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What we've learned so far about Jan. 6

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Yesterday's surprise hearing before the January 6 committee landed with a bang. House investigators have been slowly building their case, presenting dozens of hours of testimony showing how President Trump and his allies organized to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election with a pressure campaign that reached the states, the Justice Department, the vice president and the armed rioters who stormed the Capitol.

We're going to take a step back now and look at the case the committee has built so far. NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson and senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro have been covering the panel's investigation from the very beginning, and they're here to walk us through what we've learned. Hey there.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey.

SHAPIRO: Big picture - what do each of you think these hearings have shown us that we did not know before?

MONTANARO: What we saw was a former president who didn't care about who he was pressuring - could have been as high up as his former vice president or all the way down to someone like Shaye Moss who was a former Fulton County election worker who testified to the fact that her life has essentially been turned upside down because of the pressure that had been put on her.

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SHAYE MOSS: I haven't been anywhere at all. I've gained about 60 pounds. I just don't do nothing anymore. I don't want to go anywhere. I second-guess everything that I do. It's affected my life in a major way - in every way.

SHAPIRO: Carrie?

JOHNSON: One of the things that really stuck out to me was how many people had alarm bells ringing in their ears across the system, across the federal government. We've heard that the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, was basically raising questions about the possibility that people inside the White House were about to commit some very serious criminal offenses, and yet much of these details never leaked out. The idea that we had people testifying that former President Trump told people inside the Justice Department, just say there was election fraud, just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me - that is starting to show a state of mind that people investigating criminally might be interested in.

SHAPIRO: That leave the rest to me came out in testimony from the acting second in command at the Justice Department, Richard Donoghue.

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RICHARD DONOGHUE: He responded very quickly and said, essentially, that's not what I'm asking you to do. What I'm just asking you to do is just say it was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.

SHAPIRO: We should also mention that these people who are ringing alarm bells, the witnesses, are overwhelmingly Republicans - people who, at one point, were allies of Donald Trump.

MONTANARO: Now, this is the thing that's been striking to me is that you have almost everyone who's testified been a Republican. You know, this conspiracy has to go pretty darn deep for a lot of the people who think that they want to dismiss all of these folks as just having an ax to grind.

SHAPIRO: As you watch these hearings, what strikes you is the goal? Is it to prove criminal culpability, or is it something else?

JOHNSON: Well, to me, the committee has said, including committee members like Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland who used to be a constitutional law professor, that his goal here is to tell the American people a story of what happened and to fill in some of the very important and critical details about actions that led to the deaths of people inside the Capitol and near the Capitol and beyond after January 6, 2021.

JAMIE RASKIN: I want to see justice done in all of these cases. I think that's critical. I know there's a great public hunger for it. And we will also be making recommendations about the legislative changes that we need in order to stop these authoritarian assaults on our democracy.

JOHNSON: But, of course, covering the Justice Department for so long, Ari, I'm really looking at a lot of this from the lens of what the Justice Department may or is, in fact, investigating now. And that's whether any high-level people in former President Trump's inner circle or the former president himself may ultimately be brought to justice for some of the things that went on here.

SHAPIRO: And when you look at it through that lens - from the perspective of a prosecutor making a decision of whether to bring a case against a former president, which would be unheard of - I mean, where do you think they stand on that?

JOHNSON: Unheard of, Ari, but there are some things that we have heard in this testimony before this committee that have been really eye-opening. I'm thinking we heard Cassidy Hutchinson testify about the former president knowing that some of his supporters were armed.

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CASSIDY HUTCHINSON: You know, I don't effing care that they have weapons. They're not here to hurt me. Take the effing mags away.

JOHNSON: And wanting them to march to the Capitol, some nuance and details that Hutchinson testified about with respect to her boss, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, perhaps getting on the phone with people inside the Willard hotel a day before the assault on the Capitol.

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HUTCHINSON: I had made it clear to Mr. Meadows that I didn't believe it was a smart idea for him to go to the Willard hotel that night. I wasn't sure everything that was going on at the Willard hotel, although I knew enough about what Mr. Giuliani and his associates were pushing during this period. I didn't think that it was something appropriate for the White House chief of staff to attend or to consider involvement in.

JOHNSON: I spoke in particular with Stephen Saltzburg today. He used to run the criminal division at the Justice Department. He thinks that Cassidy Hutchinson put Mark Meadows in the crosshairs regarding the criminal probe in particular.

