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The 1/6 Committee Hearings, Day 7: I Was Blind... Or Did I See?

The Select Committee that is looking into the events of January 6, 2021, held its seventh public hearing yesterday. We guessed yesterday that Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) would each have their own segment of the hearing, but it was actually much more like a tag-team approach. Members of Congress are not known for minimizing their own camera time, and so the fact that yesterday was the first to really be led by two people may explain why it was also the longest of the hearings so far (close to 3 hours). If you didn't watch, and you will still like to do so, you can see the broadcast here:

As always, here are the ten things that stood out to us the most:

  1. Willfully Blind?: "Willfully Blind" is a legal term of art. In short, if someone should have known a fact (or a set of facts), and actively avoided knowing that fact (or that set of facts), their ignorance does not excuse them from culpability for misdeeds they may have facilitated. The central point of yesterday's hearing was that, far from being willfully blind, Donald Trump was the linchpin of the insurrection, and took a central role in steering events in the direction they ultimately took. The 1/6 Committee's Vice Chair, Liz Cheney (R-WY), said this in her opening statement:
    The strategy is to blame people his advisers called 'the crazies' for what Donald Trump did. This, of course, is nonsense. President Trump is a 76-year-old man, he is not an impressionable child. Just like everyone else in our country, he is responsible for his own actions and his own choices.
    In her closing statement, Cheney returned to this point, specifically declaring that the former president was "not willfully blind," and that he knew full well what the implications of his words and actions would be. Though again, even if he was willfully blind, he'd still be legally responsible for what happened.

  2. The Tweet: In future years and decades, historians will wrestle with the question of whether Twitter was ultimately a net positive for Trump or a net negative. On one hand, the platform significantly aided his rise to power, and helped him to build the cult-like following that became his political base. On the other hand, it also allowed him to put his unfiltered thoughts and feelings out into the world, in a manner that they could not be disclaimed or clawed back. And some of those tweets have an excellent chance of ultimately becoming evidence against him, including the tweet sent in December 19 that was heavily emphasized during yesterday's hearing: "Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!" That would seem to be, and ultimately was, a call to arms.

  3. Marching Orders: If this was a court case, Trump's lawyers would argue that the "wild" tweet was very broad, and that the then-president wasn't advocating violence. Responding to that (hypothetical) defense, the Committee played numerous clips from right-wingers, like Alex Jones, showing them taking to the airwaves on January 6 to tell followers that Trump had given them marching orders. Further, one of the rioters from 1/6, who has already been convicted of several crimes, was present yesterday to speak to this in person. Stephen Ayres said he was hanging on every word from Trump, and that he wasn't planning to rush the Capitol until the former president told him to do so. "Well, basically, you know, the president, you know, he got everybody riled up, told everybody to head on down, so we basically were just following what he said," Ayers explained.

  4. All Bets Are Off: Former Oath Keeper Jason Van Tatenhove, who has apparently turned over a new leaf, was also present yesterday. He echoed Ayers' claim that Trump's tweet, and his address on the morning of 1/6, were understood as battle orders. He also issued a dire warning for the country:
    I do fear for this next election cycle, because who knows what that might bring—if a president that's willing to try to instill and encourage to whip up a civil war among his followers, using lies and deceit and snake oil and regardless of the human impact, what else is he going to do if he gets elected again?
    It's a frightening thought.

  5. The Other Tweet: The tweets that Donald Trump actually sent out on 1/6 did him no favors. And he might also get bitten by one that he didn't send. It was apparently drafted a day or two before the insurrection, and read: "Making a big speech at 10:00 A.M. January 6 south of the White House. Please arrive early. Massive crowds expected. March to the Capitol after. Stop the Steal!!" The Committee argued that this tweet shows two things: (1) that there was malice aforethought and 1/6 was not a spontaneous event that just happened to spin out of control, and (2) that Trump was very clear on what he wanted his supporters to do, even if the actual tweet he sent was tweaked to be a little less specific (and, thus, a little less incriminating).

  6. Blood on Trump's Hands: Is Trump personally responsible for the people who died on 1/6? At least one person thinks he is. That would be former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale. During the proceedings yesterday, the committee showed a series of texts between him and Trump adviser Katrina Pierson in which Parscale said he felt guilty for helping to elect the former president, and that he'd feel even worse if "I was trump [sic] and knew my rhetoric killed someone." In other words, both the foot soldiers (like Ayers and Van Tatenhove) and the higher-ups (like Parscale) regard Trump as directly responsible for the events of 1/6.

