“January 6 was the culmination of an attempted coup, a brazen attempt, as one rioter put it shortly after January 6, to overthrow the government.”
So spoke Democratic congressman Bennie Thompson in June, as the Jan 6 committee held its first televised meeting into the events that befell the building the nation’s elected officials were sitting in just 18 months earlier, as Donald Trump and his supporters tried to prevent Joe Biden taking office.
His co-chair, Republican congresswomen Liz Cheney, spoke in equally stark terms. Trump had a seven-part plan to stay in power, she said, and when rioters chanted “Hang Mike Pence”, the then president thought his deputy may have deserved it.
There were nine hearings this year, with one held in 2021, of what is formally called the United States House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack.
Now, according to Thompson, the committee plans to make criminal referrals to the Justice Department. However, it’s unclear whom the committee will focus on with its referrals.
The hearings were produced with the help of a former ABC News executive, and at times as many as 20 million people tuned in.
Some of the revelations stick in the mind for their sheer drama, such as Trump chief-of-staff Mark Meadows’ top aide Cassidy Hutchinson revealing how she had been told Trump tried to grasp the steering wheel of his SUV when he was told he not return to the Capitol as his supporters stormed it.
The radio transmissions of Secret Service officers protecting Pence captured the anxiety in their voices as they feared they going to be overrun, and the committee was told some used their cellphones to dial loved ones, unsure if they would survive the day.
Other revelations included: that Rudy Giuliani, formerly Trump’s lawyer and a leading election conspiracy theorist, reportedly admitted he had no evidence of fraud; that the former New York mayor – while “intoxicated” (something he later denied) – urged Trump to prematurely claim victory on election night; that attorney general Bill Barr made clear to Trump that his fraud claims were “bulls***”; that even the defeated president’s daughter Ivanka didn’t believe his election fraud claims: and that Trump knew on January 6 that his supporters were armed – but wanted them let in to his speech anyway.
Two election workers from Georgia testified over the threats and abuse they received after the former president started spreading conspiracy theories about them online. And there was a rare moment of laughter as the committee played video of Republican senator Josh Hawley – who had been pictured riling up the mob before the riot – running away once the insurrection was under way.
The committee also delivered a jolt when it revealed just how physically close those chanting rioters were from the vice president.
“Approximately 40 feet. That’s all there was,” congressman Pete Aguilar told one hearing. “Forty feet between the vice president and the mob.”
Cheney, defeated in the Wyoming Republican primary by a Trump backed challenger and pondering a possible future outside of the Republican Party, revealed the committee had obtained 800,000 pages of communication materials from the Secret Service.
A poll for NPR-PBS NewsHour Marist found that that around six in 10 Americans said they were paying at least some attention to the Jan 6 hearings.
“Although inflation is a top concern for a plurality of Americans, including 57 per cent of Republicans and 42 per cent of independents, the issues which are percolating below are abortion, guns, health care, and the January 6th hearings,” wrote Lee Miringoff, Director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion.
He added: “The combination of these other issues resonates with 44 per cent of independents and 76 per cent of Democrats.”
Republican pollster Sarah Longwell, who has long organised focus groups and has also long been opposed to Trump, tells The Independent that for the first time some people who previously voted for the former president were looking to throw their support behind someone else, such as Florida governor Ron DeSantis.
“It is very much not that Trump voters are sitting down and listening to these hearings and being persuaded that Trump is bad. That is not what is happening,” says Longwell.
“The Jan 6 hearings are creating a lot of ambient noise about all the stuff Trump makes people defend that they don’t like. They want to be talking right now about why Biden’s so bad, about inflation. They want to talk about why the world is in such a bad place because of the ‘socialist Democrats’. That’s what Trump voters want to talk about.”
Liz Cheney says there could be criminal penalties for Trump
Democrats have long rued the fact that very often, little seems to stick to Trump, who has always defended his actions on January 6.
Despite being impeached twice by the House, having been beaten by Joe Biden in 2020, and being the focus of separate investigations by the FBI and prosecutor in New York State, Trump has now announced he will run again for the White House.
Moreover, polls suggest that he remains a popular choice among many in his party.
A poll from July by Morning Consult/Politico found that 66 per cent of Republicans thought he should run for president in 2024, while 30 per cent thought he should not, those figures only slightly down from March.
In contrast, around just 51 per cent of Democrats think Biden should run for re-election – down from 66 per cent in March – while as many as 40 per cent of voters think he should not.
There were some who watched the hearings who believe they provided a stunning wake up call to Americans about what is at sake in future elections.
Kristen Doerer, an expert on right wing extremism and the Managing Editor of Right Wing Watch, says the hearings showed that Trump and his supporters carried out “a month long plot to overturn the election results and keep Trump in power”.
Like many, Doerer was struck by the details that emerged about what happened – the role of conservative lawyer John Eastman in trying to persuade Pence not to certify the election, the pressure put on local state election officials, and the attempt to assign their own “electors” in states where they lost.
“The … hearings have shown that this was a failed coup,” she says.
“I think we knew some of this, but what we didn’t know was the details.”
Doerer cites former Republican congressman Denver Riggleman, who served as an investigator for the committee.
In a book and in an appearance on CBS’s 60 Minutes, Riggleman said the text messages from Meadows viewed by the committee “provide irrefutable, time-stamped proof of a comprehensive plot at all levels of government to overturn the election”.
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