COMMENTARY

Jan. 6 committee finally takes the spotlight — hey, it's only America's future at stake

History will judge these hearings by the result: Will Trump and his minions finally face some kind of justice?

By Brian Karem

Published June 9, 2022 5:45AM (EDT)

U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) listens during a hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee at Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill on March 17, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) listens during a hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee at Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill on March 17, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

All right. All right. All right.

Matthew McConaughey showed up at the White House briefing room on Tuesday, highly emotional about the recent mass shooting in his hometown of Uvalde, Texas.

For 30 minutes he spoke without taking questions, leaving reporters dazed and confused by his appearance. (Sorry!) His plea for a bipartisan solution to gun control went viral and his appearance got big headlines.

Despite whatever else you may hear, there was probably no one who loved his appearance more than Republicans. After all, the gun issue is one they have been winning for years.  Anytime anyone wants to argue about guns, virtually every member of the Republican Party opens up the Gun Bible written by the NRA and spouts the same old dogmatic slogans to push back against any commie rat who wants to try to pry their guns away from their cold, dead hands.

The White House, of course, is serious about gun control and wants to push this issue as hard as it can. "Now is the time for gun reform. We have to have it," more than one member of this administration has told me in casual conversation.

The fact that the GOP continues to play games with level-headed gun control measures as our country continues to implode is a travesty almost unparalleled in the history of modern man. How long can we survive when we engage in such self-destructive behavior?

RELATED: The ghost of Watergate looms over Jan. 6 hearings: Will there be accountability this time?

It would seem there is nothing more horrific facing the country. But there is.

Perhaps the real reason Republicans like people taking up all the oxygen in the room by discussing guns is that it keeps us from concentrating on an even more serious issue: the failed coup attempt by some of those very same Republicans, including the former president of the United States.

If people are talking about guns all the time, they're not talking about the coup. You don't have to trot out the GOP hand-wringers to decry the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection as a hoax or merely a "spirited protest" or just a bunch of patriotic Americans on a self-guided tour of the Capitol. No one but the faithful, who also believe that the world is flat, there was no Holocaust and the 1980s miniseries "V" was actually a documentary, believe the insurrection didn't occur. So the less you talk about it the better.

Part of the problem, of course, is that the White House has divorced itself from this issue. Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre talks about the other major issues: a woman's right to choose, gun control, the economy, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, to name but a few. The insurrection? The White House has left that issue up to Congress.

That sets the stage for Thursday night. The House select committee on the Jan. 6 attack is finally beginning its televised hearings, and the Democratic faithful are hoping for a political punch in the nose to detractors — and a wakeup call to those who still don't understand what actually happened during the insurrection.


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"These hearings are important to accelerate awareness," Norm Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, explained to me. It remains to be seen if they can actually be the "punch in the nose" to Donald Trump that so many hope for.

Trump's alleged activities on or before Jan. 6 include a conspiracy to obstruct a lawful function of the federal government. These hearings must energize the pursuit of justice, or they will be pointless – just more high wind in the trees.

Can these hearings really shock the nation into a newfound respect for each other — and a settling of accounts with Donald Trump? Probably not.

Face it. Trump was impeached not once, but twice. We know what a grifter he is. We know he doesn't care. Most of us believe him to be a crook. We have seen it all before. Can the hearings really shock the nation into a zeitgeist that leads us to a newfound respect for each other — and to a settling of accounts that holds Trump responsible for one of the worst days in the modern history of our country? Probably not.

Eisen says the best-case scenario for the hearings is that they become "the Watergate hearings for the streaming generation." Think of this as a six-episode miniseries spread out over two weeks, I suppose. Maybe people will tune in that way – even if Fox News doesn't cover it.

There is talk of "new revelations" and a sharper narrative. Several reports note that filmmaker Nick Quested and Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards will testify first and link the violent extremists to Donald Trump's plan to reverse the election. We need to see more. 

On Sept. 23, 2020, standing at the very podium where McConaughey delivered his 30-minute emotional appeal for gun control, Donald Trump told me he would not necessarily consent to a peaceful transfer of power if he lost the election. He also said that if you stopped counting the ballots when he wanted, then there would be no change of power. 

Furthermore, on the day of the insurrection, he encouraged his followers to march on the Capitol; one of his interchangeable sons (who may have been purchased from a Sears catalog) appeared to encourage violence and Rudy "Hair Dye" Giuliani preached "trial by combat."

