J6 Committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney has been criticized by critics for participating in a one-sided series of hearings devoid of alternative or dissenting views. Some have called it a “show trial” with members reading off teleprompters in tightly scripted and controlled hearings. As if to fulfill that show trial portrayal, Cheney ended the hearing this week by calling for more officials to come forward and noting that Trump family members and former officials have now come forward with their own public “confessions.”
As with past hearings, the summation included a direct call by Cheney for voters to oppose Donald Trump in the coming election: “Can a President who is willing to make the choices Donald Trump made during the violence of January 6 ever be trusted with any position of authority in our great nation again?” It is the type of pitch that is as unnecessary as it is counterproductive. Many voters tuned out the hearings weeks ago due to the absence of any balance in the presentation of evidence. To add direct political pitches only reduces the audience further. The result is that it is left telling largely Democratically aligned voters not to vote for Trump.
The alternative was to secure a larger audience by allowing more balance. It would not have altered the power of these accounts. It would have simply added greater credibility to the proceedings. It could have changed minds rather than just reaffirm preexisting views. Instead, once again, the Committee simply edited out conflicting evidence. For example, the Committee again edited out the line of Trump where he said “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”
That line does not exonerate the former president. However, it is illustrative of the Committee’s refusal to hold these hearings for investigative rather than persuasive purposes.
What was particularly bizarre was Cheney’s effort to dismiss the need for any opposing views in the hearings. In one of the most counterintuitive and forced claims, Cheney said that such balance would not have made a difference:
“And for those of you who seem to think the evidence would be different if Republican Leader McCarthy had not withdrawn his nominees from this committee, let me ask you this. Do you really think Bill Barr is such a delicate flower that he would wilt under cross-examination? Pat Cipollone, Eric Herschmann, Jeff Rosen, Richard Donoghue?”
No one is suggesting that Barr would have changed his testimony. Rather, the argument is that there were questions not being asked for the witnesses and evidence not being presented. For example, when the two former members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers testified, members carefully avoided a host of countervailing questions, including any direct contacts with Trump or the White House.
However, it was the true confessions moment that stood out in the closing summation. Cheney said that more people will be called to come forward. She then added:
“The case against Donald Trump in these hearings is not made by witnesses who were his political enemies. It is instead a series of confessions by Donald Trump’s own appointees, his own friends, his own campaign officials, people who worked for him for years, and his own family. They have come forward. And they have told the American people the truth.”
I seriously doubt that figures like former Attorney General Bill Barr or other Trump officials believed that they were coming forward with public confessions. They spoke about courageous and principled positions that put them at odds with the former president.
What was so striking about the Cheney’s characterization of such testimony as “confessions” is that it seemed to address a glaring disconnect for many Democratic critics. The hearing has shown that virtually all of the Trump officials in the White House took the same position against the effort to reject the certification of the election and called for immediate responses to the riot. Many of these figures, like Barr, had been unfairly attacked for years as Trump stooges or enemies of democracy.
The fact is that our system worked. The courts (including Trump appointed judges) rejected these challenges. Executive officials held firm in refusing to allow the Justice Department or other agencies from being used to further attacks on the election without evidence of widespread voting fraud. There was no flinching or hesitation for figures like Barr or Vice President Michael Pence and they have always been public about their positions. There were no confessions in these hearing beyond a couple witnesses like the members of the extremist groups.
The fact is that there was little new offered in the last two hearings. There continued to be a conspicuous absence of the long promised new evidence of criminal conduct by Trump. The two witnesses yesterday were important new voices who offered authentic and heartfelt accounts of their decisions to resign on January 6th.
The biggest news was the announcement of additional hearings. While the Democrats brought in a former ABC producer to frame the hearings, it could well have been George Lucas behind the camera. Whenever a hearing end with what sounds like a summation, the chair comes forward with a sequel line that “there is another.”
I welcome additional hearings. I believe that these accounts are important for the public to hear what occurred on that horrific day. However, the hearings at points had a feel of a political infomercial due to the heavy handed pitch. While both sides have blamed each other for the absence of any Republican-appointed members, that is not a license for the Committee to then dispense with any need to offer the public a full and fair account of the underlying evidence and claims. Even Democrats have admitted that the hearings do not appear to be changing many minds of conservative or Republican voters. The reason may be that many tuned out weeks ago when they saw the hearings as presenting a single narrative rather than pursue a comprehensive record on what occurred from a variety of perspectives.
Declaring that Trump family members and former officials have now “confessed” only played into the criticism of these hearings. By yielding to the temptation to exclude any opposing voices or views, the Committee seems intent on fulfilling the stereotype of the hearings as a show trial. It could be so much more but that requires politicians to do something that they are almost genetically resistant to: yielding time to opponents. It is the difference between creating a case for the next election as opposed to creating a record for history.