On the political impact of the January 6 hearings [column] | Local voices

Major newspapers reported last week that former President Donald Trump was under investigation as part of a US Justice Department investigation into efforts to thwart a peaceful transition of power after the 2020 presidential election.

Based on interviews with client attorneys presented before a federal grand jury, the Justice Department’s investigation is wide-ranging. Prosecutors are questioning witnesses about their contacts with Trump regarding both the plan to substitute fake voters for duly chosen delegates in the Electoral College and the January 6, 2021, uprising at the United States Capitol.

Marc Short, chief of staff to former Vice President Mike Pence, reportedly testified to Trump’s efforts to pressure Pence into delaying or stopping the vote count certifying Joe Biden’s election as President of the United States.

In addition to obtaining testimony, the Justice Department acquired phone records of key White House officials, including Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows. On Jan. 6, Meadows received numerous calls and text messages from Trump aides and supporters about the need for the president to stop the violence on Capitol Hill.

As we know from the hearings of the United States House Select Committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, Trump watched the bloodshed unfold but waited three hours to recall his supporters.

Indeed, at one point in the attack, Trump tweeted his disappointment with Pence performing his constitutional duties, sending the crowd on a mad search for the vice president that led them to within 40 feet of him. a life-threatening confrontation with Secret Service agents protecting Pence.

Until last week, all the public knew of the Justice Department investigation were criminal charges against approximately 840 people, including leaders of white supremacist groups, who entered the Capitol building.

Critics accused the head of the Justice Department, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, of lacking urgency and failing to prosecute Trump.

In response, Garland appeared publicly, telling NBC News that his department “will hold anyone criminally responsible for attempting to interfere with the legitimate and legal transfer of power from one administration to another.”

Important questions

More than 18 months after the January 6 insurrection, it appears the Justice Department and House Select Committee investigations are finally in sync.

How did we get there ? Here are four main questions:

1. Did the televised House hearings this summer wake up Garland, the Justice Department and the FBI, or were they moving at their own pace?

Garland’s supporters say he was slowly building a case against the election subversion plotters, first working on lower-level agents to coerce their testimony against higher-ups.

The attorney general first had to file lawsuits against key participants, such as Trump’s political adviser Stephen Bannon, who refused to cooperate with the government.

Additionally, the Justice Department obtained Meadows’ phone records in April, before the start of House hearings.

On the other hand, it was reported that Justice Department investigators never contacted the House committee’s star witness, Cassidy Hutchinson, the Meadows aide who told the nation that Trump had literally fought the Secret Service driver who refused to take the president to the Capitol on Jan. 6. .

Whether or not the summer hearings started a fire under Garland, it’s fair to say that the House Select Committee provided the attorney general with political cover to act more aggressively against the former president.

2. How successful were the January 6 Chamber hearings in capturing the public’s attention?

When public hearings began on June 9, few thought they would attract an audience equal to that of Sunday Night Football. They did it.

The hearings were stylized, made-for-television dramas that included live footage of the insurgency (some “never seen”), taped interviews, scripted narratives, and live witnesses, most former and even current Trump supporters.

Each hearing presented a different angle on the investigation, always placing Trump at the center and delivering vivid revelations, such as the president splattering the walls of the West Wing dining room with ketchup from a smashed plate when former Attorney General William Barr has publicly contradicted Trump’s claim of widespread voter fraud.

Television reviews gave ratings a boost. The “character cast” included: lead actress, U.S. Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Republican co-chair of the committee; lead actor, US Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.; heroes, the Capitol police officers; victims, ordinary people whose lives have been ruined; and villainous Trump with the Meadows henchmen, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and others.

For comic relief, there were the Jan. 6 antics of U.S. Senator Josh Hawley, R-Mo. Hawley gave MAGA supporters the sign of power as he entered the Capitol, then, when the crowd burst into the building, quickly fled like a determined shopper to get to the specials at the back of the store on Black Friday morning.

Thanks to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, who snubbed the inquiry, no Republican member who could have defended Trump or disrupted the proceedings has served on the select committee.

The committee members have been detectives in a true crime story, banding together to solve the mystery of who was responsible for the death and destruction in an assault on democracy.

3. How successful are hearings in changing the political landscape?

Polls indicate that the hearings did not change the minds of many supporters. Most Democrats think Trump should be prosecuted. Most Republicans believe Trump was the victim of voter fraud and not responsible for the Jan. 6 uprising.

However, independents were moved by what they saw. According to a Morning Consult survey, only 29% have a favorable view of Trump, down 10 points from earlier this year. More than 60% of independents say Trump was at least somewhat responsible for the insurgency.

No doubt Trump will push ahead with plans to run for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. He could officially announce his candidacy before the midterm elections, challenging Garland to indict him and risk getting passed the 2020 election subversion investigation for a political witch hunt.

On the other hand, there are signs that some Republicans want to distance themselves from the former president. Dr. Mehmet Oz, the GOP candidate for the US Senate who owes his nomination to Trump’s endorsement, does not mention his benefactor during his campaign in Pennsylvania.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida — another potential 2024 GOP nominee — appears to have the backing of the Murdoch family, owners of Fox News. The editorial boards of two of Murdoch’s newspapers, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, condemned Trump’s behavior on January 6.

One person the hearings haven’t helped is President Joe Biden. Biden’s public approval rating plummeted to less than 40% over the summer. Three-quarters of Democrats polled recently do not want him to be the party’s presidential nominee in 2024.

Still, Biden is roughly even with Trump in the 2024 Test polls. Last week, Biden sued his potential campaign rival for failing to back law enforcement against the Capitol crowd.

4. What are the issues in Pennsylvania?

Speaking of 2024, the House Select Committee stresses that the purpose of its investigation is not to dwell on the past, but to learn from it.

As U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said, efforts to rig the 2024 election are well underway. State by state, people who still believe the lie that Trump actually won the 2020 election are aiming to take over the administration of the elections.

If elected governor of Pennsylvania, Republican Senator Doug Mastriano, who was in the US Capitol on January 6 and has been linked to the fake election plot, would appoint the Commonwealth’s chief secretary of state for elections.

Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race is the best opportunity for voters this November to hold insurgents accountable.

If the House hearings have taught us nothing else, the future of democracy in Pennsylvania hangs in the balance.

E. Fletcher McClellan, Ph.D., is a professor of political science at Elizabethtown College. Twitter: @mcclelef.

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