Desjardins: On Tuesday, the House committee investigating the January 6 attack held its seventh public hearing. They charged that President Trump planned in advance to call on his supporters to march on the Capitol but wanted it to seem impromptu.
We heard a salvo of sound bites about an unhinged Oval Office meeting including discussions of declaring martial law and the federal government seizing voting machines.
Since that hearing came news from a government watchdog that the Secret Service deleted text messages from January 5th and 6th of 2021.
Joining us now to discuss is Luke Broadwater, congressional reporter for "The New York Times", my colleague there in the halls on the Hill.
Luke, thank you so much for joining us with our panel here. Hey.
I want to start with a question about thinking about the narrative arc of this committee over seven hearings so far. What do you think they were trying to connect? What dots were they trying to connect this week?
Luke Broadwater, Congressional Reporter, The New York Times: Sure. I think if you look at each of the hearings sort of as a big picture, they suggest almost every time a different avenue of wrongdoing by President Trump. If you look at some of the earlier hearings, they were suggesting the fake elector scheme as a matter for investigation. They were suggesting obstructing an official proceeding of Congress. They were suggesting defrauding the American people, and even his own donors.
And so, I think what we are going to see at this next hearing is a lot of talk about dereliction of duty. That could potentially have legal implications, but it definitely has ethical and political implications for the former president. And so, each of these hearings is a different avenue that the January 6th committee is suggesting not only to the public but also to the Justice Department, that this is an area to investigate, and here are a lot of details and facts presenting a pretty damning case against the former president.
Desjardins: Tarini, can you help us with that? The Department of Justice, what do we know about where they are and what other investigations are in terms of possible criminal charges for the Trump administration and those right around it?
Parti: Well, we know that Merrick Garland, the attorney general, is under increasing pressure to do something. You know, with every hearing, we see more and more evidence. As you said, the committee has been connecting a lot of the dots here. And so, it has put pressure on Justice Department officials to do something.
Most recently, we also heard from Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who brought another instance of witness tampering. And she said they referred the case to the Department of Justice.
So, they are sharing more information between the committee and Department of Justice. And so, we’ll see how the case -- how the Department of Justice is able to build a case. But they are under a lot of pressure right now.
Desjardins: Hans, speaking of sharing more information, Pat Cipollone sat for eight hours with the committee behind closed doors last week and we saw video of his testimony this week.
How significant of a figure is the former White House counsel in all of this?
Nichols: Oh, I think he’s providing enormous amount of intelligence and insight on what was happening on those days leading up to and the day of January 6. And, you know, there were questions whether he would testify or vote executive privilege.
You know, it look might be in a better position to adjudicate on what is new and what we have learned, but it seems like a lot of the facts out there on January 6, we have kind of known through some great reporting from "The Times", from "Axios", from "The Wall Street Journal". But they are doing is they’re really sort of tying it all together.
I like how they talked about different avenues, different lines of attacks on the president, if that’s the right way to put it. And I think the big question is how much are we learning new things or are the proving things that are already new? And to me, it seems like more of a latter, but I’d be curious on what everyone else has to say.
Desjardins: I am going to ask you, Luke, because I have a feeling you might dispute that, despite the tremendous amount of work the New York Times has done on this issue. Are we hearing new things?
Broadwater: Well, we are. I do agree with Hans that probably 80, 90 percent of each hearing has been reported. January 6, the American press corps does a phenomenal job investigating January 6. I mean, you have some great books that have written. You’ve got sort of all-star teams in the major outlets that are digging into this nonstop.
And yet, each hearing may surprise you with something. There’ll be some text messages I’ve never seen, or some deposition I’ve heard before.
And so, you know, I think we’ve learned for the first time of these hearings about the names of specific Congress members who had allegedly have sought pardons. We heard that Rudy Giuliani or Mark Meadows had allegedly sought pardons. You know, you hear about allegations of witness tampering that we didn’t know about.
So, I think each hearing does present new evidence. The thing that really stuck out to me from the last hearing was the text messages with the rally planners, where they’re having these sort of private conversations, about we’re going to have this second secret rally near the Capitol. We can’t let people know about it. It’s got to appear unexpected.
I think that was some new evidence we had not heard before about people keeping the plans to bring the crowds to the Capitol quietly.
Parti: I also -- I also think that, you know, it’s one thing to report these things. But as we learned in 2016, with a lot of reporters covering, now, later, President Donald Trump, people aren’t reading reporting. So, it’s one thing to put in print and see it in a committee hearing and really have that message get across to the people.
I mean, some of these hearings have gotten pretty decent ratings. So, I’d say there’s a little bit of different front.
