Deep in denial, Republicans loyal to former US President Donald Trump mounted desperate rearguard action on Monday to counter the devastating narrative of the last congressional hearing on Jan. 6.
A House of Representatives panel investigating the insurgency used testimony from Trump’s attorney general and campaign manager to claim the former president knowingly spread “the big lie” of a stolen election with deadly consequences.
But even as the hearing unfolded on live television, leading Republicans defiantly pushed a counter-narrative that claims the committee is illegitimate, politically motivated and out of touch with everyday American life.
“This is all nonsense engineered by desperate Democrats to try to help them out this fall and try to weaken Trump if he were to run again in 2024,” said Newt Gingrich, a former House Speaker, at the Guardian. “So I don’t pay any attention to it.”
Gingrich described the hearings as “a Stalinist show trial” that has “nothing to do with fairness or the search for truth.”
On Monday, the House committee argued that Trump and his advisers knew his allegations of fraud in the 2020 election were false. He released video clips in which former Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien told investigators that attorney Rudy Giuliani was urging Trump to declare victory on election night, despite Stepien’s warnings that he was “far too early” to make such a prediction.
Distancing himself from wild conspiracy theories, Stepien said: “I didn’t mind being categorized – there were two groups of them, we kinda called them my team and Rudy’s team – I didn’t mind not to be classified in the normal team.”
But Republican leaders in the House tweeted very different sets of messages during the hearing. One even sought to distract from the Democrats’ alleged fixation on “woke” cultural issues such as transgender rights.
Jim Jordan, the House Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, said, “The same party that thinks men can get pregnant wants you to trust them when it comes to the economy and the Jan. 6 committee.”
Others cited House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to exclude Jordan and her colleague Jim Banks (both supported Trump’s efforts overturn the election) as evidence that the committee is one-sided and lacks credibility.
House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik wrote on Twitter, “Lame Duck Speaker Pelosi’s select committee is illegitimate. Its purpose is to distract the American people from the FACT that the House Dems have no agenda for Americans and no real solutions to the problems we face every day.
In other video testimony shown in court, former Attorney General William Barr dismissed Trump’s voter fraud allegations as “crazy stuff” and “utter nonsense.”
A Twitter account known as the “Trump War Room”, run by his political action committee Save America, sought to challenge those claims. He posted: ‘FLASHBACK: Barr admits mail-in ballots found to have ‘substantial fraud!’ “Elections conducted by mail revealed substantial fraud…”
Republican Twitter accounts also deployed the tried and tested tactic of “whataboutism” – claiming that Democrats also frequently questioned the legitimacy of the election (although none sparked an insurrection).
Trump War Room posted: “Remember when Hillary Clinton claimed that President Trump’s election was illegitimate?
RNC Research published: “In 2017, Democrat Bennie Thompson – chairman of Pelosi’s illegitimate committee – refused to attend President Trump’s inauguration because he questioned the legitimacy of the 2016 election.”
The hearing was again broadcast on major nonpartisan television networks, making it difficult for Republicans to ignore. Trump diehards are unlikely to be moved, but the overwhelming evidence could pierce through and persuade some moderate and independent voters of his guilt.
Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal ran an opinion column over the weekend that concluded, “Trump betrayed his supporters by scamming them on January 6, and he still does.” by Murdoch The New York Post encouraged readers to quit Trump, telling them to “unsubscribe from Trump’s daily emails begging for money” and “pick your favorite from a new generation of conservatives.”
But another glimpse into the Republican psyche was offered by Fox News which, after refusing to broadcast Thursday’s first hearing in prime time, provided live coverage of the second during the day.
Its panel of experts gave the session a decidedly mixed reception.
Fox News host Martha MacCallum turned to politics: “You have former President Trump, who is obviously at the center of all of this, linking him to these events and we’ll see the effort to do that over the next few hearings, and then you have all these stories this morning about Democrats saying that they think President Biden is the anchor that needs to be loosened.
“So you look at the two people who are the next clearest candidates for the presidential election and there’s just a lot of questions across the board.”
Then Jonathan Turley, a legal analyst, said he was unsure of the committee’s argument and argued that it would carry more weight if more Republicans were involved. He commented: “You can say this lays the groundwork for what they said they would prove, which is a coup attempt. It’s a big challenge.
“But so far they seem to be trying to create some sort of persona non grata trial, to declare President Trump a horrible person, and they might not get much pushback by the end of the hearing. I thought the most telling moment came at the end when the president said, I’m going to present this video unless there’s any objection, and that really put a pin on it. It’s like asking a marriage, anyone who opposes this union speaks out. No one is really there to do it.”
Andy McCarthy, author and lawyer, also took issue with the process: “They have a really good story to tell. The problem is that they put it in place through a process that is not a fair process that seeks to find out the truth and give all the counter arguments that come before the courts. And hence, it looks more like a messenger than a real survey. I could have been very impressive in court if it hadn’t been for defense attorneys, you know.”
But the US news agenda will likely be dominated by clips from Barr and others. The former attorney general spoke some memorable lines, telling investigators at one point that Trump had “detached himself from reality if he really believed in this stuff.”