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Trump on Jan. 6

Then-U.S. President Donald Trump spoke to supporters near the White House on January 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

'Trump on Trial': What to Know and How to Watch the Jan. 6 Hearings

"The hearings will ask every American to understand how vulnerable our democracy is, and how close we came to losing it," says the Rev. Jesse Jackson. "The question, of course, is whether it is too late to save our democracy."

Jessica Corbett

The U.S. House of Representatives panel investigating the January 6, 2021 insurrection—provoked by then-President Donald Trump's "Big Lie" that the 2020 election was stolen from him—will launch a series of six public and nationally televised hearings on Thursday, June 9 at 8:00 pm in Washington, D.C.

The prime-time event will be available on C-SPAN and the YouTube channel of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol.

While ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox Busines, MSNBC, and NBC have live coverage planned for the hearing, "Fox News will continue to air its regular prime-time programs, led by Tucker Carlson," according to Vanity Fair.

A coalition of advocacy groups is also planning "watch events" across the country, detailed at Jan6watchevents.com. Organizers say that at the events, "we can construct public awareness around the hearings" and "bring together people committed to protecting our democracy to discuss our plan to hold those responsible to account."

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.)—one of the panel's nine members—told The Washington Post Monday that "I think you will see a comprehensive introduction and overview of the findings that will be laid out over the course of the month of June, and we are going to tell the story of a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 presidential election and block the transfer of power."

"The committee has found evidence of concerted planning and premeditated activity," said Raskin, who was the manager for Trump's historic second impeachment. "The idea that all of this was just a rowdy demonstration that spontaneously got a little bit out of control is absurd. You don't almost knock over the U.S. government by accident."

"So we're going to lay out all of the evidence we have found," the congressman added, noting that "House Resolution 503 charges us with defining what happened on January 6th, explaining the causes of what happened, and then ultimately laying out recommendations that would allow us to fortify ourselves against coups and insurrections moving forward."

The committee—which includes just two Republicans: Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois—could decide to refer Trump and others to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for criminal prosecution.

"Upon receipt of a referral, the Department of Justice may choose to investigate to determine whether or not to prosecute," the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) explains in an online FAQ resource prepared for the hearings.

"The Department of Justice however does not need a criminal referral to bring charges against January 6th participants," CREW notes. "As is always the case, the Justice Department may choose to prosecute based on credible evidence of criminal misconduct that it has uncovered on its own."

On Monday, five leaders of the hate group the Proud Boys were indicted on charges of seditious conspiracy. The move expands the DOJ's allegations related to organized violence challenging the 2020 election results, the Post reported, pointing out that "federal prosecutors previously leveled the historically rare charge of seditious conspiracy for the first time in the January 6 attack against Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the extremist group Oath Keepers, and 10 associates."

CREW president Noah Bookbinder is a co-author of a report released Monday by the Brookings Institution entitled Trump on Trial: A Guide to the January 6 Committee Hearings and the Question of Criminality.

"This publication serves as a guide to the hearings and the evidence the committee and prosecutors may adduce as to whether Trump and his circle committed crimes," the document states. "The report covers key players in the attempt to overturn the election, the known facts regarding their conduct, and the criminal law applicable to their actions."

Democracy 21 president Fred Wertheimer said that "Trump on Trial is an essential companion to the public hearings—to understanding the full story of what led up to the January 6 insurrection and the criminal laws that may have been broken by Trump and his collaborators and the prosecution that could go forward."

Wertheimer also emphasized the importance of the panel's activities, noting that it "is conducting the most important congressional investigation of presidential wrongdoing since the Senate investigation of the Watergate scandals in the 1970s" and "the evidence the committee produces is likely to play a major role" in the DOJ's decisions regarding Trump and others.

In a Monday column for the Chicago Sun-Times, the Rev. Jesse Jackson similarly stressed the significance of the panel's work, writing:

The hearings will reveal new information about what was, in fact, a multi-layered effort to overturn the results of a presidential election, driven by the White House and involving Republican legislators, operatives, state officials, and donors. The hearings will ask every American to understand how vulnerable our democracy is, and how close we came to losing it.

The question, of course, is whether it is too late to save our democracy. Donald Trump has persisted in propagating his Big Lie about the election, despite the fact that court after court, many times judges appointed by Trump, his own attorney general and Justice Department, and partisan audits of votes in several states universally found no evidence of fraud that could have come close to making a difference in the election result.

The upcoming hearings, he added, "are, in many ways, a plea for Americans to defend their democracy. This should be as popular as apple pie—but it won't be. The committee will face a right-wing media complex—Fox News, Newsmax, the QAnon network, and legions of poisonous talk radio hosts—that will no doubt ignore its evidence and savage its conclusions."

Meanwhile, as Jackson highlighted, "by 2024, Republicans in about 20 states will be primed and eager to ensure that their candidate wins—no matter what the voters say." Additionally, Trump is widely expected to run for president.

The Brookings report, also looking ahead, says that "it is difficult to imagine a more serious offense, in long-term consequences, than plotting to overturn a presidential election. It is also hard to imagine any way to deter Trump other than criminal prosecution. After all, he has survived an unprecedented two impeachments. The political system no longer offers any consequences that he needs to fear."

"The Big Lie and its consequences are still with us, posing the very real risk that Trump and his supporters will be back with more schemes aimed at disrupting and overturning our elections," the document adds. "And, if the evidence—once it is all in—is sufficient to make the case beyond a reasonable doubt, it is difficult to imagine anyone more culpable than a public official who so blatantly betrays the public trust."


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