When the Jan. 6 committee announced that their next hearing would provide a minute-by-minute account of what Donald Trump was doing during his 187 minutes of inactivity as the insurgency unfolded, it sounded like the premise of a bad action movie. What they delivered was certainly a thriller, but of an absolutely frantic kind. The hearing presented such a devastating indictment of the former president’s dereliction of duty to the Constitution and the nation that only those who were completely intoxicated from the MAGA Kool-Aid could ignore the findings.
this 9e edition of the weeklong series and the last primetime hearing of the summer it took to deliver the goods, and it did it in spades. Like its predecessors, it not only provided new information with devastating effect; it also caused us to reassess what we already knew. It’s no secret that Trump spent those 187 minutes fiddling while the Capitol was on fire. But as the evening made painfully clear, it’s not just that he did nothing to quell the violence. His silence and his inflammatory tweets pushed it further.
“President Trump has not failed to act, he has chosen not to act,” said Representative Adam Kinzinger, who co-chaired the evening with fellow congressman Elaine Luria. That they both served in the military, as did former Deputy National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger, one of the two witnesses, only reinforced the sense of patriotism that fueled the inquiry into how close our democracy was to faltering.
As it turns out, Trump spent most of the time in question in his private dining room, watching television (only Fox News, of course). He also made a lot of phone calls, although we don’t know exactly who, because the White House Daily Diary and Call Log went strangely empty during those hours. Trump is apparently the only president in history to rely on burner phones. He made no attempt to deploy military or law enforcement officers to turn back the murderous rioters. But he apparently contacted the senators to urge them to delay the vote counting, and Rudy Giuliani to do whatever Rudy Giuliani is doing.
The committee heard testimony from Pottinger and former White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews, who have both preserved their dignity and reputation by choosing to resign in the immediate aftermath of Jan. 6. And both made for impressive witnesses, with the square-jawed Pottinger radiating respect for the rule of law and Matthews, a lifelong Republican, expressing her moral outrage at Trump’s refusal to recall his violent followers.
As they have repeatedly done, the committee has cleverly used the words of Trump’s Republican enablers against them. Numerous video and audio clips brought vivid memories of the initial denunciation of Trump’s actions by the likes of Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, who have since expressed support for the former president if he were to serve again. The most delightful moment was a photo of Josh Hawley doing his infamous fist pump while supporting protesters from behind a protective barricade, followed by footage of him frantically fleeing when they actually invaded the Capitol. To get the point home, the footage was replayed in slow motion and will hopefully be available as a screensaver soon.
Hawley wasn’t the only one fearing for his life, it turns out. Even the Secret Service agents protecting Pence began to panic, as poignant clips from their radio traffic made clear. As the rioters got closer and closer to the vice president, some of them began calling and shouting goodbyes to family members, even as Trump tweeted attacks on Pence. “He put a target on the back of his own vice president,” Luria noted, while Matthews remarked in disgust that Trump was “pouring gasoline on the fire.”
While Trump sat in his dining room, everyone in his orbit begged him to do something, something, to tell his demented followers to resign. This included his aides, advisers, congressional Republicans, his children and, who showed rare moments of clarity, Fox News personalities. Don Jr. texted Mark Meadows that his father’s legacy would be destroyed if Meadows didn’t convince him to do something. “This is one where you go to the mattresses,” he insisted, probably in the worst… Godfather reference ever.
In a pre-recorded testimony, Pat Cipollone said he too tried to persuade Trump to do something, but to no avail. During his interrogation, the former White House attorney occasionally looked in despair at this own attorney, who reminded him not to answer certain questions because of administrative law. Anyway, at least Cipollone didn’t take the Fifth.
It’s not fair to say Trump hasn’t done anything all this time. He tweeted. He probably realized that his followers have short attention spans and helpfully sent a link to a video of the incendiary speech he had just delivered at the Ellipse Rally.
Trump eventually got around to delivering his infamous Rose Garden speech, in which he ignored the carefully written comments prepared for him and instead blew a wet kiss at the rioters. After begging them to go home, he added, “We love you, you’re very special.” His last tweet of the day reminded them to “remember this day forever” as if they had just attended their last prom instead of trying to overthrow democracy.
There was also unedited footage of Trump attempting to record his January 7 video condemning the rioters’ actions. Not since Albert Brooks in Broadcasting news has anyone struggled so in vain to get through a shot. “I don’t want to say ‘the elections are over,'” he told his aides as he made his way through the brief remarks, finally whining: “My sole purpose was to ensure the integrity of the vote.”
Towards the end of the evening, Pottinger further condemned Trump’s actions, unfavorably comparing him to such not-heavy losers as Al Gore and, in the 1960 election, Richard Nixon. (You know how far we have sunk when Richard Nixon was cited as a moral paradigm.) He made a strong argument that the events of January 6 “encouraged our enemies” and that our national security was weakened as a result. There was also audio footage of Steve Bannon, recorded just days before January 6, detailing Trump’s strategy to topple the election as an over-explanatory Bond villain.
As usual, Liz Cheney was a force of nature during the proceedings, and I say that as someone who can’t wait to deeply disagree with Liz Cheney again. Her scathing conclusion, in which she denounced Trump for abusing his followers’ trust by “hunting for their patriotism,” would have given Perry Mason the ghost. Trump claims not to watch the hearings, but we all know he is. And there’s no doubt that her closing words, “We’ll see you all in September,” made him shudder.