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Insurrection hearings question Trump’s detachment from reality

Jules Witcover, syndicated columnist

WASHINGTON — In a bizarre twist in the Monday hearing of the House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 Attack on the United States Capitol, a principal witness, Donald Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien, ducked a subpoena because his wife had just gone into labor. Duty hence required Stepien’s presence at her side for the delivery of their new child.

The development caught the committee by surprise, because Stepien was expected to answer questions about what aides and campaign officials had told Trump on election night and afterwards about the outcome of the election.

But the vice chair of the committee, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, quickly oversaw the collecting of videos in which Stepien provided the same testimony, and it was aired in the course of the hearing.

The select committee’s televised hearings have been a blockbuster blow to Trump’s credibility in various claims he has made about election fraud and the attack on the Capitol. The first day of hearings presented evidence of his involvement in the attack.

The second day of hearings revealed through additional videos more testimony from campaign aides that raised serious questions about Trump’s motives and mental stability. Several key figures, including Stepien and Attorney General William Barr, pointedly advised Trump that the stories he would spend months telling the American public were baseless.

Stepien warned him against declaring victory on election night, as there was no basis for saying so. Instead, Trump favored the advice of his lawyer Rudolph Giuliani, who several witness testified was drunk that night, and declared himself the winner.

In the weeks following the election, as Trump and his cohort ginned up legal challenges of election fraud, Barr told the president his allegations were “bullshit.” White House lawyer Eric Herschmann testified that he scolded John Eastman — the lawyer who devised the Trumpworld strategy of urging Vice President Mike Pence to monkeywrench the certification of Electoral College ballots on Jan. 6 — and urged him to hire a good criminal defense lawyer.

What emerges from this testimony is a defeated president unable to handle the truth. Whether he was deluded and trapped by his own wishful thinking or whether he was lying to advance his own fraud remains to be seen. Some observers suggest Trump had become detached from reality. Stepien spoke of being on “Team Normal,” a faction within the White House that recognized reality, while another faction, including Giuliani, egged Trump on in pushing what would become known as the Big Lie of the 2020 election.

One of the interesting features of the select committee hearings so far is how much damning testimony against Trump has been made by Republicans — and ones who worked closely with the ex-president, no less. This should give pause to sensible members of the Republican Party, which is still very much in thrall to Trump. At the very least, they need to ask themselves whether he should remain in a position of such influence in their party.

The select committee cannot prosecute crimes. That power lies with the Justice Department, which has charged hundreds of participants in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, including some with the serious offense of seditious conspiracy. It’s unclear at this point if Trump will ever be charged by the Justice Department, although some observers see the possibility.

Whatever fate holds for Trump, his chances to regain the presidency are being seriously undercut by the hearings going on now in Washington. If the GOP is foolish enough to renominate him in 2024, they will give the Democratic nominee the greatest advantage of all: not being Donald Trump.

Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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