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Editorial: Jan. 6 hearings are too important to let them devolve into partisan gotchas

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The House committee investigating the Capitol insurrection opens televised hearings Thursday night. The prime-time event will either be a partisan spectacle clearly designed to weaken the Republican Party going into the midterms, or an illuminating examination of what exactly happened before, during and after the assault: who played what roles, and what the remaining dangers are going forward. For the sake of the nation, it’s urgent that it be the latter.

It was 18 months ago that thousands of supporters of then-President Donald Trump swarmed the Capitol to interrupt Congress’ normally routine process of officially confirming the presidential election results of the previous November. Their goal was to prevent certification of Joe Biden’s clear victory in that election, so that an incumbent who had been turned out of office by the people could remain in power.

It was Trump himself who spurred them to action, demanding from the podium shortly ahead of the attack that the mob march on Congress and “fight like hell.” What followed was hours of intense violence that cost the lives of police officers and rioters and sent lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence scurrying and hiding for their lives. Nearby at the White House, Trump raptly watched the violence on TV but remained publicly silent through most of it, ignoring for hours the frantic pleas from members of Congress and his own inner circle to call off the mob.

In short, this was the closest thing to a literal coup that the American presidency has ever experienced.

The above facts and much more have already been thoroughly established, but this reality-affirming narrative is an important starting point for any additional information the committee may bring to light through testimony and previously unreleased video and documents.

Americans have a tendency to move on quickly from even the most shocking national events, and to some extent, many have done that regarding Jan. 6, 2021. This is a mistake, one the hearings may be able to rectify. What happened that day wasn’t a random event, but the logical culmination of a months-long campaign by an ousted president to stay in power through lies and intimidation. And that ousted president, still slinging his lies, remains a potential 2024 presidential candidate, meaning the danger has not passed.

The Democrats who make up most of the committee must resist the usual urge to speechify, grandstand and take potshots at the GOP in general with an eye toward the midterms. This was a crime against America, and the hearings should be conducted with the sober and deliberate goal of presenting the evidence of that crime — listening to the witnesses, viewing the documentation, following the facts wherever they go — and not treating it as an election-year partisan cudgel. The issue is simply too important for that.

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