Over the last month, the House committee investigating the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021, has been releasing the findings of its ongoing probe through a series of carefully produced public hearings that, at times, have felt more like a gripping docuseries than a congressional proceeding.
During the primetime series premiere, the committee’s vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., promised that the panel would present evidence that former President Donald Trump had “a sophisticated seven-part plan to overturn the presidential election and prevent the transfer of presidential power.”
The goal of the hearings, a committee staffer told reporters at the time, would be “connecting the dots” between that plan and the deadly insurrection, to prove that the attack on the U.S. Capitol was neither spontaneous nor unpreventable but rather “the result of a coordinated multi-step effort to overturn the results of the 2020 elections and stop the transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden.”
Through six hearings, the committee has provided evidence — much of it in firsthand testimony from Republicans who worked for Trump in high-level positions — that the then president knowingly spread false claims that the 2020 election had been stolen from him, that he and his allies engaged in a campaign to pressure state officials to change election results, that he sought to install an attorney general who would advance that campaign and that he tried to pressure Vice President Mike Pence into overturning the election.
On July 12, after a brief hiatus, the committee is set to hold its seventh hearing. Before the next hearing convenes, let’s take a step back and look at what we’ve learned from the first six hearings, according to witness testimony and evidence presented by the committee, and the questions that remain unanswered.
What have we learned so far about Trump’s ‘seven-part plan’?
Step 1: Trump knowingly spread false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
Trump’s top advisers from his 2020 presidential campaign, his top law enforcement official, his closest legal advisers and even his own daughter have all told the Jan. 6 committee that everyone inside his orbit knew the election had not been stolen and that there was no credible evidence of any meaningful fraud or irregularities.
They all testified that they told Trump this starting on election night. That means he knew from the very beginning that he had not been cheated, the committee has shown. Despite this, Trump told the country hours after polls closed that the election had been “a fraud” and that “we did win this election.”
“It was far too early to be making any calls like that,” Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, told the committee. “Ballots were still being counted. Ballots were still going to be counted for days.”
“I was saying that we should not go and declare victory until we had a better sense of the numbers,” Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump, told the committee.
Trump, the committee showed, had been saying for seven months that mail-in voting was corrupt and predicting that the election would be marked by cheating. In August, before the election, he said, “The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged. Remember that.”
So, before there was even time for evidence of anything to emerge, Trump declared the election “a fraud” and began looking for even the most flimsy or dubious allegations to retroactively prove his proclamation. This, multiple Trump advisers said, is what led to an endless churn of ridiculous and fantastical claims that were quickly debunked, only to be repackaged and reproduced as if they were new.
“It was like playing Whac-A-Mole because something would come out one day and then the next day it would be another issue,” Trump’s attorney general, Bill Barr, told the committee.
Barr is a consequential voice. He was seen by critics as having politicized the Justice Department during his tenure, and at one point in 2020 he amplified some of Trump’s false rhetoric about potential voter fraud, without evidence. But Barr ultimately rejected Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud.
On Nov. 23, 2020, Barr met with Trump at the White House and said the Justice Department was investigating any and all specific and credible claims of meaningful fraud, and “they’re just not meritorious, they’re not panning out,” according to this testimony.
At a Dec. 14 meeting with Trump at the White House, Barr told the president that “the stuff that his people were shoveling out to the public was bull shit. … The claims of fraud were bull shit.”
In Barr’s videotaped interview with the committee, he described Trump as “detached from reality” and said that “there was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were.”
He also told Trump that his “crazy” claims were doing a “grave disservice to the country.”
Ivanka Trump, the former president’s daughter, told the committee she took Barr’s findings seriously. “I respect Attorney General Barr, so I accepted what he was saying,” she said.
Step 2: Trump and allies pressured state election officials, and state legislators, to change election results.
The second part of Trump’s plan to illegally hold power, the House committee argues, was a persistent and aggressive campaign led by the president himself and his top lawyers — including Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman — to pressure state officials to either deny the formal approval of Biden’s win in their respective states, also called “certification,” or approve sending to Washington “fake electors.” These were Trump loyalists who would falsely assert that he had won their state.
Trump and his top aides and advisers coordinated efforts across multiple battleground states he narrowly lost in 2020, including Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. But the House committee drilled down into some of his most extreme efforts, directly pressuring Republicans in Arizona and Georgia to go along with his plan.
