How the January 6th Hearings Could Surprise Us

Conspiracies to commit high crimes always involve layers of law-breaking and secrecy; what we never know is what will come out and when.

Micah Sifry


Oliver North on the day of his indictment, March 16, 1988. (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

If you aren’t planning to watch the January 6th Select Committee’s hearings, which start tonight at 8:00pm EST, because you think all the news they may generate has already been leaked, digested and regurgitated, let me share a little story about how politics can surprise you.

In the fall of 1986, I was a young editorial staffer at The Nation magazine, an outpost of left-wing dissent at the height of the Reagan years in America. Reagan’s 1980 election defeat of President Jimmy Carter heralded the ascension of what was then called The New Right, and his landslide re-election victory over Democrat Walter Mondale in 1984 had cemented his popularity. But by the midterms of 1986, the wheels were starting to come off his presidency, culminating in a huge scandal now known as “Iran-contra.”

Back then we didn’t know much about the inner machinations of the Reagan White House, other than the fact that the Administration was fiercely committed to helping the counter-revolutionary militias fighting to overthrow the left-wing Sandinista regime in Nicaragua despite laws passed by Democrats in Congress prevent the CIA from arming them for that purpose.

Then came two surprises. The first happened in October, when a private cargo plane carrying tons of weapons for the contras was shot down over Nicaragua and its sole survivor, a man named Eugene Hasenfus, admitted that he had CIA connections. Documents found on the other men killed when the plane crashed connected them to White House aide Oliver North. The cat was out of the bag.

Then, a few weeks later, an obscure Lebanese magazine reported that the United States was selling weapons to Iran in order to obtain the release of American hostages. Not only was this a violation of an American weapons embargo of the Khoumeni regime, it also obliterated the White House’s claim that it wouldn’t negotiate with terrorists. Congress erupted. Ten days later, President Reagan went on national TV to admit that indeed, he had authorized the weapons-for-hostages deal, claiming that he was seeking a…