Back in the age of Watergate, the Congressional hearings that eventually brought down Richard Nixon aimed to answer two questions: What did the president know; and when did he know it?
The congressional hearings into the Jan. 6 insurrection fomented by former President Donald Trump have provided clear and obvious answers to these questions. Trump knew everything.
He knew he lost the 2020 election. He knew his claims of fraud were nonsense. He knew that every step of his campaign to steal the election he lost was illegal: from the intimidation of state officials and election workers, to the scheme to empower fake electors, to the plot to corrupt the Justice Department.
He knew he was breaking the law because literally every sane person around him — from his lawyers to his most loyal advisors — told him so, repeatedly.
Now, thanks to Tuesday’s unplanned and explosive sixth hearing, we know just how out of control Donald Trump became, after his multiple efforts to steal the election failed.
Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide to Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, painted a precise and chilling portrait of Trump’s White House on Jan. 6 and the days immediately preceding it. Based on her testimony, we know the following:
— The insurrection was premeditated.
— Numerous staffers feared and anticipated violence on Jan. 6.
— Trump knew his supporters were armed on Jan. 6, and actually urged security officials to remove metal detectors anyway, because “they’re not here to hurt me.”
— Trump’s lawyers urged him to remove inciting language from his speech, and he refused.
— The president wanted to join the insurrectionists at the Capitol, where he would perhaps have given a speech and/or even lead the rioters into the building.
— He threw an actual tantrum in his SUV when his Secret Service chief told him they would not bring him to the Capitol. He attempted to grab the steering wheel, before physically attacking the officer on duty to protect him.
— Trump was aware of the violence unleashed on the Capitol police, which eventually resulted in dozens of injuries and five deaths.
— He ignored dozens of his allies — from his daughter, Ivanka, to Fox News hosts — who pleaded with him to call off the mob.
— Trump believed the protestors were doing nothing wrong, even in threatening to hang Vice President Mike Pence.
— And we know that Mark Meadows himself, when confronted by Hutchinson, could only stare at his phone in shame.
Hutchinson’s testimony merely confirmed what most Americans already know: that Trump was so morally deranged by the end of his presidency that he was eager for the bloodletting carried out in his name.
Even before the hearings set out, in vivid detail, Trump’s behavior on Jan. 6, it’s obvious to anyone — the ex-president is guilty of treason. But for the courage of his Secret Service detail, Trump might literally have led an armed attack on a co-equal branch of government. You cannot perform an action any more treasonous.
If Attorney General Merrick Garland doesn’t indict Trump and his allies, President Biden should fire him and appoint an attorney general who will.
It is the job of our elected officials to make sure that the darkness Trump represents does not become a permanent feature of American political life. If it does, we are in danger of no longer having free or fair elections.
But even more importantly: those who can accept the truth of what Trump is — a sociopath with no regard for any human life beyond his own — must disavow his seditious demagoguery.
The alternative, as history may yet show, is that they are complicit in the destruction of American democracy.