For me, the 2 biggest questions about tonight's hearings on Trump's attempted coup

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Tonight, we learned several things from the first hearing of the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol:

1. After the riot began on January 6, many White House officials, including members of Trump’s own family, urged him to call off the rioters. He did not. Presumably the committee will provide detailed evidence of this.

2. When told that the rioters wanted to lynch Vice President Pence for being unwilling to stop the certification by electors, Trump said "maybe our supporters have the right idea" and he "deserves it." Here, too, I’m looking forward to detailed evidence.

3. When the riot was underway, Pence called for extra help from the Defense Department.

4. Also when the riot was underway, minority Leader McCarthy called Trump, family members, and chief of staff Mark Meadows, to get Trump to issue a statement to tell the rioters to stop. Yet Meadows wanted only to “control the narrative” so that it didn’t look as if Pence was in charge.

5. The riot was the culmination of months of a carefully-constructed plot by Trump and his cronies to advance the big lie that the election was stolen. According to Cheney, Trump personally coordinated a sophisticated 7-part plan to overturn the result of the election.

6. Yet Trump knew — because he was repeatedly told by his own staff, including his attorney general — that there was no evidence that the outcome of the election was the result of fraud. “I told the president it was bullshit,” then Attorney General Barr told the committee, referring to Mr. Trump’s claims of election fraud. “I didn’t want to be a part of it.”

There is much more, which presumably will be detailed over the next several weeks.

The star of tonight’s hearing was Republican vice-chair of the committee, Liz Cheney, who said at the end of her opening remarks, referring to her Republican colleagues who continue to lie on behalf of Trump: “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone. But your dishonor will remain.”

But I’ve got two key questions about these proceedings:

— At the start of this post I used the terms “we learned” several things. But will anyone who has fallen for Trump’s Big Lie learn anything from these hearings? Fox News decided not to air them. Rightwing social media has discounted them, or charged them with being part of a conspiracy against Trump. The mainstream media continues to frame the hearings in partisan terms — asking, for example, whether they will help or hinder Democrats in the midterms.

Will the hearings have any bearing on whether Attorney General Merrick Garland prosecutes Trump for criminal acts — such as violating 18 U.S.C. § 371, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and 18 U.S.C. § 1512, obstruction of Congress? So far, at least 862 people have been arrested and charged with crimes. But the window of opportunity for prosecuting Trump is closing. Once he declares his intention to run for president, prosecuting him will become far more directly entangled in partisan politics.

We must not allow these hearings to become — like the Mueller report and the two impeachment proceedings against Trump — another dead letter, which I fear would only embolden Trump further. Trump must be held accountable. The future of our democracy hangs in the balance.

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