The House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol has introduced Americans to a cast of characters critical to understanding then president Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn a free and fair democratic election.
The committee interviewed hundreds of witnesses during its yearlong investigation into the 2021 insurrection and the events that led to it. Some appeared in person, others taped depositions that were played during the hearings. Some pled the fifth or refused to cooperate.
Here are the major players who have defined the January 6 hearings.
Mississippi Democratic congressman Bennie Thompson, 74, was chosen by House speaker Nancy Pelosi to lead the panel, the capstone of a career devoted to protecting voting rights. He grew up in the racially-segregated south, an experience he has cited as a reminder that antidemocratic forces are as old as the nation itself.
With his solemn, reverent tone, the chairman has essentially acted as narrator of the story of a democracy in peril. Thompson will chair Thursday’s hearing remotely due to a Covid-19 diagnosis.
Wyoming Republican congresswoman Liz Cheney has led the charge against erstwhile colleague Donald Trump, acting as the panel’s top prosecutor. Unsparring and matter-of-fact, the committee vice-chair has provided some of the hearing’s most shocking revelations, among them that Trump appeared to endorse his supporters’ chants to “hang Mike Pence” for the then vice-president’s refusal to try to overturn Joe Biden’s election victory, and that the former president had sought to contact a committee witness.
Cheney, the 55-year-old daughter of former vice-president Dick Cheney, is one of the few in her party willing to criticize the former president, though her dogged efforts to hold Trump accountable for the insurrection could cost her a seat in Congress as she faces a Trump-backed primary challenge.
A former aide to Trump’s last chief of staff, Mark Meadows, Cassidy Hutchinson provided the committee – and the country – with damning testimony.
Hutchinson described a president spiraling out of control as he clung to power. She recalled Meadows, who refused to cooperate with the committee, warning that “things might get real bad” on 6 January.
Hutchinson described violent outbursts by Trump and testified under oath that he knew some of his supporters were armed when he directed them to march to the Capitol.
Hutchinson has been likened to John Dean, a key witness in the Watergate hearings. But her turn from junior White House staffer to star witness has drawn harsh scrutiny from those she once worked alongside, including Trump. She has stood by her testimony.
Pat Cipollone, Trump’s second and final White House counsel recently appeared before the January 6 committee, after it subpoenaed him following Hutchinson’s testimony. Cipollone resisted Trump’s schemes to reverse the election and believed he should concede.
Cipollone attended meetings at which Trump’s efforts to subvert the election were discussed, including a December 2020 confrontation just before Trump sent a tweet the committee described as a “call to arms” to extremist supporters. Cipollone said he asked informal advisors pushing wild claims of voter fraud: “where is the evidence?” They never provided it.
Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell
Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, and Sidney Powell, a lawyer for Trump’s 2020 campaign, led the unsuccessful legal campaign to overturn the 2020 election based on spurious claims of voter fraud.
Called “Team crazy” by White House officials, Giuliani, Powell and a group of others promoted outlandish conspiracy theories and tactics, including citing far-fetched plots involving hacked thermostats, a deceased former leader of Venezuela and a push to seize voting machines.
As a result of their efforts to subvert the election, Giuliani had his law license in New York suspended and is ensnared in a Georgia investigation. Powell is facing disbarment in Texas.
John Eastman was a conservative law professor in California before he became a key figure in Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Eastman devised a brazen plan that vice-president Mike Pence could unilaterally block or delay Congress’ certification of the electoral college results, which finalized Biden’s victory.
In a legal memo, Eastman mapped out the actions Pence could take to thwart Congress from counting the electoral votes, an unprecedented deviation from the vice-president’s ceremonial role in the process. A June hearing revealed that Eastman warned Trump that the plan was illegal.
A federal judge determined that he and Trump “more likely than not” attempted to illegally obstruct Congress.
A former mid-level justice department official, Jeff Clark worked closely with Trump to undo the 2020 election. He proposed sending a letter to Georgia and other closely-contested states that falsely claimed the justice department had “identified significant concerns” with the results.
In a June hearing, his superiors at the department testified that any assertion the department had substantiated claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election were brazenly false. Clark sought, ultimately unsuccessfully, to persuade Trump to install him as the acting attorney general.
Last month, Clark said federal agents searched his home as part of the separate Department of Justice investigation into the 6 January 2021 attack and election subversion efforts.
Wandrea ArShaye “Shaye” Moss and Ruby Freeman
Shaye Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, poll workers in Fulton county, Georgia, had their lives upended when Giuliani placed them at the center of an election-rigging conspiracy. Though the claims were baseless, the women’s testimony described in wrenching detail the very real consequences of Trump’s lie that he had won the 2020 election.
Freeman, known as Lady Ruby, told the committee she had lost her sense of security. Her daughter, who testified publicly, said she received a torrent of racist and “hateful” messages on social media. Election-result deniers even showed up at her grandmother’s house claiming they could make a “citizen’s arrest” of the poll workers.
Moss was awarded the John F Kennedy profile in courage award for her “hard and unseen work to run our democracy”.