Jun 13, 2022

The Jan. 6 hearings.

The Jan. 6 hearings.

Plus, a correction and some reader feedback.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 14 minutes.

A correction, the Jan. 6 committee hearing, and some reader feedback on my coverage of California's elections.

Video footage of William Barr testifying to Congressional investigators. Screenshot: WSJ
Video footage of William Barr testifying to Congressional investigators. Screenshot: WSJ

Correction.

On June 1st, I wrote about Biden's executive order on policing. In the "Numbers" section that day, I made an error that was just brought to my attention last week. We cited Washington Post data that 15% of the people killed by police in 2021 were armed. In fact, 85% were armed, and 15% were unarmed. The Washington Post had some convoluted language in their piece ("Last year, all but 15 percent of people shot and killed by officers were armed, according to The Post’s data") which I suspect led to the error on our end, but given my intimate knowledge of these numbers I'm still surprised I didn't catch it sooner.

This is our 64th Tangle correction in its 150-week history, and the first since May 19th. I track corrections and place them at the top of the newsletter in an effort to maximize transparency with readers.


Your feedback.

Last week, I wrote about the elections in California. Part of the thrust of "my take" was that the data from California, especially in areas like San Francisco, told a very mixed story about crime there. I received a lot of emails from readers in the Bay area and Los Angeles. Some of them were supportive of the position I took, but many wrote in critical of how I framed the story, sharing their own personal experiences over the last few years with crime.

My dad often uses the old joke on me: "If one person tells you you're drunk, tell 'em to screw off. If two people tell you you're drunk, maybe you should go lie down."

My take isn't gospel. I get stuff wrong. I saw a lot of compelling points come in, enough that I'm re-evaluating my view on the elections there. I think it is both fair and prudent to share them with my readers. So I've collected some responses to that piece, including the criticisms and support of my writing, and placed them in a Google document. You can read them by clicking here.


Quick hits.

  1. A group of bipartisan senators say they have agreed to a gun control deal that would create incentives for red flag laws, add scrutiny to buyers under the age of 21, and create new funding for mental health and school security. (The deal)
  2. U.S. inflation rose again, hitting 8.6% year over year, the highest rate in four decades. Meanwhile, gas prices topped an average of $5 per gallon over the weekend for the first time ever. (The latest)
  3. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed a bill to make it easier for school staff to carry firearms. (The bill)
  4. President Biden lifted pre-departure Covid-19 testing rules for international travelers coming to the U.S., beginning on Sunday. (The rules)
  5. 31 people with ties to a White nationalist group were arrested in Idaho on charges of conspiracy to riot at a Pride parade. The group was in the back of a U-Haul truck en route to the parade. (The arrests)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.


Today's topic.

On Thursday, the Jan. 6 committee held the first of its prime time hearings on the events leading up to and through the day of the riots at the Capitol building in 2021. Led by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), the hearing included previously unseen footage of the attack and testimony from Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and former Attorney General William Barr.

The hearing focused on three main elements: First, that Trump was responsible for an attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power and helped egg on the rioters who attacked the Capitol building. Second, that allies of Trump, including former Vice President Pence, his daughter Ivanka, and Barr all repeatedly told him that he was wrong about the election being stolen. And third, that two far-right groups — the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers — had laid out plans to violently halt the counting of the electors on January 6th.

On top of the previously unseen footage of the attack and testimony, the committee also interviewed Nick Quested, a British documentarian who was filming members of the Proud Boys in the days leading up to Jan. 6, and Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards, one of 140 officers who were injured during the attacks. Edwards described Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who was assaulted during the attack and suffered a stroke. He died the day after the riot of natural causes, according to the medical examiner’s office in Washington, D.C. Four other officers — three from the Metropolitan Police Department and one from the Capitol Police — died by suicide in the days and months after the riot.

In deposition footage, Barr, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner each said they believed Biden had won the election and had not seen any evidence that the election had been stolen. The committee also played video and audio of Capitol police engaged in hand to hand fighting with rioters, pleading for help from superiors. They documented several areas of the Capitol that were breached as rioters made their way inside and members of Congress were rushed to safe rooms.

