House of Cards: A cynical guide to the Jan. 6 hearings broadcast
Tonight, the first of six public Jan. 6 hearings will air in prime time on all major news channels. The hearings are the result of a multi-million-dollar investigation by the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack. It was formed by a house resolution that passed the chamber 252-175, with 35 Republicans voting in favor of it. The bill gave the committee the authority to hold hearings, investigate, and issue subpoenas, but not file charges or make arrests. All N.C. Republicans in the House voted against it, and All N.C. Democrats voted for it.
For those who choose to watch the hearings, here are a few points to keep in mind.
Loaded word choice indicates the kind of coverage and analysis you will get. Contrary to CNN’s reports, the Fox News organization is broadcasting the hearings on Fox Business titled “The January 6 Committee Hearings.” CNN has labeled its coverage the “Assault on Democracy,” CBS is calling it “Capitol Assault Hearings,” and ABC is calling its coverage “Assault on the Capitol.” MSNBC is calling it the “January 6 Hearings,” but progressive pundits Rachel Maddow and Joy Reid are leading the coverage.
Primetime cast of characters
The decision to air hearings during primetime television hours (8 p.m. EDT) is exceptionally rare.
“This is intended to be a committee-like television presentation,” said James Freeman, Wall Street Journal opinion editor. “It’s meant to have the look and feel of an investigative committee but without the normal process that we respect in this country, where both sides have their elected representatives making their point.”
The members of the January 6 Committee were appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. There are two Republicans and five Democrats. Democrats include Chairman Bernie Thompson, D-Miss., Reps. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., Adam Schiff, D-Ca., Elaine Uria, D-Va., Zoe Lofgren, D-Ca., and Peter Aguliar, D-Ca. Thompson and Raskin are among the Democrats who have objected to presidential electors, Thompson in 2005 and Raskin in 2017. while Schiff and Lofgren led impeachment efforts against Trump in 2019, perpetuating the now-discredited story that Trump colluded with Russians, even reading some of the claims into the Congressional Record.
The two Republicans on the committee, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wy., and outgoing Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, were also chosen by Pelosi. Both have been outspoken critics of former President Donald Trump, and both were among the 10 Republicans who voted for his impeachment in 2021.
After initially supporting an investigative committee immediately after the Capitol riot, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Ca., switched gears and withdrew his five Republican nominations for the committee when Pelosi rejected his first two nominees and made clear that examining lapses in Capitol Hill security would not be a part of the committee’s work.
“This is the most political, least legitimate committee in American history,” McCarthy said in comments to the media on Thursday. “It has used congressional subpoenas to attack Republicans, violate due process, and infringe on the political speech rights of private citizens, it has actually been caught altering evidence.”
The committee and an army of staffers have interviewed more than 1,000 people over the last 10 months. Some of them will testify during the televised hearings. The work has so far cost American taxpayers more than $2.5 million and is on track to cost $10 million before the end of the year.
Democrat leaders in the House recently hired an NBC News executive to produce the hearings for the news outlets clamoring to air them live. Jan. 6, 2021, was CNN’s highest-rated news day ever, even higher rated than Sept. 11, 2001. Tonight’s coverage is part of an effort to revitalize Trump-driven pre-pandemic ratings, called the “Trump Bump.” CNN’s best ratings years ever were 2020 and 2021. The network lost 70% of its audience after Joe Biden was inaugurated.
“We have nothing against television producers, but we are in a different line of work than a committee of the Congress, which is intended to search for facts and examine the law through a more deliberative thorough process,” said Freeman.
As the curtain goes up tonight, the committee has promised to “present previously unseen material documenting January 6, receive witness testimony, and provide the American people an initial summary of its findings about the coordinated, multistep effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and prevent the transfer of power.”
A group of Democrats who were trapped in the gallery on Jan. 6 are scheduled to be seated together, front and center in the hearing room. They have reportedly formed a support group since that day. Committee members will also show the public videos and illustrations, and offer witness testimony during the public hearings. The official witness list has not been released, though some have been confirmed. The list includes staff members and attorneys for former Vice President Mike Pence, lawyers and staff for Trump, filmmaker Nick Quested (who was embedded with the group Proud Boys on Jan. 6), and Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards, who was the first officer injured that day and suffered a concussion and brain injury.
However, the early list does not include testimony from the person ultimately in charge of security at the Capitol on Jan. 6: Nancy Pelosi.
