Impeachment didn’t work. Here’s why the January 6 hearings probably will

Democrats are getting a big leg-up from their Republican counterparts this time

It’s been two years, six months and six days since your correspondent took his seat for the first of a series of hearings that Democrats hoped would end Donald Trump’s presidency.

After a whistleblower reported that Trump had withheld US defence aid to pressure the newly-elected president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, into announcing sham investigations into Joe Biden and his son, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tasked a trusted lieutenant — House intelligence committee chairman Adam Schiff — with quarterbacking the investigation into the then-president’s misdeeds.

Those hearings, which were nationally televised, ended with the House voting to impeach Trump. But when it came to convincing Republicans that he had abused his power, the response was a collective shrug and an acquittal in the Senate.

A year later, Democrats got another bite at the impeachment apple after Trump incited a mob of his supporters to storm the Capitol. But though a new set of impeachment managers came armed with hours of video and tons of reporting on the Capitol insurrection (including some from your correspondent), they still fell short of the votes needed to convict Trump and bring about a vote barring him from running for office again.

Now, one year, five months and two days after the worst attack on the Capitol since Major General Robert Ross ordered British troops to burn it in 1814, House Democrats — and two Republican allies — have their third and perhaps final chance to bring about some measure of accountability for the man who by most accounts tried to end American democracy.

Unlike their last two chances to hold Trump accountable, Democrats will have help from some unlikely sources when the House January 6 select committee gavels open the first of an expected six hearings.

According to committee aides, the panel is set to use the prime-time televised hearing to unveil “a small … but meaningful portion” of videotaped testimony from key figures in Trump’s inner circle. “This will include senior Trump White House officials, senior Trump administration officials, Trump campaign officials, and indeed, Trump family members,” said one official.

Every cable and broadcast network on Thursday night (save for Fox, which is ignoring the hearings because airing them would anger the viewers they depend on keeping incensed at Democrats) will also include “substantive multimedia presentations” produced by a veteran television executive retained by the select committee.

The decision to professionalize the process of unveiling their findings, sources tell me, was informed by Democrats’ two prior failures. And it was in no small part made on advice from the panel’s two Republican members, Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger and the committee’s vice-chair, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming. A source familiar with the committee’s internal deliberations described the two GOP members’ contributions as “invaluable”.

They’ll also get help from former aides to Mike Pence, the man who Trump threw to the mercies of a mob after he refused to aid in his quest to overturn the election results. Another source with knowledge of the panel’s plans said Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, and his former counsel, Greg Jacob, could very well make appearances as star witnesses at subsequent hearings — perhaps as soon as Monday, when the committee’s second such public session is set to convene.

But the most valuable contribution to the select committee’s efforts is nearly a year old, and comes from none other than House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy.

After failing to stop the House from passing a resolution authorising the select committee’s work, McCarthy tried to stack the GOP side with Trump loyalists. That included two members — Reps Jim Banks and Jim Jordan — who had led the charge to install Trump in the White House for a second term, the wishes of voters be damned.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected both Banks and Jordan, citing the possibility that both men would be called as witnesses in the investigation. But rather than pick two other equally Trumpy Republicans to serve on the committee instead, McCarthy took his ball and went home in a fit of pique. Now, no Republicans who denied the legitimacy of Biden’s victory or denied the seriousness of the attack on the Capitol sit on the committee, which means these hearings — unlike the prior Trump impeachment hearings — won’t have anyone sabotaging them from the inside.

And perhaps that means the third time will indeed be the charm.

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