Have the Hearing, Then the Opinion
Terry H. Schwadron
June 8, 2022
The worry is that even a spectacular, compelling, prime time retelling of what happened before, during and after the Jan. 6 attempt to keep Donald Trump in office despite an election loss won’t persuade anyone to act.
The build-up to tomorrow’s public hearings already is seriously overweighted with divergent expectations that partisanship looms over the whole effort to learn in a comprehensive and straight-forward way what happened, what violated federal law and what can be done to prevent a recurrence.
Much as with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol itself, our deep political divide is once again coloring the event, never mind the retelling of what we’re hearing on live television.
Democrats say they are out to show a conspiracy that violated federal laws. The Pro-Trump lawmakers are planning a media blitz to distract from the public hearings by undercutting whatever turn out to be the findings of a thousand interviews and 100,000 documents is hardly hidden.
Between subpoena fights alleging an illegitimate appointment of the investigating congressional committee, the constant repetition of election Big Lie fantasies about how the election might have turned out if only we didn’t count the votes, and now a decision by Fox News to skip even carrying the live presentations in favor of commentators being advertised as instant critics for anything said at the hearings, the discrediting effort is well-organized and insistent on a different understanding than whatever our own ears will hear — regardless of what is said. Republican leaders proudly proclaim their aim is to undercut whatever is said tomorrow and for the next week.
For one who spent his career in a news industry, continuously drummed to vigorously pursue rigor in determining fact, preparations for tomorrow’s hearing already are being problematic displays of a fight over opinion and emotion over evidence. This is not a Fox decision based on business or on journalism, it is a blatant right-leaning political position to offer opinion in place of fact-finding.
What is the Evidence?
Where is Fox’s curiosity, to say nothing of journalistic responsibility?
It is worrisome whatever evidence — whether fresh information, images, and testimony — will be allowed to stand as a hard-won timeline of how that terrible day for democracy came about and why the Trump White House did not lift a finger to stop a riot that resulted in multiple deaths.
Job one for those of us watching the hearings will be to decide how bad the situation was and why it was allowed to spiral to that point. It is about hearing what this committee — regardless of the politics in its creation and appointments — learned in those hundreds of legal testimonies, thousands of hours of video, tens of thousands of communications and the other documents.
Sure, we can have opinions along the way, but it is imperative to hear what evidence has been gathered. In effect, we are hearing it all as a jury, as we did on Jan. 6 itself, with watered-down rules of evidence. That the committee had to hire a television producer to sift through all the evidence to pull together a compelling story should be both a warning about complexity and about whether there will be any punches pulled for whatever reasons.
More importantly, perhaps, is the question of whether even the full narration of a year-long investigation will result in appropriate actions — both in a Justice Department that reportedly is split about how aggressive to be in bringing any criminal or civil charges and in Congress, which faces the question of what to do to prevent a more effective replay.
To go through this last year with all its partisan sniping, its few, but significant leaks, the multitude of court documents that hint at a broad conspiracy to overthrow the government and to debase our American votes is a paramount test of our ability to hear out the evidence before coming to any complete conclusions.
No Shared Trust
The good news is that with these hearings, we finally will have a retelling of those last months of election-resistance and plotting towards retaining Trump in office. Of course, it will be without the full participation of some of its key schemers, including Republicans in Congress, who have resisted invitations and even subpoenas.
The bad news is that we have absolutely no trust that either Justice or Congress will do anything with the results.
With the MAGA minority so insistent on fighting every fact in a sprawling anti-democratic, burn-it-to-the-ground battle campaign, the fear is that we will continue to have two or more versions in the public conscience about what happened in the months leading to Jan. 6. With the insistence of diplomatic tact in the Justice Department, there is no guarantee that even with a congressional committee referring any possible criminal charges (which the committee likely won’t do) will act on it. With the Congress so split and seemingly headed for a Republican majority in the November elections, any ideas of legislation to reform the Electoral College or to rein in Congress members from supporting alternate elector slates are headed straight to the trash heap.
It is reassuring that the Justice Department has prosecuted hundreds of rioters, and now has launched charges against two militia groups on more serious sedition charges. But the decision to forgo enforcing congressional subpoenas for two former White House officials in the Trump inner circle reflects an unsavory unwillingness to pursue crime if it involves political figures with power.
Our prime purpose for these hearings should focus on determining what happened. We will have plenty of time for opinions, especially political opinions, after we hear what has been found in this investigation.