Masket: The waves from the Jan. 6 hearings are headed downstream, including to Colorado

Masket: The waves from the Jan. 6 hearings are headed downstream, including to Colorado

We’re only partway through the public hearings of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack, but already they’re having important effects on the American political system and may be having a particular effect on Colorado, as well.

From the beginning, I’ve been somewhat skeptical that the hearings would actually change all that much. They weren’t designed to “move the needle” and make the Democratic Party more popular. Most immediately, they seem directed at one very specific audience: Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Not only would the committee help gather evidence the Department of Justice would need to prosecute former President Donald Trump and the allies who helped him seek to overturn an election, but they would put public pressure on Garland to act, making his hands-off approach politically untenable.

We don’t know how successful the hearings have been in pushing Garland toward prosecution. Although judging from some recent phone seizures and home searches, the FBI already has an investigation in progress.

But the hearings are doing more than just this. They have, for one thing, been an enormously impressive public spectacle. Unlike many other congressional hearings, which often serve as an opportunity for individual committee members to grandstand and alternately praise and batter witnesses, these have been tightly scripted multi-media presentations. Instead of committee members seeking to score partisan points, the bipartisan committee has tersely and efficiently laid out a case and let the evidence and witnesses (mostly Republicans) speak for themselves.

The case they’ve built so far is a powerful one, demonstrating that the Trump White House wasn’t randomly grasping at straws after the November 2020 election, but was rather engaged in a multi-tier effort to subvert the election results. This involved dozens of lawsuits, a pressure campaign on state legislators in swing states to produce “alternate” electors and organizing a violent and armed mob on January 6th to attack and disrupt Congress and prevent it from certifying Biden’s election.

At each point, Trump sought to sow chaos, with the apparent plan of making himself the leader to resolve the chaos and essentially never relinquish power. What’s more, people involved with this effort knew it was wrong – at least half a dozen members of Congress apparently sought pardons from Trump, as did Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and presidential advisor Rudy Giuliani.

Already, the hearings have grown in scope, producing witnesses and evidence that they did not have when they started, including most recently the explosive testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to Meadows. This is what good hearings do, pressuring people to come forward with relevant testimony who would otherwise rather remain silent.

There are additional, possible downstream effects of these hearings, although it’s hard to measure these with any certainty. For one, the news seems to have penetrated the usual closed conservative media echo chamber. Fox News chose to minimize the first prime-time hearing and indeed to run counter-programming on Tucker Carlson’s program.

However, the network has been carrying the more recent hearings, and indeed after Hutchinson’s recent testimony, the Fox panel found itself dumbstruck and acknowledging the seriousness of the evidence. The conservative Washington Examiner wrote in an editorial that the testimony shows that “Trump is unfit to be anywhere near power ever again.” At least to some extent, both liberals and conservatives are getting the same information, and they’re finding it important.

It is also possible that the hearings have led some Republicans to sour on Trump. To be sure, he is still a very popular figure within the Republican Party, and still a strong contender for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination.

But a variety of evidence, including a recent New Hampshire survey of primary voters, suggests that Trump is facing a real threat from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. It may be that some Republicans yearn for Trump policies without the Trump baggage or anti-democratic tendencies, and they’re finding that in DeSantis.

Here at home, I can’t help wondering if the hearings have caused Colorado Republican voters to sour on Trump’s message somewhat. Last week’s primaries produced a number of interesting results, most notably that in several key statewide races – for governor, secretary of state, and U.S. Senate – Republican voters had a choice between a candidate that leaned hard into the Trumpist message of election denial and one that did not, and they chose the one that did not.

Finally, the hearings brought into greater light the roles played by two Colorado figures in aiding the coup attempt. Weld County attorney Jenna Ellis worked with Rudy Giuliani as part of the pressure campaign to falsely convince various state legislative leaders that the presidential election was in dispute and that they should send alternate sets of electors. Attorney John Eastman, who was a visiting professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder at the time, also took part in this pressure campaign (using CU e-mail), and advised Trump with the legal fiction that somehow the Vice President could single-handedly decide who won the presidential election. He played a key role in this whole campaign and may face significant legal liability for it. This is and should be a stain on CU and on efforts to hire faculty solely for their political beliefs.

We are expecting more hearings in July. While it’s unlikely they will directly affect the 2022 midterm elections, they’re having important and more subtle effects throughout the political system. And they’re providing an example of something we see too rarely in politics: accountability.

Seth Masket is a professor of political science and director of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver. He is the author of “Learning from Loss: The Democrats 2016-2020.”

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