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Eight ways the January 6 committee is changing the conversation

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., vice chair of the House panel investigating the January 6 US Capitol insurrection, is flanked by Chairman Bennie Thompson, left, and Rep. Jamie Raskin, as they vote on pursuing contempt charges against former President Donald Trump's White House chief of staff Mark Meadows for not complying with a subpoena, at the Capitol in Washington on Monday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection voted unanimously on Monday to hold former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in contempt for refusing to testify after he handed over more than 9,000 documents related to the attempt to overturn the 2020 election results.

Here are eight key takeaways from the committee's proceedings on Monday:

1. The committee members used clear language to describe the seriousness of their inquest and the threat to the republic. Committee Chair Bennie G. Thompson declared: "Our democracy was inches from ruin." Rep. Elaine Luria, also a Democrat, explained: “The extent of this effort reached the highest levels of our government, and it runs right through M. Meadows.” Committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney, a Republican, used the wording from the federal obstruction statute to ask whether former president Donald Trump "corruptly" sought to "obstruct or impede Congress's official proceedings". Unlike many in the media and the White House, they made clear this was an attempt to overthrow democracy.

2. They exposed the intellectual and political corruption of Fox News hosts. (Disclosure: I am an MSNBC contributor.) Cheney read text messages sent to Meadows on January 6 by hosts Laura Ingraham, Brian Kilmeade and Sean Hannity, who all pleaded for him to get Trump to stop the Capitol violence. They knew how serious it was; they knew Trump could have stopped it. Yet since that day, they have all defended (if not revered) Trump and played down the seriousness of the scheme to overthrow the government. (Fox did not carry the hearing on Monday evening, needless to say.) As Cheney said: "These text messages leave no doubt ... multiple Fox News hosts knew the president needed to act immediately." And they leave no doubt about their cringeworthy pandering to Trump and his base, whom they helped radicalise. As Ingraham declared: “This is hurting all of us.”

3. It might be a tad awkward at the Trump household on Christmas. Donald Trump Jr. apparently sent multiple texts pleading with Meadows to persuade Trump to stop the violence. Cheney read from some: “He's got to condemn this s--- ASAP. The Capitol Police tweet is not enough. ... We need an Oval Office address. He has to lead now. It has gone too far. And gotten out of hand.” Meadows responded: “I am pushing it hard. I agree.” In short, Trump refused to heed pleas to call off the mob, endangering the lives of lawmakers and the vice president and grinding a constitutional process to a halt. Even Trump's son knew this was a devastating event.

4. While some members of Congress pleaded for help, at least one apologized in a January 7 text for not throwing the election to Trump. “Yesterday was a terrible day. We tried everything we could in our objection to the six states. I'm sorry nothing worked.” The member’s identity is not known, but it will inevitably be revealed. That member will face accusations, if not by the Justice Department, then by the court of public opinion of conspiring to overthrow our democracy. They should never serve in any office. Ever.

5. Cheney in her bravura performance did more to elevate the importance of the coup attempt than most of the mainstream media and the White House. She forced the media to cover the jaw-dropping evidence. One can imagine how much more she and the committee will do to force a public reckoning about January 6, the “big lie” and the GOP’s responsibility for both.

6. We have yet another reminder of Republicans' spinelessness as they continue to scrape and bow before Trump. They know how he conspired to shred our democracy and wilfully refused to try to short-circuit the Capitol siege for hours. The vivid text messages recall how they have chosen to ignore or forget the peril Trump created for them and our democracy -- all to stay in his good graces.

7. The evidence once more raises the question: How in the world does the media treat the GOP and its continued fidelity to Trump as anything but a repudiation of democracy? Consider all the times TV, print and online questioners have allowed Republicans to speak in interviews or news conferences without grilling them on their continued enabling of Trump. It remains to be seen whether reporters will finally end the false equivalence between the parties. If this does not do it, nothing will.

8. The White House will find it increasingly difficult to stick to its apparent game plan of ignoring the threat to democracy and running on economic deliverables. Any Democrat -- including the president -- who does not make democracy a top issue will look unserious. If Cheney knows this is the defining issue of our time, why doesn't the Democratic president know it, too?

And remember: The committee has testimony from more than 300 witnesses and access to 35,000 documents. There is so much more that we have yet to learn.

Jennifer Rubin is a columnist for the Washington Post

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Published December 15, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated December 15, 2021 at 3:13 pm)

Eight ways the January 6 committee is changing the conversation

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