POLITICO Playbook: It's about Donald Trump, stupid

Jun 10, 2022

With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross

The Jan. 6 investigation can sometimes seem sprawling and complicated. The story of that day is filled with weird groups, conspiracy-minded lawyers and fringe characters. Oath Keepers and Proud Boys. JOHN EASTMAN and SIDNEY POWELL. The “QAnon Shaman” and “caveman rioter.”

The big message from the first public hearing of the Jan. 6 committee was that it’s a lot simpler than all of that. It’s really about one person: DONALD TRUMP.

Committee Chair BENNIE THOMPSON (D-Miss.) made the point within the first few minutes of his opening presentation. He began with some history to put Jan. 6’s unique awfulness in perspective. “I’m from a part of the country where people justified the actions of slavery, Ku Klux Klan and lynching,” he said. “I’m reminded of that dark history as I hear voices today try to justify the actions of the insurrectionists on Jan. 6, 2021.”

He quickly got to the main point: Jan. 6 was a “sprawling multistep conspiracy aimed at overturning the presidential election,” he said. It was also “the culmination of an attempted coup” in which “the violence was no accident.”

And: “Donald Trump was at the center of this conspiracy.” Nobody else. Don’t be distracted by the chaotic events of that day, he urged: There was only one person that really mattered. “Donald Trump, the president of the United States,” Thompson said, “spurred a mob of domestic enemies of the Constitution to march down the Capitol and subvert American democracy.”

The idea that the fraud Trump peddled was all made up was reenforced early when Thompson played some recent testimony from incensed former Attorney General BILL BARR. Barr was routinely criticized by Democrats — and some Republicans — for going along with some of Trump’s more unusual schemes. But the election conspiracy stuff was too much.

“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 prerecorded testimony. Video

There were similar quotes from IVANKA TRUMP, JASON MILLER, the data guy in the Trump campaign and two of the campaign’s lawyers to underscore that Trump knew the fraud was manufactured. Related read: “Jan. 6 panel lets Trump allies narrate the case against him,” by Kyle Cheney and Jordain Carney

When Committee Vice Chair LIZ CHENEY (R-Wyo.) spoke, the point was hammered home even more.

She promised that in the coming days, they’d provide “evidence of what motivated this violence” and was unequivocal about its source. They “were motivated by what President Trump had told them: that the election was stolen, and that he was the rightful President.”

To summarize: “President Trump summoned the mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack.” Cheney’s opening statement

There was gripping new video of the violence. There were some new details about what happened on the ground. But the Jan. 6 committee made it clear that all of that can be a distraction from this one big point.

“On the morning of Jan. 6, President Donald Trump’s intention was to remain President of the United States despite the lawful outcome of the 2020 election and in violation of his Constitutional obligation to relinquish power,” Cheney said. “Over multiple months, Donald Trump oversaw and coordinated a sophisticated seven-part plan to overturn the presidential election and prevent the transfer of presidential power.”

WATCH: “Barr, Miller, Ivanka: Committee uses Trump's allies to tell Jan. 6 story”

SOME OTHER NEWS FROM THOMPSON — In an interview with CNN’s JAKE TAPPER afterwards, Chair Thompson offered this tantalizing detail of some news to come:

Tapper: Are there going to be witnesses that describe actual conversations between these extremist groups, and anyone in Trump's orbit?

Thompson: Yes.

Tapper: There will be?

Thompson: Yes

(Though a lot hangs on the ambiguous word “orbit,” as NYT’s Blake Hounshell pointed out. )

The coverage: CBS: “6 new things we learned from the first public Jan. 6 hearing” … NYT: “‘Trump Was at the Center’: Jan. 6 Hearing Lays Out Vivid Case” … POLITICO: “‘It was carnage’: Committee tees up case that Trump fueled Jan. 6 violence” … WaPo: “Trump blamed for ‘carnage’ at Capitol” … AP: “Capitol riot panel blames Trump for 1/6 ‘attempted coup’” … WSJ: “Jan. 6 Committee Lays Out Case Against Donald Trump in First Public Hearing” … Fox News: “House committee details findings of yearlong investigation into January 6th”


Video roundup: “Full video: Committee shows footage portraying timeline of Jan. 6” “Chair Bennie Thompson’s full opening statement” “Vice Chair Liz Cheney’s full opening statement” “‘Slipping in people’s blood’: Capitol police officer Caroline Edwards recalls Jan. 6” “‘Then we went for tacos’: Filmmaker describes following Proud Boys on Jan. 6”

Happy Friday. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade , Eugene Daniels , Ryan Lizza .

