The ladies were great tonight. The men? Not so much.
The male performances in America’s prime time political drama as staged by the J6 Committee didn’t compare with the courageous, eloquent female performances.
Day 8 of the J6 Committee Hearings began with male incompetence and coverup — deleted Secret Service phone records on January 6, and the coverup/denial by James Murray, Secret Service Director — and ended with noteworthy and vivid summaries by J6 Committee members Reps. Elaine Luria and Liz Cheney, Vice-Chair.
Male voices equivocated (Cipollone, Luna), postured (Pottinger), pontificated (McConnell, McCarthy).
By comparison the women provided convincing and dramatic moments. Luria, Cheney and one of the witnesses, Sarah Matthews, related the mob violence at the Capitol to the toxic exposure at the White House. This was an unexpected reveal: so fixated is one on Trump’s abandonment of duty, one omits the terror of being in the Capitol as the mob, many armed with concealed weapons, breached the building, smashing windows and assaulting DC Police officers.
It’s hard to keep both scenarios in one’s view: a petulant mobster-in-chief and his mob wreaking terror twenty blocks away.
One expected a timeline of what Trump was and wasn’t doing for 187 minutes between 1:10 when the DC Capitol Police first radioed a “riot going on at the Capitol” and 4:17 when the President made the first and only public acknowledgment of the day’s events.
Cheney delivered the timeline and in addition, a vivid portrayal of a nation on the brink of destruction: a failed state.
If America were not convinced of a coup and attack on democracy after tonight’s presentation, then “American resilience,” rebranded as ‘American exceptionalism,’ has become a cartoon of a blustering Uncle Sam with soiled pants.
The witness testimony
Unlike Day 6, tonight’s witnesses appeared to arrive in Hazmat protective gear. This was not a recall nor a revelation. Nor a Cassidy Hutchinson wake-up call. Tonight, America got a dose of toxicity. Never before were words and actions portrayed with such terror and abhorrence in the House Hearing Room, a room where in 1918, as Cheney reminded the assembly, the committee to grant women the right to vote was first convened.
Sarah Matthews, aforementioned Deputy Press Secretary, and Matthew Pottinger, Deputy National Security Advisor to the President, offered testimony about the events of January 6, clarifying for the audience what they observed was unfolding in the White House that day — the ‘adults in the room,’ the damage control-fixated staffers, the hand-wringing lawyers — swarming a President who was spreading an unspeakable plague.
Both Matthews and Pottinger had worked out how they would present their quitting their office with the J6 Committee prior to the Hearing.
One could surmise the precarious position the nation was put in by a President in absentia. The 25th Amendment had been floated as a remedy earlier (1) but on January 6 faster, stronger measures were demanded.
When it became apparent that Trump would not listen to anybody except to those brainstorming about how to keep him in power, staffers had to sort out what was better for the country — abandon ship or stay and try to stall and impede the President?
Pottinger checked out January 7 after speaking with his boss who was out-of-town January 6; Matthews quit that evening when the President at 6:15pm left the Dining Room for the Presidential residence.
Of the two, Pottinger though physically present, seemed to ‘absent himself’ from the toxicity. July 21 would be his ‘fifteen minutes of fame.’ During his testimony Pottinger provided the audience with his version of recent close Presidential elections in history — Nixon-Kennedy, Bush-Gore — when, unlike the current scenario, Presidential concessions were evident. The comparisons felt flat, understated and unconvincing —more like a ‘t.g.i.f. bar riff’ with colleagues.
Matthews’ appearance and the tone of her remarks were a study in terror and dismay.
This observer will remember how she seemed to spit out her words, “those…people… at the…Capitol;” how she obsessively switched off the mic when she had finished her answer; how she called her family the evening of January 6 after Trump had retired to the Presidential residence, to say she was quitting.
Whereas Pottinger seemed to ‘grandstand,’ to diagnose, Matthews could no longer provide the band-aids.
She was done.
At the conclusion of the Hearing, unsmiling, unflinching, she left the Hearing Room, exiting into the humid Washington night, and into a tinted windowed SUV, flanked by bodyguards.
The J6 Committee and witness Cassidy Hutchinson first sketched out the 45-minute delay after the Ellipse Rally. Tonight’s witnesses described the two- hour plus delay in the White House.
Day 8 questioning of witnesses was conducted by Rep. Elaine Luria and Adam Kinzinger. Both drew upon their experience and exposure to defending the country — Luria, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and officer with 20 years in the Navy; Kinzinger, Air Force veteran, currently serving with the Illinois Air National Guard. Of the two, it was Luria, who by evening’s end would convince the audience of the import of what few Americans experience: taking an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States.