  7. Flynn Is a Disgrace to His Uniform: There was also much attention given to an Oval Office meeting that took place on December 18, 2020. On that day, Trump heard a presentation from lawyer Sidney Powell, disgraced former NSA Michael Flynn, and Patrick M. Byrne. Who the heck is Byrne? He's the founder of Presumably the MyPillow Guy wasn't available that day. In any case, the trio told the president that he should use the military to seize "dishonest" voting machines, and even came armed with executive orders to that effect that needed only a presidential signature.

    When then-White House Counsel Pat Cipollone heard about what was going on, he reportedly "set a new land speed record" getting over to the Oval Office. What commenced thereafter was a 6-hour meeting, ultimately involving many other people, as well as a great deal of shouting and much arguing about the options that were, and were not, available to Trump. The main story here, according to the Committee, is that having a front row seat for all of this means that the former president could not possibly have been unaware of the legal problems with the various schemes he was pursuing.

    And let's also take this opportunity to note our view that Michael Flynn, who took an oath to defend the Constitution, deserves a nice, long stay at Fort Leavenworth. He was pardoned by Trump, of course, but that pardon was issued on December 8, 2020—10 days before this Oval Office meeting. Pardons can only cover past misdeeds, not future ones. So, one wonders if the former general has landed himself in hot water, yet again, and might see the inside of the crowbar hotel after all.

  8. Standing Pat: Speaking of Cipollone, the Committee showed a fair bit of footage from his deposition, as expected. He didn't add too much new to the record, but he did confirm pretty much everything you would expect him to be able to confirm, including much of what Cassidy Hutchinson said last week.

  9. Well, Mark?: Former chief of staff Mark Meadows was not present yesterday, of course, but he did get mentioned an awful lot. More and more, he's coming off as the former president's main helper and enabler when it came to the events of 1/6. Given that he's not getting an opportunity to push back, and to provide his version of events, one wonders if he's regretting the choice to blow off the Committee.

  10. Witness Tampering: In her closing statement, in addition to reiterating the main theme of the day, Liz Cheney revealed that there is an upcoming, unnamed witness who has been the target of witness tampering, including phone calls from Trump himself (the witness recognized the number and did not pick up). This infuriated Taylor Budowich, who handles communications for the former president, and who tweeted this:

    The careful reader will notice that while Budowich has incorporated some fine, general-purpose right-wing talking points, he didn't actually deny that witness tampering took place. And frankly, even if Trump (or one of his spokespeople) denies tampering with witnesses, would you really believe that denial?

There is it, another hearing in the books. The Committee initially announced a second, primetime hearing for this week, to take place on Thursday. However, Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) later backed off of those plans, saying the members need more time to review new information the Committee has received. So, the next episode of everyone's favorite summer miniseries has been pushed to next week. The Committee's website says that the eighth hearing has not yet been scheduled, so it could theoretically be anytime next week, though Tuesday is a pretty good guess. (Z)

Bannon Just Keeps Digging

Most readers will be familiar with the old adage, usually attributed to Will Rogers: "If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging." Steve Bannon apparently never heard about this, however, because he's had his shovel out all week long.

As we've noted multiple times this week, Bannon has now agreed to speak to the 1/6 Committee, but his motives are unclear. Does he plan to turn traitor in order to try to save his own skin? Or does he plan to go scorched earth in hopes of aiding Donald Trump? The high probability that it's the latter is why the Committee is never going to grant his request to testify publicly—at least, not until they've heard from him behind closed doors, and gotten him on tape.

As of yesterday, the Committee no longer has to guess as to Bannon's plans. He went on his show War Room and launched into a lengthy screed on the subject:

Pray for our enemies, okay? Pray because we're going medieval on these people. We're going to savage our enemies. So pray for them. That's who needs prayers. Not MAGA, not War Room, and certainly not Steven K. Bannon. But I'll take everything I can get but put a head in the cap table, put our enemies in front of me, because that's who's really going to need prayers. Okay. Because we're going medieval. Okay. And we'll see about this committee what happens this afternoon. But hey, my offer is out there like, here's what I need. Give me a date, a time, a room number, a microphone, and a Holy Bible... I can take the oath on Zoom, deliver that and we'll see how good you are little Jamie Raskin and Liz Cheney and all of it—serve it up!

