Full Episode: Washington Week full episode, October 14, 2022

Oct. 14, 2022 AT 4:53 p.m. EDT

The Jan. 6 Committee subpoenas former President Trump, releases never-before-seen video, reveals testimony about Trump’s actions in the days surrounding the attack and sounds the alarm over threats to democracy. Join moderator Yamiche Alcindor, Astead Herndon of The New York Times, Nicholas Wu of Politico, Dan Balz of The Washington Post and Ali Vitali of NBC News to discuss the committee's case.

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Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Yamiche Alcindor : The January 6 committee's case against Trump.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) : This committee will demand a full accounting to every American of the event of January 6th. So, it is our obligation to seek Donald Trump's testimony.

Yamiche Alcindor : In a historic move, the January 6 committee votes to subpoena former President Trump.

Unidentified Female : Everybody on the floor is putting on the gas masks to prepare for a breach.

Yamiche Alcindor : Releases dramatic, never before seen video --

Unidentified Male : I was stunned by violence, and I was stunned by the president's apparent indifference to the violence.

Yamiche Alcindor : -- And reveals testimony about Trumps actions in the days surrounding the attack.

Plus --

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) : Any future president inclined to attempt what Donald Trump did in 2020 has now learned not to install people who could stand in the way.

Yamiche Alcindor : -- the committee sounded the alarm over on ongoing threats to American democracy, next.

Good evening and welcome to Washington Week. On Thursday, in what is expected to be its last hearing for the midterm elections, the January 6th committee voted to subpoena former President Donald Trump. Moments before the unanimous decision, Vice Chair and Republican Liz Cheney explained the reasoning of lawmakers.

Liz Cheney (R-WY) : We must seek the testimony under oath of January 6th central player.

So, this afternoon, I am offering this resolution that the committee direct the chairman to issue a subpoena for relevant documents and testimony under oath from Donald John Trump.

Yamiche Alcindor : After the vote, President Trump, in an online post, wrote, quote, why did they wait until the very end, the final moments of their last meeting? Because the committee is a total bust, it has only served to further divide our country.

Meanwhile during the meeting, the committee revealed significant new evidence, including Trump aides testifying that Trump acknowledged he lost the 2020 election. Here is former White House Aide Cassidy Hutchinson describing Trump's angry reaction when the Supreme Court declined to hear his legal challenge to the election results.

Cassidy Hutchinson, Former White House Aide : And the president said something to the effect of I don't want people to know we lost, Mark. This is embarrassing, figure it out, we need to figure it out. I don't want people to know that we lost.

Yamiche Alcindor : The committee showed new video featuring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former Vice President Mike Pence, and other lawmakers in leadership during the attack.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) : Oh my gosh. They are just breaking windows. They're doing all kinds of -- it's really that somebody -- they said somebody was shot. It is just horrendous, and all at the instigation of the president of the United States.

Paul Irving, your sergeant at arms, will inform you that their best information is that they believe that the House and the Senate will be able to reconvene in roughly an hour.

Yamiche Alcindor : Still striking to see it again.

Now, lawmakers also said there are lingering questions about what the Secret Service knew about the violence and when.

Joining me to discuss this and more, Astead Herndon, National Political Reporter for The New York Times and Host of the Podcast the Run-up, Nicholas Wu, Congressional Reporter for POLITICO, and joining me here in studio, Dan Balz, Chief Correspondent at The Washington Post, and Ali Vitali, Congressional Correspondent for NBC News.

Ali, I'm going to you first because you broke the news that former President Trump was going to be subpoenaed by the committee. The big question I have is why are they doing this right now given that they have been investigated this and talking to people for months.

Ali Vitali, Congressional Correspondent, NBC News : And we've been asking this question on the Hill for months. The idea even once it was cleared throughout the first few hearings this summer that they were driving at the former president in each of the segment that they were doing. And the question was, okay, what will happen when you successfully convince people that Trump had a role to play here.

Now, at least clearly, we have at least one of their answers to it, which is that they're subpoenaing the former president, trying to show the country that they are doing all they can to at least talk to the former president and let him rebut some of these things but also it also gives us a sense that maybe that if they do go to criminal referral route, that that will also be a unanimous decision.

But, look, Liz Cheney responded to this question of why wait so long today. In a speech, she said, we wanted to make sure that we laid out for everybody all of the evidence that we had against Trump, and, certainly, over nine hearings this year, they did that. And now we see the culmination of it.

