DemDaily: January 6th Hearings. Day Three
June 17, 2022
On Thursday, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack held its third hearing to present the findings of its year-long investigation to the American people.
The first hearing, held on Thursday, June 9, provided a powerful preview of the sessions to come. Each hearing, said Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY), will address how former President Donald Trump oversaw a "sophisticated seven-part plan to overturn the presidential election and prevent the transfer of presidential power."
The focus of the second hearing was to cover how "Donald Trump and his advisers knew that he had in fact lost the election," but still "engaged in a massive effort to spread false and fraudulent information" that the election was stolen.
|See: DemDaily: The January 6th Hearings. Day One. The Narrative
See: DemDaily: The January 6th Hearings. Day Two
Thursday's hearing, the third in the series, commenced at 1:00pm. Committee Chair Bennie Thompson set the tone by quoting former Vice President Mike Pence, saying there is "no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president."
Over two hours and 45 minutes, the committee presented documentation, video footage and testimony of "President Trump's relentless effort to pressure Mike Pence to refuse to count electoral votes on January 6th." Actions, said Cheney, that Trump knew were "illegal and unconstitutional."
Congressman Pete Aquilar (D-CA) led the presentation and questioning, taking viewers through a timeline of events and depositions from those immediately around Trump and Pence the week of the insurrection.
The committee began with the introduction of the scheme pushed by conservative lawyer and Trump advisor John Eastman, who argued that the vice president had the power to unilaterally reject or replace slates of electors -- a theory that had no basis in the Constitution or federal law.
Former Pence Chief of Staff Marc Short, former Trump Senior Campaign Advisor Jason Miller, and White House Senior Adviser and lawyer Eric Herschmann, among others, provided detailed video testimony about conversations with Trump, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and others close to the President.
All, with the exception of Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani, condemned Eastman's plan as illegal and in violation of the Electoral Count Act.
The most compelling and powerful testimony, however, came from two Pence advisers who appeared in person at the hearing: former Pence Counsel Greg Jacob, and retired federal judge J. Michael Luttig, a highly respected conservative jurist who advised Pence in the aftermath of the 2020 election.
Luttig advised Pence to resist Trump's pleas for Pence to block the congressional certification of Joe Biden's election victory, saying Eastman's "blueprint to overturn the 2020 election," was "incorrect at every turn."
|"Had the Vice President of the United States obeyed the President of the United States, America would immediately have been plunged into what would have been tantamount to a revolution within a paralyzing constitutional crisis." - retired Federal Judge J. Michael Luttig|
Jacob, a central player, was calm and articulate in his testimony, which was interwoven throughout the entire hearing.
In the second portion of the hearing, the committee used the words of Jacob and others surrounding the Vice President and President to paint a more detailed picture of events between January 4th and January 6th.
Trump rejected the advice of his legal team and continued his "multi-week campaign" to pressure Pence to intervene in the electoral count, despite Pence having told Trump "many times," according to Short, that he could not comply.
Pence was summoned to a final meeting January 4th at the White House with Trump and Eastman, where they continued to press for one of two "legally viable" arguments for overturning the election results.
Short was present, as was Jacob, who said one of the arguments was that the Vice President "could reject electoral votes outright. The other was that he could use his capacity as presiding officer to suspend the proceedings and declare essentially a 10-day recess during which...the Vice President could sort of issue a demand to the state legislatures in those (5-7) states to reexamine the election and declare who had won each of those states."
Eastman acknowledged, in front of Trump, that the proposals would violate several provisions of the Electoral Count Act, but questioned the constitutionality of the Act itself. In a follow-up meeting with Short and Jacob the next morning, Eastman admitted that the actions would not survive Supreme Court scrutiny, but continued to press for them at the President's urging.
Aquilar introduced a video of Trump, who flew to a GOP rally in Georgia after the meeting on the fourth, and used the occasion to publically call on Pence to "come through for us." "If he doesn't," said Trump, "I won't like him quite as much."
On the morning of January 5th, Trump issued a tweet expressly stating that "The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors."
That afternoon Trump called Pence to the Oval Office, where he reportedly said, "If these people say you have the power, wouldn't you want to?" The Vice President said, "I wouldn't want any one person to have that authority." "The Vice President never budged from the position," said Jacob, that Eastman's proposals were unconstitutional.
Then later that day, in response to a New York Times article reporting that Pence and Trump were at odds, Trump issued a press release, to the shock of Pence and the White House, that he and Pence were "in total agreement that the vice president has the power to act." Pence, however, did not issue a rebuttal that day.
With the intensifying public and private dispute, and concerns that Trump would "lash out at the vice president on January 6th," Short alerted Secret Service.