The select committee is made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans, all of whom were picked by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Reps. Jim Banks (R-IN) and Jim Jordan (R-OH) were barred from serving on the committee during its formation, as Pelosi and other Democrats insisted they themselves may be implicated in the day’s events. In response, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy pulled his other three nominees, while Senate Republicans blocked an effort to set up a bipartisan commission. The result was an unusually one-sided select committee hearing, with no Trump allies serving in the group.

Approximately 20 million people tuned into the hearings on Thursday. Today, the committee will continue its public hearings, this time with a focus on Trump's claims that the election was stolen. The committee's witnesses were supposed to include former Trump campaign manager William Stepien, but he dropped from the hearings because his wife went into labor. Former Fox News political director Chris Stirewalt (who correctly called Arizona for Biden early on in the election coverage) is also expected to testify.

Below, we'll take a look at some reactions from the left and right, then my take.


What the left is saying.

  • The left said the hearing is a warning about why Trump must never come near the White House again.
  • Some say the committee is making it clear the role Trump played in inciting violence on Jan. 6.
  • Others criticize the belated spectacle and the failure of Democrats to yet win back the country's support.

Garrett M. Graff called the hearing a "warning."

"It’s hard to tell which fact should shock us most out of the first, surprisingly compelling public hearing of the congressional committee investigating the insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6," Graff wrote. "Jared Kushner brushing aside as mere 'whining' the repeated resignation threats from White House counsel and its top lawyers in the face of Donald Trump’s ongoing push to overturn the election? The fact that even as rioters surged through the Capitol and members of Congress fled in terror, Donald Trump, the president of the United States, never once spoke to any corner of the US government to ask for help—never once called the Justice Department, Homeland Security, or the Pentagon? The committee’s allegations that members of Congress sought presidential pardons for their own roles in the January 6 events?

"Or the simple power of a brave police officer talking about our nation’s most sacred democratic space as a 'war zone' and how—repeatedly injured by the rioters that the GOP has sought in the last 18 months to reframe as 'normal tourists' engaged in 'legitimate political discourse'—she slipped on others’ blood spread across the steps of the US Capitol?" Graff wrote. "After months of behind-the-scenes investigation, wide-ranging subpoenas, witness depositions, document reviews, countless hours of reviewing video footage, and delicate internal political machinations, the public portion of the House’s January 6 select committee kicked off Thursday night with a two-hour blockbuster that immediately established the stakes of the work—the former president of the United States attempted nothing less than a coup to remain in power—and recentered its work as one of the most important political investigations in our lifetime."

The New York Times editorial board said "the rallying cries of the former president and the ensuing breach of the Capitol were shown for all to see."

"But the importance of the hearings isn’t simply about holding Mr. Trump, his allies and the flag-draped thugs storming the halls to account," the board wrote. "The hearings challenge all Americans to recommit to the principles of democracy, ask how important those values are to us and face the threats posed to our democratic way of life. Those threats are real and present, as Mr. Trump prepares to possibly again seek the office he has already desecrated once. The committee is doing its duty to defend against these threats by presenting evidence that the attack on the Capitol was not an isolated event, that it was a coordinated assault and that it continues to this very day. Our duty, as American citizens, is to participate fully in this process, by watching and absorbing the committee’s evidence and considering what it would mean for our democracy if Mr. Trump were to run for president again.

"The chilling videos and interviews aired in the two hours of the hearing did far more than replay the familiar horrors," the board added. "They were revelatory and dramatic, showing how Mr. Trump urged his followers to violate the Constitution and refused to rein them in even when his most loyal aides pleaded with him to do so. Republican politicians, with brave exceptions such as Ms. Cheney, have dismissed the hearings as unimportant, a partisan show trial and an unwarranted political attack on Mr. Trump... This misdirection tries to obscure the truth of what is in that footage: Many of the same Republicans had to flee their chamber in panic as a howling mob rampaged through the Capitol."

Chris Hedges criticized the "spectacle" of the committee, warning that Democrats won't restore democracy or halt the rise of the far right if they don’t do more for working class America.

