The first hearing from the House committee investigating January 6 Thursday night was a shocking testament to a day of chaos at the US Capitol that left several people dead and more than a hundred police officers injured.
For two hours, committee chair Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, and vice chair Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming, systematically laid out a simple but profound case: former President Donald Trump was not only aware of the violence that erupted after that day’s “Stop the Steal,” rally but he approved of it and had spent weeks encouraging the insurrection.
Missed the hearing? Below are the lines from it that you need to see. (These are in rough chronological order.)
1. “Donald Trump was at the center of this conspiracy.” – Thompson
One of the questions going into the hearing was how hard the committee would go after Trump in terms of his direct culpability for what happened on January 6. This line from Thompson, which came in the opening moments of the hearing, cleared up any doubt on that front. The committee alleges that Trump was not just a member of the orchestra in what happened that day, he was the conductor.
2. “The conspiracy to thwart the will of the people is not over.” – Thompson
This is critically important to understand. Yes, the committee is spending the bulk of its time focused on what happened on that January day last year. But as Trump and his allies continue to actively attempt to undermine the 2020 election, they are also working to ensure that if a similar situation comes to pass in 2024, that an attempt to overthrow the election could be more successful. This isn’t just about the past; it’s about the present and the future too.
3. “Mike Pence ‘deserves it.’” – Trump, as relayed by a witness
According to Cheney, who was describing testimony from a witness, that was how Trump responded to chants from the rioters of “Hang Mike Pence.” Consider that for a minute: With a gallows standing outside the US Capitol, the President of the United States suggested that his vice president, who had spent the previous four years at his side, should be hung because he refused to overturn a free and fair election.
4. “The attack on our Capitol was not a spontaneous riot.” – Cheney
In the wake of the riot at the Capitol, Trump allies have made an argument that goes like this: This was, largely, a peaceful protest. Some people got out of hand, but that was never the intent. “Nothing was planned. It just simply happened,” said Trump loyalist and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene earlier this week. “They want to say Trump did it. Well, no, President Trump did not do it. Republican members of Congress didn’t do it.”
The findings presented by the committee say otherwise. On Thursday, the committee showed video of the leaders of two far-right groups – the Proud Boyd and the Oath Keepers – meeting in a parking garage before the riot, and outlined other pieces of evidence that pointed to the notion that this was no spur of the moment decision to storm the Capitol.
5. “So there’s no there there.” – White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, as relayed by Trump campaign lawyer Alex Cannon
Cannon testified that after he told Meadows in “mid-to-late November” that the campaign wasn’t finding examples of widespread election fraud, that is how Meadows responded. Let me reemphasize that point: In NOVEMBER 2020, Trump’s chief of staff knew the claims he was making were bunk.
6. “I accepted what [Bill Barr] was saying.” – Ivanka Trump
Some context: Barr, the attorney general in the waning days of the Trump administration, had made plain to anyone who asked – including the President – that he saw zero evidence of widespread voter fraud in the election. Ivanka Trump told the committee that she believed Barr. Oomph.
7. “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and Republican congressmen.” – Trump, as relayed by Cheney
This is what Cheney said Trump told top officials at the Department of Justice leading up to January 6. It’s important because it suggests that Trump wasn’t just egging on outside forces to object to the election results. He was also trying to use the levers of official power to do so.
8. “He ultimately knew that his fidelity to the Constitution was his first and foremost oath.” – Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short
If anyone from the Trump administration came off looking good in Thursday’s hearing, it was Pence. During the riot itself, Pence was clear-eyed about the threat and the need for the administration to speak out on it. Before the riot, Pence repeatedly rejected attempts by Trump and his allies to overturn the election via the Electoral College count.
9. “There is no doubt that President Trump was well aware of the violence as it developed.” – Cheney
One of the central questions the committee needs to answer is what Trump was doing between around 1 p.m. when he wrapped up his speech at the “Stop the Steal” rally, and 4:17 pm, when he released a video message telling the rioters to go home. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other Trump allies have engaged in an effort to suggest Trump was unaware – or only vaguely aware – of the violence playing out in and around the Capitol. Cheney dismissed that idea out of hand.
10. “They knew that President Donald Trump was too dangerous to be left alone.” – Cheney
Cheney is talking here about White House officials not just on the day of the attack, but in the weeks and months leading up to it. One point Cheney made Thursday night that’s very much worth remembering: The committee spoke to a number of aides who were with Trump regularly both before and during the riot. Their testimony will be crucial.
11. “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone. But your dishonor will remain.” – Liz Cheney
This, a message from Cheney to her fellow Republicans, will be the most-quoted line from the hearing and maybe the line remembered most by historians of this period. That it comes from Cheney, who faces a serious primary challenger from a Trump-backed opponent later this year, is all the more powerful. Given the current state of the Republican Party, there is no doubt that Cheney’s role in these hearings hurts her chances of winning again. But Cheney’s argument – as made clear in this quote – is that she isn’t worried about the short term political prospects of her actions. She is worried about the long term health of the country. And her colleagues should be too.