Et Tu, Ivanka?
"It turns out that not even Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka bought into the former president’s toxic fantasies about the 2020 election having been stolen from him. She came to understand pretty quickly after the election that there was no evidence of a plot by Democrats, accepting the assessment of Bill Barr, Mr. Trump’s attorney general at the time, that the game had not been rigged. Mr. Trump had lost, and all the wild claims to the contrary, as Mr. Barr says he told Mr. Trump, were “bullshit.”
Snippets from Ms. Trump’s and Mr. Barr’s recorded testimonies were among the many engrossing bits of evidence to emerge Thursday evening during the Jan. 6 House committee’s first public hearing. The grainy video clips somehow fit the somber mood of the proceedings and fueled the sense that dark dealings were at last coming to the light for inspection by the American people.
It is a heavy lift to get people to pay attention to a story that they think they already know — and that many have grown exhausted hearing about. And Democrats, bless their hearts, are often lousy storytellers, too focused on dry data or policy rhetoric or high-minded ideological ideals to weave a strong narrative or make a gut-level connection.
But in their opening argument to the American people, the Democrat-dominated Jan. 6 committee presented a story that was both informative and resonant — by turns heartbreaking, hair-raising and infuriating. Fact by fact, clip by clip, the committee laid out the contours of its case that the president of the United States spearheaded a monthslong, multifaceted effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election, culminating in the violent attack on the Capitol. More details will come in later hearings. But the committee’s Republican vice chairwoman, Liz Cheney, captured the crux of the story in her opening remarks: “President Trump summoned the mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack.”
As a general rule, Congress doesn’t do so well when the cameras are on. Members rant and rave and preen and grandstand with an eye toward self-advancement. The proceedings for even the most serious matters, like the impeachment of a president, can feel grossly, absurdly performative. Thursday’s hearing went in the opposite direction. Only two members spoke, Ms. Cheney and Representative Bennie Thompson, the committee’s chairman. Both kept their tones measured and kept the focus on the evidence and the witnesses. They and their colleagues were clearly laying out a case as much for the history books as for the contemporary audience.
But the meat of their story — that is, the evidence — was anything but muted or sedate. It was raw and violent and at times hard to watch, especially the video of the Capitol attack, which included footage not previously made public. The clip of the mob filing through the House corridors chanting “Nancy! Nancy!” as it searched for Speaker Pelosi was chilling. So too were the howls to “Hang Mike Pence,” the increasingly panicked radio dispatches from overwhelmed police officers (“We’ve lost the line! We’ve lost the line!”), the trashing of the Capitol, the brutal clashes, the roaring insanity of it all. Whoever assembled the video shrewdly inserted, toward the end, a voice-over of Mr. Trump talking about how peaceful the event was and how much “love” was in the air. Now, that is some storytelling.
Like any good narrative, this one has been built around compelling characters, both heroes and villains. One of the two witnesses to appear in person on Thursday was Caroline Edwards, who was among the many Capitol Police officers injured on Jan. 6. In a scrupulously dispassionate voice that was more memorable than tears, Ms. Edwards shared details of how she suffered a traumatic brain injury while facing down rioters. After regaining consciousness, she returned to the fight and was later tear-gassed by the crowd.
Asked about her most searing memory of the day, the officer recalled looking out over the west front of the Capitol. “I can just remember my breath catching in my throat, because what I saw was just a war scene,” she said. “It was something like I’d seen out of the movies. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were officers on the ground. You know, they were bleeding. They were throwing up. I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people’s blood. I was catching people as they fell. It was carnage. It was chaos.”
Ms. Edwards was not the evening’s only profile in courage. Ms. Cheney deserves a full-throated shout-out for her role in making the proceedings hum. Without being melodramatic, she delivered some of the evening’s most memorable lines, including a warning to her fellow party members, so many of whom are still busy enabling Mr. Trump’s poisonous lies:
“Tonight I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”
There were different kinds of villains on display as well. The most obvious were the members of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers who threw themselves into the riot. Via video clips and testimony (including the in-person appearance by a documentary filmmaker who was embedded with the Proud Boys before and during the attack), the committee walked viewers through how and why these extremists came to Washington with an elaborate plan to wreak havoc and stop the certification of the election, through violence if necessary. These guys — some of whom are facing charges of seditious conspiracy — are scary as hell, and it was smart of the committee to focus on them starting out. It kept the narrative cleaner.
On the other end of the bad-actor spectrum was a clip of Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, smugly telling the committee that he had dismissed repeated threats by the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, to resign over concerns about the increasingly sketchy push to keep Mr. Trump in power. “My interest at that time was on trying to get as many pardons done,” Mr. Kushner said. “And I know that, you know, he was always, him and the team were always saying, ‘Oh we’re going to resign, we’re not going to be here if this happens, if that happens.’ So I kind of took it up to just be whining, to be honest with you.”
Whining. What a perfectly Jared-esque way to characterize worrying about the Constitution.
And then there was the clip of Steve Bannon, the right-wing Machiavelli and former Trump adviser, gloating on the Jan. 5 episode of his podcast,“War Room”: “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.”
The Jan. 6 committee has been charged with telling a story for the ages — one that they know much of the country will simply tune out. Indeed, even as the hearing was getting rolling, Fox News’s Tucker Carlson was boasting of his network’s decision not to seriously cover the event: “We’re not playing along,” he said, noting that “this is the only hour on an American news channel that will not be carrying their propaganda live.”
No matter: These public servants understand the seriousness of their duty, and they are doing their damnedest to help the rest of us grasp what is at stake as well.
“The sacred obligation to defend this peaceful transfer of power has been honored by every American president — except one,” Ms. Cheney noted. “As Americans, we all have a duty to ensure that what happened on Jan. 6 never happens again.”
If we don’t, the next chapters in this story could all too easily turn out darker than anything we’ve witnessed so far."