"There was no acknowledgement by committee members that the 'will of the people' has been subverted by the three branches of government to serve the dictates of the billionaire class," Hedges wrote. "No one brought up the armies of lobbyists who are daily permitted to storm the Capitol to fund the legalized bribery of our elections and write the pro-corporate legislation that it passes. No one spoke about the loss of constitutional rights, including the right to privacy, because of wholesale government surveillance. No one mentioned the disastrous trade deals that have deindustrialized the country and impoverished the working class. No one spoke of the military fiascos in the Middle East that cost taxpayers over $8 trillion, the for-profit health care system that gouges the public and prevents a rational response to the pandemic, already resulting in over a million deaths, or the privatization of institutions of government, including schools, prisons, water treatment, trash collection, parking meters, utilities and even intelligence gathering, to enrich the billionaire class at our expense.

"The gaping hole between the reality of what we have become, and the fiction of who we are supposed to be, is why spectacle is all the ruling class has left," Hedges said. "Spectacle takes the place of politics. It is a tacit admission that all social programs, whether the Build Back Better Plan, a ban on assault weapons, raising the minimum wage, ameliorating the ravages of inflation or instituting environmental reforms to stave off the climate emergency, will never be implemented. Those who occupy the 'sacred space' of 'our constitutional republic' are capable only of pouring money into war, allocating $54 billion to Ukraine, and passing ever higher military budgets to enrich the arms industry. The wider the gap becomes between the ideal and the real, the more the proto fascists, who look set to take back the Congress in the fall, will be empowered."


What the right is saying.

  • The right said we learned very little new information, and the committee is trying to tie two separate events together.
  • Some argue that the evidence is damning for Trump, but still not what many Democrats claim it is.
  • Others criticize the committee as a "show trial."

Byron York said the "never before seen" footage was indeed new, but it looked a lot like what we already had and didn't teach us anything new.

"But the Jan. 6 committee hearing did tell us a lot about one thing: the thinking of the Jan. 6 committee. And the main focus of the committee, as revealed Thursday night, is Trump, Trump, Trump. Yes, members will look into the groups Proud Boys and Oath Keepers that formed a tiny part of the crowd at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and have been charged with seditious conspiracy. But they are interested in those groups only to the extent that the committee will attempt to tie those groups directly to Trump and show that the president conspired with the groups to set off the riot as part of his plan to remain in office post-defeat," York wrote. "The problem is, the committee will have to show a lot of connections that might not exist and are at the very least currently unknown.

"First, it will have to show that Trump worked with the Proud Boys and/or the Oath Keepers," York said. "Then the committee will have to show that the Proud Boys and/or the Oath Keepers actually made the Jan. 6 riot happen — a tough assignment given the apparently organic nature of the motivations of hundreds of rioters. Then they will have to show that Trump incited the riot — Democrats, of course, call it the 'insurrection' — specifically to use the rioters as muscle to force Pence and Congress into accepting the Eastman electoral vote plan. The committee appears to believe it can clear that final hurdle, incitement, by showing interviews with rioters who later said they felt that Trump, using Twitter to promote his rally on Jan. 6, had personally invited them to break into the Capitol and go on a rampage... It will be easy to convince the part of the electorate that is already inclined to believe such things. It might be much more difficult for the rest."

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said the hearing was a visceral reminder of what happened that day.

"The House inquiry into the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot launched its TV miniseries Thursday night, and the trick for parsing the proceedings is to keep two ideas in tension," the board wrote. "Do Democrats want to unfairly besmirch the entire GOP with the Jan. 6 disgrace, while distracting voters from 8.6% inflation and $5-a-gallon gasoline? Yes. Yet did the committee offer a damning look at President Trump’s scheme to stay in office after losing the 2020 election? Also yes. Fresh video of the riot is a reminder that Jan. 6 was a brutal melee of fists and chemical sprays. 'I was slipping in people’s blood,' said Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards. The footage is visceral, even if similar scenes were already on YouTube... The committee appears to be trying to build a case of 'seditious conspiracy' against Mr. Trump, but here the evidence isn’t persuasive.

"Ms. Cheney offered no evidence that Mr. Trump communicated directly with the Oath Keepers or Proud Boys, who were the vanguard of the assault on the Capitol. The President spread falsehoods about the election," the board wrote. "He invited supporters to Washington on Jan. 6, tweeting on Dec. 19 that it 'will be wild!' He riled up the crowd and urged it to march on the Capitol. After violence began, he dawdled instead of sending help. Mr. Trump bears responsibility for the mayhem. But inspiring followers to march is not the same as leading a criminal conspiracy. One irony is that the largely Democratic committee’s evidence makes clear that Mr. Trump’s designs on overturning the election were foiled mainly by Republicans, including many in his Administration... The committee calls Jan. 6 an 'attempted coup.' That makes it seem as if there was a chance of success. There wasn’t. It was an impossible plan hatched by screwballs, and it would have gone down as such if the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers hadn’t breached the Capitol."

