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LISA MASCARO and MARY CLARE JALONICK
WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Jan. 6 committee launched under deep political skepticism: What more could be said about the deadly insurrection at the Capitol in 2021 that played out for all the world to see?
Quite a lot, it turns out.
The public hearings this month are showing in vivid and clear detail just how close the United States came to a constitutional crisis when President Donald Trump refused to admit his election defeat. Trump tried to use the powers of the presidency to stop Democrat Joe Biden from being certified the winner. When that didn’t work, Trump summoned a mob to the Capitol.
Despite the unprecedented Capitol attack, the hearings carry echoes from U.S. history.
Like the Watergate hearings 50 years ago, the 1/6 committee has depicted a president “detached from reality,” as Trump’s attorney general, Bill Barr, testified. As happened during the anti-communist McCarthy era, the testimony has provoked counter-reaction — a sense of the civic decency coming from civil servants, including many fellow Republicans, who did their jobs, despite grave personal risk, to ensure that the 2020 election was legitimate.
The “backbone of democracy,” as the committee chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., put it.
What we know so far from the Jan. 6 public hearings and what’s coming next.
“OVER AND OVER AGAIN”
Almost everyone around Trump understood he was losing the Nov. 3, 2020, election.
From his campaign manager Bill Stepien, who encouraged Trump on election night to not yet claim victory, to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who testified she knew it was too early to say he had won.
But Trump nevertheless latched onto false claims of voter fraud and declared himself the winner.
“Over and over again,” the defeated president was told there was no evidence of election fraud that could have tipped the outcome to him, said Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., opening the committee’s hearings.
Trump was told by his own campaign team that the numbers just weren’t there for him and by Barr, who told Trump flatly that the claims being made of a fraudulent election were simply “bull—-.”
Yet one influential figure had the president’s ear.
Lawyer Rudy Giuliani made his way to see Trump at the White House election night party and encouraged him to declare victory. Witnesses testified that Giuliani was inebriated and they tried to keep him away — all claims Giuliani has since said are untrue.
With the country enduring years of political divisions, the hearings are laying out another view — of the stewards of democracy who kept the election and its aftermath secure, despite great risk.
The witnesses, mostly Republicans, are providing gripping testimony of their work.
Raffensperger did not produce the 11,780 votes in Georgia Trump demanded.
Bowers declined to replace Arizona’s elector slate as Trump wanted.
Barr resigned rather than stick around for Trump’s ideas. The rest of the Justice Department leadership ranks threatened to leave if Trump followed through on his plan to elevate a department official, Jeffrey Clark, to acting attorney general and instruct the states to block the electors.
A mother-daughter pair of election workers delivered tearful testimony of the violent harassment and death threats they faced after Trump and Giuliani falsely smeared them as having committed voter fraud.
“Nowhere I feel safe,” said Ruby Freeman, a temporary election worker. “Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States target you?”
Thompson called them the “unsung heroes” who did their jobs in the face of great.
WATERGATE, CIVIC DECENCY AND HISTORY’S ECHOES
Trump’s desperate actions in the run-up to the Jan. 6 siege at the Capitol are unprecedented in scope, but carry echoes of earlier eras.
The defeated Trump tried to muscle his Department of Justice for political ends, much the way President Richard Nixon fired his top ranks in the “Saturday Night Massacre” before his resignation.
At the same time, Trump’s false claims of voter fraud have provoked a counter-response from the ranks of the civil servants pushing back against what is seen as executive overreach.
“I said, ‘Look, you’re asking me to do something that is counter to my oath,’” Bowers testified.
Cheney has been compared to Margaret Chase Smith, the Republican senator from Maine who stood up on the chamber floor a half-century ago to warn her party off the political excesses of the McCarthy hearings.