Forty minutes before the start of the January 6 committee hearing Thursday the freezing cold Caucus room in the House Cannon building was fully packed: journalists were wedged tightly around a few tables behind the seats for witnesses, while members of Congress who were not part of the committee were in the second row. Only Congressional Democrats were present.
The committee showed video of rioters trying to get to the House chamber where the joint session of Congress to certify the vote was being held. A camera caught the leader of the House Progressive Caucus, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who appeared visibly scared by the insurrection. She was present at the hearing and got emotional after watching herself during the attack.
In an interview with the Voice of America, Jayapal said: “Honestly, it was so difficult to watch and just knowing that we were here together and at that moment experiencing the trauma of fearing for our life. But tonight, I also felt outraged that this criminal traitor was in the White House and caused all of this violence. And the violence hasn’t gone away. It’s still in our cities. It’s still happening, but people believe that the election was stolen. It’s unbelievable to me as an immigrant who came here at 16 because I thought this was the greatest democracy in the world, that this is what we’re watching.”
The committee presented new raw videos of Trump’s preparations to record his speech after the riot. His gestures are angry while he negotiates with his daughter, Ivanka, over the text of his video statement. While rehearsing, he said, “I don’t want to say the election is over!”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who called Trump and pleaded for help, also called family members, describing the situation on the ground as “very ugly.”
Vice President Mike Pence was too close to rioters chanting “hang Mike Pence” for his security team’s comfort. A witness, whose identity was not revealed by the committee, said members of the vice president’s security detail feared for their lives and called to say goodbye to their families.
The January 6th committee so far has held eight hearings this summer, the first on June 9. During the first seven hearings, members of the committee laid out the structure of their findings on the attempts by Trump and his supporters to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Each hearing has served to present different angles of their findings with topics including the involvement and preparation of far-right groups participating in the riot, Trump’s allegations of massive electoral fraud in the state of Georgia even though none was ever documented, the attitude of several White House officials to the narrative of a stolen victory and attempts to pressure Pence to reject the results of Electoral College.
Personal testimony, such as statements of U.S. Capitol Police officers who faced off with rioters, election workers who were harassed after being accused by Trump of election fraud, a Trump supporter who came to the January 6 demonstration and then marched to the U.S. Capitol, and witnesses, added context to each hearing.
Members and staff of the January 6th committee interviewed behind closed doors more than 1,000 people. The list included close Trump confidantes, such as former Trump attorneys Giuliani and Sidney Powell, retired General Michael Flynn, former White House legal counsels Pat Cipollone and Eric Herschmann, an assistant to the White House chief of staff Cassidy Hutchinson, members of the Trump family, including Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, and some Cabinet members, including former Attorney General William Barr and Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley.
Two Republicans agreed to serve on the nine-member committee – and they were appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, instead of their party leadership.
Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming, directly addressed members of her party during the first hearing.
“I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible,” she said. “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”
McCarthy, a Trump supporter, has repeatedly refused to cooperate with the committee.
Jason Jay Smart, an American political consultant who has advised on international as well as U.S. Republican campaigns, said he views the existence of the January 6 investigation and the timeline of its hearing as a “political campaign to make Trump look bad.”
“Why this allegation is different, why it’s happening right now, it’s also a question. It’s not a coincidence that two years after the event, it happens right now specifically before the (midterm) elections, which are in three months,” Smart said. “If you look back on the impeachment, [this] is something that won’t really hurt Trump in the long term, in the short term it will. It also will not change his core voters, who will not change their opinion based upon this, but those who are undecided probably will have a negative opinion of him for the time being.”
Jennifer Mercieca, a Texas A&M University associate professor whose area of focus is government, has conducted research on public rhetoric and the American political culture.
Mercieca said the committee has presented a strong case about Trump’s role in the insurrection. She said it is important the January 6 committee asked for testimony from members of the former Trump administration, as well as people who were part of far-right movements, such as the Oath Keepers.
“I think that even if you distrust the motives of the committee members or the Democratic Party, the January 6th committee has provided evidence that is solely from Republicans who worked with Trump in his administration. Those people who have testified for the committee have done so incredibly, while they and their family’s safety were at risk,” she said. “There’s nothing for them to gain from testifying, which means that they are truth-tellers in the classic sense.”