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Week in politics: Trump's actions on Jan. 6 revealed; Steve Bannon guilty of contempt

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A three-hour hearing this week recalled three heart-stopping hours at the U.S. Capitol.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

LIZ CHENEY: Doors have opened. New subpoenas have been issued. And the dam has begun to break.

UNIDENTIFIED WITNESS: Members of the VP detail at this time were starting to fear for their own lives.

SARAH MATTHEWS: For him to tweet out the message about Mike Pence - it was him pouring gasoline on the fire.

DONALD TRUMP: I don't want to say the election's over. I just want to say, Congress has certified the results without saying the election's over, OK?

SIMON: The latest revelations from the January 6 committee include Vice President Pence's security detail worried about their own safety and how much effort it took for White House staff to get President Trump to tell his supporters to stand down. NPR's Ron Elving joins us.

Good morning, Ron.

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

SIMON: A few weeks ago, we heard about President Trump's activities on the morning of January 6, when he spoke to the crowd at the Ellipse. What did we learn from Thursday's hearing about his afternoon?

ELVING: We learned that President Trump returned to the White House, went to a dining room off the Oval Office, flipped on the television and remained there watching everything that was taking place for hours - how he saw the crowd from the Ellipse walking to the Capitol, the protest becoming a riot, the breaching of the Capitol, the battles with the police officers. This was when the scaffold went up that said hang Mike Pence. We learned that for three hours, he resisted the entreaties and urgings of his inner circle of staff and family. They were pleading with him to put an end to what was happening, but instead he was calling senators, saying they shouldn't certify the results from the Electoral College, which had followed the actual votes in every state.

SIMON: Eight hearings - there'll be a second round in September. Was this always the plan of the committee?

ELVING: The committee's plan has been open-ended. They made it clear they wanted to see how much new information might emerge. And committee vice chair Liz Cheney could not have been more direct in her opening statement Thursday night when she said the dam has begun to break. More people are coming forward. So she said the committee would need some weeks to process it all and stage new hearings come September. This means, of course, that the controversy surrounding the former president will continue to dominate the political discussion this fall, and he himself will be like a harvest moon rising over the landscape.

That is obviously not what congressional Republican leaders wanted. They wanted the fall midterm campaign to be about President Biden and his low approval ratings and his high inflation, high gas prices. They don't want to be talking about the 2020 election or Trump's deep sense of personal grievance. They don't want to be talking about former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon, who was found guilty yesterday - two counts of criminal contempt stemming from his refusal to cooperate with Congress's January 6 investigation. He'll be sentenced in October, and his attorney says he will appeal.

SIMON: Committee has been making a case against Trump. And also - well, it featured this week a short clip of Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri sprinting through the Capitol hallways to get away from the rioters that he'd cheered on.

ELVING: Yes. Senator Hawley has been something of a focus, in part because he was the very first senator to say that he would formally object to certifying the electoral results. And just before the January 6 protest, as you say, he was out in front of the Capitol as that protest was becoming a riot, revving up the crowd with a fist-pump gesture. We've all seen that picture. But a little while later, the cameras caught him leaving the Capitol in a hurry, like the other legislators. Quite a few memes of him on Twitter today, one in slow motion to the music from "Chariots Of Fire."

SIMON: There's a bipartisan deal to reform the Electoral Count Act, the law that President Trump and his allies tried to exploit on January 6. What changes do lawmakers want to see?

ELVING: Yes. A group of senators from both parties has agreed on reforming that act from a century and a half ago - antiquated process, obviously with flaws that made it vulnerable to this disruption. The bill would address the obvious bugs in part by making it clear that the vice president has no power under the Constitution to overturn or overrule the certified tallies from a given state or any state or all of the states.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, wonderful to hear you this week in particular. Thanks so much for being with us.

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

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.