THE PLAYBOOK INTERVIEW: DUSTY JOHNSON — Thirty-five House Republicans voted for the Jan. 6 select committee, earning them the wrath of Trump. On Tuesday, five of them faced primaries — and they all survived. (One of them, Rep. MICHAEL GUEST in Mississippi, was forced into a runoff.) In South Dakota, Rep. DUSTY JOHNSON faced a barrage of criticism for his commission vote and other heresies. Allies of his opponent, TAFFY HOWARD, a state lawmaker, spent some $300,000 on one particularly brutal ad.

“Beware: Swamper Dusty Johnson denies that the communists stole the election from President Trump,” the ad said. “Dusty Johnson says Biden won, and attended Biden's inauguration. Then Dusty Johnson voted to investigate President Trump and patriotic Americans who attended the January 6th Trump rally.”

In the end, Johnson won his primary by almost 20 points. How did he do it? Or, as the congressman put it, “How does Dusty Johnson exist in the era of Trumpism?” On this week’s episode of “Playbook Deep Dive,” we talked to Johnson to find out.

Don’t miss Johnson’s gripping account of what he witnessed on Jan. 6, including his conversation with Pence and how his staff fashioned weapons from flagpoles to defend themselves when they were forced to shelter in place. Listen to the episode here … Subscribe here on Apple Podcasts and Spotify

BIDEN’S FRIDAY (all times Eastern):

— 1:45 p.m.: The president will deliver remarks on inflation.

— 4:05 p.m.: Biden will join the heads of delegation at the Summit of the Americas to adopt a migration declaration.

— 4:30 p.m.: Biden will participate in a family photo with heads of delegation.

— 4:45 p.m.: Biden will host a leaders retreat and working luncheon with heads of state and government.

Later, Biden will participate in two DNC receptions, one at 8 p.m. and another one at 10:10 p.m.

THE HOUSE is out. JOSÉ ANDRÉS will be among those testifying before an Oversight subcommittee at 9 a.m. on the humanitarian response in Ukraine.

THE SENATE is out.



WAPO FIRES FELICIA SONMEZ — After a week of public and private drama, The Washington Post fired reporter FELICIA SONMEZ “over email on Thursday afternoon,” NYT’s Katie Robertson reports. “In an emailed termination letter, which was viewed by The New York Times, Ms. Sonmez was told that The Post was ending her employment, effective immediately, ‘for misconduct that includes insubordination, maligning your co-workers online and violating The Post’s standards on workplace collegiality and inclusivity.’ The email, from WAYNE CONNELL, the Post’s chief human resources officer, also said Ms. Sonmez’s ‘public attempts to question the motives of your co-journalists’ undermined The Post’s reputation.” More from Max Tani

Puck’s Dylan Byers has a look inside the WaPo newsroom with new details about the episode, including dinners that publisher and CEO FRED RYAN, owner JEFF BEZOS and his partner LAUREN SANCHEZ held with executive editor candidates, in which Bezos and Sanchez “expressed their personal frustrations with Twitter and social media, particularly as it related to the tabloid-like coverage of their relationship. The overwhelming sentiment during both the interviews and the dinners, sources said, was that the Post’s publisher and owner questioned social media’s impact on the news industry.”

MOVE FAST AND BREAK THINGS — Facebook is “re-examining its commitment to paying for news,” WSJ’s Alexandra Bruell and Keach Hagey scoop, “prompting some news organizations to prepare for a potential revenue shortfall of tens of millions of dollars.”


KNOWING DOUG MASTRIANO — In Pennsylvania, David Siders profiles GOP gubernatorial nominee DOUG MASTRIANO, who he writes “represents a growing style of politics we don’t have a common name for yet: Journalists in Pennsylvania and elsewhere have called it ‘Christian nationalism,’ a worldview shaped by the fusion of Christian messaging and American identity, though Mastriano himself has dismissed that label. He considers himself, instead, a torchbearer of ‘restoring your freedom.’ But talk to his supporters and listen to him speak, and it’s clear that at the heart of his campaign is a style of political evangelicalism now very comfortable to much of the Republican electorate.”