Knowing what we know of Bannon, it is not the slightest bit surprising that he identifies with Pulp Fiction's Marsellus Wallace. Anyhow, given that Bannon has laid out his battle plan, as it were, the Committee may well decide it's not worth their time to bring him in. Do they really need to hear multiple hours of bloviating, which Bannon will then turn around and brag about on his show?

At the same time, Bannon is doing himself no favors in terms of his upcoming legal case. Recall that he's going to try to save his neck by arguing that he did not willfully defy the Committee. Going on his show and threatening to go medieval just be seen as a wee bit defiant, and thus as evidence that he's lying. And if he doesn't play nice with the Committee, he will anger federal prosecutors, while also leaving himself little leverage in terms of a plea bargain. On the other hand, if he does play nice, or at least pretend to do so, he's at risk of perjuring himself. Add it up, and numerous lawyers who examined the situation say Bannon's screwed no matter what he does.

It is generally unwise to think of yourself as the smartest person in the room. That is doubly true if, in fact, you are not the smartest person in the room. Bannon has allowed his arrogance, or his martyr complex, or his Trump worship, or some combination of the above to get out of control, and he's on the cusp of paying the price. We can find nothing that confirms whether his trial will be a bench trial or a jury trial, but the government says it has such a slam-dunk case that it only needs one day. So, if there's no jury selection, he might just be the newest guest of Club Fed by this time next week. (Z)

Key Democratic Senate Candidates Are Raking in the Bucks...

The deadline for campaign committees to file their second quarter fundraising report is Friday. But when a candidate has something to crow about, they tend to get their paperwork in a little early, so they can get as much bragging in as possible. So it is that we already know the Q2 takes of most of the Democrats who will determine whether the party holds the Senate and/or expands to 51 or 52 or 53 seats. To wit:

  • Cheri Beasley (NC): $7.4 million
  • John Fetterman (PA): $11 million
  • Val Demings (FL): $12.2 million
  • Maggie Hassan (NH): $5 million
  • Tim Ryan (OH): $9.1 million

Most interesting is Fetterman's take, which is the highest for any U.S. Senate candidate in any quarter in Pennsylvania history. And he did it Bernie-style, with 358,000 donations from over 200,000 unique donors. This does nothing to disabuse us of the notion that he is a rising star in the Democratic Party.

Needless to say, a fat campaign account does not equal victory, as folks like Sara Gideon and Cal Cunningham can attest. Especially these days, since ActBlue and other online tools allow Democrats across the country to send cash to any candidate they like. That said, the fact that we're seeing big hauls across the board (or nearly so) speaks to Democratic enthusiasm across the land. This is exactly what the blue team needs if they are to stop a red wave from forming.

What's missing from the list above, in terms of key seats, are the fundraising totals for Sens. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV). It's possible that these three had disappointing totals, and are trying to sweep that under the rug by filing right at the deadline (and right before the weekend). Not too likely, however, since all three had their best quarters ever in Q1. There's also no data for Wisconsin, since the Democratic candidate there is not yet known.

Meanwhile, the Republican candidates for these seats—when those candidates are known—have not yet filed their reports. That could be a bad sign for them, or it could be that they just needed the extra time. We'll do a more detailed rundown next week, once the deadline has passed. (Z)

...Meanwhile, Herschel Walker's Campaign Is a Dumpster Fire

There is an episode of the show 30 Rock, entitled "Governor Dunston," in which a comically inept politician aspires to be elected president as a Republican. And it makes life very easy for the writers of the Saturday Night Live-like show-within-a-show, since they don't have to write fresh material. All they have to do is use Dunston's own words, and the sketches are hilarious.

We cannot help but think of Governor Dunston whenever we read the latest utterances from would-be U.S. senator from Georgia Herschel Walker (R). We actually don't write up most of them, because it's kind of punching down. However, he does aspire to a very important post, and his newest wackiness goes above and beyond. Following a harangue on COVID-19, and China's responsibility for the pandemic, Walker was asked about the Green New Deal. Here is what he said:

I'm going to help you with that real quickly... We, in America, have some of the cleanest air and cleanest water of anywhere in the world. So what we do is, we gonna put, from the Green New Deal, millions and billions of dollars cleaning our good air up.

