So what did we learn from the dramatic ninth, and possibly final, January 6 committee hearing?
At times it was a greatest-hits highlight reel: lots of footage of Mark Meadows aide Cassidy Hutchinson calmly describing evil (with a few evil details we hadn’t heard before). “I don’t want people to know that we lost, Mark. This is embarrassing. Figure it out. We need to figure it out. I don’t want people to know that we lost,” Donald Trump told Meadows, proving that he knew he lost. Tales of 60-plus federal courts denying Trump’s moves to toss state election results. More than 30 Trump allies took the Fifth when questioned by the committee. Steve Bannon promised days before the election that Trump would not concede even if he lost.
And that chilling Trump quote, as he watched the mob gather, unable to get into his rally because they refused to give up their weapons. “I don’t care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the fucking mags [weapon-detecting magnotometers] away.” Trump knew they were armed; he knew they were there to “hurt” someone; and he urged them to storm the Capitol. We heard that before. But you can’t hear it too many times.
What I hadn’t seen before was the extent to which the Capitol Police, the Secret Service, and other law enforcement agencies had been warned of violence, not only on social media but by direct information and threats as well. As the coarse and chilling promises of mayhem scrolled across our TV screens, they made me and others ask: Why hadn’t those agencies shut down the entire Capitol that day? Or obviously, since the electoral vote certification had to proceed, why hadn’t they barred everyone nonessential from the building and its office complexes?
Why hadn’t they secured its perimeter, the way they did the Supreme Court Building when some ladies began peacefully protesting there after the leak of the Dobbs decision? They know how to do this. They knew what was coming that day. It could have been much worse. Folks have been fired over this, but more should be fired still.
I will never get over seeing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi trying to figure out how to get the process moving again, from a secure location at Fort McNair, two miles from the Capitol, even as she gradually learns about the violence that’s overtaken the House floor, even her own offices.
“There has to be some way we can maintain the sense that people have, that there’s some security, or some confidence, that government can function and that you can elect the president of the United States,” she tells a staffer. She asks if there are still Congress members on the House floor and learns that… well, yes, but…
“Did we go back into session?”
Staffer: “We did go back into session. But now, apparently, everybody on the floor is putting on tear gas masks to prepare for a breach. I’m trying to get more information.”
Pelosi: “They’re putting on their—?”
Staffer: “Tear gas masks.”
Pelosi: “Can you believe this?” she asks whip Jim Clyburn.
We watch Pelosi huddle with Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, who seems more agitated than Pelosi. On a phone call with Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, Schumer asks with sardonic fury, “Why don’t you get the president to tell them to leave the Capitol, Mr. Attorney General, in your law enforcement responsibility?”
We don’t hear the answer.
A bit later, we see mama and grandma Nancy—documentary filmmaker and daughter Alexandra Pelosi was filming this—trying to understand why some sources are saying the Capitol is so devastated it could take days to get Congress back inside.
“We’re getting reports that there’s defecation, but I don’t think that’s hard to clean up,” she tells someone. Later, she tells Schumer and I think Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (I had a hard time with the masks) that it’s a matter of cleaning up “poo poo,” as someone who knows how you deal with poo poo. It’s just not that big a deal. Violence, however, is.
She, Schumer, and other members of leadership negotiate with the governors of nearby states to get the National Guard and state police deployed. She ultimately gets word that they will be allowed back in the building in the next hour or so, and history shows that they were, and that they certified the electoral vote—even as amoral cowards like House minority leader Kevin McCarthy and 147 others ultimately voted to challenge it.
Am I the only one who had déjà vu yesterday? Trump began telegraphing election denialism back in 2018. In that election cycle, the Democrats’ blue wave started as a blue ripple that took weeks to fully show itself. Even before the pandemic, the number of states that made it easy to cast absentee ballots or vote by mail meant that what looked like either a GOP win or a minor Democratic margin in the House and Senate ultimately turned into, that’s right, a blue wave. And what did Donald Trump say?
Two years later, that ludicrous claim was repeated, but it turned out to be deadly.
The committee’s last grand gesture was to subpoena Trump himself. I shrugged. He’ll either resist, or he’ll join his 30 comrades in pleading the Fifth, or he’ll come and make a circus out of the whole thing that will remind us of when he glided down that gilded escalator in Trump Tower and destroyed our democracy.
I think this committee has done its part for democracy. I feel indebted. But the next step is for Attorney General Merrick Garland to indict this low-rent criminal. I’m fascinated by all the Mar-a-Lago intrigue. It’s clear he stole classified documents; he ought to go away for that, too. But the January 6 committee’s nine stunning hearings have proven that Trump knew he lost and nonetheless tried to, first, steal the election and, second, overthrow it by force. If that’s not criminal, we are no longer a nation of laws.