“The president's lie was and is a dangerous cancer on the body politic. If you can convince Americans that they cannot trust their own elections, that any time they lose it is somehow illegitimate, then what is left but violence to determine who should govern?” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who led the committee’s fourth hearing.
And when those state officials refused to go along with Trump’s plan, they were bullied by the sitting president himself, Schiff said: “Anyone who got in the way of Donald Trump's continued hold on power after he lost the election was the subject of a dangerous and escalating campaign of pressure.”
Before he testified, Rusty Bowers, the speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, was asked to respond to a social media post from Trump that was sent just before the hearing, claiming Bowers had told Trump in a phone call that “the election was rigged and that I won Arizona.” Bowers rebutted Trump, telling the committee under oath that that was not the conversation they had.
Trump and Giuliani did call Bowers after the election, the Arizona speaker testified, and demanded a special hearing of the Arizona Legislature to consider evidence of what they described as hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants and thousands of dead people who had voted. Bowers demanded to see evidence, and Trump and Giuliani indicated they’d provide it but never did, Bowers said.
Giuliani and his associate Jenna Ellis filled lawmakers’ voicemails — when they weren’t testifying directly in front of them at hearings across the country.
When state leaders, like Pennsylvania House Speaker Bryan Cutler, rebuffed Giuliani’s lobbying, Steve Bannon, another Trump associate intimately involved in the effort, directed his followers to start protesting at their homes.
“We're getting on the road and we're going down to Cutler. We're going to start going to offices, and, if we have to, we're going to go to homes and we're going to let them know what we think about them,” Bannon said in audio played by the committee.
Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling recalled hearing about death threats being made against election workers in his state. He used a Dec. 1 press conference at the Georgia Statehouse to demand that Trump speak out against threats made by his supporters.
“Mr. President, it looks like you likely lost the state of Georgia. We're investigating. There's always a possibility. I get it, you have the right to go through the courts. What you don't have the ability to do, and you need to step up and say this, is stop inspiring people to commit potential violence. Someone's going to get hurt. Someone's going to get shot. Someone's going to get killed. And it's not right. It's not right.”
“Mr. President, it looks like you likely lost the State in Georgia. We're investigating. There's always a
Step 3: Trump’s legal team and campaign officials instructed Republicans in multiple battleground states to replace legitimately appointed Biden electors with false slates of pro-Trump electors and transmit those slates to Congress.
Congressional investigators detailed an at times madcap and slapdash effort by the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee, the White House and a coterie of Trump supporters to fabricate documents purporting to be the official electors from each state, and said they refused to stop even after being repeatedly told their efforts were both illegal and “insane.”
“Documents obtained by the select committee indicate that instructions were given to the electors in several states that they needed to cast their ballots in complete secrecy. Because this scheme involved fake electors, those participating in certain states had no way to comply with state election laws, like where the electors were supposed to meet,” said committee investigator Casey Lucier at the fourth committee hearing.
Former Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox, in a deposition, recalled hearing from Robert Norton, the general counsel at the influential conservative Hillsdale College and a lawyer aiding the Trump campaign, that Norton and other fake electors for Trump planned to camp out in the Michigan Statehouse overnight so they could then cast their ballots under the guise of authority.
“I told him in no uncertain terms that that was insane and inappropriate,” Cox testified.
Lucier said the fake electors did eventually meet on Dec. 14, 2020, to cast fake ballots from Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico and Wisconsin.
“At the request of the Trump campaign, the electors from these battleground states signed documents, falsely asserting that they were the ‘duly elected electors from their state,’ and submitted them to the National Archives and Vice President Pence in his capacity as president of the Senate,” she said.
Some of the electors and Trump’s own campaign aides testified that they felt betrayed, especially after learning that many other top Trump officials knew the effort was bogus and illegal. Others said they had been promised that their signatures would be submitted to the National Archives only if courts found that rampant fraud had indeed occurred and Trump was the rightful winner of their respective states.
“I’m angry. I’m angry because I think in a sense no one really cared if people were putting themselves in jeopardy,” said former Trump campaign aide Robert Sinners. “We were just useful idiots or rubes at that point.”
Step 4: Trump attempted to replace the Acting Attorney General with a loyalist who was willing to use the Justice Department to promote his false claims of voter fraud.
The select committee’s fifth public hearing featured live testimony from former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, former acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue and Steven Engel, who served as assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in the Trump administration.
The former officials recounted how Trump tried to pressure the Justice Department to help legitimize his false voter fraud claims, even after former Attorney General Bill Barr had concluded there was no evidence of voter fraud widespread enough to have impacted the outcome of the election.