Yamiche Alcindor : And do we think he's going to show up?

Ali Vitali : I don't think it is likely. But, look, this is something that the members have all been aware of. In conversations that I've been having with them, as they have been talking as a group, they have said, we know that it is a very different ask to make of Mike Pence, who was said that he would likely consider coming forward with a subpoena, and it's a very different ask to make of Donald Trump, who is a master at running out the clock, at tying things like this up in court.

And, certainly, you even saw in the 14-page letter that he sent to the committee today, there is no yes or no in there. There are a lot of false claims, a lot of things that he has been saying on the campaign trail and a lot of pictures of crowds. But beyond that, no yes or no on whether he is going to comply with the subpoena.

Yamiche Alcindor : And, Nicholas, you are obviously running around the Hill getting all this information too. What is your sense of former President Trump's, his sort of interest, if at all, in coming before this committee and how far the committee is willing to go?

I should note, President Trump is -- or former President Trump, he's going off saying that these are angry -- that this it is a witch hunt. So, I wonder what your sense is of reporting.

Nicholas Wu, Congressional Reporter, POLITICO : Well, there's certainly some skepticism on the committee that the former president would ever actually come in to testify. And I recall that Congress has called the former president to come and testify before during the Russia investigation, during his impeachment right after January 6th. Congressman Jamie Raskin, who was a manager on that impeachment and he is on this committee now.

You know, I mentioned yesterday on CNN that he called Trump to testify then, and they're hoping for a different response now. But I think members of the committee are somewhat holding their breath.

At the same time, there is always a possibility that Trump could kind of go rogue here in some ways and decide that, actually, yes, I do want to come and talk to the committee and lay out his side of the story. He is clearly someone who has been watching these hearings so far. He's someone who has an interest in putting out his own side of it, even if it does involves all of these falsehoods and false equivalencies. And so it kind to remains to be seen how that's going to play out.

It is worth noting that the committee subpoena for its testimony, it is unclear if that is actually going out to the former president yet or not. And so I think once we get a look at what exactly the subpoena asks for, I think this is why we will start to see the haggling between the committee and the former president, if it comes to that.

Yamiche Alcindor : And, Dan, there are some who see this committee subpoena as a political move. What do you make of the politics and motivations here?

Dan Balz, Chief Correspondent, The Washington Post : Well, it is a political move in some way. Is that it was a theatrical move in some ways. Al though Donald Trump loves theater, and so he probably, in some ways, should have appreciated that this was coming at him.

I don't think there's any realistic chance that he is going to appear in part because he would be under oath and that would be a very, very difficult situation for him to answer a lot of questions under oath. So, the prospect to that is, I would say, is mostly nil.

I think the value of this is for the committee to be able to say, look, we made an effort but it also is a little bit of a kind of calling his bluff, if you will. And so I think we all kind of know where this ends. But he will run out the clock, as Ali, said. They won't get his testimony, but they will have made the effort symbolically, at least, and leave it at that.

Yamiche Alcindor : And, Astead, it seems there is a dare from the committee but your paper, The New York Times, is reporting that former President Trump has been telling aids that maybe he favors testifying. What is your sense of the politics here, because I know that's what you're deeply covering? What are the benefits for former President Trump if he were to sort of come in and talk to the committee?

Astead Herndon, National Political Reporter, The New York Times : Yes, and that reporting was interesting. Our colleagues noted that President Trump and those around him don't necessarily want to immediately reject that subpoena. But because of that love of theatric, as Dan mentioned, or his history of using television to really bolster his political brand, that there might be some openness. I think because of that -- what he mentions about being under oath, that we should see that as a kind of long shot but it is notable that there wasn't a media projection.

The politics are really interesting. I mean, President Trump has really created a base that is driven by grievance. And so -- and him lashing it out against the January 6th committee, he, once again, tries to play the card to really rile up the Republican base ahead of the midterms.

The January 6th committee has done a kind of all-encompassing job of laying out the factual evidence from what we know was unprecedented actions the president to really strike at the heart of democracy and on that day and the days following.

But what he is betting is that the Republican base is so behind him that they will make his grievances their own and use it as a motivating factor come November. I don't think that is out of the question. We've seen Republicans rallied around him before and so I don't think we should totally discount that.