Nichols: I think it’s a great point, is that are these breaking through to the public? And I think the people that really have the best sort of antenna on that are Republicans who are nervous that it will their attempt to take over the House and Senate.
And from Republicans privately, you hear that these hearings have done a decent job of fairly good job, exposing what Democrats say was dereliction of duty, potential, you know, insurrection, all the different verbs and nouns that we hear.
Republicans are the ones that are saying, I think this committee is breaking through. And I’m sure you both have been picking this up as well. You talk to as many Republicans as I do when you’re on the Hill.
Desjardins: No, it should. They went into this thinking they didn’t need a strategy, their strategy was no strategy. We’re going to ignore it. But that has backfired. And I think part of it is many witnesses have been Republicans.
I want to talk about a different Republican, Republican on the committee, Liz Cheney, the vice chairman of the committee, and in the proceedings by teasing what you mentioned earlier, Tarini, sort of a bombshell.
Let’s play this bite.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY): Tried to call a witness in our investigation. That person declined to answer or respond to President Trump’s call. Their lawyer alerted us. This committee has supplied that information to the Department of Justice.
Desjardins: You know, this was a fascinating moment in the hearing room. Not just because, of course, this was a potential criminal charge, as you’re talking about Tarini, but it was Liz Cheney bringing it up at the very end, mentioning it and I don’t think most committee members knew that she was going to do it.
And I want to ask, Luke, I have reporting on this. But I’m sure your reporting on Liz Cheney’s role, because I understand behind the scenes, she is very assertive. She is really pushing the committee. But what is your reporting on that?
Broadwater: Yeah, I would say Liz Cheney is the most powerful behind-the-scenes driving force in the committee. Everybody I talked to says, you know, we’ve got some very aggressive Democrats on this committee, people who are known as very fierce fighters against Donald Trump and sort of the reputation. And all of them say Liz Cheney is tougher and more aggressive than we are behind the scenes.
Liz Cheney, also, because of her role with the so-called gold team, which is the team investigating Donald Trump, she is overseeing that team. She has access to some of these depositions and interviews that other members and staff don’t necessarily have. And sometimes I hear from staffers that who are completely surprised by something Liz Cheney will bring out the last minute.
But that’s part of the success and drama of these hearings is they do have teasers and they have cliffhangers. And they embrace the sort of elements of television that are not normally present in a Capitol Hill hearing. And that’s why I think that for getting something like an average of 14 million viewers for these hearings, which I think is unheard of for your normal congressional hearing.
Desjardins: Certainly, the impeachment hearings did not have this kind of drama, though. The stakes were really just as high. I want to ask all of you, just in our parting minutes here, you know, I’ve said, you probably sit on panels before -- no one thinks it will impact the midterms, these hearings necessarily. We’ll see. But I want to ask each of you, could this affect something bigger in terms of how Americans see what happened, how Americans decide they should act themselves and their neighbors?
Nichols: So, it’s interesting public perception question. I suspect the most lasting impact of these hearings or whether or not they’re going to result in criminal referrals and whether or not the Department of Justice will indict the former president and prevent him from running in 2024. That is no small decision for any attorney general to make.
So, to me, that’s the big question. Are there criminal referrals, and does the Justice Department act on them? And I don’t have the answer.
Broadwater: The criminal referral discussion, the committee postponed until they release their report in September. It does seem like a most people I talked to in the committee think it is a good idea. There are some skeptics that they don’t want to look like they are unduly influencing the Justice Department, and any charges against Trump and his allies should seem like they are unaffected by politics.
But the committee at this point has done so much publicly calling for a Justice Department investigation, I don’t know how you put the genie back in the box. I mean, they said Merrick Garland, do your job, and Adam Schiff was just on TV criticizing the slowness of the Justice Department and that investigation. So they have been pretty open about what they want the Justice Department to do.
Desjardins: Tarini, I want to ask you in our last minute, we love tangible things like criminal charges. But I want to ask you a big picture question, too, can this move anyone’s psyche or culture?
Parti: Yeah. I think, you know, we always think of things politically. And, you know, in the midterms, it is because the economy is on everyone’s minds. You know, it’s not going to move things.
But I think looking ahead to 2024 and how people sort of think about government and the presidency, it might raise questions about sort of the chaotic time we went through during the Trump presidency and sort of remind people of that and whether they want to see that again, you know, given that he might be announcing sometime in the fall. I don’t know if, you know, philosophically or culturally, it will change much. But maybe, you know, politically looking ahead to 2024, it could have a little bit of impact.
Desjardins: I think it could affect the idea that the election was stolen. But we’ll see.
Anyway, thank you all. We have talked about this so long. Appreciate it. Tarini, Hans, Luke, thank you all so much for joining us, a really good discussion tonight.