When Rosen, who assumed the role of acting attorney general after Barr’s departure in late December 2020, refused to give cover to the fraud claims, Trump sought to replace him with Jeffrey Clark, a little-known Justice Department official whose primary qualification was a willingness to do the president’s bidding.
It was only after Donoghue, Engel and other senior department officials threatened to quit in protest that Trump backed down from the plan to replace Rosen with Clark, according to witness testimony.
Step 5: Trump pressured Vice President Mike Pence to reject certified electoral votes cast in states where he lost, to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s electoral victory…
“The former president wanted Pence to reject the votes and either declare Trump the winner or send the votes back to the states to be counted again. Mike Pence said no. He resisted the pressure. He knew it was illegal. He knew it was wrong,” the panel’s chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said at the opening of the third hearing, which focused on Pence’s role in rejecting Trump’s fake electors plan. “We are fortunate for Mr. Pence's courage.”
Pence’s former counsel Greg Jacob, who was with him on Jan. 6, and retired federal judge J. Michael Luttig testified before the committee about advising Pence on what his role was as he prepared to preside over the certification of Biden’s win.
On Dec. 7, 2020, Pence called Jacob to his office and asked him to investigate internet rumors claiming that the vice president had singular power to determine electors — which would have effectively granted him sole power to determine the next president.
“The vice president's first instinct when he heard this theory was that there was no way that our framers, who abhorred concentrated power, who had broken away from the tyranny of [King] George III, would ever have put one person, particularly not a person who had a direct interest in the outcome because they were on the ticket for the election, in a role to have decisive impact on the outcome of the election,” Jacob testified.
But with the first critical step in the formal transfer of power — the formal counting of the electoral votes on Dec. 14 — just a week away, Trump’s lawyers and advisers began lobbying Pence hard to help them illegally keep power.
Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, testified in a video deposition that he told Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, multiple times that Pence didn’t have the power to anoint Trump president. He said Meadows repeatedly acknowledged that Short was correct, but Short added, “Mark had told people so many different things that it was not something I would necessarily accept as resolved.”
Trump’s own White House lawyers, including Pat Cipollone and Eric Herschmann, and campaign aides also considered the plan to be “crazy,” Trump 2020 campaign adviser Jason Miller testified.
According to Herschmann’s videotaped testimony, when Eastman presented the plan to him Herschmann replied, “Are you out of your f***ing mind?”
“‘You’re going to turn around and tell 78-plus-million people in this country that your theory is, is this is how you’re going to invalidate their votes, because you think the election was stolen.’ I said, ‘They’re not going to tolerate that.’ I said, ‘You’re going to cause riots in the streets,’” Herschmann said. Eastman replied with “words to the effect of, there’s been violence in the history of our country in order to protect the democracy, or protect the republic,” according to Herschmann.
Pence repeatedly told Trump that he did not have the power to pick and choose any electors he liked, Pence’s aides testified. Despite this, Trump continued falsely arguing in his speeches and in tweets that “Pence has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.”
Short testified that as the rift widened between Trump and Pence, he became concerned Trump would “lash out in some way” at the vice president, and he alerted Pence’s Secret Service detail.
On the morning of Jan. 6, Trump himself made one final entreaty to Pence in a heated phone call. According to aides who witnessed the call, the president called Pence a “wimp.” Ivanka Trump’s top aide, Julie Radford, testified that Trump called Pence “the P-word.”
“When he came back into the room, I’d say that he was steely, determined, grim,” Jacob said of Pence after the late-morning call.
Pence and his entourage later headed to the Capitol to preside over the certification of Biden’s win. Trump went to the Ellipse, located south of the White House, to address the protesters who would later sack the Capitol. He, Eastman and Giuliani, in their speeches, continued their false assertions that Pence could throw the election for Trump.
As the riot escalated at the Capitol, Trump was aware that the mob was chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” but reportedly told his aides that maybe Pence “deserves it.” At 2:24 p.m. he tweeted his displeasure with Pence, and instantaneously — as the committee showed with footage from the rioters’ own social media feeds — the mob became even more enraged and sought to attack the vice president.
The rioters came within 40 feet of confronting Pence and his family minutes after Trump sent the tweet. At the third hearing, Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., motioned to Pence counsel Jacob, who had been with the vice president and his family on Jan. 6, and said 40 feet was about the same distance from his seat on the dais to the witness table.
