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Opinion How the new focus on Ivanka Trump and Jan. 6 will expose dark MAGA truths

Ivanka Trump at the White House on April 7, 2020. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
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To an unsettling degree, a large swath of 2022 GOP candidates are deriving energy for their campaigns from the myth that the underlying “cause” of the Jan. 6 rioters was in some sense just.

But this mythmaking is on a collision course with another powerful force: the House select committee’s examination of those events, and the actual facts about them that the committee will likely reveal.

The committee’s new focus on Ivanka Trump signals what this eventual pile-up will look like. It shows the committee is developing an unexpectedly comprehensive picture of how inextricably linked the violence was to a genuine plot to thwart a legitimately elected government from taking power.

Which, in turn, should make it harder for Republicans to campaign on Jan. 6 mythologizing without facing more intense scrutiny and blowback.

The importance of the role of the former president’s daughter emerges from the committee’s letter inviting her to testify. As the violence raged, President Donald Trump sent a tweet attacking Vice President Mike Pence for refusing to subvert the congressional count of electors.

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This tweet energized many in the mob to break into the Capitol and try to disrupt the count themselves, according to federal indictments cited in the letter. Importantly, as all this happened, Ivanka Trump was in the middle of efforts to persuade her father to call off the rioters, the letter notes. Instead, he incited them by attacking Pence.

The letter adds:

We are particularly interested in discussions inside the White House and with the President before and after his 2:24 p.m. tweet. Testimony obtained by the Select Committee indicates that members of the White House staff requested your assistance on multiple occasions to intervene in an attempt to persuade President Trump to address the ongoing lawlessness and violence on Capitol Hill.

Here’s what this means: The committee is focused on what Donald Trump’s advisers and family members — in this case, Ivanka Trump — can say about his state of mind as he tweeted his attack on Pence. Remember, he did this instead of calling off the rioters, as they all urged him to do.

Before the riot, Donald Trump had riled up the mob by attacking Pence for announcing he wouldn’t subvert the election. So when Trump sent the tweet, did he understand the violence as something that could be weaponized to intimidate Pence into carrying that out?

We already know Trump strongly hinted as much when he rebuffed House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) appeals to calm the mob.

Jan. 6 committee subpoena of Proud Boys suggests a look at coordinated action

Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the select committee, notes that Trump’s tweet already “speaks for itself” in indicating intent.

“Reasonably understood, the tweet reads as micro-incitement of the mob to target its fury against Vice President Pence,” Raskin told me. “I do believe that stands alone."

“But it will help to eliminate any suggestion that this was just accidental or inartful wording if we learn from contemporaneous witnesses what Trump’s state of mind was," Raskin continued.

In turn, Raskin said, this might indicate that the “incitement of the mob” toward Pence “was fully intended and not some sort of drafting error.”

The letter to Ivanka Trump also offers this:

The committee has information suggesting that President Trump’s White House counsel may have concluded that the actions President Trump directed Vice President Pence to take would violate the Constitution or would be otherwise illegal.

So the committee is looking hard at whether Donald Trump knew full well that in directing Pence and others to execute the scheme, he was pressuring them to violate their official duty or worse.

We don’t know if Ivanka Trump will cooperate. But even if not, the committee has revealed it has already learned far more than expected about Donald Trump’s conduct during the violence.

It’s likely this will create a detailed picture of how the then-president came to understand the violence as instrumental to carrying out what was in effect a procedural coup, a concerted, far-ranging and potentially unlawful subversion of our constitutional order.

Meanwhile, Justice Department prosecutions of rioters are now pursuing “seditious conspiracy" charges. As Laurence H. Tribe explains, this shows the department believes some of the plotters “specifically intended to overturn the election” and "prevent the lawful transition of power.”

So what does all this mean about 2022?

The number of Republicans running for office around Jan. 6 as a galvanizing “Lost Cause” event continues to mount, as this extraordinary Post tally indicates:

At least 163 Republicans who have embraced Trump’s false claims are running for statewide positions that would give them authority over the administration of elections, according to a Post tally. The list includes 69 candidates for governor in 30 states, as well as 55 candidates for the U.S. Senate, 13 candidates for state attorney general and 18 candidates for secretary of state in places where that person is the state’s top election official.

But many of these candidates can inhabit a rhetorical gray area: They can say they don’t condone the rioters’ violence while simultaneously suggesting their underlying cause might have been legitimate or at least understandable.

Why it matters that Pence and his aides may cooperate with the Jan. 6 committee

So how will these candidates react if the committee’s revelations foreclose this gray area entirely, by leaving no doubt that Jan. 6 represented the culmination of a genuine effort to overturn our constitutional order?

Perhaps they will retreat. More likely, it will drive many of them deeper into an even more explicit embrace of pro-insurrectionist politics. If so, what happens if and when many of those candidates win positions of control over our election machinery?