In a way, this is emblematic of the entire exercise last night from the House select committee on the January 6 riot. It’s certainly interesting that Ivanka Trump testified that then-AG William Barr’s rejection of Donald Trump’s stolen-election claims convinced her that her father lost to Joe Biden.
But did it take a prime-time show to make the point — especially since the committee leaked it the day before? And especially because Ivanka’s opinion, correct as it may be, has little to no evidentiary value in any event?
Ivanka Trump said in recorded video testimony shown Thursday during the House panel’s first public Jan. 6 hearing that she believed then-Attorney General Bill Barr's analysis on election integrity. https://t.co/9umy2cVtUe pic.twitter.com/fG4vQ8BgRs
— CBS News (@CBSNews) June 10, 2022
CBS did a wrap-up of last night’s prime-time show, which also appears to have been largely an exercise in repackaging what has already been made known through the media, through previous hearings, and through evidence already in the public domain:
In one clip played during Thursday’s hearing, former Attorney General William Barr told committee that he told Trump his claims that the election was stolen were “bullsh**” and that he “didn’t want to be a part of it.”
“You can’t live in a world where the incumbent administration stays in power based on its view, unsupported by specific evidence, that there was fraud in the election,” Barr said in a taped interview displayed by committee Chairman Bennie Thompson. Barr resigned as attorney general in late December 2020, shortly after he said publicly that the Justice Department saw no evidence of widespread fraud that would have changed the election results, comments that infuriated Trump.
Jason Miller, a Trump campaign aide, recalled a meeting in the Oval Office after the election in which the campaign’s lead data analyst told Trump “in pretty blunt terms” that he would lose the election. The analyst’s conclusion was based on county-by-county and state-by-state data, Miller told investigators. …
Alex Cannon, a Trump campaign lawyer, said he told Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows that the campaign was not finding anything in key states that would change the election’s results.
He said Meadows responded, “So there’s no ‘there’ there.”
Barr, Ivanka, and Cannon all got it right. We knew that from the ridiculous nature of the “stop the steal” claims being made in court after the election, from the lack of evidence supporting those ridiculous claims, and the amateurish and incompetent way in which those claims kept changing. We also knew that from Barr’s public statements in December 2020, though. We’ve heard all of this from multiple sources over the last 17 months even apart from the J6 committee. Not much of this is new, except for perhaps Ivanka’s testimony — and that doesn’t have much legal or evidentiary weight, although it’s certainly entertaining.
That was the point of scheduling this hearing in prime time, clearly. The committee seems frustrated that they’re not getting much traction among voters outside of the DC media bubble and hoped to intrigue people into paying more attention. Even people who are inclined to pay attention to the J6 committee must have come away wondering what the point of last night’s prime-time launch was, however. I had a friend in from out of town and didn’t watch, but my friend Paul Mirengoff did. Paul is a conservative attorney who rejects Trump and says Trump has some responsibility for the riot, but he doesn’t think this moved the needle much, if at all:
As for the evidence presented tonight, it didn’t prove much but some of it made for good television. The footage of the rioting undercut the claims of some Trump supporters that there wasn’t much to the events at the Capitol. …
The other witness was documentary filmmaker Nick Quested, who was embedded with some of the Proud Boy rioters and filmed some of the rioting. Thompson questioned him.
That examination was pedestrian and proved nothing. Many a channel was changed during this portion of the hearing, I suspect.
Chair Bennie Thompson lost Paul early on, and the entire affair had a distinct partisan smell almost from the start:
Thompson discredited himself with far-fetched comparisons between January 6 and the Civil War, as well as the sacking of the Capitol by the Brits in 1814. He also threw in references to the KKK for good measure.
By the end, Paul was impressed by Liz Cheney but thinks that the ABC-produced prime-time project was a bust:
The hearing concluded with video of some rioters saying they came to D.C. because Trump asked them to come and said big things will happen. Trump, of course, had the right to ask protesters to come to Washington even in a bad cause, though it was irresponsible for him to have done so. The “big things” remark is another case of Trump approaching the line, but having ambiguity on his side — at least from a legal, if not a moral, point of view.
Will these hearings distract Americans from the incompetence of Joe Biden? No. Will they hurt Trump’s standing with Republicans? Maybe somewhat, but I don’t know.
These hearings aren’t going to distract Americans from their present, not even with lurid details about this past event. Sustainable indictments might provide that kind of distraction, but if this committee had enough evidence for sustainable indictments, they would have made those referrals rather than stage a prime-time hearing that largely consisted of previously available riot footage and regurgitated testimony from earlier depositions. That’s what makes this event performative rather than substantive; it didn’t prove much, as Paul concluded, but it made for good television. And the J6 committee has been at this for almost a full year already.
A real, balanced, and substantive investigation into the January 6 riot is not an unworthy project. The way that the J6 committee is handling it, though, is pure Beltway politics, and to some degree Beltway self-obsession. Americans living outside the Beltway want Congress to be working on issues like inflation, gas prices, baby formula shortages, crime, the border crisis, or even climate change. Putting this spectacle on prime-time TV only demonstrates how much Congress works for itself rather than for the people who elect them, and how little Congress is focused on issues that matter to voters.