The House Select Committee on January 6th debuted in prime time last week to much media fanfare and a large viewership, but the things they aren’t concerned about like why President Trump wanted 20,000 National Guard troops at the Capitol if he planned to mount a coup that day might tell you more about their motives than those they are.
To some extent, politics has always been about theater. The adroit politician is equal parts statesman and showman, able to captivate an audience while imparting his or her vision for a better future. For centuries, the size and enthusiasm of the crowds that would gather to hear a leader speak, or even just to catch a glimpse were an indicator of their favor among the people and potential success in an election. Since the advent of the train, politicians would travel from town to town and speak off the platform to the gathered faithful. President Harry Truman famously conducted a “whistle stop” tour across the entire country that drew hundreds of thousands of people on his way to an upset victory in 1948. The advent of television introduced new potential, the ability for millions of people to watch at once, hopefully riveted by a speech or committee hearing. Perhaps Watergate is the most famous, or infamous if you prefer. The hearings about President Nixon’s malfeasance occurred over 51 days between May 17, 1973 and November 15, 1973. They were broadcast in prime time by PBS stations across the country in full, “gavel to gavel” as they say every evening. Featuring a cast of characters from the common criminals that actually broke into the Watergate Hotel to high powered officials in the Nixon government, the Associated Press estimated that 80% of Americans tuned into some part of the hearings, making them the ultimate Must See TV in the annals of political history.
Democrats were desperately hoping to recreate that level of energy, interest, and engagement with the first televised hearing of the partisan House Select Committee on January 6 last week. The goal was threefold: Reimagine an obvious out of control and deplorable riot as an actual (unarmed) insurrection, position President Trump as the intentional leader of the insurrection, and convince Americans that the danger has not passed and the insurrection with its commensurate threat to democracy is ongoing. The Committee itself has made it clear their real target is former President Donald Trump, believing they can somehow charge him with a felony that would prevent him from running for office again, or at the least make him so politically toxic he wouldn’t have a chance in another general election. The felony charge aspect remains entirely opaque, however. Congress isn’t capable of issuing criminal charges, and what they might charge him with in any event remains a mystery. Liz Cheney, one of the two Republican and Never Trump members, about to be ousted in a primary by her own party, believe he is guilty of the ill-defined “supreme dereliction of duty.” Earlier this year, she told Meet the Press that they are looking at “enhanced criminal penalties” for those guilty of this current non-crime. “We’re looking at things like, do we need additional enhanced criminal penalties for the kind of supreme dereliction of duty that you saw with President Trump when he refused to tell the mob to go home after he had provoked that attack on the Capitol,” she said while promising “There will be legislative recommendations and there certainly will be new information.”
On Thursday night, Representative Cheney laid out what she claimed was a “sophisticated seven-part plan” to overturn the election results without providing any actual new information, save for a salacious rumor from an unnamed official who claimed President Trump said his Vice President deserved a good hanging, as if we haven’t been down the anonymous source road before, and some clips from Trump advisers claiming they knew the election was lost without any context. “On the morning of January 6, President Donald Trump’s intention was to remain president of the United States, despite the lawful outcome of the 2020 election and in violation of his Constitutional obligation to relinquish power,” she said. “President Trump summoned the mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack,” The details of the plan were provided by a source after the hearings, and, overall, it seems the Committee believes inserting the word “corruptly” before lawful actions taken by a sitting President somehow makes them illegal. Thus, President Trump planned to “corruptly” replace the Attorney General, though the Attorney General serves at the President’s pleasure and can be replaced for any reason. He “corruptly pressured Vice President Pence to refuse to count certified electoral results,” though the Electoral Count creates a procedure for Congress, presided over by the Vice President, to reject election results. He “corruptly pressured state election offices, and state legislatures to change election results,” though the state legislatures vote on these results themselves and are empowered to vote on a different slate of electors.
Otherwise, they believe he spread “false and fraudulent information” about the election being stolen, a view shared by some 40% of Americans in an Axios-Momentive poll earlier this year, and he “ignored multiple pleas for assistance and failed to take immediate action to stop the violence and instruct his supporters to leave the Capitol.” This has been a common theme since January 6 itself, despite that it has proven to be completely false. President Trump was speaking to a crowd 1.25 miles away from the Capitol building when it was breached. Incredibly, we still do not know when he learned of the riot or what actions he took, or even could have taken given the local police charged with security do not report to the President and the National Guard cannot be sent in without prior approval from local officials, but we do know that by 2.24 PM he was telling his supporters to stay peaceful and then disperse. “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!” He tweeted. At 3.13 PM, Trump tweeted again, “I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order – respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!” He followed up multiple times after that.
