The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion What Ivanka Trump can tell us about her father and Jan. 6

(Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Ivanka Trump, we have now learned, is in active talks with the House select committee examining the Jan. 6 insurrection to offer voluntary testimony about what she saw and heard before, during and after that day.

As the New York Times reports:

Those close to Ms. Trump said she had no intention of going down the road taken by her father’s ally Stephen K. Bannon, who refused to cooperate with the committee and then was indicted on contempt of Congress charges.

We don’t know whether Ivanka Trump is really serious about cooperating. The Times piece reports that she “would be unlikely to take any step that Mr. Trump did not know about and approve of.”

But it’s worth dwelling on what Ivanka Trump could tell us, if she did seriously cooperate. She could help clarify the lines that connect Donald Trump’s unsuccessful attempt to mount a procedural coup overturning his 2020 loss and the violent coup his supporters attempted to perpetrate on his behalf.

It’s in that linkage where some of the former president’s most serious culpability may lie.

What’s at issue is what Trump did and said during the more than two hours that took place as he watched the violence unfold before issuing a statement on it. This wouldn’t just illuminate how sociopathic his conduct was as he enjoyed the spectacle of his rampaging supporters on TV.

It could also illuminate the degree to which Trump came to see the violence as a weapon for carrying out that procedural coup.

Go back to the letter the committee sent to Ivanka Trump last month requesting her cooperation. In it, the committee cites testimony it has obtained indicating that on the morning of Jan. 6, she was in the Oval Office when Donald Trump called his vice president, Mike Pence, and urged him to essentially overturn the election by carrying out the scheme of invalidating Joe Biden’s electors.

The letter says that the committee is “particularly interested” in discussions that took place before and after Trump sent a tweet at 2:24 p.m., in which he informed supporters that “Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done.” Some in the rampaging crowd took that as a call to escalation and stormed the Capitol, according to indictments against the rioters cited by the committee.

We know Ivanka Trump had extensive contact with her father as he watched the violence unfold, and as Republicans pleaded with him to call off the rioters. But he refused.

So a key question is whether Donald Trump came to understand the violence in real time as a weapon to achieve what he had not achieved through procedural means — delaying the electoral count, either through sheer disruption or by intimidating Pence. This would kick the election back to friendly state legislatures, which would find some fake pretext to send new electors for Trump.

Did Trump say anything indicating that he saw the violence as helpful toward securing that delay, and thus toward realizing that end? We don’t know, but Ivanka Trump might. What she will tell us is another matter.

But all this leads to another question: Whether Donald Trump is on the hook for criminality. In a detailed memo arguing that Trump may have committed crimes, law professor and former U.S. attorney Barbara McQuade suggests, among other things, that this wide-ranging plot to subvert the count of electors might have constituted obstruction of an official proceeding.

For this to be criminal, it would not necessarily require that Trump came to see the violence as a weapon to accomplish that outcome. But if so, that could certainly add to the case, and, at any rate, it’s something we need to know to fully understand what happened.

“The fact that he failed to take action during that period when it was apparent that lives were in danger could be evidence of his intent to obstruct the official proceeding,” McQuade told us. “Ivanka Trump may have testimony that could shed light.”

No one has any illusions that it would be easy to undertake such a prosecution of the former president. There’s no precedent for it.

But there’s also no precedent for the attack he mounted against the American democratic system. And if the facts show that he committed crimes, what would it say if he were allowed to just walk away — or walk back into the Oval Office?