What to expect on Day 8 of Jan. 6 committee hearings

The Jan. 6 committee is holding a prime-time hearing Thursday evening, bringing an end to a summer-long series of testimony highlighting an organized conspiracy that led to the Capitol insurrection. The case they have laid out puts former President Trump at the center of that conspiracy. Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The January 6 Committee will be holding a prime-time hearing this evening, the final in a series this summer of testimony alleging an organized conspiracy that led to the Capitol insurrection. The case they have laid out puts former President Trump at the center of that conspiracy.

    Our congressional correspondent, Lisa Desjardins, has been following all of this closely.

    And hello to you, Lisa.

    You have been talking to members of the committee. What should we expect tonight?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This will be of course, as we have expected, a high-stakes and potentially high-drama hearing tonight, Judy.

    The theme is the 187 minutes that President Trump spent, the committee will charge, doing nothing to stop the riot here at the U.S. Capitol. What does that mean? That's the time from when President Trump ended his speech before that Stop the Steal rally close to the White House and then up to the time just over three hours later when he sent out a tweet asking the rioters essentially to stop.

    I think, tonight's hearing, we're going to be seeing some graphic pictures of what was going on at the Capitol while we are hearing about the timetable, what Mr. Trump was and was not doing. I do not think it will be family viewing. I think it's going to be an emotional night.

    We will also hear from two witnesses in person who were there with Mr. Trump on January 6. That's Matthew Pottinger. He was the deputy national security adviser, and also next to him, Sarah Matthews, the deputy press secretary.

    Now, those were both two people who were sworn to serve the president, but who left because they felt — and this is what the committee will say tonight, what we may hear them say tonight — that they could no longer serve the country and serve President Trump at the same time.

    Also tonight, Judy, we should hear, we're told we will hear more about communications involving members of Congress.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, of course, PBS will be carrying these hearings live.

    So, Lisa, there has been a poll the "NewsHour" has been part of. What are we learning from that poll about how Americans are seeing the evidence that the committee has been building up in these hearings?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So important, while we pay attention to lawmakers here, to figure out, what is the country getting from all of this?

    We asked the question, should President Trump be charged with a crime, which is sort of a central part of the hearings here? And, as you see, the country is split, but leaning toward — 50 percent say, yes, he should be charged with crimes.

    We also asked, will the former president be charged with crimes? Look at that, a huge difference. There, you see almost two-thirds of the people answering our survey said, no, they do not believe, in the end, though they think he should, that President Trump will be charged.

    You see a lot in that data, including some mistrust of institutions and how they will carry out this situation. We also have sort of a different question, not about crimes or what President Trump, will happen to him in the future, but do people personally blame former President Trump for what happened on January 6?

    Here's what we got in this survey right now; 57 percent said, yes, he is to blame for the events of January 6. Look at what we found just after January 6, there in January of 2021, those figures very similar, in fact, a little bit less of a view that the president is to blame.

    It's interesting, because, of course, we know that people are watching these hearings, Judy. But this tells us that, as far as people wanting to cast a finger of blame at the president, they're about where they were right after January 6.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Really, really interesting.

    And, Lisa, what are we seeing from these polls about whether Americans are watching the hearings or not and how that breaks down along partisan lines?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes, I think, when you talk to the committee, they believe the viewership is strong, stronger than even they expected.

    But how many people are watching, who is watching, we asked that question. So if we ask people if they're paying at least some or a lot of attention to the January 6 hearings, you look at the breakdown by party, no surprise, 80 percent of people who identify as Democrats say, yes, they are watching, independents, more than half, Republicans, the smallest number, but still 44 percent of Republicans.

    And we know, in general, there's a partisan split on whether they blame President Trump, whether they think he should be charged. But 44 percent of Republicans, nonetheless, are still watching these hearings. And we also ask them, so what do people think happened on January 6? What are their views right now after these hearings have been going forward?

    First, we asked, is it — who thinks it's an insurrection? About 50 percent of people now said they do believe it was an insurrection. That's about where it was just last year, before these hearings started. But look what has changed a little bit.

    Those who said protected political speech is what happened on January 6, that number has gone down. Fewer people believe that. And more people believe that it was unfortunate, but in the past.

    What I take from that, Judy, is that more people are less willing to defend what happened on January 6, and more people just want it to go away.

    One quick number also, though, is this an issue in November? We asked that. Is January 6, what's happening here, a top issue for you? There, you see, for most Americans, it's not. Democrats say the most. What's at the top of the issue list, I don't think our viewers will be surprised that at the top of the issue list for everyone is inflation. Democrats, also, top of their list, abortion, but the January 6 hearings not getting more than 17 percent. And that's just among Democrats.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, meantime, Lisa, you have also been watching what's been going on with efforts to fix, if you will, the electoral reform act.

    We know that was a factor in what happened on January 6. What is going on there? Where does that stand?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Ah, so much to say.

    The Electoral Count Act, there was a bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate. We have been telling you about it, and now it is real. Let me go through what this would do. It would make governors across the country be the conclusive deciders in certifying electors. The law right now is less clear than that.

    It would say that disputes from any candidates would have to go to a panel of judges. That would be new. It would narrow when Congress can object, under what circumstances. And it would require a one-fifth vote of each chamber to advance objections.

    Judy, as you well know, right now, it just takes one member from each chamber, incredibly low bar. This would make it harder to object, and it puts up more guardrails to prevent the questions and motivations that we saw at play on January 6.

    We will watch where this goes. It looks like it has a lot of support. We will be keeping you updated on it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes, so interesting. And we know you're going to continue to keep an eye on it.

    Lisa Desjardins, we will see you tonight.

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