Somebody had to do it! Jan. 6 committee wraps with a bang — and a subpoena for Donald Trump

Laying out an irrefutable case that Trump planned it all, committee answers its own call to hold him accountable

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published October 13, 2022 5:38PM (EDT)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump appears on a video screen above members of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol during the seventh hearing on the January 6th investigation in the Cannon House Office Building on July 12, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump appears on a video screen above members of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol during the seventh hearing on the January 6th investigation in the Cannon House Office Building on July 12, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

"Our nation cannot only punish the foot soldiers who stormed our Capitol. Those who planned to overturn our election, and brought us to the point of violence, must also be accountable."

In her opening statement of the final hearing of the last House Jan. 6 committee before the midterms — and perhaps the last one, period — Rep. Liz Cheney, the no-longer-exactly-Republican congresswoman from Wyoming, laid out the stakes. Donald Trump was "the central cause of Jan. 6," she said, not just the inspiration.

Over the next couple of hours, the committee carefully painted a picture of Trump as a conductor who brought many different forces together and forged an insurrection. Yes, various other people — longtime Trump lackeys and loyalists like Roger Stone and Steve Bannon — evidently act as go-betweens, translating Trump's desires for an insurrection to the extremely online right-wing goons he needed to actually do the thing. But from beginning to end, this was Trump's plan: To declare the election rigged or stolen, even before votes were cast or counted, and to use those bogus accusations as excuses for his judicial appointees to steal it for him. When that wouldn't work, he turned to Republican all over the country, trying to badger or coerce them into falsifying or invalidating the election results.

That didn't work either, so Trump moved on to his biggest and most audacious plan: Unleash a violent mob on the Capitol, and quite likely show up in person to claim the crown. He was unable to break through the security bureaucracy (and, very likely, his own cowardice) enough to actually get that done. But new evidence introduced on Thursday demonstrated that Trump's vision involved him actually standing at the head of his violent MAGA army, in a cosplay update of Benito Mussolini's March on Rome

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"We have left no doubt — none — that Donald Trump led an effort to upend American democracy that directly resulted in the violence of Jan. 6," committee chair Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in his closing statement. 

New evidence demonstrates that Trump's vision involved him standing at the head of his MAGA army in the ravaged Capitol, in a cosplay update of Benito Mussolini's March on Rome

And so, with deliberate sobriety and very little fanfare, the committee ended its possibly-final hearing with a unanimous vote to subpoena Donald Trump. Cheney's words weren't just empty rhetoric or impotent flailing against recalcitrant Attorney General Merrick Garland, who seems determined to slow-walk this process until he's out of office or we're all dead, whichever comes first. In its vote to issue a subpoena to the most recent ex-president, the committee is attempting to live up to the immortal words from "Spider-Man": To those with great power comes great responsibility. 

Or, in other words, pull on your big-kid pants and do something about Trump — and his imitators and followers — before he, and they, strike again. 

This hearing offered another riveting spectacle, along with an overwhelming amount of evidence that Donald J. Trump is guilty as charged. The committee did their best to keep things crisp and organized, using both what they identified as Trump's "seven point plan" to overthrow the election and a straightforward timeline. Two arguments stood out as those likeliest to sway timid centrists and normies who remain unwilling to accept that this really did happen in the US of A.  First, the committee made the case for extensive premeditation: Trump and others plotted for months to steal the election, well before it happened. Second, the committee provided even more evidence that Trump envisioned himself as the leader and figurehead of the mob he had incited. 

That latter point is definitely a sore spot for Trump defenders. More energy has been put into denying that Trump wanted to march on the Capitol himself than into refuting any other allegation leveled by the committee. Maybe that's because picturing and accepting that reality makes it unmistakable that Trump was the leader of this insurrection in every meaningful sense. The defeated president showing up in person to oversee the overthrow of democracy is undeniable an arresting and dramatic image. Ironically, that's no doubt why Trump spent hours trying to make it happen, as the committee persuasively contends.

As Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., put it, Trump's plan to declare the election fraudulent "was intentional, it was premeditated," and we know that "it was not based on election results" because he and his allies were bragging about it both in public and behind closed doors. Footage of Stone and Bannon gleefully congratulating themselves on the supposed brilliance of the plan has already made headlines, but it's also worth remembering Trump was seeding this conspiracy theory for months — really, for years — long before the 2020 election. 

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While there's not exactly a smoking gun — such as a video or signed statement — in which Trump orders the Capitol riot, at this point it takes concentrated and willful denial not to believe that wasn't Trump's explicit plan going into Jan. 6. The committee established the links between Trump, Stone and the leaders of groups like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, many of whom have been indicted or convicted of seditious conspiracy. Committee members brought forward evidence that rioters talked as if they were getting orders from Trump, albeit filtered through intermediaries. They showed Jason Miller, a key Trump campaign official, sharing a link to a site where violence was openly being plotted and gloating about how successful Team Trump's efforts were. 

Let's suspend disbelief for a second and say, OK, maybe this was not a conspiracy. Maybe this is all just a remarkable million-monkeys coincidence, in which thousands of people independently came to the same conclusion at the same time without any direction or guidance. But remember the axiom: When you hear the sound of hooves, assume horses, not zebras. 

While the committee's focus on Thursday was about building the public case for issuing a subpoena to Donald Trump, it has not abandoned the project of pressuring Garland and the Department of Justice to deal with Trump as  they would any other criminal: With handcuffs. (Or, OK, more likely with an indictment leading to a negotiated surrender and an immediate release on bail, probably paid for by his PAC suckers, I mean donors.) In her opening remarks, Cheney pointedly reminded viewers that Congress lacks the authority to charge Trump with crimes, because that's the DOJ's job. She also pointed out — likely as much to Garland as the public — that DOJ officials swear to uphold the Constitution, just as members of Congress do. 

Cheney's frustration was palpable, but it is worth noting that during the hearing  news came down that Supreme Court has rejected Trump's efforts to shut down or delay the DOJ investigation of  the classified documents Trump had illegally stashed at Mar-a-Lago, and that he took great pains to conceal from investigators. In fairness, Garland's team has been aggressively fighting, and largely defeating, Trump's attempts to get away with that set of probable crimes. So it's at least somewhat reasonable to hope that Garland is not, in fact, a stone wall who will never allow a former president to be indicted no matter how many ludicrous crimes he commits. 

We still don't know what's in those classified documents, but even if it's extremely bad — and we're hearing it's "nuclear intel" bad — it's unlikely to exceed "led a fascist insurrection" bad. Perhaps future historians will chewing for years on a qualitative debate over the relative evils of sedition vs. treason. For now, what we know is that the Jan. 6 committee has taken its best shot: Donald Trump needs to be held to account. If no one else is stepping up, they're going to do their best.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Analysis Capitol Riot Donald Trump Insurrection Jan. 6 Committee Liz Cheney Sedition