Former President Donald Trump ignored the urgent advice of aides and clear evidence he lost the 2020 election as he tried to engineer a coup that shook the foundations of American democracy, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol uprising said this week. In the opening of its televised hearings, committee chair Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said that Trump “lit the fuse that ultimately resulted in the violence of Jan. 6.” Using videotaped testimony of former Trump associates, Thompson and vice chair Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) methodically laid out their case that Trump incited the Capitol attack with false claims of fraud and refused to intervene for 187 minutes as his supporters assaulted police officers, smashed through doors and windows, and sent lawmakers scurrying for safety while advisers and family members pleaded with him to call off the mob. Numerous top advisers—including then–Attorney General William Barr and campaign manager Bill Stepien—told Trump there was no credible evidence to support nonsensical conspiracy theories about rigged voting machines and suitcases filled with fake ballots. “I told him that the stuff that his people were shoveling out to the public was bullshit,” Barr said, calling Trump “detached from reality” and not interested in “actual facts.”
The opening hearing included harrowing, previously unseen video of rioters smashing windows, savagely attacking police, and chanting “Hang Mike Pence”—a fate that Trump reportedly said his vice president deserved. In live testimony, a Capitol Police officer, Caroline Edwards, described “slipping in people’s blood” amid “hours of hand-to-hand combat” that left her and more than 140 officers badly injured. “It was carnage,” she said. “It was chaos.”
Trump issued a 12-page rebuttal calling the hearings “a ridiculous and treasonous attempt to cover up the fact that Democrats rigged the Election.” Many Republicans dismissed the hearings as a partisan attack on Trump and the GOP, and an effort to distract voters from Democrats’ failures on inflation, gas prices, and crime. Cheney, one of two Republicans on the committee, said estranged colleagues who defend Trump are “defending the indefensible,” adding, “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”
What the editorials said
In its “riveting” presentations, the committee has done “more than just remind Americans of that day’s horror,” said The Washington Post. It has offered compelling new evidence of how Trump launched “a frontal assault on U.S. democracy.” Some may dismiss this as “ancient history,” but it assuredly is not. Not only is Trump still considering a 2024 run—allies determined to “remake the Republican Party in his image” are currently on “ballots all over the country.”
The hearings are a partisan effort to “unfairly besmirch the entire GOP,” said The Wall Street Journal. But that doesn’t mean Trump’s actions weren’t a “disgrace.” He lied repeatedly about an election he’d clearly lost, “riled up” gullible supporters to march on the Capitol, and “dawdled instead of sending help” after they turned violent. “The person who owns Jan. 6 is Donald Trump,” and he’s still duping his followers.
What the columnists said
Barr and even Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, provided damning testimony with real legal implications, said Timothy O’Brien in Bloomberg. They testified that it was clear that the claims of a stolen election were false, which is key to showing Trump “intended to commit a crime when he staged an attempted coup.” Attorney General Merrick Garland pointedly said this week he and federal prosecutors are watching the hearings.
It’s now “virtually inevitable” the famously cautious Garland will launch a criminal investigation of the former president, said Georgetown law professor Neal Katyal in The New York Times. The committee has already laid out strong evidence Trump committed “serious federal crimes,” including attempted obstruction of an official proceeding—in this case the Jan. 6 vote certification. He might also be charged with “conspiracy to defraud the United States” by collaborating with others to send falsely chosen Republican electors, and with wire fraud, for duping his own supporters into donating $250 million for a legal fund to overturn the election—a fund the committee said never existed.
By indulging in Trump hatred, Democrats are just “paving the way” for his return to the Oval Office, said Marc Thiessen in The Washington Post. They’ve sent a “clear signal” that they think Jan. 6 is “the single most important issue” facing the country—not inflation, crime, record gas prices, or “the border catastrophe.” Most voters are not likely to agree.
The danger Trump poses hasn’t passed, said Karen Tumulty, also in The Washington Post. Even as the testimony unfolds, Republican candidates trumpeting the Big Lie are “running on promises to further undermine the electoral process”—including contenders for governor, attorney general, and secretary of state in key swing states. “The sedition continues,” and next time the insurrectionists “might succeed.”
Cover illustration by Fred Harper.
Cover photos from Getty (3)