SHAPIRO: Domenico, what about the court of public opinion? If these investigators are building a case against the president and his allies, is it landing with the American people?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, I think one of the big-picture things, as far as these hearings go, is they're for history, right? And I think that that can be kind of overlooked. And when you fill in a lot of these details, even though a good deal of information had been reported beforehand, a lot of these details, a lot of the temperament of the president - those kinds of things hadn't really been known publicly before. And you do have to wonder if in the medium term - you know, probably not likely in the short term because of short-term considerations like high inflation and high gas prices that Republicans are still favored to take back the House this year.

But if you're looking at 2024 and President Trump being the person who is far and away the front-runner for the 2024 nomination, even if you're a Republican who supports President Trump, who voted for him previously, there are a lot of people waiting in the wings to take his place culturally, to push his movement but not have the same level of drama that has surrounded him. And we had seen sort of a revisionary action sort of taking place on President Trump - former President Trump. Now you have to wonder if this is going to take some of the shine off of that.

SHAPIRO: You know, early on in this process, congressional Republicans as a group decided not to participate, and I wonder if you think that was a miscalculation. While there are two Republicans on the panel, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, there is no cross-examination from anyone who supports the president. And so these hearings end up letting one narrative unfurl pretty uninterrupted.

MONTANARO: You know, this was kind of an all-in situation for congressional Republican leadership in particular, like Kevin McCarthy, who is essentially saying we are not going to participate in this, not going to have any wedge come between themselves and former President Trump, who is the most influential person in the party. And what their calculation essentially is, is that they have enough of a lock hold - lock and hold on their base through conservative media in particular where they're not going to even take in these hearings to hear the primary source information.

And largely, that's true. There was a CBS YouGov poll out last week that showed that while 7 in 10 Democrats are paying close attention to the hearings, only a quarter of Republicans are. So Republican leadership's bet is that they're not even going to hear it. And if a tree falls in the forest and you're thousands of miles away, they don't even know that it made a sound.

JOHNSON: You know who is listening to these hearings - the attorney general of the United States, Merrick Garland, and the people who are prosecuting hundreds of criminal cases related to January 6. And we are now getting a sense of how difficult these decisions are going to be for the people atop the Justice Department because it's getting really hard to argue that there's not enough evidence to investigate here and potentially really hard to argue there's not enough evidence not to consider bringing criminal charges. And then you get into this area of, well, is it better for the country or not to not criminally charge a former president of the United States? Is that a question a prosecutor should be asking? Those are the kinds of things that are going to be going on inside the Justice Department at the very highest levels in the months to come.

SHAPIRO: As you've watched these many hours of hearings, could you each choose just one moment that really stood out to you that you will never forget? Carrie, you want to go first?

JOHNSON: I guess the image of the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, who, as we've heard from other witnesses, was kind of in an impossible job at this stage, you know, leading up to January 6, on the day of January 6, going into the chief of staff's office and basically warning that the president, under no circumstances, should be allowed to go to the Capitol where some of his armed supporters were marching.

SHAPIRO: This was a moment that Cassidy Hutchinson described yesterday.

JOHNSON: And Hutchinson knew that. Mark Meadows knew that. And Hutchinson said Meadows basically wasn't all that interested in intervening or acting. That's some really hard stuff to stomach.

SHAPIRO: Domenico?

MONTANARO: You know, there were a lot of things that obviously stood out that were very explosive and dramatic. But the thing that, you know, got a little less attention was in that first hearing when we heard from Gabriel Sterling, the elections official in Georgia, who talked about how the problem with convincing people who maybe are skeptical of this stuff politically, to actually get them to see it and to change their minds about what actually happened that day.

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GABRIEL STERLING: I remember this one specific - an attorney that we know that we showed and walked him through. This wasn't true. OK, I get that. This wasn't true. OK, I get that. This wasn't - five or six things. But at the end, he goes, I just know in my heart they cheated.

MONTANARO: He said, the problem is you're getting into people's hearts. And that is something, for me, that it's very difficult to kind of look past, and it really stopped me in my tracks.

SHAPIRO: There are so many puzzle pieces yet to be filled in. Is there one you would particularly like to see, somebody you would especially like to hear from in the hearings yet to come?

JOHNSON: Ari, what I want to hear more on is this idea of pardons - of specific people requesting pardons. We have testimony from multiple people that some Republican members of Congress requested pardons. We have testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson that Rudy Giuliani and Mark Meadows requested pardons. Some of that is in dispute. Hutchinson has been under oath. We have not heard from these other people under oath. She has not been cross-examined. But the idea of requesting a pardon is really important from a criminal law perspective because it could demonstrate consciousness of guilt. I don't think we have all the evidence on that yet. I want to know more.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Carrie Johnson and Domenico Montanaro, thank you both.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: And we're learning this evening that the House Select Committee has subpoenaed Trump's White House counsel, Pat Cipollone. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
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.