Donald Trump hearing: January 6 hearing raises searching questions for former US president and America at large

What did we learn from the first public hearing of the US committee investigating the attacks on the Capitol?

What did Trump do during the attacks?

Liz Cheney, the Republican vice-chair of the Democratic-led congressional committee, revealed Donald Trump never made a call to police or other law enforcement agencies to protect the Capitol. Instead, his vice-president, Mike Pence, raised the alarm. Ms Cheney also described testimony from a witness who said Trump was aware of chants of ‘Hang Mike Pence’. The-then US president, she said, seemed to approve of them.

Did we learn anything else new?

The biggest takeaway was the raw, emotional power of the hearing, thanks to previously unseen footage depicting running battles between rioters and Capitol police. One officer, Caroline Edwards, who suffered brain damage in the attacks, gave harrowing testimony, intercut with footage from January 6.

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“I couldn’t believe my eyes, there were officers on the ground, they were bleeding, they were throwing up,” she said. “I was slipping in peoples’ blood … it was carnage, it was chaos.”

Were there any surprises?

Only flies on the wall of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago bolthole in Florida will have witnessed the 75 year-old’s reaction to the testimony of his eldest daughter, Ivanka – that is, if he was watching at all.

Former US president Donald Trump is seen on a screen during the House select committee hearing. Picture: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/GettyFormer US president Donald Trump is seen on a screen during the House select committee hearing. Picture: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty
Former US president Donald Trump is seen on a screen during the House select committee hearing. Picture: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty

The hearing played a video clip from the deposition of the 40-year-old, who served as a senior White House advisor to her father. In it, she said she had no reason to doubt Bill Barr, the-then Attorney General, who told Trump and his advisors there was no election fraud. “It affected my perspective,” said Ivanka. “I respect Attorney General Barr, so I accepted what he was saying.”

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Given the Trump family’s long united front, her remarks will likely have angered her father, but given the constant speculation that Ivanka may harbour political ambitions of her own, she perhaps has her reasons.

Will it heal divisions in the US?

This is the million dollar question. An implicit purpose of the hearings is to dissuade millions of Americans from clinging to conspiracy theories around the election. But such views are deeply entrenched.

While the hearings are being broadcast across the main TV channels in the US, the only mentions on Fox – the favoured network of Trump and GOP loyalists – have been mocking. Instead, its viewers are fed a diet of self-reinforcing disinformation.

There is also the fatigue factor – Americans have already lived through the forensic detail of Trump’s second impeachment trial. In an age when seizing the narrative of public opinion depends on grabbing attention, the committee has its work cut out.

Could the committee’s work lead to prosecutions?

The committee has no power to bring forward new charges under its own steam, but its findings could lead to further prosecutions and legislative reforms to the electoral process.

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It can provide evidence it has gathered via more than 1,000 interviews, 125,000 documents and nearly 100 subpoenas to the US justice department, which is conducting its own criminal probe.

Already, two Trump aides – Peter Navarro and Steve Bannon – have been charged with contempt of Congress for defying subpoenas. The committee may determine there is enough evidence to make a criminal referral for Trump. Whether it leads to a prosecution is another matter.



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