THE NEW GOP — “Ryan Kelley’s arrest could boost GOP hopeful in primary race for governor, experts say,” by Detroit News’ Craig Mauger

WHAT IT REALLY MEANS — San Francisco voters threw liberal district attorney CHESA BOUDIN out of office this week in a decisive rejection said to spell doom for criminal justice reform nationwide, Jeremy White and Lara Korte write from Oakland, Calif. “But while Boudin’s defeat was interpreted outside of San Francisco as a rebuke of the criminal justice reform movement he embodied, San Francisco Democrats took a more nuanced view: This was about specific grievances with Boudin himself, not a return to harsh sentences and mass incarceration.”

ZINKE PREVAILS — “Ryan Zinke, Trump's former Interior secretary, will win GOP primary in Montana's 1st District, CNN projects,” by Paul LeBlanc

IN THE SUNSHINE STATE — Veteran Florida Dem Rep. AL LAWSON announced on Thursday that he will take on GOP incumbent Rep. NEAL DUNN, Gary Fineout reports. Lawson’s challenge comes after his home district was redrawn by the state’s legislature to encompass his hometown of Tallahassee and a heavily Democratic area of North Florida. “Lawson’s current seat was torn apart at the urging of [Republican Gov. RON] DESANTIS, whose administration argued that the current configuration was a ‘racial gerrymander’ that was now illegal due to recent Supreme Court rulings.”


ATF NOM GETS KEY BACKING — STEVE DETTELBACH, Biden’s nominee to lead the ATF, secured a key round of support on Thursday that should clinch his confirmation, Marianne LeVine reports, after Sens. JON TESTER (D-Mont.) and JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.) indicated their approval of the nominee.

GUN TALK LATEST — CNN’s Manu Raju ( @mkraju ): Sen. JOHN CORNYN (R-Texas) “predicted earlier that ‘no’ there wouldn't be a deal this week. Still seems unlikely, but they meet virtually tomorrow. Also, Cornyn on Uvalde witnesses asking senators to do more to restrict access to guns. ‘You can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good,’ he said.”

CHINA COMPETITIVENESS BILL ON THIN ICE — Congress’ push to pass a major package to boost America’s manufacturing and competitiveness against China is in danger of sputtering out, Bloomberg’s Jenny Leonard and Daniel Flatley report. “Republicans who had worked with the administration on the measure are now balking at giving Biden a win ahead of the November election. … Instead, they aim to write their own China bill after taking control of the House, Senate, or both.”


SCOTUS BOOK CLUB — Justices NEIL GORSUCH and AMY CONEY BARRETT are cashing in big on book deals. Our colleague Daniel Lippman reports that Gorsuch is “writing a new book about judicial and regulatory policy” for HarperCollins to be released potentially in 2024, with an initial advance payment of $250,000. And WaPo’s Ann Marimow and Emma Brown report that Barrett “received $425,000 last year as part of a book deal.”

NEW DETAILS ON KAVANAUGH THREAT — WaPo’s Dan Morse has new details of the 9-1-1 call that led to the arrest of NICHOLAS ROSKE, the man who showed up to BRETT KAVANAUGH’s house with the intention of killing the justice. “Once arriving to the home early Wednesday, Roske spotted two deputy U.S. marshals, part of Kavanaugh’s security detail, standing outside a car, according to an FBI affidavit filed in federal court. He walked away, turned a corner and called 911 to turn himself in. ‘I’m standing now, but I can sit, whatever. I want to be fully compliant,’ Roske said, according to a copy of the 911 call released Thursday by the Montgomery County Police Department. ‘So whatever they want me to do, I’ll do.’”

CAPITAL CITY COLUMN — Michael Schaffer writes: “RBG’s Admirers Wrestle with Regret and Anger — Toward Her: Among some women’s rights supporters, Ginsburg’s longtime peers and admirers, a season of frustration features an unlikely target: the justice herself.”


SCENES FROM THE SUMMIT — In Los Angeles on Thursday, Biden delivered his opening message to the Summit of the Americas, where he “urged the leaders in attendance to join together behind concrete commitments and said his administration was ready ‘to demonstrate our enduring investment in our shared future,’” writes NYT’s Michael Shear. “But what Mr. Biden called ‘strong and constructive diplomacy’ was viewed with less optimism by some of his counterparts from other countries. Several representatives of Latin American nations said that they appreciated the president’s ambitions but feared they fell short of the grim reality in the region.”


HOW TO WIN FRIENDS — “FBI: Navarro called arresting agents ‘Nazis,’” by Kyle Cheney, Josh Gerstein and Nicholas Wu

JORDAN DODGES SUBPOENA AGAIN — Rep. JIM JORDAN (R-Ohio) has a Saturday deadline to respond to the Jan. 6 committee’s subpoena for testimony, but he’s still brushing it off. “In an 11-page letter to the committee, Jordan renewed earlier demands that the committee share the bulk of what it has assembled on the Ohio lawmaker, one of five in the GOP who now face demands for compulsory testimony,” The Hill’s Rebecca Beitsch writes.


