By LISA MASCARO and MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The House of Representatives Jan. 6 committee was launched under deep political skepticism: What more can be said about the deadly 2021 Capitol insurgency that unfolded in full view of the world?
A lot, it turns out.
This month’s public hearings show in detail how close the United States came to a constitutional crisis when President Donald Trump refused to admit election defeat. Trump tried to use the powers of the presidency to prevent Democrat Joe Biden from being certified as the winner. When that didn’t work, Trump summoned a crowd to the Capitol.
Despite the unprecedented attack on the Capitol, the audiences carry echoes of United States history.
Like the Watergate hearings 50 years ago, Committee 1/6 portrayed a president “detached from reality”, as testified by Trump’s Attorney General Bill Barr. As happened in McCarthy’s anti-Communist days, the testimony prompted a backlash – a sense of civic decency from officials, including many fellow Republicans, who did their jobs, despite grave personal risk. , to ensure that the 2020 election was legitimate.
“The backbone of democracy,” as the committee chair, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss, put it.
What we know so far from the January 6 public hearings and what’s to come.
“AGAIN AND AGAIN”
Almost everyone around Trump understood that he was losing the November 3, 2020 election.
From his campaign manager Bill Stepien, who encouraged Trump on election night not to claim victory yet, to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who testified that she knew it was too early to say that he had won.
But Trump nonetheless clung to false allegations of voter fraud and declared himself the winner.
“Time and time again,” the defeated president was told there was no evidence of voter fraud that could have swayed the result for him, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said, opening the committee hearings.
Trump was told by his own campaign team that the numbers just weren’t there for him and by Barr, who told Trump flatly that allegations of a fraudulent election were just “bull—-“.
However, an influential personality had the ear of the president.
Lawyer Rudy Giuliani visited Trump on White House election night and encouraged him to declare victory. Witnesses said Giuliani was intoxicated and they tried to drive him away – all claims Giuliani has since said are false.
Trump launched a relentless campaign, publicly and privately, to try to stop Biden’s victory, the committee’s investigation found.
Trump has relied on officials at the highest levels of government to find more votes or reject already confirmed voters. He filed dozens of legal challenges in tightly contested states, hoping to turn defeat into victory.
When one judge after another, many of whom Trump had named, dismissed or refused to take the prosecutions, Trump used the power of his presidency to pressure those responsible to act.
“Get 11,780 votes,” Trump demanded of Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state for Georgia, a state Trump narrowly lost.
The Republican House speaker from Arizona testified to a Trump appeal in which the president made an unprecedented proposal to reject Biden’s list of voters, who had won the state.
Trump’s own Justice Department has been harassed by a president calling at all hours during the Christmas holiday season to investigate his far-flung fraud theories, former officials testified.
“What I’m just asking you to do is say it was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican members of Congress,” Trump, the No. 2 Justice Department official, said. the time, Richard Donoghue, testified.
Says Thompson: “He wanted the Department of Justice to help him legitimize his lies.”
As the country endures years of political division, the hearings present another vision – stewards of democracy who kept the election and its aftermath secure, despite great risk.
The witnesses, mostly Republicans, give striking testimonies of their work.
Raffensperger failed to get the 11,780 votes in Georgia demanded by Trump.
Bowers refused to replace Arizona’s voters list as Trump wanted.
Barr quit rather than stick around for Trump’s ideas. The rest of the Justice Department’s leadership ranks have threatened to leave if Trump follows through on his plan to elevate department official Jeffrey Clark to acting attorney general and order states to block voters. .
A mother-daughter pair of election workers have delivered tearful testimony of the violent harassment and death threats they faced after Trump and Giuliani falsely slandered them as having committed voter fraud.
“Nowhere do I feel safe,” said Ruby Freeman, a temporary election worker. “Do you know what it’s like to be targeted by the President of the United States? »
Thompson called them the “unsung heroes” who did their job against the greats.
WATERGATE, CIVIC DECENCE AND ECHOES OF HISTORY
Trump’s desperate actions in the run-up to the Jan. 6 Capitol siege are unprecedented in scale, but carry echoes of earlier eras.
Defeated Trump tried to beef up his Justice Department for political gain, much like President Richard Nixon fired his top brass in the “Saturday Night Massacre” before he resigned.
At the same time, Trump’s bogus allegations of voter fraud have prompted a counter-response from the ranks of officials who are pushing back against what is seen as excessive executive power.
“I said, ‘Listen, you’re asking me to do something that’s against my oath,'” Bowers said.
Cheney has been compared to Margaret Chase Smith, the Republican senator from Maine who stood up half a century ago to warn her party of the political excesses of McCarthy’s hearings.
Far from completely defeated, Trump reconsidered another run for the White House,
Trump denounced the Jan. 6 hearings as a “witch hunt” and complained about House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy’s “poor decision” to remove most Republicans from the committee, leaving the former complete helpless president.
The committee cannot press charges against Trump, but the Justice Department is closely monitoring the proceedings. This week, federal authorities raided Clark’s home and seized files from key Republicans in at least four states linked to Trump’s efforts to void the 2020 election.
The committee will resume work after lawmakers return from a July 4 break.
The hearings are expected to show how Trump’s “big lie” of voter fraud led directly to the murderous Capitol siege, the committee said.
When lawsuits and pressure campaigns failed, Trump summoned supporters to Washington on January 6, when Congress was due to meet in joint session to tally the Electoral College vote.
The committee has previously shown how Vice President Mike Pence, who had chaired that session, was forced to flee to safety as crowds shouting “Hang Mike Pence” descended on the Capitol. Rioters came within 40 feet of where Pence was sequestered.
Extremist groups, including the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, face rare sedition charges for their role in the Capitol siege.
The committee is expected to conclude its work this summer and report its findings in the fall.
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