Further, it was President Trump that wanted more security at the Capitol Building in the first place. Four days before January 6, the Department of Defense contacted Capitol Police about the potential need for 10,000 National Guard troops to ensure a peaceful gathering. We know this for sure from a timeline provided by the Department. The timeline reads, “Carol Corbin (DOD) texts USCP Deputy Chief Sean Gallagher, Protective Service Bureau, to determine whether USCP is considering a request for National Guard soldiers for January 6, 2021 event.” The next morning, “Gallagher replies to DOD via text that a request for National Guard support not forthcoming at this time after consultation with COP Sund.” Mr. Sund was the Chief of the Capitol Police at the time. Incredibly, they rejected the offer of additional security even as they were issuing warnings to the House and Senate Sergeant at Arms, “Due to the tense political environment following the 2020 election, the threat of disruptive actions or violence cannot be ruled out. Supporters of the current president see January 6, 2021 as the last opportunity to overturn the results of the presidential election. This sense of desperation and disappointment may lead to more of an incentive to become violent.” To his credit, Chief Sund changed course over the following two days, and personally requested approval from both Sergeant at Arms. “COP Sund asks Senate Sergeant at Arms (SSAA) Michael Stenger and House Sergeant at Arms (HSAA) Paul Irving for authority to have National Guard to assist with security for the January 6, 2021 event based on briefing with law enforcement partner and revised intelligence Assessment,” the timeline notes. “COP Sund’s request is denied. SSAA and HSAA tell COP Sund to contact General Walker at DC National Guard to discuss the guard’s ability to support a request if needed.”
Nor did President Trump stop trying to secure the Capitol even at that point, offering up to 20,000 troops once again. “The Capitol Police timeline shows what we have been saying for the last year — that DOD support via the National Guard was refused by the House and Senate sergeant at arms, who report to Pelosi,” explained Chief of Staff to the Secretary of Defense, Kash Patel. “Now we have it in their own writing, days before Jan. 6. And despite the FBI warning of potential for serious disturbance, no perimeter was established, no agents put on the street, and no fence put up.” The House and Senate Sergeant at Arms aren’t the only ones to be blamed either. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser explicitly requested that the National Guard not be deployed without approval from the city, out of concern over George Floyd or something. “To be clear, the District of Columbia is not requesting other federal law enforcement personnel and discourages any additional deployment without immediate notification to and consultation with MPD, if such plans are underway,” she wrote, insisting that her police department was “well trained and prepared to lead the way.” We’ve also learned that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was personally tipped off by the FBI the day before, in startling detail. Capitol Police Deputy Chief Sean Gallanger emailed Kelly Fado, one of Senator’s Schumer’s top aides at 9.40 PM on the evening of January 5th to pass along new intelligence from the FBI threat analysis center. “The owner of the website submitted an online tip to the FBI NTOC (National Threat Operations Center) stating that he has noticed a significant uptick in new visitors to his website,” Deputy Chief Gallagher wrote. “We have identified numerous open-source comments indicating groups intentions of finding the tunnel entrances and confronting/blocking” members of Congress. “Additionally, we have seen a huge uptick with reporting via open source of the groups intentions of forming a perimeter around the campus (indicated in image #5 above) from 0600-1000 hours in order to block all MOC’s from getting inside our perimeter to the Buildings with spots identified for direct action.” This information was never passed along to Chief Sund, giving new meaning to the question, what did Schumer know and when did he know it?
Needless to say, no one has been able to explain why President Trump would be preparing to mount a coup while simultaneously pushing for more security in the form of 20,000 National Guard troops at the same time. Nor can anyone explain why his political opponents, who presumably feared a potential assault on Democracy spearheaded by the President, were the ones that wanted less security instead of more, but actual facts have always been of little interest to a Committee focused on political spectacle and wild accusations. So focused on the spectacle, in fact, they hired an old hand from the television industry to support the effort, hoping a professional touch and a slickly produced product could break through America’s concerns about high gas prices, out of control inflation, a contracting economy, a broken border, and rising crime in major cities. As Axios put it, the goal was to turn the hearing into “a blockbuster investigative special” and the committee chose former ABC News President James Goldston for the effort, apparently unaware that his most notable contribution to recent events was the intentional spiking of the Jeffrey Epstein story. The Committee also seems completely unaware, or perhaps uncaring, about the ethics rules regarding members of Congress using taxpayer dollars to hire external consultants. The Committee Chair, Representative Bernie Thompson from Mississippi, insisted that Mr. Goldston was only working in an “unofficial capacity,” but Committees aren’t allowed to use free labor. Republican members of Congress noted, “Such an arrangement would violate House Rules and the House Ethics Manual regulations which clearly states that ‘no logical distinction can be drawn between the private contribution of in-kind services and the private contribution of money, and that both perpetuate the very kind of unofficial office accounts and practices that are prohibited’ by the rule,” in a letter obtained by CBS News. Apparently, the Committee plans to protect democracy by thwarting their own democratic rules.