Yamiche Alcindor : We definitely should not discount that. And, Ali, what is your sense of criminal referrals here? Liz Cheney was asked about whether former President Trump broke the law, and she said, quote, no question about the answer.

She also said the committee has, quote, the responsibility to make decisions about criminal referrals. She was careful to say she did not want to get in front of the committee. But what is your sense of sort of how far the committee is willing to take it whether or not there might be criminal referrals coming out of this?

Ali Vitali : Look, they can do it. It doesn't really matter in terms of what criminal proceedings can actually proceed from that because Congress doesn't do that. That is the job of the Department of Justice. And, clearly, during the summer, there was a sense from the committee a real frustration that DOJ had not done a lot of their homework. It is clear now where we are in October that DOJ has really ramped up the investigations that they are doing, and investigations with an S because there are multiple of them.

Now, at this point, the committee may do a criminal referral just to show, again, that they are there to hold the former president accountable but you also see the committee shifting as they turn towards their final report to sort of functioning on dual planes. Yes, they want to hold Trump accountable, but they also want to shore up the larger system.

You heard Liz Cheney there in your introduction talking about the fact that democracy was upheld because you had good faith actors who were willing to keep it intact. That might not be the case next time. And as I've been talking with members, that is what their final recommendations are going to focus on.

Yes, it is the Electoral Count Act reform that Zoe Lofgren and Liz Cheney have put forward in the House, Of course, there is a complementary Senate bill that has a few key differences, but there's still optimism that ultimately it will get passed. But at the same time, those are the fields they are working on it. It is Trump, but also they don't want anyone else to come around and take advantage of this system the next time around.

Yamiche Alcindor : And, Dan, I mean, it is so striking when you hear Liz Cheney say a key lesson of our investigation is that the systems only hold, as Ali just said, because there were good people in place there. What do you make of that given Trump the fact that Trump is still out there, still at the helm of the GOP, that it is a clear -- at least in some minds, a clear and present danger of historic proportions in a lot of people's minds?

Dan Balz : Well, and I think you are right about that. And I think when you couple that with the fact that there are hundreds of Republican candidates on the ballot this fall who are election deniers in one form or another, you can see the confluence of Donald Trump continuing to push the big lie and people who believe that lie potentially being in a position to influence future elections. And I think that that is a very worrisome prospect for anybody who cares seriously about the state of democracy.

Yamiche Alcindor : And, Nicholas, going back to what happened during the hearing, as Dan is talking about the state of democracy, we talked about the Roger Stone video last week because it was put out before the hearing. But to hear Roger Stone say F voting, with a curse word, we are just going to go straight to violence, what more did we hear about and what did we learn about the sort of the premeditated planning long before November 2020 of Trump and the people around him when it came to sort of saying that this election was rigged and stolen?

Nicholas Wu : The Stone documentary and the footage we saw there was all part of the committee's effort to show that, yes, this plan, this plot to try to contest the election results to overturn the will of the voters was in the works even before Election Day. We saw the committee show this memo from Tom Fitton, the head of the conservative group, Judicial Watch, sending in propose language to the president about how he should just declare victory. And that is what we saw him do on Election Day. It had not necessarily been called yet but we saw Trump go out there and say that he had won the election, falsely.

And this is part of the committee's attempt to draw a through line though in a way to show how this was a premeditated that ran from Election Day up to January 6th and that the threat continues up through the present day.

Yamiche Alcindor : And, Astead, thinking about the threat, part of what I think was striking about this hearing is that you heard some White House aide, we played Cassidy Hutchinson saying, Trump said to people, multiple people I lost, I'm embarrassed, I don't want this to be here, I lost, I'm angry. Look at this guy on T.V. I can't believe I lost to him. What is the politics of that? What's the sort of significance of that when we think about the fact that Trump is continuing to lie about this?

Astead Herndon : Yes. I mean, this has been a question from some. I mean, it is kind of a distinction without the difference. Whether Trump truly believed the election was stolen or not, he certainly acted in a way that really spoke and motivated his supporters to do what they did on January 6th.

But it has been a curiosity about whether the former president actually believed that the election was stolen and was speaking what he -- what was a core belief, or whether this was something he was acting on to cover up the fact that he lost.

And if we are to believe that testimony, as we've seen from the January 6th committee, it would be the laughter, that he was acknowledging that he lost but was still going out to push those falsehood, those lies about the election.

