One of the biggest questions the Jan. 6 committee faces is whether it can prove President Donald Trump knew better.
Early in Thursday’s first public Jan. 6 hearing, the committee set about making that case. It did so by giving us some of our first glimpses of the testimonies from those close to Trump, including his daughter.
But just how compelling were those glimpses — and what does that show about how much the people around Trump knew better? What we’ve seen so far is worth parsing.
The first clip played was of former attorney general William P. Barr. He’s been on the record before as having labeled Trump’s claims “bullshit” in real time, and he confirmed in a clip played Thursday that he resigned in part because of it. He also called Trump’s and his allies’ suggestions that voting machines flipped votes “complete nonsense” — saying he dismissed them out of hand.
“I told them that it was crazy stuff and they were wasting their time on that,” Barr said, “and it was doing a great, grave disservice to the country.”
It’s not clear when this comment was made, but Barr described three conversations, the latest of which was Dec. 14 — the date Trump announced Barr’s impending resignation. And the very next day, Trump reportedly urged incoming acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen to appoint a special counsel to investigate matters including the voting machine conspiracy theories. Days later, Trump would meet with allies who discussed seizing voting machines.
Trump’s eldest daughter and White House adviser, Ivanka Trump, soon made her own appearance via video clip. In it, she recalled when Barr had said publicly on Dec. 1 that there was no evidence of fraud on a scale that would change the outcome of the election.
When asked how it impacted her, she responded, “It affected my perspective. I respect Attorney General Barr. So I accepted what he was saying.”
The opening statement by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) presented this as Ivanka Trump effectively saying she agreed with Barr, though Trump’s words in the excerpt — that Barr’s opinion “affected” her view and that she “accepted what he was saying” — were not quite so direct. She certainly indicated that she found Barr’s perspective compelling.
Donald Trump said in response that his daughter was just “trying to be respectful to Bill Barr” and didn’t study the election results herself.
(The New York Times’s Peter Baker reported this week that she and her husband, Jared Kushner, never believed the election had been stolen.)
Similarly, the committee played a clip of a Trump campaign lawyer, Alex Cannon. He said he was tasked with reviewing claims of voter fraud and, by mid- to late November, had come up largely empty. He said he relayed a message similar to Barr’s — that there wasn’t enough to change the outcome — to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
When asked how Meadows responded, Cannon said, “I believe the words he used were, ‘So there’s no there there.’ ”
Again, it’s worth knowing more. The way Cannon described it, Meadows could have been summarizing the information he’d just been provided — or perhaps asking a question. It remains very significant that a Trump lawyer was delivering this message; it’s just not clear Meadows necessarily agreed.
The last clip on this front is from Trump’s longtime campaign aide Jason Miller. He testified about information provided to Trump himself shortly after the election by an internal data expert, Matt Oczkowski:
MILLER: I remember he delivered to the president pretty blunt terms that he was going to lose.Q: And that was based, Mr. Miller, on Matt and the data team’s assessment of the sort of county-by-county, state-by-state results as reported?MILLER: Correct.
Miller responded on Twitter on Thursday night to the clip being played, suggesting that it was missing context. He said he testified right afterward that Trump rejected the verdict, and that Oczkowski was focused on vote totals and not necessarily legal challenges involving “election integrity.”
2/ Q: On what basis? Did he give a basis?— Jason Miller (@JasonMillerinDC) June 10, 2022
A: He believed that Matt was not looking at the prospect of legal challenges going our way and that Matt was looking at purely from what those numbers were showing as opposed to broader things to include legality and election integrity…
Which is plausible. This was very shortly after the Nov. 3 election, and President Biden wasn’t declared the winner until Nov. 7.
Again, the question is whether this is meant to show that lots and lots of people internally agreed that there was nothing to these election claims — and that they shared this with Trump repeatedly — or just that people were making inquiries and that, at some junctures, some of them acknowledged that there wasn’t enough there. It’s obvious there was never enough there, but showing that people understood that would be huge for the committee.
The clips the committee played Thursday night seemed geared toward suggesting that even Trump’s own child and chief of staff knew better. But so far, the evidence is piecemeal, with Barr’s testimony being the most compelling, and the committee will have to build upon it.