The third hearing by the House committee investigating the January 6 2021 insurrection focused on the pressure campaign to overturn the 2020 presidential election — and the deeply corrosive weaponized narratives which undergirded the attempt.
The June 16 2022 hearing focused in on former U.S. President Donald Trump’s attempts to privately and publicly strongarm then-Vice President Mike Pence into delaying or outright rejecting the election results and appointing Trump president over the will of the voters, who decisively elected Democrat Joe Biden.
The hearing focused in on two advisers to the former vice president, who appeared in person:
Greg Jacob, Pence’s former counsel, and J. Michael Luttig, a highly respected conservative jurist and retired federal judge who advised Pence in the aftermath of the 2020 election. The committee also showed taped footage of interviews with Pence chief of staff Marc Short and other aides.
The testimony made clear that Pence and his closest aides repeatedly told Trump and his allies that a theory pushed by conservative lawyer John Eastman, who argued the vice president should single-handedly reject or replace slates of electors, had no basis in the Constitution or federal law.
The committee presented evidence that Eastman himself knew the plan violated the law. Nevertheless, Trump continued to pressure Pence to intervene, including in a heated phone call on the morning of the attack.
That same morning, even as Pence was issuing a public statement saying he intended to certify the election results, which were legitimate, Trump addressed the crowd in front of the White House, saying that if Pence did not do what he wished, “I won’t like him as much.”
Trump then turned to social media, providing the crowds of fans gathered outside – who were already primed from years-long diets of propaganda and weaponized narratives such as QAnon and other agitprop – the cue they needed in order to fully transform from an unruly, disruptive crowd into a violent mob.
“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution,” Trump tweeted, “giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”
His supporters ran with it:
In one video played by the committee, a Trump supporter said he had heard reports that Pence had “caved,” and if he did they were going to drag “politicians through the streets.” As Pence evacuated the Senate and hid in the Capitol, rioters in front of the building chanted “bring him out!” A fake guillotine was constructed on the National Mall, and people breaking into the building chanted “Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!”
The committee also played videos of individual Trump supporters stating their views on what they had by then decided was Pence’s treachery. “Mike Pence has betrayed this president, and he has betrayed the people of the United States and we will never ever forget,” said one.“It’s real simple, Pence betrayed us,” said another supporter from inside the Capitol.
The roles of election denial and other disinformation narratives in the violent insurrection was immediately clear to those who had been following the rhetoric, such as Darrell M. West of the Brookings Institution, who wrote on January 11 2021:
A stunned nation could not believe the mob violence, desecration of a federal building, and the temporarily successful effort to halt the legislative process. It was the first time since the War of 1812 that the Capitol had been overrun, only this time, it was not a foreign enemy that had occupied the space but fellow Americans. It was the ultimate polarization of Americans turning against other Americans and engaging in violence that resulted in death and injury.
Yet on social media, Trump supporters continue to spread outright lies. People I know argue that the violence was committed by ultra-liberal antifa supporters who infiltrated what they claimed was a peaceful Trump protest. Others are telling their friends to shut off the automatic update feature of their phones because the operators are going to remove Trump’s access to the emergency broadcasting system. Some even suggest that some of the more extreme actions were staged and did not take place in the way they are being depicted by the news media.
And the disinformation campaigns against the 2020 U.S. election have not stopped. In fact, they have metastasized into an entire slate of election deniers running on Republican tickets all over the United States — showing how difficult it can be to get these sorts of corrosive narratives out of politics once they are allowed in:
Republican voters this week picked Nevada businessman Jim Marchant as their nominee for secretary of state, bringing yet another 2020 election denier closer to overseeing elections in 2024 in a presidential battleground state.
Last month, Pennsylvania Republicans chose as their gubernatorial nominee a staunch defender of former President Donald Trump and his election falsehoods.
And in New Mexico this week, a GOP-led county commission refused to certify the results of the June 7 primary election in the county, citing concerns about election fraud. The move prompted legal action from Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who this fall will face a Republican rival who has called the 2020 election that Trump lost a “coup” and has argued that vote-tallying machines manipulate election results.
The next hearing is scheduled for June 21 2022. It is expected to detail the Trump administration’s efforts to influence state legislators and election officials to allow him to remain in power despite losing to Joe Biden.