It goes without saying that the mainstream media is not remotely interested in these facts or concerns, either. They were happy to gloss over anything that didn’t fit the preferred narrative and conclude that the Committee is motivated entirely by a pure and pristine desire to protect Democracy with a big “D.” CNN’s Stephen Collinson is a perfect example. In his mind, “The stunning televised event made the clearest, most comprehensive case yet that ex-President Donald Trump concocted a sprawling conspiracy to defy voters’ will and steal power based on claims about a stolen election he knew were false. Making good on its word to produce compelling new evidence, the committee built a clear narrative that Trump’s incitement and example directly inspired extremist groups to breach the US Capitol to stage an insurrection.” Leaving no conclusion of the Committee unsupported, he continued “The overarching takeaway from the House select committee’s professionally produced presentation was not that this was a tragic moment of America’s past. It was that it could happen again.” Mr. Collinson and his colleagues in the mainstream media also show surprisingly little interest in the fact that multiple members of the Committee had previously voted against certifying election results themselves. The Committee Chairman himself, Representative Thompson, was one of 31 Democrats who voted to object to Ohio’s slate of electoral votes in 2005. Fellow Committee member, Jaime Raskin, voted against Donald Trump himself on January 6, 1017.
At the time, seven House Democrats objected to the vote in several states. In other words, Democrats including members of the Committee itself have done precisely what President Trump was asking his Congressional supporters to do multiple times. In fact, they have done it in some form every time a Republican has been elected this century, but suddenly doing so is a “corrupt” conspiracy against democracy itself. It is, of course, reasonable to point out that the losing candidate in these races, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, were not actively courting their supporters to object, but neither did they experience what none other than Time Magazine described as a “revolution” in how people vote, one carried out in secret by a “conspiracy” and a “cabal” to “fortify” the election in the middle of the election year no less. You cannot separate the reaction of President Trump and his supporters to the election from the incontestable fact that the nature of elections themselves was changed dramatically on the fly throughout 2016, usually unlawfully without a proper vote in the state legislature as prescribed by the Constitution. Putting this another way, I have not heard even the most anti-Trump demagogue claim that Joe Biden would’ve won if the election was carried out with the same rules as 2016. Instead, everyone acknowledges that the unlawful changes in election law, often funded by progressive billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg and carried out by progressive unions, enabled the Biden victory. This means that Trump was robbed by definition, whether you call it fraud or whatever else. Thus, it has become something of an ongoing joke in pro-Trump circles. You meet someone, a doctor or a lawyer or other professional along with almost anyone in the working class, and learn they are a Trump supporter. Within five minutes, they mention something along the lines of, you know the election was stolen and everyone laughs. They do not believe this because Trump told them so. They believe it because they watched it unfold with their own eyes and have reached their own independent conclusion. For all the talk of Trump’s ongoing assault on democracy, precious little thought is given to the precipitating attack waged by the secret conspiracy to “fortify” the election and conduct a “revolution” in how people vote, but the one cannot be separated from the other.
Ultimately, the entire purpose of the televised hearing was theatrics, nothing more and nothing less. The Committee members themselves and their allies in the broader media are well aware nothing is likely to come from the spectacle. Their hope, however, is that President Trump and the Republican party can be damaged beyond repair. That these hearings can break through the otherwise catastrophic crises plaguing the Biden Administration, and somehow tilt future elections in their favor. This will not be any easy task when the percentage of people who believe former President Trump was either directly or indirectly responsible for the riots on January 6 has steadily declined. In January 2021, an NBC News poll found that 52 percent claimed he was solely or mainly responsible. This number is now down to 45 percent, which should not be surprising when President Trump finds himself with better overall approval numbers than any other national political figure, despite two impeachments and endless caterwauling about his corrupt, authoritarian ways. They claim 20 million people tuned into the hearing last Thursday, but the real question is whether any minds were changed, or even could be changed at this point. This is especially true when they’ve already tried this once before, mounting a festival of the absurd on the anniversary of January 6. This time we were treated to the televised version, and it’s unlikely to make any difference whatever Democrats and the media say.