When the Jan. 6 committee last met, Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to Mark Meadows, floored viewers with anecdotes of smeared ketchup on the walls and alleged presidential lunges at steering wheels. Press requests to cover this week’s hearing shot up. On Tuesday, the Cannon Caucus room was filled with reporters, sitting more snugly at their tables, and spectators, lining the walls in the rear of the room.
What everyone came to see was a case that hinged on a tweet Donald Trump sent after midnight on December 19, 2021.
In the committee’s telling, that tweet came at the moment that Trump and his enablers knew that they had exhausted quasi-legitimate avenues of recourse to maintain power—and had fully pivoted to organizing the mob.
When you think of the many instances Trump smashed the tweet button during his presidency, his 1:42 a.m. missive last December of “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” has the cadence of his dopiest, most logistical ones. It’s reminiscent of when he would tweet about when the gates would open at one of his rallies outside, say, Indianapolis. But the committee centered a whole hearing around this tweet to share the context of how it was produced, and the signal it sent to extremists afterwards.
What preceded the tweet was a White House meeting that the committee has clearly been excited to gossip about for a while. That meeting, on the evening of Dec. 18—which the committee argued precipitated the tweet—“has been called ‘unhinged,’ ‘not normal,’ and the ‘craziest meeting of the Trump presidency,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, who co-led the Tuesday session with Rep. Stephanie Murphy. It “would quickly become the stuff of legend.”
What we got was an oral history of the rotating, 6-hour long session in which “Team Crazy”—Mike Flynn, lawyer Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani, and for some reason, the former CEO of Overstock.com—paid a surprise visit to the White House to discuss their remaining options to secure the presidency, even after the Electoral College had already voted on Dec. 15. Once Trump’s White House lawyers realized those loons were in the building, Trump’s lawyer Pat Cipollone—in Powell’s words—set a “land speed record” getting to the Oval Office. Over several subsequent hours of cursing, insults, shouting and near-fisticuffs, ranging in rooms throughout the building, White House lawyers told the outsiders that everything they were attempting, such as using the military to seize state voting machines, was both illegal and insane.
Cipollone, clips of whom from his recent deposition were used liberally throughout the hearing, also had no idea what the Overstock.com guy was doing there. (“Who are you?” he asked him. The hearing room laughed, as it also did when Powell took a gulp of her diet Dr. Pepper during her deposition. It’s the little things.) Michael Flynn was said to have pulled out a diagram of sorts showing nefarious communications between electronic devices such as smart thermostats. In his own deposition, the White House lawyer Eric Herschmann described threatening to fight Flynn. Rudy Giuliani, whose mind left Planet Earth in a rocket ship some years ago and by now should be flying past Uranus, proudly described—to the Jan. 6 hearing committee—calling the sane people “a bunch of pussies.” He also noted that it was “kind of cool” to sit in the Cabinet room. Cassidy Hutchinson alleged that her boss, chief of staff Mark Meadows, walked Giuliani out that night to ensure he didn’t sneak back into the residence.
As with so many Trump stories, the recounting was “fun” in a gothic, Germanic-folk-horror sense of the word. But for the committee, it also served as a turning point in the narrative.
Because what came of the meeting? Nothing. (Well, maybe Sidney Powell left thinking she was about to be appointed Special Counsel of Seizing Voting Machines, but she is also severed from reality.)
In the committee’s telling, the inconclusiveness of that meeting led Trump to pivot to encouraging a mob to attend Washington D.C. on January 6, the day Congress would certify the Electoral College results.
And so he sent the tweet.
The next segment of the hearing, then, was designed to demonstrate how Trump’s tweet “served as a call to action, and in some cases as a call to arms, for many of President Trump’s most loyal supporters,” as Raskin would lay out.
Following the tweet, right-wing personalities across streaming platforms and in private message boards quickly spread the word that Trump needed them, imploring supporters to show up on Jan. 6, often with violent invocations. (Several hyped it up by saying it might be like “1776.”) The committee, in other words, was trying to nail down its argument that Trump had directly, and knowingly, incited the riot on the Capitol.
To this end, one of the witnesses at the hearing was Stephen Ayres, an Ohio contractor who recently pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after busting into the Capitol on Jan. 6. No longer a Trump supporter, Ayres explained how right-wing media had brainwashed him into believing Trump’s stolen-election lie. He decided he would go to the Washington D.C. rally after Trump’s Dec. 19 tweet, and then, once there, decided to go to the Capitol after hearing Trump’s speech urging supporters to go to the Capitol. He said he left when Trump issued his late-day statement encouraging people to leave.
Among the more brutal revelations the committee released on Tuesday was a text exchange from the evening of Jan. 6 between a Trump campaign advisor, Katrina Pierson, and a Trump campaign manager, Brad Parscale.
“This week I feel guilty for helping him win,” Parscale said in the text, adding that Trump’s “rhetoric helped kill someone.”
“It wasn’t the rhetoric,” Pierson wrote back.
“Katrina,” he wrote. “Yes it was.”
When the hearing concluded, Ayres got up to leave. On his way out, he walked by each of the Capitol and DC police officers from Jan. 6 who have attended each of the hearings. One-by-one, he greeted them and apologized for having broken into the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The officers went along with this, but didn’t seem to love it. Capitol police officer Harry Dunn shook Ayres’ hand, but didn’t get up. Others, like former DC officer Michael Fanone and Capitol Police officer Aquilino Gonell—whom Raskin discussed at the end of the hearing, noting that Gonell had just learned from his doctor he could no longer serve as a police officer—accepted the hug.
“I just told him, ‘no apology necessary,’” Fanone told me when I asked him about the apology.
So no hard feelings?
“I mean…” He thought for a second.
“I don’t give a fuck, either way. It doesn’t do shit for me. I hope it does something for him.”