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The Latest Installment of the Summer’s Hottest New Series!

By Laurence Lerman / New York City

The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol
The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol

Step aside, Marvel Comics Universe and computer-generated thunder lizards! Make way for a dazzling new summer franchise that goes by the unwieldy name of “The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.” The marketing department should definitely rethink the name.

The freshest extended, episodic production of its kind since the Watergate Hearings nearly 50 years ago held its third public proceeding on the afternoon of Thursday, June 16.

The ongoing hearings may include at least five more sessions, some of which have already been announced. So, it’s a series that may very well still be going strong when Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness and Jurassic Park Dominion are just two of a zillion possible options on your streaming menu.

One day prior to the third episode, committee co-chair Liz Cheney of Wyoming released a preview of the installment with a “blurb” that described how the day’s session would delve into former President Trump’s relentless effort to pressure Vice President Mike Pence not to certify the lawful electoral votes, in what is intended in the Constitution to be an essentially ceremonial duty. It effectively set up what played as a considerably drier, talkier and more legalistic narrative then the previous two hearings. Cheney’s teaser dangled a portion of the testimony given by former Trump White House lawyer Eric Herschmann, parts of which had been seen in the second day of hearings.

The Capitol on January 6, 2021
The Capitol on January 6, 2021

A half hour into the broadcast of the epic episode (it clocked in at a little over three hours, while the previous two had run two hours or less), the hearing began to feel like one of the middle entries of an extended film cycle or prestige television series. Yes, it was well-prepared and smartly executed, technologically proficient in regards to its audio, video and computer graphics presentation (filled with texts of tweets, maps of the Capitol building, testimony clips and more), but it wasn’t initially as alluring or absorbing as the previous segments. Those first two hearings grabbed our attention right out of the gate and thrust us into an investigation that revealed lies, illegalities, power plays, angry Presidential tweets and phone calls, strange White House meetings and lessons on constitutional law.

It's no surprise that the middle sections of even the most popular TV and film series fall victim to audience fatigue, predictability and the viewers’ desire to move on to the juicier, later chapters of the story.

Let’s be honest here—does anyone outside of a diehard fan clearly remember the second film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy—2002’s The Two Towers—or the fourth and fifth seasons of HBO’s eight-season-long Game of Thrones?

Liz Cheney, Vice Chair of the January 6 Select Committee
Liz Cheney, Vice Chair of the January 6 Select Committee

But even as the opening salvos of the first two hearings were more propulsive, the team that put together the third one still wisely amplified all that was said by the repeated use of clips of the violent and shocking assault on the Capitol. With the regular rollout of carnage clips (which still weren’t as frequent as in the first two hearings), the horrors of January 6 never felt far away.

“If Pence caved, we’re going to drag motherfuckers through the streets,” says one rioter captured on video that day. “He deserves to burn with the rest of them,” yells another. And then there’s the crowd chanting “Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!” with footage of a wooden gallows erected by Trump’s supporters on the Capitol lawn.

These are unnerving words and a terrifying crowd and serious stuff. Overall, though, I don’t think it’s as disturbing as the knowledge that the hearings are transpiring in the very building complex where the insurrection took place. That’s something that’s been floating around my head since the hearings began, as it probably has for the many of the hearing’s participants and viewers. Like any good ongoing series, strong images like those of the violence that occurred on such familiar and hallowed ground early on in the production are sure to rear their heads again as the narrative moves forward.

It was Herschmann’s testimony and warning to rogue Trump attorney John Eastman, a former law professor and lawyer who served as an advisor to Trump during the election fracas, not to file an election result appeal in Georgia following the events of January 6 that proved to be the most fascinating and memorable passages to emerge during the third hearing.

“I said to him, ‘Are you out of your effing mind?,’” Herschmann recalled in his testimony. ‘“I only want to hear two words coming out of your mouth from now on: ‘Orderly transition.’ Repeat those words to me.” Eventually, {Eastman] said ‘orderly transition.’”

Former White House counsel Eric Herschmann gives testimony
Former White House counsel Eric Herschmann gives explosive testimony

A few seconds later, Herschmann’s cherry on top of his “orderly transition” demand arrived in the form of his giving Eastman “the best free legal advice you’re ever getting in your entire life: ‘Get a great effing criminal defense lawyer, you’re going to need it.’”

The Herschmann declaration was smartly situated right in the middle of the broadcast, marking a change in direction of the narrative from the legalese of the electoral aspects to a physical breakdown of the events of January 6. The transition and its structure were smartly conceived, with a bit more action to enliven the second half.

Hey, and speaking of Lord of the Rings, with the arrival of Eastman at the third hearing, the public was presented with a villainous new player in the saga who’s frighteningly reminiscent of a nasty character in The Two Towers. Eastman’s ludicrous legal theory that Mike Pence as vice president could refuse to certify the fair election’s results and overturn the election, was one of the primary topics of the third hearing.

John Eastman is, without a doubt, the Grima Wormtongue of the election saga, Wormtongue being the nefarious chief counsellor at the court of King Theoden of Rohan. Portrayed by Brad Dourif in the film, Wormtongue is ultimately exposed as a scheming, untrustworthy advisor who has designs on bringing down the kingdom.

Gallows on the Capitol lawn on January 6, 2021
Gallows on the Capitol lawn on January 6, 2021

Even when his agenda is found out, Wormtongue refuses to admit to his actions and denies any wrongdoing, much like Eastman invoked the Fifth Amendment more than 100 times when he was deposed by the Select Committee, according to Rep. Pete Aguilar of Texas. The third hearing included a handful of clips of Eastman asserting the Fifth and more blather. At one point, committee member Aguilar plays a clip of Mike Pence’s former counsel testifying that Eastman acknowledged this theory was unconstitutional and illegal—and that Trump was well aware of that, too.

So Eastman, the bad guy of the third hearing—you’ve gotta have a villain and the jowly, white-haired Eastman plays the role perfectly—took the biggest public beating of the various players. Hopefully, his career and credibility, whatever it is at this point, did the same.

Though Mike Pence could never be considered a hero, in the narrative of the third hearing, he actually emerged as one of the good guys. As testimony and video footage of his January 6 actions in Congress reveal—these performed several hours after the insurrection that put his life in danger—Pence clearly broke with the former President and refused to go along with him and his advisor’s illegal and unconstitutional plot to block Congress’ certification of Joe Biden’s victory. It’s a legal theory that, again, both Trump and Eastman knew was bogus and one that U.S. District Judge David Carter in a decision in March described as “a coup in search of a legal theory.”

Grima Wormtongue, as portrayed by Brad Dourif in 2002’s The Two Towers, and Trump-affiliated attorney John Eastman
Grima Wormtongue, as portrayed by Brad Dourif in 2002’s The Two Towers, and Trump-affiliated attorney John Eastman

Good guys and bad guys and heroes and villains abound, just like in the movies. But unlike a movie, which is a make-believe tale even if it’s fact-based, the categorization here is likely to last much longer, even if the panel’s ultimate goal to lay out a case against Trump and to have him criminally indicted doesn’t come to pass.

“Tonight, I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible,” Cheney memorably stated in her opening statement in the hearings on June 9. “There will come a day that Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”


Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site



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