Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is the author of the book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” and co-author, with Peter Eisner, of the book “High Crimes: The Corruption, Impunity, and Impeachment of Donald Trump.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
As the January 6 House select committee conducted its most dramatic hearing yet on Tuesday, the nation witnessed a tragic accounting of how then-President Donald Trump propelled his followers toward the lethal mob attack on the Capitol. Today, little doubt should be attached to the notion that he knew his cause was false as he tried to defy the standard of democracy – the voters’ will – so that he could remain the most powerful person in the world.
The testimony and evidence showed that many former officials fought, in vain, to stop the tragedy of January 6. Instead of listening to them, Trump clung to the lie that the 2020 election had been stolen from him. He devoted weeks to rallying his followers to a false cause, and then ad-libbed lines in his speech at the Ellipse that drummed-up anger among his supporters, which led to the lethal mob attack on the Capitol.
Rarely has the country heard such appalling evidence of abuse of office and such incisive commentary from members of a congressional committee.
The hearing began with Wyoming Republican and Vice Chairwoman Liz Cheney’s remark that Trump “is not an impressionable child” and must be held accountable. As the hearing ended, she revealed that the committee had informed the Justice Department of the former President’s alleged effort to contact a witness who has not yet been publicly identified and has not been featured in the committee’s presentations.
In between Cheney’s statements, witnesses spoke of a chaotic White House consumed by the effort to convince Trump of the truth. A key moment was a December 18 Oval Office gathering marked by profanity and screamed insults. At that meeting, a cast of ill-equipped characters – including former national security adviser Michael Flynn and his lawyer Sidney Powell – suggested that the election could be overturned. Despite pushback from some of his aides, Trump apparently eventually accepted their suggestion.
Among the startling bits of evidence the committee presented was a text message exchange between Trump’s former campaign manager Brad Parscale and former Trump campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson after the riot. Parscale expressed that he was feeling “guilty” for helping Trump become president because his rhetoric had inflamed the mob.
Pierson texted. “You did what you felt right at the time and therefore it was right.”
“Yeah. But a woman is dead,” Parscale replied.
Pierson said Trump’s rhetoric hadn’t been the cause of the attack. Parscale answered, “Katrina. Yes it was.”
The committee also presented evidence that Arizona Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko raised concerns about what would happen on January 6 and asked congressional leadership to “come up with a safety plan for members.” At the time she said the crowd was “going to go nuts” once they found out the likely outcome that she and her colleagues failed to overturn the election. The audio was obtained by New York Times journalists Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin.
In total, the evidence showed how the former President used his formidable, dramatic skills to drive the events of January 6 – and to doom the nation to tragedy and him to ignominy. Trump had been told the truth about the election’s outcome many times and still risked the mob violence that occurred as he advanced his own interest against the nation’s. If this doesn’t cement his place on one of history’s lowest rungs, there is no shared sense of reality in America and no justice in the universe.
If, come 2024, we find ourselves with a candidate Trump on the presidential ballot, this hearing provides a terrifying glimpse of what’s at stake. It should serve as a huge wake up call to voters that they would be electing a man who will let nothing – not the truth or the safety of Americans – stand in the way of his omnipotent aspirations.