In The Federalist, Tristan Justice called it a show trial to "prop up a dying, corrupt regime."

"Legitimate political opposition on Thursday was absent from the hearings," Justice wrote. "No counternarrative was allowed by the regime, which barred the opposing party’s selected representatives as every cable network except Fox News carried the programming live. Members conducting the show trial accused their opponents of conspiracy to topple the U.S. government, just as the Soviets accused Old Bolshevik leaders of plans to terminate Stalin. Never mind that American institutions held on Jan. 6, and the federal government came nowhere close to collapse when congressional proceedings were interrupted. The trials in Moscow culminated in the 'Great Purge' of dissidents to the incumbent regime, with defendants given death sentences. The Jan. 6 proceedings are aimed at the ultimate purge of former President Donald Trump and his supporters, albeit through societal exile and jail sentences as opposed to execution. According to whistleblowers in the FBI, a purge within the federal law enforcement agency has already begun.

"Meanwhile, the Jan. 6 Committee’s prime targets have included prominent members of the prior administration, just as Stalin’s deputies prosecuted leaders of the old regime. On Friday, former Trump Trade Advisor Peter Navarro was taken by the FBI in handcuffs and charged with crimes stemming from the committee’s work," Justice wrote. "Of the more than 100 subpoenas issued by the Select Committee ostensibly established to probe the Capitol riot, less than 10 percent, according to a Federalist analysis, have targeted individuals directly involved in the chaos. The rest have gone after Americans who committed the now-apparent crime of holding a peaceful demonstration at the White House and espoused unacceptable views in the eyes of the incumbent regime."


My take.

I suspect it is hard for a lot of Americans to care right now.

Most of the country seems to agree that things don't feel good, whether it's the persistent pandemic, rising inflation and gas prices, school shootings, war overseas; or the culture wars happening over gender ideology, racism and free speech. Many Americans have simply moved on from Jan. 6. Or, if you want to take the view of Chris Hedges, perhaps it’s impossible to care when you view the entire system as corrupt and all the politicians at the helm on both sides as self-interested hacks aiming to get reelected and enrich their donors. Trust me, I get it.

And yet, I think it is also okay to let these hearings just be about what they are about. These criticisms are all useful context to keep in mind, but this thing doesn't have to be about your thing. The benefit of the Jan. 6 committee is that rather than the slow drip-drip-drip of evidence we have gotten since Jan 6. 2021, we can now take a full, cohesive accounting of what happened. That is useful given the stakes of the day and the mark it has left on our history.

So, based on the documents the committee collected, transcripts of text messages released, audio evidence, video evidence, and contemporaneous news reports, we have a rough idea of what that full accounting looks like.

It's worth laying it out plainly.

As the last returns began to trickle in on the early morning after election night, Trump's team understood that final results were still days away. Trump responded by announcing prematurely that he had won. When, days after the election, his top data analyst informed the president he was going to lose, he insisted the results were wrong or stolen or corrupted, and then he pressured lawyers at the Justice Department to produce evidence to support his view. When they refused and threatened to resign, he focused on state officials and legislators, like those in Georgia, who recorded him demanding they produce enough votes to give him the lead. High-ranking members of his team produced memos claiming the election was stolen and lawyers on his team drafted multi-pronged plans to send invalid electors to Congress, even though they knew at the time that the allegations were false and the plans were illegal. Trump even drafted an executive order to use the military to seize voting machines, which his lawyers then tried to hide from the Jan. 6 committee. Trump highlighted Jan. 6 to his supporters as the day state electors would be counted, telling them the events in D.C. would be "wild" and insisting the election could be swung his way.

