Reviews | The five objectives of the January 6 hearings

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Democracy advocates know what the Jan. 6 committee hearings due to begin on Thursday have to not do: follow the example of the Mueller report. This report and the testimony of its author were long, confusing and inconclusive.

The January 6 hearings and final report should aim to be the anti-Muller report. Impactful hearings with plenty of visual aids, bulleted summaries and concise testimony must deliver the definitive account of defeated President Donald Trump’s coup long before January 6, 2021; a conclusion as to his criminality; and a compelling explanation of why prosecuting Trump and those responsible for the plot to overthrow the government is essential.

The committee has two audiences. The most critical is the general public. Rational Americans who are not yet determined to exonerate Trump should be convinced of his intimate involvement in the coup, the seriousness of his actions, and the need for prosecution. Ideally, there should be an outpouring of support for prosecutions.

The evidence must be so compelling that the Republicans’ continued efforts to perpetuate the “big lie” and to rationalize or downplay the insurgency make them look foolish, dishonest, and malicious. This will perhaps encourage the media to stop treating the Trump enablers like normal politicians and to confront them at every opportunity about their betrayal of the country.

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The second audience is the Department of Justice. His lawyers must be convinced by the facts presented that the absence of prosecution is unthinkable. Although the committee is not bound by the rules of evidence, the procedure can go a long way in illustrating how persuasive a story can be to a jury. Whether the committee proceeds with a formal referral or not, Justice Department officials confident of the prosecution’s success should walk away with powerful ammunition to convince their more reluctant colleagues.

With these two audiences in mind, hearings must meet five requirements for a successful investigation: To begin with, the committee must solidify its own credibility, debunking Republicans’ baseless attacks on its legitimacy. By delegating most of the interrogations to lawyers, with the completely professional attitude of its members, by assigning important roles to the two Republicans on the committee and by constantly reminding that the star witnesses are Republicans who supported and/or worked for Trump, the committee can achieve this. The committee should not assume that viewers know that this case is based on Republican documents and testimony. (So ​​he can’t neglect to ask: Are you a lifelong Republican? Did you support the former president’s election and re-election?)

Second, the committee should be able to concisely define what it is: a conspiracy by the then president and his enablers to steal an election and thus overthrow our democracy. There will be all sorts of legal terms (“conspiracy to defraud the United States”, “seditious conspiracy”), but the committee needs to make sure that viewers understand the root problem.

Third, viewers must come away convinced that Trump was at the center of an ongoing nonviolent coup even before the election. It included a concerted plan to spread the “big lie,” bring frivolous lawsuits to undermine the results, concoct fraudulent voters lists and throw out valid ones. The plot also involved Trump’s attempt to intimidate his own vice president, Georgia’s secretary of state, the Justice Department and state lawmakers to prevent the rightful winner from taking power. No one should doubt that Trump acted “corruptly” after repeated warnings that there had been no significant fraud.

Fourth, Americans should know which officials enabled the coup (a group of Justice Department officials, senators who opposed the vote count, etc.), as well as which officials resisted Trump (Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Vice President President Mike Pence, Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen). Who betrayed our democracy? Who defended him?

Fifth, the committee must come to a clear conclusion and make recommendations. The committee must determine Trump’s criminal responsibility, issue an urgent call to fix the voter count law to prevent future nonviolent coups, and convince the public that the threat is not behind us. The committee should be candid: If these plotters are not punished, other politicians will follow suit. A scheme to subvert the election results through a combination of intimidation, misinformation and specious allegations of fraud is already underway. Our democracy is at stake.

Cynical pundits will proclaim that the hearings produce “nothing new.” Others will say that “it won’t change anyone’s mind”. Committee members should ignore such spiel.

Tell the full story. Identify those who engage in criminal activity. Recommend essential actions to defend our democracy. If they do, they will fulfill their oaths and secure their historical legacy.

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