That has had a real human consequences, not only in January 6th but as we have seen across the country. I mean, it is not just on the governor level, we see the election deniers at the secretary of state level, poll watchers being intimidated.

The apparatus of what President Trump has inspired with his false election claims is massive. And we cannot overstate really of how those false claims have really motivated an antidemocratic wing within the Republican Party. This is true across the country, but particularly in some swing states in places like Arizona, where we see election deniers who are successful in the primary.

Yamiche Alcindor : And as Astead, Dan, is talking about sort not overstating the real impact of this and the consequences, I think it is also not hard to, I think, overstate the real worry and shock that was going on in that building because the expectations were so high for this hearing. What new video are we going to see, I thought to myself, that's going to really move me, and then I see Nancy Pelosi and Mike Pence, and I got goose bumps watching them really taking the helm of the country and say, we've got to figure this out. What did you make of those moments?

Dan Balz : Those were startling and revealing videos that we saw yesterday. And I think it did take us inside in that chamber, or where they were being held in a way that we hadn't really thought much about. We knew they were sequestered but we did not really know kind of what was going on other than that some were pleading for help, but to see the interaction, and particularly between the speaker and the former vice president, basically united in their desire to get back and finish the job as quickly as they possibly could.

I was struck by another thing, Yamiche, and that is, the strength of Speaker Pelosi. When you look at the assembled leadership of the Congress and on the phone, the president of the Senate and Vice President Pence, you see her temperament, her determination, her drive, and in some ways, the deference that others pay to her. I think it was revealing in that way as to how she stands in the hierarchy of leadership.

Yamiche Alcindor : Ali, jump in here. Of course, you wrote the book on women and leaders. So, I want to get your sense because you covered her every day.

Ali Vitali : Yes. I mean, I think, in part, because I wrote the book on women and the presidency, I got text messages as that video was airing, saying, are you sure we've never had a female president? And, of course, that still remains a history that we have not yet made.

But at the same time, you watched the way that Speaker Pelosi, alongside these Republican and Democratic leaders, were really filling the void that Donald Trump had left by his complete and utter inaction around what was happening on Capitol Hill. And that vacuum, yes, allows us to speak to the deference and respect that Speaker Pelosi commands on Capitol Hill.

But also just the fact that in this moment of chaos, when we asked voters usually to consider who is a good president, we asked them to think about the commander-in-chief test, who you want at the helm when there is chaos raining in the world and, in this case, in our country. And it is clear that President Trump left that vacuum to be filled by several of the people in the line of succession to the presidency, including his own vice president, including the speaker of the House.

And to watch them work in bipartisan fashion, politics was not present that day, in the name of a peaceful transfer of power, that video was so striking for many reasons, but that's one of the first things that I thought of.

Yamiche Alcindor : It was certainly striking. And the other thing that was another sort of part of this hearing, Nicholas, is the Secret Service. It played a role. There were all sorts of images attached to it. Pete Aguilar is now saying that they are going to be recalling witnesses to lawmakers to look into possible obstruction of justice. What more do we know about the Secret Service and what lawmakers are looking to there?

Nicholas Wu : Well, this is part of a huge tranche of information that the Secret Service had turned over to the committee fairly recently. We know that they got over a million different records from the Secret Service, that's emails, that's messages, that's other random electronic documents. And the committee is still going through them now. But they were able to use a lot of that to great effect during yesterday's hearing, presenting these messages from Secret Service agents and officials and warning of the potential for violence January 6th. And we even got as granular in detail as to see messages from agents concerned for Mike Pence's safety after Trump posted the tweet on January 6th attacking the vice president.

And so this is one of the large, unexplored areas of inquiry for the select committee and other congressional committees from here on out. The Secret Service had long been a subject of skepticism for the select committee after we've learned that there was this mass deletion of text messages that the Secret Service said was due to a tech upgrade. And you had those two key witnesses that were -- that the committee had casted some doubt on, Tony Ornato and Bobby Engel.

And so this is something that could be a remaining avenue of exploration for the committee, even as they are winding down and writing this final report.

Yamiche Alcindor : And I want to ask some more about the midterms. But, really quickly, Ali, talk about unexplored, Ginni Thomas, she wasn't part of the hearing. Anything about that could we know?