When these demands divided his team and were stymied from the inside and outside, he resorted to pressuring his vice president (privately and publicly) to refuse to certify the election. Pence famously refused. Trump continued to pressure Pence on Jan. 5 and Jan. 6. In the immediate aftermath of his rally on Jan. 6, when supporters marched to the Capitol and then broke in, Trump — according to the committee — refused to summon federal law enforcement to stop them, leaving Pence to call in help from the likes of the National Guard. In the days before and after Jan. 6, Trump's closest allies, including his children, attorney general, favored television hosts and top Cabinet officials, all told him that he was being fed lies about the election being stolen, insisted he allow Biden to take office, and considered invoking the 25th amendment to remove him when he ignored them. Trump only briefly conceded Biden would become president on January 7th, and then immediately began claiming the election was stolen again.

Certain elements of this story, like whether Trump refused (rather than neglected) to call in federal law enforcement on the day of Jan. 6, have not yet been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. The committee claims it has the goods, and we'll see. But the rest of it is well-established through documents, audio, video and the sworn testimony of his former Cabinet officials and his own children.

This is not a good story, but it's true. It is not a hoax or political hackery. It is just damning.

In my view, these transgressions are far from equal. Trump squabbling about the election being stolen or sitting in meetings with Sidney Powell or not insisting his supporters go home in a timely manner are bad. But far worse is calling Republican state officials in swing states in an attempt to "find votes" for himself, which we have audio recordings of. Even worse than that is attempting to weaponize the Justice Department to produce evidence you want, so much so that your own appointees are threatening to resign, which we have testimony of. And worse than all of that is what we have hard documented evidence of: Trump’s staff produced plans to divert from the legal process of tallying legitimate state electors. Trump himself drafted an executive order calling on the military to seize voting machines. Either or both of those events, with sufficient participation, would have set off a true constitutional crisis and almost certainly a wave of political violence in the streets.

So that's where we are. Will the committee find physical or digital evidence of some top-down, White House connection to the Oath Keepers or Proud Boys? No. We'd likely know that already, since the committee leaked most of its findings upon discovery, to do as much political damage to Trump as possible. Will it give us any definitive answers about FBI informants and instigators who may have been present on Jan. 6? Again, I doubt it. No Democrats seem interested in that story. Will we learn more about the mystery bombs planted in D.C. that day? We had better, but again, I'm not hopeful. The committee is not perfect, and it is — in the anti-Trump sense — a partisan spectacle.

Will the committee fix inflation or bring the country closer together or resolve the fact that many of its members are corrupt politicians themselves? Of course not. But again, that is really not the point. The point of the committee is to tell us what happened on Jan. 6. In that regard, its biases are worth noting, and the absence of a counter-narrative is, too.

But the evidence speaks volumes. And regardless of the anti-Trump, Democrat-appointed, made-for-primetime-spectacle committee we have, the story that the evidence they've collected tells is a frightening one. We'd all do well to take note of it.

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Your questions, answered.

We're skipping today's reader question to give our main story some extra space.

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A story that matters.

The 2024 presidential election is still a ways off, but whispers are already starting that one person shouldn't be involved: President Joe Biden. Democratic lawmakers and party officials are venting their frustrations with Biden's struggle to move his agenda and airing doubts that he'd be able to stave off a Republican challenger in 2024. It's not just the results or his agenda, but also his age. Biden would be 86 at the end of a second term, a concerning idea for a president who already faces regular questions about his mental capacities. Now, Democrats on and off the record are sharing their fears that a new candidate will be needed to lead the party. The New York Times has the story (subscription).


Numbers.

  • 45%. The percentage of Americans who say Trump is solely or mainly responsible for the rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
  • 55%. The percentage of Americans who say Trump is somewhat or not really responsible for the rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
  • 53.6%. Biden's disapproval rating as of today, according to FiveThirtyEight's tracker.
  • 40.1%. His approval rating as of today, according to FiveThirtyEight's tracker.
  • 45%. The percentage of Americans who say they would support Republicans on a general congressional ballot.
  • 42.6%. The percentage of Americans who say they would support Democrats on a general congressional ballot.

Have a nice day.

Genetic analysis has confirmed the discovery of a living Fernandina Island Galapagos giant tortoise, a species that was previously thought to be extinct for 100 years. The "fantastic giant tortoise" has been a mystery to scientists, who had to match the genome of a living specimen on the island with those taken over a hundred years ago. But now the researchers say they can confirm Fernanda, named after the island she lives on, is a member of the same species. They estimate she is well over 50 years old, and say the tracks of at least two other tortoises have been found on the island. Princeton has the story.


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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.