—J. Michael Luttig
Witnesses: Greg Jacob, former counsel to the VP; J. Michael Luttig, retired judge, Fourth Circuit; John Wood, J6 Committee investigative counsel.
E4: “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”
Aired: June 21, 2022
The many and mob-boss-like ways Donald Trump and his surrogates leaned on Republican state officials and election workers in swing states, especially in Georgia. Front and center are two election workers from Fulton County, Georgia, both Black women, who were the target of baseless conspiracy theory claims by Rudy Giuliani, and paid a heavy price for doing the right thing.
Key line: “It’s turned my life upside down. I no longer give out my business card. . . .I don’t want anyone knowing my name. . . . I don’t go to the grocery store at all. I haven’t been anywhere at all. I’ve gained about 60 pounds. I just don’t do nothing anymore. . . . I second guess everything that I do. It’s affected my life in a major way— in every way. All because of lies.” —Shaye Moss
Witnesses: Rusty Bowers, Arizona Speaker of the House (GOP); Brad Raffensperger, Georgia Secretary of State (GOP); Gabriel Sterling, Georgia Secretary of State office COO; Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman, Fulton County elections department employees.
E5: “Clark Can’t”
Aired: June 23, 2022
Donald Trump’s attempt to corrupt the Justice Department, pressuring those who refused to treat seriously the investigations into election fraud. Ultimately, when faced with a mutiny, he relented, and did not attempt to install MAGA loyalist Jeffrey Clark as acting Attorney General. This was similar to what he did to President Zelenskyy of Ukraine.
Key line: “‘Just say it was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.’”—Richard Donoghue, on what Trump had told him to do
Witnesses: Jeffrey Rosen, former acting AG; Richard Donoghue, former acting deputy AG; Steven Engel, former assistant attorney for the Office of Legal Counsel.
Aired: June 28, 2022
In this special episode, a late addition to the season, Cassidy Hutchinson, top aide to inept Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows—and, therefore, the individual running the day-to-day operations of government at the end of Trump’s term—spills the tea about what the president did, and did not do, on the day of the insurrection. In GOP circles and the press, the most effective episode.
Key line: “I grabbed a towel and started wiping the ketchup off of the wall to help the valet out.”—Cassidy Hutchinson
E7: “Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and MAGA, Oh My”
Aired: July 12, 2022
In which we meet the participants in the insurrection, including the militia groups that helped plan and execute the besieging of the Capitol. Plus: a look at the December 18 meeting at the White House involving Trump, Giuliani, Mike Flynn, Sidney Powell, and Patrick Byrne.
Key line: “We basically were just following what [Trump] said.” —Stephen Ayres
Witnesses: Jason Van Tatenhove, former Oath Keepers media director; Stephen Ayres, besieger
E8: “The Dining Room (Season Finale)”
Aired: July 21, 2022
For three hours on the afternoon of January 6, Trump sat on his fat ass in the executive dining room watching the violence play out on Fox News, refusing to call off the MAGA horde or call in the National Guard, even as he was begged to do so by everyone around him. Instead, he kept up the pressure on GOP Senators to delay the certification and proceed with the seditious plan.
Key line: “He should have been telling these people to go home and to leave and to condemn the violence that we were seeing. And I’m someone who has worked with him. You know, I worked on the campaign, traveled all around the country going to countless rallies with him. And I’ve seen the impact that his words have on his supporters . . . they truly latch on to every word and every tweet that he says. And so I think that in that moment for him to tweet out the message about Mike Pence, it was him pouring gasoline on the fire and making it much worse.” —Sarah Matthews
Witnesses: Matthew Pottinger, former NSC official; Sarah Matthews, former deputy press secretary
Unresolved Plot Points for Next Season
There is now incontrovertible evidence that Trump openly led a seditious conspiracy to overthrow the government—to throw out the result of an election he did not win. But there are many questions left to be answered, and hints at what we might see in Season Two this September. (LB and I discussed this on last week’s The Five 8.)
The Pipe Bombs
Someone with inside knowledge of the area around RNC headquarters planted pipe bombs outside the RNC and DNC headquarters. The Secret Service missed the one at the DNC in their sweep of the area; VP-elect Kamala Harris was in the building the morning of January 6. The FBI has been mum about this. The Committee was quiet about it until the Season Finale, when the subject was brought up a few times. Who made the bombs? Who planted them? At whose bidding? Were they supposed to blow, or was this a red herring?
The Missing Texts
Secret Service agents texted each other on January 6th. Some of those texts, which Congress has demanded, are lost and presumably gone forever. Why were they purged? What did they say? And what’s up with the Secret Service, anyway? Remember, Mike Pence refused to get in the car with them during the insurrection. Why didn’t they remove Trump from the area when there were armed besiegers at the Capitol?
The Justice’s Wife
January 6th texts between Ginni Thomas, wife of Clarence Thomas, and Mark Meadows show that she was drunk on MAGA Kool-Aid. How much succor did she give the besiegers? Did she have advance knowledge of the plot? Was her husband involved, or any of his SCOTUS chums?
The Acting Secretary
Sandi Bachom, the documentary filmmaker who witnessed and recorded the events of January 6th, insists that Christopher Miller, the Acting Secretary of Defense who replaced Mark Esper right after Trump lost the election, was the only person other than Trump with the authority to send in the National Guard. He turned down over a dozen requests to do so on January 6th, she says, two days after writing this curious memo:
As the researcher Gal Suburban has pointed out, Miller is business associates with some shady characters. However, the Committee has not gone after him at all. Why is that? Is he cooperating? Is there something we don’t know that informed his decision to stand down on January 6th?
The Seditious Conspirators of Capitol Hill
What happened to Josh Hawley in Friday’s hearing was a veritable drive-by shooting. The footage of him fist-pumping the besiegers and then fleeing like a poltroon will haunt him for the rest of his days. Why did the Committee take him out like that? Was it, perhaps, a shot across the bow, warning that next time, more members of Congress would be spotlighted, and not in a funny way? We know from Cassidy Hutchinson that a number of lawmakers sought presidential pardons after January 6th. Will some of them be similarly taken out by the Committee?
What I think will ultimately happen here is this: the J6 Committee will recommend that the DOJ indict the 45th President of the United States for attempting to overthrow the government. To say that would be a historic moment is to understate matters. In this, the House Committee would speak for all of us. If that comes to pass, it would be incumbent upon the Justice Department to act.
John Wilkes Booth was hunted down and killed. The Lincoln conspirators were tried and hanged. For our democracy to survive, the punishment for those who engaged in seditious conspiracy relating to January 6th must fit the crime. At this point, the only argument we should be making is how harsh that punishment should be.
Thanks to LB, Sandi Bachom, Gal Suburban, Allison Gill, and Joanie Vee for informing my thinking on this. Correction: there IS a tip line re: the pipe bomber.
Photo credit: Still shot of Cassidy Hutchinson from the J6 Committee YouTube channel.