For Luria, this was not civics, nor Harvard law, nor a House Democrat Caucus breakfast, this was personal. ‘What was I doing serving on ships for twenty years,’ ‘what,’ Luria seemed to say, ‘kept me going?’ She answered her own question:
“I took an oath.”
January 6 at the White House was a day of ‘in absentia’s,’ of unforced abuse and neglect.
Between 11:06 and 6:54, there were no phone calls recorded; between 1:21 and 4:03, there were no logs, no photographs. The President was bivouacked in the Dining Room, sitting at the head of the table watching TV, tuned to Fox News. There were no calls from the White House lawyer, the White House military advisor, the White House deputy press secretary. At one point the White House lawyer took a call from the Pentagon.
At 1:49 the White House received word that the DC Capitol Police had declared a riot had broken out at the Capitol. Shortly thereafter Pat Cipollone heard that the rioters were shouting “Hang Mike Pence.”
At 2:03 President Trump called Rudolph Giuliani.
At 2:13 rioters breached the Capitol building.
At 2:24 the President sent a tweet urging Pence ‘do the right thing.’ Trump chose not to ‘condemn the violence,’ to ‘make a strong statement.’
Pottinger and Matthews borrowed an analogy from fire safety. Trump had within his authority the opportunity to stop the fire, bring out the hoses and firetrucks; instead, he ‘poured gasoline on the fire.’
Matthews further clarified, ‘these were his people, they latch onto his every word…he could condemn the violence and tell them to go home, and they would…’
Matthews knew ‘Trump’s people:’ two hours later, Trump would record a video, a paean to his followers from the Rose Garden, asking them to go home “and remember this day.”
Then the rioters dispersed.
At 2:26 Vice President Mike Pence was being evacuated ‘for the second time.’
At 2:26 the President was calling Senators from the White House Dining Room, asking them to delay the count.
As MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell observed during a recap, after the Hearings concluded, ‘Trump didn’t fail to act; he acted intentionally.’
The Committee Summation
Vice Chair Liz Cheney’s recorded video and sound clips “teed up” the takeaways for Day 8:
Josh Hawley running away from the mob he incited.
Pat Cipollone invoking lawyer-client privilege.
Deputy Press Secretary Luna stumbling over words to describe Trump’s irresponsibility.
Rudolph Giuliani working the phones January 7 as if January 6 never happened.
Mark Meadows prepping Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley, January 7: “(to) make the narrative not about Pence, rather, about Trump.”
As Rep. Bennie Thompson, J6 Committee Chair was quarantined with COVID-19, Vice Chair Liz Cheney occupied center stage and provided a ‘wrap-up’ perspective on the Hearings. Wearing a white jacket signifying solidarity with the Women’s Suffrage movement, Cheney spoke for 9 minutes.
‘We have seen during these hearings, brave women come forward… ’ DC Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards, Shaye Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman, the witnesses tonight (looking straight at Matthews) brave women, inspiring women and young girls everywhere…’
Ms. Hutchinson ‘knew all along that she would be attacked by President Trump and by the 50-, 60- and 70-year-old men who hide themselves behind executive privilege. (2)
‘Which brings me to the point that our witnesses have been Republicans, all worked for and were former colleagues to the President… to those who think the Hearings would have turned out differently had Rep. McCarthy gotten his choices appointed to this committee…do you think for a moment that Bill Barr would wilt under questioning (by Democrats), or Pat Cipollone, the White House Counsel?’
With Tuesday’s breaking news that the Secret Service may have intentionally deleted phone texts on January 6, and the court decision this week to sentence Steve Bannon on 2 charges of contempt of Congress, the J6 Committee will recess until September. There will be additional public televised hearings, Cheney assured the audience, as new information and informants come forward.
“The dam has broken.”
Vice Chair Liz Cheney and Cassidy Hutchinson embrace at the conclusion of Day 6 J6 Hearings, June 23. Photo image courtesy of the New York Times
As Congress recesses in August, the public hearings, but not the House investigation, are recessed as well. A number of stones are yet to be turned over: the phone text deletions and dereliction by the Secret Service on January 6 and the continuing cover-up; the growing web of accomplices in the scheme to illegally overturn of 2020 electoral college results; the deployment of the National Guard and their conflicting mandates; the rolling thunder across America’s electorate as a conspiracy-loyalty test festers within Republican ranks; the pressure on an understaffed DOJ to provide results before the mid-terms.
Consider thirty-odd days for former President Trump to do some media blazing.
1-In December, 2020, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had raised the 25th Amendment with Joint Chiefs Chair, Mark Milley in a recorded phone call. Cf. Woodward and Costa, Peril (2021)
2-Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman, “In Jan. 6 Hearings, Gender Divide Has Been Strong Undercurrent,” NY Times, July 23