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Week in politics: Jan. 6 committee lays out a clear case against Trump

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack began public hearings this week. And if you thought you'd already known everything about that day, here's Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LIZ CHENEY: You will hear that President Trump was yelling and, quote, "really angry" at advisers who told him he needed to be doing something more. And aware of the rioters' chants to hang Mike Pence, the president responded with this sentiment - quote, "maybe our supporters have the right idea." Mike Pence, quote, "deserves it."

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: What struck or shocked you especially about what you heard?

ELVING: The clarity of the case against the former president, I think was the most striking thing, and the compelling evidence the committee already has amassed to make that case. Now, this panel has been at it for 11 months, but almost entirely behind closed doors until now. We didn't really know how much they might have. It turns out they have a great deal - what happened, when and why, and the driving force behind it all being former President Trump. The panel gave us a first look at the elements of their case. It was calm, but it still packed a wallop on TV and in the coverage the next day. It was also striking the degree to which the case was made by women. We heard from Caroline Edwards, a Capitol Police officer who was injured trying to keep the riot outside the barricades. We heard from Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, testifying that she knew and accepted the true result of the election. And most of all, our tour guide through much of the evening was Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, laying it all out in clear and cogent terms, and doing so with an air - it seemed not only restrained, but rather sorrowful as well.

SIMON: Representative Cheney, of course, is one of just two Republicans, the daughter of a Republican vice president. She's been tough on her own party.

ELVING: You know, she has been tough on her former president and some elements of her own party, those who defend the former president. She sees Trump's refusal to acknowledge defeat and his defiance as some great dishonor for the country, for the government, and for her party colleagues who have chosen to support it. She urged them to break with Trump and warned them that if they don't, their dishonor will remain long after he is gone. You know, lots of people have doubted whether this investigation could do what the Senate Watergate Committee did half a century ago, doubted whether they would get to the bottom of how a president abused his office to stay in office. Would someone step into the role, people asked, the role that had been played back then by Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Watergate investigation? You know, you could actually watch Baker that summer gradually personify the change of heart the country was having about Richard Nixon in 1973. Baker helped to move much of his party in that direction. And on Thursday night, Liz Cheney was stepping into that role.

SIMON: Former President Trump took to social media to register his thoughts about the hearings. Did he seem to diminish his own daughter?

ELVING: You know, he said she had "checked out," unquote, long before January 6, that she hadn't really studied the voting numbers. And he said that by accepting the vote as legitimate, she was just being nice to the attorney general, William Barr, whom Trump sent to find evidence of fraud and who came back dismissing such notions in no uncertain terms, even beyond what others had also done.

SIMON: Real fear that rhetoric in this country could lead to more violence - this past week, a judge in Wisconsin was killed, and then a man arrested near Justice Brett Kavanaugh's house.

ELVING: Yes. And those fears are not without basis. You and I can remember the 1960s, when extremism in politics moved from ideas to rhetoric and episodes of violence in various forms and having tragic consequences. We need to find a way of arresting that process, because in our time, the potential for such consequences is all the greater.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.