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The first season ends for the House committee on the Jan. 6 attacks


The House January 6 committee wrapped up this series of televised hearings last night with a bit of a cliffhanger from vice chair Liz Cheney, talking about how the hearings have revealed new information.


LIZ CHENEY: Doors have opened, new subpoenas have been issued, and the dam has begun to break.

SHAPIRO: So, Cheney said, they'll be back in September with more hearings. The committee has now spent nearly 20 hours laying out what led up to the attack on the Capitol and what Donald Trump did while it was unfolding. To talk about what impact this may have had, we've invited our senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro and NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik - good to have you both here.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Great to be with you, Ari.


SHAPIRO: Domenico, these hearings actually did change my view of what happened on January 6. What do you think, ultimately, the takeaway was?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, after watching eight of these hearings, I think it's become pretty clear that even if a legal threshold of, like, hard, prosecutable evidence isn't necessarily reached - 'cause we didn't hear a lot of firsthand conversations between the former president and other people. We didn't see real direct evidence of coordination or intent, for example. What we did see was the committee making a really strong political case that this isn't the kind of person who you want running your government. And former President Trump is continuing to tease a potential run in 2024. And the committee seems intent on convincing people that he's not fit to be president.


CHENEY: President Trump is a 76-year-old man. He is not an impressionable child. Just like everyone else in our country, he is responsible for his own actions and his own choices.

SHAPIRO: Well, and even beyond Trump, it seems they made the case that this was not just a snowball rolling down a hill, picking up speed. This was planned. This was organized. This was thought through by someone.

MONTANARO: It certainly was. And, again, we didn't see exactly what Trump knew about that organization, although you could see tangentially where some of that was coming from. But clearly, his tweet, for example, on December 19 set off a cascade of people being inspired. And we've seen so many people who've been charged with crimes pointing the finger back at Trump.

SHAPIRO: And, David, unlike a lot of congressional hearings, these were eminently watchable. You could really tell they brought in a news executive to design them. Tell us from a television - from a media perspective what you thought was effective.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I thought there are two baskets of things that were, in some ways, most effective. There were these really human moments, and there were these really high-end, as you suggest, media techniques and approaches used. So take those in turn. The human moments - you had compelling but usually compact live witness testimony in which you learn something about what had happened but also what it was like to be there. Think about the testimony given by a young, idealistic Capitol Hill police officer, Caroline Edwards, who talked about slipping in the blood of her comrades who were trying to fend off these violent insurrectionists at the steps of the Capitol.


CAROLINE EDWARDS: They were bleeding. They were throwing up. They were - you know, they had - I mean, I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people's blood.

FOLKENFLIK: You had Cassidy Hutchinson talking about the betrayal she felt in the moment as a young aide to the president's chief of staff as she realized that nothing would be done to denounce what was occurring up there in this other branch of government. Those were compelling moments, as was last night hearing from secret service agents who were not only desperate in the corridors of the Capitol - and we heard their real chatter - but also from a White House official that they were calling loved ones to say goodbye. Those were human moments, and you can't walk away from those. Additionally, we saw these incredible, high-sophistication use of all kinds of media, of body camera images, of calls, of other things showing not only what people were doing at the time but what they were saying and reflecting what they were thinking in real time. And it strips away all the veneers of respectability from what happened.

SHAPIRO: And Domenico, so many of the witnesses we heard from were not only Republicans but former White House aides, former aides to President Trump. What have these hearings shown about the Republican Party post-January 6?

MONTANARO: Right. I mean, these are people who are very difficult to just dismiss as Republicans in name only or people who have an axe to grind with the former president. These are people who worked for him. These are people who voted for him, who are working to get him reelected. And I found it fascinating, for example, how much tape we heard of Senate leader Mitch McConnell and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy.


KEVIN MCCARTHY: I've had it with this guy. What he did is unacceptable. Nobody can defend that, and nobody should defend it.

MONTANARO: You would be excused if you thought that they actually had testified. No. That was, like, found tape that - they had heard them talking about Trump one way after January 6 in the immediate aftermath and how they're talking about him so differently now because they know they need to curry favor with his base in order to try to win reelection.

SHAPIRO: David, how have pro-Trump media outlets like Fox News presented this?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, there's either distraction or denial. You saw it in some ways fairly starkly, the two different approaches. Last night during the real-time hearings themselves, where Fox News didn't go live to hearings, unlike their competitors - that was shunted over the much less-watched Fox Business News in terms of live coverage. But Tucker Carlson basically ignored it, and Sean Hannity essentially denounced the committee for not going after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for bolstering the defenses of the Capitol. It was two very different approaches, trying to discredit what the committee was doing in the case of Sean Hannity. And otherwise, there's some sort of tepid coverage on Fox's news shows. They are covering those issues, but what you're seeing is a comfort zone. There's a reason why Donald Trump turned to Fox News, as we heard repeatedly yesterday in the hearings, during the insurrection itself. It was seen as a place that is going to be relatively safe for him and often a champion for what he's trying to represent.

SHAPIRO: So, Domenico, if the goal of the committee here is to lay down a historical record, what do you think the impact of that is?

MONTANARO: You know, this is really about what kind of country this is going to be. You know, democracy held on January 6 but only because of people, local election officials who did the right thing. But in the future, the committee is really warning here, especially with Trump potentially set to run again in 2024, what happens if people don't do their jobs the way they did in 2020 the next time?

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro and David Folkenflik. Thank you both.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.



Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.