The January 6th select committee is continuing to pick apart the events and forces that led up to the attack on the Capitol.
Officials from across the country have testified about the pressure campaign by then President Trump and his confidantes.
Today, On Point: After weeks two of hearings, what have we learned about Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election?
Andrea Bernstein, co-host of Will Be Wild, a podcast about the forces that led to the January 6th insurrection. Previously co-hosted Trump Inc., a podcast about President Trump’s business dealings. (@AndreaBNYC)
What is the case that the select committee is trying to make this week?
Andrea Bernstein: On the first night of the hearings, way back on June 9th, which seems about forever ago, Representative Liz Cheney said that they were going to be unveiling a seven part plan to block the peaceful transfer of power. They haven't explicitly laid out what the elements of each of those parts are, but we now see a pattern. So this week, the select committee focused on two parts. One was what we heard yesterday, which was this really sort of chilling account of this dramatic meeting in the Oval Office on January 3rd, just three days before the attack, where the top people in the Justice Department and in the White House counsel's office are arguing for their lives that Trump shouldn't appoint a lower level Justice Department official who wanted to go along with Trump's plan to essentially invalidate the electoral votes that had already been certified.
This lower level official, Jeffrey Clarke, had said he would do it. And it was only after 3 hours, almost, of arguing that the president decided, well, actually he was going to abandon that plan because he couldn't get it through. So that is one part of what the select committee has called this multipart coordinated plan to block the peaceful transfer of power.
The other part that we heard this week was this wide ranging, organized and really, as we learned, coming from former President Trump himself, plan to develop these sets of what's being called fake electors, which is to say, this was after the electoral votes had already been certified, there was an attempt that appears to have been organized by presidential attorney John Eastman and others, to put together these alternate slates of electors so that they could make some kind of legally dubious claim that there was a dispute on January 6th.
And then we also heard in last week's hearing about the president's pressure campaign on Mike Pence, including this dramatic phone call which he had in front of his whole family at 11:20. So not even hours, basically an hour and a half, before the Capitol was breached, where, according to his own daughter, Trump was having a heated conversation with his vice president. So those are some of the parts of the plan that have come out, and specifically the ones that have come out this week.
What do you think the committee was trying to achieve by focusing on these points?
Ilya Marritz: I think what the committee is trying to show is the most important ways in which President Trump was conducting a pressure campaign. We've heard that phrase a few times. And what's very striking when you watch the hearings is that that same phrase applies kind of across the board. There was a pressure campaign on Vice President Pence to get him to assert powers that he didn't actually have, to invalidate the election, that was coming from from the president's lawyer, John Eastman, and from the president himself. There was a pressure campaign on state and local officials, and that changed form over time.
But, you know, at points it was about fake electors. It was about invalidating their own vote. And there was a pressure campaign within the Justice Department. And that's what we heard about yesterday. And what was so striking for me in that section is this is the highest law office in the country. This is not some podunk office. These are some of the most qualified lawyers in the nation. And the president is telling them, and people who are more knowledgeable about the law than the president himself, by a great deal, and he's telling them, you got to do this thing, you got to intervene in the election.
And they're coming back and saying, actually, the Department of Justice doesn't have very much of a role to play in the election. You know, the broad outlines of what we've learned from these hearings would be familiar to somebody who read The New York Times and The Washington Post really, really closely. But what's new here for me, and what I think is so powerful, is these eyewitness accounts, people who were in the room with the president, people who were his lawyers or his campaign advisers, telling us, telling the American public what they told him, which is that you lost the election and what you're proposing is not lawful.
On violence on Jan. 6th
Andrea Bernstein: I think that the link between the Big Lie and violence is one of the recurring themes that has shown up. And, you know, we've heard this in these hearings, the officials who've been threatened. I mean, this is a Republican secretary of state, Trump loyalist. When we were interviewing people for our podcast Will Be Wild, every single former Trump administration official that I spoke to talked about being threatened by violence. Some of them had to hire security guards to protect their families. Some of them had to move. We see this over and over again. It was something that was known even before January 6th, that the president's words could and did lead to violence. So while we see that track, we also see this other track of him trying to, you know, overturn the Justice Department.
On messaging from the Republicans
Ilya Marritz: I think there's definitely going to be messaging from the Republican side and precisely what form that's going to take. We'll have to see. I don't think that they have succeeded to the president's satisfaction so far. And, you know, frankly, there is a weakness to only hearing the prosecution's view. You know, we've seen a lot of video clips from people like Ronna McDaniel, head of the RNC, Jason Miller, a Trump adviser, lots of people who are close to Trump. But they've been, you know, very brief.
A twelve-second clip doesn't tell you the substance of everything that Ronna McDaniel had to say or Jason Miller. And what I hope is that eventually the committee is going to lay down this story in a more fulsome way. The committee is charged with authoring a report. I think that's a good thing. All indications are they want to write a report that will actually be read and be readable and interesting. But I think they need to go one step further. I think they need to release deposition transcripts, documents, materials they've gathered, possibly video, and really create a body of of information that Americans can turn to when they try to understand this very troubling and aberrant and unusual chapter in our history, the only non-peaceful transfer of power in our history.
On what's different about the select committee's findings
Andrea Bernstein: So in the course of putting together our podcast Will Be Wild, Ilya and I began watching congressional hearings, you know, quite early, obviously watching the impeachment, the second impeachment trial. But there were hearings that took place through the course of the spring of 2021. And they were just all heat and no light. Because you had some of these Republican members of the House of Representative, including some of the people that we now know asked for pardons, spending their 5 minutes just basically restating the Big Lie. And so when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy opposed the idea of having Jim Jordan and others that were very much, and are still espousing the Big Lie on the committee, Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected that.
So what you have is this committee of seven Democrats, two Republicans who've been effectively excommunicated by their party, but all dedicated to finding out what happened. So this is extremely different from any of the other congressional hearings or impeachment trials that we've watched, because it is all about revealing information. Now, we don't have the back story. There is no cross examination. If there was a criminal trial, obviously there'd be a defense case mounted. But I do think that this is really serving the truth of what happened.
And, you know, referring back to Judge Carter's decision, this was a civil case about whether John Eastman's email should be released to the committee, and most of them weren't. I think we've seen the fruits of that in this investigation. But Judge Carter, a federal judge in the ninth District, did say that he thought it was more likely than not that the president had committed crimes. So what the committee is sort of doing here is is giving that argument momentum now. I think one of the big questions that people still have on their minds is, Did the president somehow organize the violence at the Capitol?
We know he told people to go and fight on January 6th. We know he told them to go march to the Capitol. But that is still a big question. ... Did he have any prior knowledge that we still don't know? And maybe we'll learn that in the hearings to come.
This program aired on June 24, 2022.