US Capitol riot prime-time show a test for democracy itself


Some of that evidence was laid bare over the course of two hours: compelling, confronting and often damning.

One of the most powerful elements involved clips of taped committee interviews with Trump administration officials and family members, showing they clearly knew that the 2020 election was not fraudulent and often sought to tell the president as much.

Ivanka Trump’s testimony is replayed on a screen at the House select committee’s first public hearing into the Capitol riots.Credit:AP

There was former attorney-general Bill Barr, who made it clear to Trump that he was odds with Trump’s view of a stolen election, describing it as “bullshit”.

There was Trump’s daughter Ivanka, telling investigators that she respected Barr, and that his views carried weight for her.

And there was Trump’s data analyst Jason Miller, recounting a meeting in the Oval Office after the election in which he told Trump “in pretty blunt terms” that he was not going to win.

Equally powerful was previously unseen video of the events before and during the Capitol attack.

While Congressional hearings are often characterised by witness testimony and lengthy speeches, this one was told largely through iPhone, GoPro and police camera footage. Some of it was so triggering that members of the audience were brought to tears as they watched the horror unfold on the big screen behind the committee.

This image from video from a police worn body camera from the Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol, was played as a committee exhibit.

This image from video from a police worn body camera from the Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol, was played as a committee exhibit.Credit:AP

There was also new testimony from key witnesses, including a Capitol Police officer, Caroline Edwards, who suffered a traumatic brain injury during the attack, as well as documentary filmmaker Nick Quested, who was embedded with the Proud Boys on the day.

“What I saw was a war scene,” Edwards said. “I was slipping in people’s blood. I was catching people as they fell. It was carnage, it was chaos.”

Overall, the committee managed to set the scene for what some have billed as the most important public hearings since Watergate, the 1972 bungled burglary that led to the biggest political scandal of its time.

Watergate involved 51 panel sessions, all of which were also publicly televised, allowing millions of Americans to tune in religiously to hear the often shocking testimony of witnesses. As a result, minds were changed and so too was the course of US political history.

But on the cusp of the 50th anniversary of Watergate, today’s Republicans are banking on the fact that most people have already made up their minds about January 6, with polls showing that millions of Americans believe the 2020 election was rigged. What’s more, Trump’s hold on the party appears to be stronger than ever.

It’s also worth noting that this is a congressional probe, not a criminal one. Inciting an insurrection or riot is a federal crime in the US, but if criminal activity is uncovered, it would need to be referred to the Department of Justice, which would have to then prove Trump intentionally whipped up his supporters and intended for them to break into the Capitol and cause harm.

Republicans also know that time for the committee is running out. There are now only five months until the midterm elections in November, when Democrats are widely expected to lose their narrow majority. If or when that happens, any political probe into January 6 is all but dead.

Nonetheless, the stakes are high. After all, history has a way of repeating itself, and there is every reason to think that the Capitol attack was just the beginning for Trump and his allies – and next time, they may be much better organised.

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Indeed, despite losing dozens of legal challenges centred on the baseless claim of a fraudulent result, Trump and his supporters have been working hard all year to elect proponents of his “rigged election” myth to powerful positions at state and national levels.

If enough of these candidates are elected as governors, secretaries of state, or members of Congress, they could have significant sway to help overturn the next presidential election result.

To that end, the committee’s work isn’t just about what happened at the Capitol on January 6 last year. It’s also about what could happen at the 2024 election and beyond.

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