“Make no mistake about the fact the vice president’s life was in danger,” Aguilar said, citing court evidence showing that the Proud Boys, who helped foment the riot, “would have killed Mike Pence if given a chance.”
Steps 6 and 7: Trump summoned a violent mob to Washington on Jan. 6, directed them to march on the U.S. Capitol and, once the violence was underway, he failed to take immediate action to stop it.
The select committee has indicated it plans to wrap up its final round of public hearings by showing evidence that ties Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results with the violence that took place at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
At the conclusion of the fifth hearing, before the committee was set to take a break to examine new evidence, Thompson said future hearings would examine “how Trump tapped into [the] threat of violence, how he summoned the mob to Washington and how, after corruption and political pressure failed to keep Donald Trump in office, violence became the last option.”
During a surprise hearing on June 28, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson offered a glimpse into some of the evidence the panel has obtained linking Trump to the insurrection.
Hutchinson, who served as a top aide to Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows at the time of the insurrection, told the committee that Trump wanted to march to the Capitol with his supporters that day, that he and his top aides were warned in advance about the potential for violence and that Trump didn’t want to take action to stop the attack on the Capitol once it was underway because he didn’t think the rioters were doing anything wrong.
Among the more shocking details from her testimony was the revelation that Trump was aware before he delivered his speech at the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6 that people in the crowd were carrying weapons and directed them to march to the Capitol anyway.
Hutchinson said she overheard the president demand that the metal detectors, which had been set up around the Ellipse for his security, be removed so his armed supporters could get closer to the stage, saying, “I don’t care that they have weapons, they’re not here to hurt me,” and “They can march to the Capitol from here.”
Hutchinson’s testimony also significantly undercut the notion that Trump’s call for his supporters to march on the Capitol was improvised, or that he was being hyperbolic when he said, “I’ll be there with you.”
In fact, Hutchinson said the president had made clear days before that he wanted to join his supporters at the Capitol when Congress met to certify the election results, and that plan had raised serious legal concerns for White House counsel Cipollone.
“He was concerned it was going to look like we were obstructing justice or obstructing the electoral count,” she said, adding that Cipollone was “worried that it was going to look like we were inciting a riot or encouraging a riot … at the Capitol.”
Despite those concerns, Hutchinson said, the president was so determined to go to the Capitol after his rally that he instigated a physical altercation with the head of his Secret Service detail when he was told it wouldn't be possible to get him there safely. Hutchinson relayed what she said she heard from then-White House deputy chief of staff Tony Ornato.
After they returned to the White House, Hutchinson said, she heard Meadows say that Trump didn’t want to do anything to stop the violence that was now taking place at the Capitol.
The committee has indicated that it plans to present additional testimony from others who were in the White House on Jan. 6 to paint a more complete picture of the president’s actions that day.
How has Trump responded?
Trump has been paying close attention to the hearings, based on his recent posts on Truth Social, the social media platform he launched after getting kicked off Twitter in the aftermath of the insurrection.
Throughout the hearings, Trump has taken to the platform to accuse both the committee and the TV networks that aired the proceedings of bias, to rail against specific witnesses such as Barr and Hutchinson, and to release a 12-page statement repeating many of the same false election fraud claims that the committee says led to the violence of Jan. 6.
The former president seemed to be particularly unnerved by Hutchinson’s surprise testimony, taking to Truth Social in real time to deny her most damning claims and call her a “phony” and “a third rate social climber!”
What other questions remain unanswered?
The testimony and evidence presented during the committee’s hearings have prompted additional questions that may be answered going forward. Among them:
What evidence exists to link the Trump White House with the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers?
Committee member Jamie Raskin, D-Md., has said that one of the next hearings, which he will lead, will focus on these extreme militia groups and their role in planning and executing the assault on the Capitol.
Could the committee’s hearing lead to criminal charges against Trump or others involved in Jan. 6?
The committee’s findings have bolstered the likelihood that the Justice Department will bring a criminal case against Trump, some legal experts have said. Specifically, the hearings have shown evidence that could be used to prosecute Trump for several criminal charges, such as obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States, seditious conspiracy, wire fraud, inciting a riot and witness tampering.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has not committed to pursuing criminal charges against Trump, and to do so would be a grave and risky undertaking, potentially setting a precedent that could be easily abused by future Justice Departments. But many observers have increasingly said that not to prosecute, especially after the committee’s findings to date, would pose an even greater risk to the future of the country.