Since we don't control the air our good air decided to float over to China's bad air so when China gets our good air, their bad air got to move. So it moves over to our good air space. Then now we got we to clean that back up.

That's pretty wild. Perhaps the helmet that Walker wore during his playing days was a little too tight.

Walker's problems extend beyond his propensity for saying laughably ridiculous stuff. Apropos for someone handpicked by Donald Trump, he lies constantly, including to friends and supporters. When the news broke of the candidate's multiple, previously unacknowledged children, Walker told his campaign staff that is absolutely wasn't true. When they presented him with irrefutable evidence, he admitted that OK, yes, it's true. His handlers are scared witless to allow him to go off script in public, and are disheartened by his dishonesty, his constant missteps, and his lack of political savvy. And, with the election still more than 100 days away, they're admitting these things openly (although without their names being revealed).

Walker is a poor enough candidate, and Georgia is a purple enough state, that it is really hard to believe that Raphael Warnock could lose this thing, unless there's an absolutely massive red wave. (Z)

Man Arrested for Stalking, Threatening to Kill Jayapal

Rachel Kleinfeld, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is kind of in demand at the moment. The author of A Savage Order: How the World's Deadliest Countries Can Forge a Path to Security, she is an expert on violence in Democracy in general, and on the connections between the Republican Party and militias in particular. These are subjects of some interest these days, given the insurrection and the testimony being given before the 1/6 Committee.

Last week, Kleinfeld published a brief essay on what the goals of the 1/6 Committee should be, and earlier this week she sat for an interview with The Washington Post. Her main theme is that elements within the Republican Party have done just about everything possible to normalize the use of violence against opponents. The money quote:

One of the things we know about other countries that descend into greater political violence is that violence is preceded by a dehumanization phase. America is well along in that phase: things like misogyny, racial epithets, calling Democrats "groomers" and comparing them to pedophiles.

The next stage is making violence against those dehumanized opponents seem more normal. You're starting to see GOP candidates posing with rifles—everything from Rep. Thomas Massie's family Christmas photo to Eric Greitens's new ads about hunting RINOs.

Sometimes it's against Republicans who are not part of the antidemocratic faction. Sometimes it's against Democrats. But either way, dehumanization normalizes the idea that harming those dehumanized opponents is legitimate.

We know from other countries that have descended into really serious political violence that this is a trajectory, and we're on it. We're actually pretty far advanced on it.

Kleinfeld believes that recovery is still possible if leading Republicans take a strong stand against the violent elements in the party. However, she also doesn't see that as a likely possibility, which is why the headline of the WaPo interview is: "An expert in political violence urgently warns: The worst is coming."

And that brings us to Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA). This weekend, a man who does not care for the progressive House member decided to stalk her residence, both on foot and in a car, while shouting things like "Go back to India, I'm going to kill you." He was arrested, jailed, and will be put on trial for making armed threats to kill and for hate crimes.

We bring this up, first of all, because—consistent with Kleinfeld's argument—isn't it really just a matter of time until a member of Congress gets killed by one of these people? In the nearly quarter-millennium of U.S. history, there have only been three sitting members of the legislature who were assassinated—Rep. James M. Hinds, Sen. Huey Long, and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy—all of them at the hands of right-wing extremists, incidentally. In the last decade, two sitting members (Reps. Gabby Giffords and Steve Scalise) have nearly been killed, and numerous others have had close calls like the one Jayapal had. Surely, members are at greater risk now than at any time in U.S. history, particularly given the proliferation of high-powered, high-capacity weapons (and, now, concealed carry).

Meanwhile, few members are going to say it openly, for fear of making themselves an even bigger target, but this surely weighs on them. If a Republican politician is unwilling to buck the party line, even if morality/common sense/the desires of their constituents would seem to call for doing do, this could well be reason 1A. If a member from either side of the aisle retires unexpectedly, this could be the root cause. Can you imagine what it's like, for example, to be Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY)? She must have to be on high alert no matter where she goes. She has lofty aspirations, but it's gotta wear on a person to be constantly at risk. And if she were to suddenly decide to throw in the towel on her political career, it wouldn't surprise us one bit. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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