As "things reached a boiling point," said Aquilar, Trump tweeted at Pence at 1:00am the morning of January 6th to "come through for us." Trump tweeted again at 8:00am, saying, "All Mike Pence has to do is send them (the votes) back to the states. AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is the time for extreme courage."
In a 11:20am "heated" phone call between Trump and Pence, as overheard by several parties on both sides, Trump berated Pence, calling him a "whimp, and a "p****," saying Pence was not tough enough to make the call.
Trump escalated the attacks on Pence later that morning at the Stop the Steal Rally. In a rambling speech, he said they can only win is if "Mike has the courage to do what he has to do" and send the vote back to the states.
John Eastman and Rudy Guiliani also spoke at the rally. Despite having admitted to former White House Senior Adviser and lawyer Eric Herschmann that morning that Eastman's theory was wrong, Guiliani stood on the stage and told the raucous crowd that everything we are doing here today "is perfectly legal."
In his deposition, Herschmann also testified that he directly warned Eastman that executing his scheme would “cause riots in the streets," which Eastman shrugged off.
At 1:02pm, Pence released a letter to Congress saying he does not have the power to reject Electoral College votes. "It is my considered judgment that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not."
As shown in video, violence ensued as the rioters, already on their way to Capitol at the behest of Trump, shouted "Hang Mike Pence," just before breaching the Capitol at 2:13pm.
In the interim, Meadows had informed Trump of the violence at the Capitol -- at around 2:00pm, according to video testimony from Meadows' aide Ben Williamson and White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Matthews.
Both were advocating for an immediate statement from the President to quell the rioters when they saw Trump's 2:24pm tweet condemning Pence. "The situation was already bad," said Matthews, "so it felt like he was pouring gasoline on the fire."
The Committee continued with footage depicting the narrow escape of Pence, his family and team at 2:26pm, and their evacuation to a secure underground location, where they stayed for the next four and a half hours until the joint session of Congress was reconvened and the electoral count continued. Jacob testified that the Vice President "was determined that we would complete the work that we had set out to do that day, that it was his constitutional duty to see through."
|"America’s democracy was almost stolen from us on January 6. Our democracy has never been tested like it was on that day and it will never be tested again as it was then if we learn the lessons of that fateful day...if we fail to learn the lessons...we will consign ourselves to another January 6 in the not-too-distant future, and another after that, and another after that. While for some, that is their wish, that cannot be our wish for America." - retired Federal Judge J. Michael Luttig|
It was not until 4:19pm that Trump was convinced to send out a tweet asking the rioters to leave.
Jacob said he sent an email to Eastman saying, "Thanks to your bullshit we are now under siege." Eastman replied the siege was because "you and your boss did not do what was necessary."
Undeterred, Eastman, acting as President Trump's advisor, contacted Herschmann the morning of January 7th to push again for Pence to violate the law by sending certification back to the states.
Herschmann said Eastman mentioned Georgia and preserving something for appeal, to which Herschmann replied, "'Are you out of your f***ing mind?' I said I only want to hear two words coming out of your mouth from now on: Orderly transition." Herschmann added that he told Eastman, "'Now I'm going to give you the best free legal advice you're ever going to get in your life: Get a great f**ing criminal defense lawyer, you're going to need it.' And then I hung up on him."
Evidence was presented that just days later Eastman emailed Guiliani seeking a presidential pardon in advance of Trump's departure. He did not receive a pardon.
Aquilar showed video of Eastman, when deposed by committee staff, pleading his "Fifth Amendment right against being compelled to be a witness against myself," which he asserted 100 times.
In closing the hearing, Thompson deferred to Judge Luttig on the ongoing threat to democracy.
"That's not because of what happened on January 6th," said Luttig. "It's because, to this very day, the former president, his allies, and supporters pledge that, in the presidential election of 2024, if the former president or his anointed successor as the Republican Party presidential candidate were to lose that election, that they would attempt to overturn that 2024 election in the same way that they attempted to overturn the 2020 election, but succeed in 2024 where they failed in 2020. I don't speak those words lightly."
|As noted in his written statement, Luttig said, “The time has come for us to decide whether we allow this war over our democracy to be prosecuted to its catastrophic end or whether we ourselves demand the immediate suspension of this war and insist on peace instead. We must make this decision because our political leaders are unwilling and unable, even as they recklessly prosecute this war in our name.”|
"The fate of our democracy is in our hands," stated Luttig, saying it is up to Americans to "again bind our divided nation together into the more perfect union that ‘We the People’ originally ordained and established it to be.”Next Week
Hearing Four: Tuesday, June 21 @1:00am ET
Hearing Five: Thursday, June 23 @1:00pm ET
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Sources: US Congress Hearing, CBS, Washington Post, NPR, CNN