What have we learned from the January 6 hearings?
Eight televised hearings laid out how the Jan 6 attack was part of a wider effort by Trump to overturn 2020 election.
The January 6 Committee has placed former US President Donald Trump at the centre of a sustained effort to overturn the democratic results of the 2020 election, culminating in the violent attack on the US Capitol by his supporters.
Over the course of eight televised hearings, the panel has argued that Trump exerted pressure on everyone from Vice President Mike Pence to state and local election officials, exploring every possible avenue for overturning the will of the voters.
To do so, he relentlessly promoted false claims of widespread voter fraud, which even members of his own staff knew were untrue.
The Republican Party has embraced the lie that the 2020 election was stolen, stirring fears that Trump could again resort to anti-democratic methods if he runs for president in 2024.
Here is a summary of what we have learned so far.
Hearing One: June 9, 2022
Laying the groundwork
The first hearing broadcast in US prime time set the tone for the presentations to come by placing former President Donald Trump front and centre, with Vice Chair Liz Cheney, one of two Republicans on the panel, saying that Trump “summoned the mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack” referring to the January 6, 2021 assault.
- The panel made the case that January 6 was not an impromptu riot but a planned attack on the Capitol meant to overturn the results of a democratic election, driven by statements from Trump.
- Committee chair Representative Bennie Thompson made note of the fact that violent far-right groups such as the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys played important roles, spurring the crowd on at crucial moments in the attack.
- The committee placed the Capitol riot in a larger context of lies about widespread election fraud, promoted by Trump at every level of government, in order to overturn the 2020 election.
Hearing Two: June 13, 2022
Trump knew fraud claims were false
The second hearing focused on Trump’s claims of widespread election fraud in the 2020 elections – and how multiple members of his own staff told him there was no truth to such claims. In doing so, the committee sought to bolster its argument that Trump’s efforts to overturn the election were deliberately built on lies about fraud.
- Witnesses testified they told Trump that there was no proof of fraud, to little effect. Former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue said that he told Trump “flat-out” that his claims were “just not supported by the evidence”.
- Trump’s former Attorney General William Barr testified that Trump brushed aside claims that there was no evidence of voter fraud, saying that the former president was “detached from reality” and that Trump was not interested in what “the actual facts are”.
- Trump used claims of election fraud to raise funds from his supporters, in what Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren called “the big rip-off”. An investigator with the committee stated that Trump and his allies raised $250m, calling for donations for an “election defence fund”. That fund did not exist.
Hearing Three: June 16, 2022
Vice President Pence’s role
The third hearing on June 16 honed in on Trump’s attempts to pressure former Vice President Mike Pence into overturning the election results, an effort Pence resisted. In doing so, he earned the scorn of Trump’s supporters, and rioters chanted “Hang Mike Pence!” when they learned the vice president would not go along with a scheme to overturn the election.
- Constitutional scholars testified that the plan was not legal and amounted to what J Michael Luttig, a retired federal judge who had advised Pence, termed “constitutional mischief”.
- The committee claimed that Trump and his advisers understood that the scheme would violate the constitution but pushed forward anyway. Greg Jacob, former counsel to Pence, testified that John Eastman, a Trump lawyer, acknowledged that the Supreme Court would unanimously rule against the plan.
- At one point on January 6, rioters came within 12 metres (40 feet) of Pence, and Democratic Congressman Pete Aguilar said that violent right-wing groups would have killed Pence “if given a chance”. In a phone call before the riot, Trump belittled Pence and said that he was a “wimp”.
Hearing Four: June 21, 2022
State and local election officials
The fourth hearing on June 21 examined Trump’s efforts to pressure state and local election officials to overturn the popular vote in a number of key states that Trump needed to win.
- To “win”, Trump planned to replace electors, who cast votes in the electoral college in line with the outcome of the popular vote in their state, with a more pliant group who would ignore the outcome of the popular vote. The committee called this the “fake electors” plot.
- In a phone call, Trump asked Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, to “find” the votes Trump needed to win the state. “I only need 11,000 votes, fellas. I need 11,000 votes; give me a break.”
- Local election workers said they were inundated with threats from Trump supporters as the former president pushed the lie that the election had been stolen.
