The chairman of the January 6 committee, Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, was born into segregation in the Delta city of Bolton, Mississippi, population 521, “a part of the country where people justify the actions of slavery, Ku Klux Klan, and lynchings,” as he said during the first hearing. The vice president, Rep. Liz Cheney from Wyoming, is twenty years younger and the daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney; she had spent most of the Trump years holding third place in the House Republican leadership, until she was forced to resign in May 2021, after repeatedly criticizing Trump and voting in favor of impeachment. politician from him. The scene seems straight out of a John Grisham thriller: the slow-talking Southern judge with a long storied memory, the wily prosecutor who turns on his former political patrons. This is how justice is supposed to be, simple justice that pleases the crowd.
In its focus on the period between the presidential election on November 3, 2020 and the attack on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021, the committee has drawn up an account in which successive advisers to the president, each representing a part of his party—turn their backs on him in disgust, as he tries to sell the ill-organized fiction of a stolen election. Those with him on November 3, 2020, were already a self-selected group of loyalists, given how many Party members refused to work for Trump in the first place, and how many of his early aides burned out and left. By November, most of the Trump White House lawyers and campaign staff, who saw no major election fraud, had coalesced around the “Normal Team,” such as political adviser Bill Stepien. called in his testimony; Trump’s camp was organized around “Team Rudy,” a few lawyers allied with former New York Mayor Giuliani, who were looking for evidence of fraud that never turned out to be there. In every scene reenacted in the courtroom, every heated Oval Office session recounted by a lawyer, every memo highlighted and projected on a screen above the dais, the central question is: Who was for Trump and who was against him?
But this alignment also had a political value. In December, as Trump continued his accusations of voter fraud, his attorney general, Bill Barr, the embodiment of the conservative legal establishment’s truce with the president, resigned. In Congress, the Republicans who were clearly with Trump were the members of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, most prominently Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, Rep. Louie Gohmert , of Texas, and Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, whose line with the president ran through White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, a former chairman of the House Freedom Caucus. The Committee drew another dividing line: among the lawyers, it was the Normal Team versus the Rudy Team, but among the politicians, it was the GOP Team versus the Freedom Caucus Team.
Thursday’s hearing focused on a dramatic meeting in the Oval Office on January 3, three days before the uprising. One of the attendees was a DOJ attorney named Jeff Clark, who helped run the department’s environmental division. Clark had met with Trump through Representative Perry of the Freedom Caucus and made it clear that he would back the president’s claims: Clark had gone so far as to draft a letter from the Justice Department, at Trump’s behest, asking the Georgia state legislature to adopt a fake set of voters instead of the ones President Biden justly won. Also in attendance at the meeting were Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen and Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue, who had headed the Justice Department since Barr’s departure and had refused to forward Clark’s letter. According to testimony Rosen and Donoghue gave Thursday, the president asked why he shouldn’t replace Rosen with Clark, since Rosen wouldn’t do what the commander in chief wanted him to do. Donoghue told the committee that he had said that Clark was not qualified to run the Justice Department or to investigate a claim of voter fraud; he hadn’t even handled a case. Clark protested that he had addressed very complicated environmental appeals. In one of the all-time insults in the Oval Office (assuming it really happened; we only have Donoghue’s word for it here), Donoghue said, “That’s right. You are an environmental lawyer. Go back to your office and we’ll call you when there’s an oil spill.” Trump did not name Clark as acting attorney general; Donoghue warned him that if he did, all of his deputy attorneys general would resign en masse. Trump’s own Justice Department was against him. What he still had was the Freedom Caucus and, seventy-two hours later, a mob.
Trump’s instincts aren’t especially sharp these days, and he seemed too late to acknowledge that the events of January 6 put him not only in legal but political danger as well. For half a decade, part of his narrative has been that no matter how reluctant the Republican establishment seems, no matter how disgusted it pretends to be with him, it will always admit him in the end. But, the same week that the January 6 caucus emphasized how even Trump’s hardliners in the White House, in the days before the riots, were fed up with him, a poll of New Hampshire Republican primary voters revealed it. placed behind Ron DeSantis. Brit Hume of Fox News emphasized on air that if the hearings mean Trump won’t run in 2024, then the committee will have “done the GOP a great service” because many Republicans “think they can’t win with Trump on the head”. The entrance.” Speaking to a conservative radio host last week, the former president said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s decision to boycott the Jan. 6 caucus was “very, very foolish.” , as that step had allowed Trump’s opponents to choose committee members for themselves, and shape history as they saw fit. McCarthy did not respond. He has long bowed to Trump, but he has also been an antagonist of the Freedom Caucus, not a member. Do you still side with the former president?
At some points in the hearings, a slight narrative suspension of disbelief has been required. Among the many former Trump employees who have obviously been disgusted with him, none have been as disgusted as White House counsel Eric Herschmann, who often appears on Zoom with a black baseball bat mounted on the wall behind him, adorned with the word “JUSTICE”. .” (Next to the baseball bat is a large painting of a panda.) Thursday’s committee hearing featured Herschmann’s description of a conversation with Jeff Clark, the environmental lawyer who dreams of fake Georgia voters. Herschmann said: “When he finished discussing what he was planning to do, I said, ‘Well, damn it, excuse me, damn it, congratulations. He has just admitted that his first step or act that he would take as Attorney General would be to commit a felony and violate Rule 6C. A repressed inner lawyer in me rebelled: Was that a word-for-word reenactment, complete with a subsection quote? Wasn’t it just a bit of self-aggrandizement? But the Mississippi judge and the Washington prosecutor let him go. They have allowed the Republicans who broke with Trump to tell the story and praised them as heroes. “Your bravery of his is a crowning moment in the sordid history leading up to Jan. 6,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger said Thursday, speaking of Rosen and Donoghue. As Grisham might have recognized, justice is not the only ongoing process.
Toward the end of Thursday’s hearing, Herschmann and several other White House aides — including Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to Meadows, and John McEntee, head of the Office of Presidential Personnel — testified that several members of Congress had communicated with advisers to the president. to see if he could preemptively pardon them, to protect them from any prosecution for his role on January 6. Rep. Mo Brooks wrote a letter to the White House not only formally requesting a pardon but also an “all-purpose” pardon for the one hundred and forty-seven members of the House of Representatives who opposed certification of the election. But, for the most part, the committee has chosen ordinary Republicans as the heroes. The villains were the six, just six, members of Congress who had reportedly sought pardons for themselves: Brooks (who lost a Senate primary in Alabama); Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida (who is facing a federal investigation for sex trafficking); Representative Andy Biggs of Arizona; Representative Perry of Pennsylvania; Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia; and Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas. It was a sign of how small the dead-end caucus was, and of the political line the hearings have offered to draw for Republicans: civil society on one side, and the former president, some lawyers, on the other. a half dozen members of Congress, the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, the mob. ♦