“The American people know that this select committee is already a fraud, Democrats aren’t investigating Jan. 6; that is already abundantly clear,” said Rep. Jim Banks, R-Indiana. “They are trying to use this committee as a Trojan horse to abolish the electoral college, to intimidate President Trump’s aides, to block him from ever appearing on the ballot again, and to prevent his supporters from participating in American democracy.”
Banks and McCarthy are among the Republican members who have been subpoenaed to testify before the committee, but both say they have not received a response to their request for clarification on what the committee wants to know from them.
Expect to hear a lot about Donald Trump and political incitement
The central theme of the formation of this commission, the investigation, and the 2021 impeachment was that Trump’s comments incited the violent among his crowd of supporters that day to storm the U.S. Capitol. The U.S. Attorney’s office of Washington, D.C., details the number of arrests and convictions, but among them were 225 people charged with assaulting a police officer and 140 officers were assaulted. Damage to the Capitol building has amounted to about $1.5 million.
“Jan. 6 was a travesty, it was a black mark on our history,” said Rep. Richard Hudson, R-8th District, in an interview on WBT-AM Thursday. “The folks who breached our Capitol building, there is no excuse for it. The evidence seems to indicate that it was a planned operation by a couple of groups, and those folks ought to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But this committee has really missed an opportunity. The mandate was to look into the security situation that day, what were the breakdowns, what were the intelligence failures, but instead it’s turned into ‘lets go get Donald Trump and his allies.’”
If failures of security around public leaders and incitement have consequences, this week’s news of the planned assassination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh has drawn little comment from Democrats in light of the calls that Sen. Chuck Schumer made last year in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I want to tell you Gorsuch, I want to tell you Kavanaugh, you have unleashed the whirlwind and you will pay the price. You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions,” Schumer said before a crowd of protesters in Washington in March 2020.
Fast-forward to Wednesday, June 8, 2022: A man was arrested near the Maryland home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, his wife, and children. Nicholas John Roske, 26, of Simi Valley, California, was arrested by the FBI for planning to murder the judge in his anger over the leaked opinion in a case that could overturn Roe v. Wade. When arrested, Roske had a bag containing duct tape, a tactical knife, a Glock 17 pistol, two magazines, ammunition, pepper spray, and zip ties, the FBI said.
Expect to hear less about due process
Given the makeup of the committee members, it is unlikely that due process for the accused will be discussed or equal application of the law. Comparisons have been made between the treatment of the rioters at the Capitol and the Black Lives Matter rioters who attacked America’s cities in the summer of 2020. Critics of that comparison have said that the Capitol riots were more serious than the BLM riots, but that requires the assumption that politicians deserve more protection than the people they serve. Due process for the accused is still required, but not always delivered in these cases.
“For more than a year now, I’ve been complaining about how federal prosecutors have treated the rioters who participated in the protest at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, much more harshly than the rioters who participated in the Black Lives Matter and Antifa protests during 2020,” said Jon Guze, senior fellow in legal studies at the John Locke Foundation. “We saw a blatant example of that disparity just last week in the case of Colinford Mattis and Urooj Rahman, a pair of New York attorneys who brought Molotov cocktails to an anti-police protest.”
The couple initially pleaded guilty to “possessing and making an explosive device,” which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, but last week the justice Department revised the plea to “conspiracy” with a recommendation of no more than 18-24 months. Jacob Chansley, the now infamous “QAnon Shaman,” is likely to be shown in video tonight, wielding a buffalo headdress and reciting an incoherent prayer at the podium in the Senate chamber. He is now serving a 41-month sentence for “corruptly impeding an official proceeding.” He did not manufacture Molotov cocktails or burn up a police vehicle in front of a stationhouse.
“We probably have to accept that most politicians and most members of the media are hypocrites who will throw principles aside and tailor their treatment of people and events to serve their political agenda,” said Guze. “When it comes to federal prosecutors, however, the kind of disparate and inconsistent treatment we’ve been seeing goes beyond mere hypocrisy. It constitutes a breach of duty that undermines due process and the rule of law. If allowed to continue, the politicization of the criminal justice system could undermine our entire system of government.”
Whether America tunes into the hearings tonight, or not, will largely depend on what they want from the hearings. Some may want to validate what they already believe to be true; others are looking to Congress for leadership after an immensely disturbing series of events. Either way, there will likely be disappointment.
Tomorrow Americans will go on about their lives, trying to feed their children, fill their gas tanks, and run their businesses, all with an eye to November.