The Jan. 6 committee hearings are finally here — and Republicans are running scared

Rep. Jamie Raskin promises "a story that will blow the roof off the House" — and without a single GOP grandstander

By Heather Digby Parton


Published June 3, 2022 9:58AM (EDT)

Kevin McCarthy and Liz Cheney | Capitol Riot (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Kevin McCarthy and Liz Cheney | Capitol Riot (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

The long-awaited public hearings for the House select committee on the Jan. 6 insurrection have finally been scheduled. The first one is set for next Thursday, June 9, in prime time. The committee previewed its plans this week, announcing on Thursday that it will "present previously unseen material documenting January 6th, receive witness testimony, preview additional hearings, and provide the American people a summary of its findings about the coordinated, multi-step effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and prevent the transfer of power." Committee leaders seem to be carefully choreographing the event, even drawing out the suspense by not naming the witnesses until next week.

The hearings, said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., will "tell a story that will blow the roof off the House." We can only hope that is not unjustified hyperbole. These hearings will be the most important public record of an attempted coup, and the whole country should be watching.

What we have already seen is a lot, such as the voluminous text messages from various Republicans and journalists to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows during the insurrection itself. There has been leaked testimony from major players inside the Department of Justice and Donald Trump's White House, as well as information from Trump's legal advisers and various state officials. Between all that and the media's own digging, people who have been following the story closely have a pretty clear picture of what happened.

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Donald Trump and his allies tried to overturn a legal election with a series of plots that culminated in the violent insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. But no one has put together the whole story for the American people such that they can understand just how unprecedented and dangerous these schemes were — and how close we came to a serious constitutional crisis.

The committee is promising previously unseen material, and one hopes it will add something new to the narrative. It also seems that the committee has put together a professional multimedia presentation, since in this day and age you can't bore the TV audience. But the most important element of these hearings will be witness testimony. This will be the first time we've heard from anyone involved, or even any experts, speaking about the Jan. 6 coup attempt in an official capacity. (During Trump's second impeachment in the immediate aftermath of Jan. 6, Democrats originally intended to call witnesses but backed down at the last minute.)

Expert testimony is always important in hearings like this, where you're trying to educate the public about complex issues. Axios reported this week that the committee plans to call former federal judge J. Michael Luttig, a conservative Republican who was shortlisted more than once for a Supreme Court seat. Luttig advised Vice President Mike Pence on the legality or illegality of overturning the 2020 electoral results. (Evidently, Pence himself wasn't quite sure.) 

Republicans are obviously worried that some of their troops might tune in and see something that will shake their faith in the Big Lie.

Luttig wrote in a CNN op-ed in April that Trump lost the election fair and square and that all the rules Republicans claimed had been unlawfully changed were actually changed "to expand the right and opportunity to vote, largely in response to the COVID pandemic." He is right, of course, and most Americans know that. But Luttig went much further in his analysis of the situation, and this something the greater public needs to understand:

Trump's and the Republicans' far more ambitious objective is to execute successfully in 2024 the very same plan they failed in executing in 2020 and to overturn the 2024 election if Trump or his anointed successor loses again in the next quadrennial contest. The last presidential election was a dry run for the next.

Luttig is not a liberal or a Democrat. But he also isn't delusional and isn't a coward, which makes him something of a unicorn in Republican circles. His testimony should be very compelling.

RELATED: House coup plotters stand firm — but DOJ and the Jan. 6 committee are closing in

CNN reports the committee has also called members of former Vice President Pence's inner circle, including his chief counsel, Greg Jacob, and his chief of staff, Marc Short. The committee is expected to call former Justice Department officials who were pressured by Trump and his lackeys to lie about the election being stolen, along with what CNN describes as other "first hand witnesses."

We won't be hearing from Donald Trump himself, of course, nor from the key players and witnesses who are refusing to cooperate, such as former White House strategist Steve Bannon and former chief of staff Mark Meadows — who were both referred to the Department of Justice for contempt of Congress (Meadows will apparently not be prosecuted) — or former Trump adviser Peter Navarro, who was indicted Friday on that same charge. Meadows may be the most important accomplice of the bunch since he seems to have served as the clearing house for every half-baked conspiracy theory in the right-wing fever swamp during the post-election period. He originally cooperated with the committee and turned over a boatload of documents and text messages before he decided to clam up. Those texts are scintillating reading, exposing the fact that virtually the entire GOP was begging Trump to stop the insurrection for hours, proving they believed he had the power to do so.

And apparently, as former Republican congressman Denver Riggleman, now an investigator for the select committee, told Anderson Cooper, the text messages during the post-election period prior to that day were downright chilling:

Riggleman calls Meadows the "MVP" for all the information he provided and one of Meadows' aides, Cassidy Hutchinson, testified several times before the committee and appears to have shared other vitally important information. It's not clear whether Hutchinson will testify in the televised hearings but if she does, it's clear she has a story to tell.

Whatever happens in these hearings, we can be sure that they will be different than other such congressional spectacles you may have watched in recent years, and not just because of the extraordinary subject matter. For the first time in recent memory, we will see a Capitol Hill hearing without even one obnoxious Republican grandstander seeking to derail the whole thing. We can expect that this committee will be serious and focused, which is something we have not seen in this kind of setting for a long time.

Republican leaders are obviously worried that some of their troops might tune in and see something that will shake their faith in the Big Lie so they are plotting to "counter-program" the hearings. Axios reported on Thursday that the GOP will deploy everyone from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to — maybe — Donald Trump himself across Fox News, Steve Bannon's "War Room," "Real America's Voice," Facebook and Trump's own Truth Social platform to ensure the base doesn't lose their religion.

They plan to portray the Democrats as out of touch with average Americans, with one aide telling Axios, "We've got to be rigid and responsible, but a lot of Republicans think if Dems want to just talk about Jan. 6 between now and the midterm election — good luck." If that's what they think, they might want to have a chat with their Dear Leader, who can't shut up about the Big Lie that's at the heart of this entire crisis. If any one individual in America is keeping Jan. 6 alive as a political issue, it's Donald Trump. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Big Lie Capitol Riot Commentary Coup Donald Trump Insurrection Jan. 6 Committee Republicans