The Jan. 6 hearing opener was more riveting than Watergate's

The managers of the current hearings on the 2021 insurrection had no time to dawdle. They couldn’t assume a TV audience with the patience to let the story slowly unfold—especially since the story had occurred well over a year ago, had been publicly scrutinized many times, and Trump was long out of office. By contrast, the Watergate hearings took place while Nixon was still president, and a grand jury was probing the same crimes separately and in secret. Dean told me in an email on Thursday that he started cooperating with the Ervin committee in late April, a few weeks before the hearings began—while he was still White House counsel.

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On Thursday night, the vice chair of the Jan. 6 committee, Liz Cheney—the Republican renegade, one of just two to join the panel—had to lay out the highlights of the case against Trump in short order, and she did so in a half-hour summary that any federal prosecutor would envy: well-ordered, calmly principled, and backed up by video clips of witnesses testifying before the committee (this is television), bolstering the case—some unwittingly…

This was great television, but it wasn’t just television. Many years after the Watergate hearings, we learned that Samuel Dash, the committee counsel, had shared information with the Justice Department, which was holding grand jury hearings on Watergate—and vice versa. Reportedly, the Jan. 6 committee and today’s Justice Department are doing the same. We don’t know how far along the justice investigators are in their probe, but the committee’s Thursday night airing of some of the evidence should push them to move a bit faster. Unlike Nixon, Trump left office at the end of his term, impeached but not convicted. (Nixon resigned to avoid the inevitable impeachment. Gerald Ford’s subsequent pardon prevented him from going through what would have been a grueling criminal trial.) However, Trump could run again in 2024—unless he’s convicted of a felony in the meantime or enough people in the Republican party, and the population generally, turn against him.

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