- Wandrea Moss, an election worker in Georgia, said that her life turned “upside down” as she and her family became the victims of violent threats from Trump supporters and conspiracy theories about fraud. Her mother, Ruby Freeman, asked, “Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States target you?”
Hearing Five: June 23, 2022
Trump pressures the Justice Department
The fifth hearing explored yet another focus of Trump’s campaign of pressure: the US Department of Justice (DOJ). Trump pushed the department to validate his false claims about widespread fraud during the 2020 election.
- US Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue showed the committee a handwritten note from a meeting where he quoted Trump as saying: “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.”
- When department officials rebuffed Trump’s claims of fraud, he considered replacing them with officials who would go along with him. At one point, Trump is said to have considered replacing acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen with Jeffrey Clark, who witnesses claimed was not qualified but would have been more likely to go along with Trump’s claims.
- A draft letter by Clark and his adviser to the Georgia state assembly falsely alleging widespread fraud was at the heart of Clark’s efforts to reverse Trump’s loss. Donoghue called the letter “so extreme to me [that] I had a hard time getting my head around”. Cheney said the letter would have rubber-stamped Trump’s lies about the election.
Hearing Six: June 28, 2022
Cassidy Hutchinson testifies
The sixth hearing featured testimony from a former White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson, who offered observations from inside the administration in the days before and after January 6.
In an emergency public hearing hastily added to the committee schedule, “surprise witness” Hutchinson described Trump’s behaviour on the day of the riot and schisms within the White House.
- Hutchinson testified that Trump became “furious” when supporters carrying weapons were turned away from his rally before the march to the Capitol. Hutchinson quoted Trump as saying “They’re not here to hurt me. Let them in; let my people in.”
- Trump was “irate” when he was told he would not be able to join his supporters as they marched to the Capitol, and allegedly lunged at the steering wheel of the vehicle returning him to the White House, Hutchinson said she was told.
- White House staff were divided over how to respond to the insurrection. Some urged the president to issue a strong denunciation, while others hoped to deflect blame away from the president, who was reluctant to condemn the rioters.
- Some in the administration discussed invoking the 25th Amendment, which allows for a transfer of power if the president is deemed unfit to serve.
- Hutchinson said Trump had a history of outbursts and had thrown his food against the wall when he learned that Attorney General William Barr had said in a December 2020 interview there was no evidence of election fraud.
Hearing Seven: July 12, 2022
Links between far-right groups and Trump
In the seventh hearing, the committee spelt out the connection between Trump’s rhetoric and far-right groups such as the Proud Boys, as well as the tension between various staff members in the White House with differing views on claims of fraud.
- Vice Chair Liz Cheney said that Trump tried to contact a witness before they testified and that the incident had been referred to the Justice Department. Cheney added that the committee took “any efforts to influence witness testimony very seriously”.
- The committee connected Trump’s rhetoric to the actions of far-right groups such as the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys. A former member of the Oath Keepers called the group violent and dangerous, and a former intelligence official testified that the proposed actions on January 6 enhanced coordination between far-right groups.
- Witnesses described a tense atmosphere in the White House as various members of the administration squared off with each other over competing approaches to the stolen election lie. At one point, Trump ally Rudy Giuliani accused aides unwilling to promote the myth of election fraud “a bunch of p***ies”.
Hearing Eight: July 21, 2022
Trump’s actions on January 6, 2021
In the eighth hearing, the committee focused on Trump’s conduct on the day of the riot, stressing that he did not act quickly enough to stop the rioters, violating his oath of office. They said members of Vice President Mike Pence’s team were afraid for their lives.
- Committee chair Bennie Thompson said Trump ignored the pleas of his own family, and refused to call for an end to the riot.
- Congresswoman Elaine Luria said for 187 minutes Trump refused to act and watched the events unfolding on television from his dining room in a “selfish desire to stay in power”.
- Panel members said Trump did not call law enforcement, military leaders, or government officials to stop the violence. Instead, he called senators “to encourage them to delay or object to the certification” of the election.
- An anonymous White House security official said that members of the vice president’s security team were afraid for their lives as many rioters turned their anger on Pence for his refusal to overturn the results of the election.
- Congressman Adam Kinzinger said Trump’s conduct the day of the riot was a clear violation of his oath of office. Two other members of the panel, Luria and Liz Cheney, repeated that same accusation.
More hearings are expected in September, no dates have been set yet.