What more do we need?

The nation needs indictments. You cannot have closure before you indict and prosecute every single person involved in the insurrection. You cannot stand over the dead corpse of democracy and declare we should move on.

In short, the hearings in Congress must make it clear beyond a reasonable doubt that there should be a prosecution of Trump and all of the others in his close-knit circle who were involved. Should the hearings provide a roadmap to indictment, Attorney General Merrick Garland must not fail to act.

A "medium-case scenario," according to Eisen is "a bit less gripping and less visceral," but moves the needle enough that even some Trumpers will back away from their hero — and perhaps enough to ensure that the GOP continues to erode, fail and fall — especially in the midterm elections.

What's the worst-case scenario? No movement. No charges. The whole thing fades into the mist like a bad case of COVID: You're alive, but the cough persists.

What's the worst-case scenario for these hearings? No needle movement. No charges. The entire issue fades into the mist like a bad case of COVID: You survive, but the cough persists.

Make no mistake, democracy is still in the balance and it has been since Trump slithered down that golden escalator and began his campaign for president.

We're still in the moment, as Eisen would say. These are uncertain times and we must act. These hearings are important — easily as important as the hearings that helped bring down Nixon and perhaps even more. Today the entire government hangs in the balance.

I was a teenager during the Watergate hearings. At first I was upset that I'd come home in the afternoon to see that "The Price Is Right" had been preempted by a nervous-looking John Dean.

But I was drawn to those hearings. They were compelling for a variety of reasons. 

Dean directly implicated Nixon. Dean worked closely with Nixon.

Has anyone who worked for Trump ever implicated him in anything? Most of those people have no honor and sold their souls long ago.

The singular exception is Michael Cohen, Trump's former fixer. And he was tossed into Otisville federal prison in upstate New York, thrown under the bus and ground into dust to save Trump. Since then? No one else in Trump's inner circle has ever been turned. They got the message from Cohen's example. Omertà, baby. 

There is another factor to consider: The Watergate hearings dominated the news for weeks. Both Republicans and Democrats worked together to oust the cancer in the Oval Office.

Today's cancer has already been removed by the voters. But it has metastasized, and many members of the GOP who were complicit in the Jan. 6 insurrection have no desire to see anything else exposed. The GOP has the assistance of Fox News, as well as other minor media outlets, in amplifying the party's talking points and deflecting any attempts to hold anyone accountable. Mind you, the deflection is ridiculous. Calling the insurrection a hoax is like calling lung cancer a hoax. I suppose the joy in both instances is being in denial until the day you die.

And democracy, make no mistake about it, is at death's door.

Finally, the Democrats of today are not the Democrats of the '70s either. The party is divided, filled with elitists, progressives, conservatives and those who straddle the middle of the road. Each has their own pet issues, and they rarely get together to promote unity.

President Biden has completely abdicated his leadership role on this key issue. His mantra since he took over the White House has been to right the ship of state and sail us into calmer waters. On that, he has so far done well.

But to extend that metaphor, he has not taken us out of the storm that caused the choppy waters.

We need to stay focused, and our country desperately lacks that focus.

The only scorecard by which we should judge the Jan. 6 committee hearings is whether or not they lead to indictments of every single person inside or outside the government who tried to overthrow it. 

Here's the scorecard for these hearings: Do they lead to indictments for every single person who tried to overthrow the government?

This isn't about Democrats versus Republicans. This is about the rule of law versus anarchy and authoritarianism. This is about democracy. This is about respecting a peaceful transfer of power. This is about a president encouraging his supporters to take a walk to the Capitol and one of his minions yelling "Trial by combat."

This is about sedition, a failed coup and the most antidemocratic actions taken in the United States since the Civil War. It has to end. There must be repercussions for this, or the ideals on which this country was founded are a sham and the blood spilled by patriots in the last 250 years to preserve those ideals is meaningless.

The Jan. 6 hearings cannot fail. Sane and cogent individuals get it. The rest of us are busy buying MAGA hats and T-shirts. 

These hearings must spark real action to hold those who were involved in the coup accountable for their actions. That's it. Otherwise America's democracy is lost. And if that happens, a lot more people will be crying than just Matthew McConaughey.

Read more on the Jan. 6 committee hearings:


Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East, and is the author of seven books, including "Free the Press," due out this fall.

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Commentary Donald Trump Insurrection Jamie Raskin Jan. 6 Committee Liz Cheney