Ali Vitali : Look, even on Capitol Hill, while they were doing the deposition, there happened to be House vote, which is great for us. But we were asking about what they were hearing from them at that point. And, really, the only news that Bennie Thompson gave to us was that Ginni Thomas was telling them that she still believed that the election was stolen.

I do think the other interesting thing here when you're talking about the Secret Service is my colleague, Julia Ainsley, and I reported exclusively for NBC News TONIGHT that they are asking, the 6th committee has asked the Secret Service for any communications that they may have had with members of the Oath Keepers.

This came after one of the cases in federal court regarding the head of the Oath Keepers, someone testifyied that he might have been in touch with someone in the Secret Service. Now, the January 6th committee is exploring that in part after we were asking them what the level of cooperation had been from the Secret Service around that. But again, as they are writing their final report, they are fact gathering.

Yamiche Alcindor : And, Astead, we talk about all of this, we talk about the hearing, Bennie Thompson said he was hoping people who were skeptical would tune in. What is your sense of how much this is going to make a difference, if at all, in the midterms? Is there any impact at all here?

Astead Herndon : Yes. I mean, the committee has certainly achieved this goal of creating a historical record about the actions of Republicans and former President Trump on the 6th. But if there was a political goal to really shift the conversation of the midterms, we have not seen that really cut through in a big way.

I think some key signs here are that endangered Democrat themselves are not really zeroing in on the actions of the committee or the hearing yesterday as a key campaign talking point. We have seen them drive fundraising in some senses but this is still a midterm elections that's centered around questions of the economy and more policy issues, centered around people's feelings about President Biden and the Supreme Court's actions on abortion.

And so we have not really seen that January 6th committee cut through fully but Democrats are certainly making the argument that Republicans are not good stewards of democracy, and that itself is a reason to reject them.

The problem that they have is that this is not just a falsehood about the election that was dictated by Donald Trump to his supporters but one many supporters believe alongside the president. And so as we have seen in those primaries and as we look forward towards the midterms, it is right that democracy is on the ballot in a lot of these cases. However, for a lot of people, they already have deep and grand questions that started before 2020 and are continuing. And so there is a real open question on which the way this lands come November.

Yamiche Alcindor : And in about a minute, can you just talk a little bit about Herschel Walker, Georgia. There is obviously a debate going on. I know you talked to Stacey Abrams. Talk about the challenges that Democrats and Republicans are facing.

Astead Herndon : Yes. Georgia has really emerged again as a key state for us. I think it's changed a little from 2020 when you really saw those core progressive constituencies power a lot of the Democratic narrative coming from that flip.

Right now, we're really seeing moderate Republicans drive those races. Raphael Warnock, the incumbent Democratic senator, has fared better with them partially because of we believe that some of those scandals that are hurting his opponent, and that's allowed him to create a bigger lead than the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Stacey Abrams.

However, Republicans have rallied around Herschel Walker and they really feel like if they align the Republican base with those moderate Republicans, that he can ride to a win on the coattails of Governor Brian Kemp. That's going to be what we can watch, how many of those moderate Republicans come over to Walker's side.

Yamiche Alcindor : And, Dan, President Biden sat down for an interview with Jake Tapper, CNN's Jake Tapper. He's trying to make the case along Democrats. What is your sense of the impact President Biden might be able to have and as we have about a minute left?

Dan Balz : well his impact is twofold. One is he's out trying to raise a lot of money. That is the principal effect he is having. The second effect is that he threatens to drag down Democratic candidates. And what we are seeing in many states is Democratic candidates outperforming the president's approval ratings by a significant margin. But that is a real drag that they will have to carry on their shoulders through November. And I think he's going to try to continue to put the focus on what he calls the MAGA Republicans, and that has some resonance with people.

I think that when we go back and look at this impact of the January 6th committee, one of the things that it has done, along with the election deniers who have won primaries, is that it has reminded some voters of the radicalization of the Republican Party and the consequences of turning control of the House and maybe Senate over to that party, which is now such a Trumpian party. So, I think that's all part of this too. And I think that the president's focus is going to be to try to keep reminding people of that.

Yamiche Alcindor : Yes. Well, a lot to talk about. We will definitely be watching it. Thank you for our panelists for joining us and for sharing your reporting.

And before we go, tune in Saturday to PBS News Weekend. Anchor Geoff Bennett will report on two Georgia races that could help decide to control of the U.S. Senate and the direction of the country. Thank you for joining us. Good night from Washington.


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