POLICING IN AMERICA — “Michigan officer charged with murder in Lyoya shooting,” by AP’s John Flesher and Ed White in Grand Rapids, Mich.

TV TONIGHT — PBS’ “Washington Week”: Alex Burns, Leigh Ann Caldwell, Nikole Killion and Ryan Reilly.


FOX “Fox News Sunday”: Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.). Panel: Josh Kraushaar, Managing Editor, Mara Liasson, Juan Williams and Karl Rove.

CNN “Inside Politics”: Panel: Paul Kane, Gabby Orr, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Margaret Talev.

ABC “This Week”: Panel: Pierre Thomas, Mary Bruce, Rick Klein and Marianna Sotomayor.

NBC “Meet the Press”: Panel: Leigh Ann Caldwell, David French, Eddie Glaude Jr. and Amy Walter.

MSNBC “The Sunday Show”: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) … Robert Moore … Barbara Poma … Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.).

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez showed off the new, magnetic congressional pins.

Janet Yellen and Cardi B : the collab we didn’t know we needed.

A Meet the Press booker had an unfortunate slip-up: Requesting an interview with the late Don Young .

Bill Gates and Tim Cook were spotted on the Hill.

Jair Bolsonaro got in a Twitter fight with Mark Ruffalo.

Rob Portman is missing his clock.

Seersucker Day returned to the Hill.

The Old Post Office Clock Tower is open again.

IN MEMORIAM — Greg Andrews, senior partner at Smith Dawson Andrews, died Sunday after a brief illness. He worked for decades in lobbying, politics and public affairs, especially in aviation circles, including several presidential campaigns, Democratic National Conventions and DOT in the Carter administration. A memorial will be held in Washington in September.

SPOTTED: Kellyanne Conway at Dulles on Thursday evening during the Jan. 6 hearing, waiting to board a flight to Los Angeles, where she is scheduled to appear on Real Time with Bill Maher. Later, she tweeted: “Cheering for the @NYRangers but even in loss, this @NHL playoff game is the best thing on TV tonight.”

OUT AND ABOUT — SPOTTED at a party for Eric Holder’s new book, “Our Unfinished March,” ( $28 ) with Michele Norris at Sixth and I, followed by an afterparty at the rooftop on the Riggs on Thursday night: Terry McAuliffe (who emceed the afterparty), Sharon Malone, Susan Rice, Joe Crowley, Alex Isenstadt, David Daley, Isaac Dovere, Eric Schultz, Colby Itkowitz, John Bisognano, Hayley Dierker, Amanda McTyre, Garrett Arwa, Roland Martin, LaTosha Brown and Kelly Burton.

— SPOTTED at the D.C. Kidsave Miracles Gala, a live auction to support all of Kidsave’s work in the U.S., Colombia, Sierra Leone and Ukraine: Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.), Bulgarian Ambassador Georgi Panayatova, Randi Thompson, Michael Arthur, and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Liev Schreiber, who both appeared virtually.

TRANSITIONS — Gabriele “G” Masili is joining Granicus as chief customer officer. He previously was chief digital and technology officer for customer experience and success at Microsoft. … David Ross is now manager of government affairs at the American Forest and Paper Association. He previously was a legislative assistant for Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.). … Dana O’Brien is now president of FocusMaine. He previously was chief sustainability officer at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization and is an Ike Skelton alum.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: White House Social Secretary Carlos Elizondo … GSA’s Alex Goldman … CNN’s Jeff Zeleny and Ellie Kaufman Joe TrippiJames Rockas of the American Center for Law and Justice … Jeff GreenfieldStef Weiss … Kellogg Company’s Michael Daniels … NBC’s Shannon Pettypiece and Kate Snow … NPR’s Ayesha Rascoe … Meta’s Meredith CardenJennifer Donnelly of the Aspen Institute ... Edelman’s Matthew Streit ... NAM’s David O’Brien ... WSJ’s Corinne Ramey ... Thomas Showalter ... Al Mottur Teryn NorrisKylie BohmanPaula Burris of the American Association for Justice … Ben DeMarzo … POLITICO’s Javier Ruiz, Sadler Gensch and William Shabazz-Smith Sasha Obama J.D. Grom of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo’s office (4-0) … former Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) … former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) … Thulasi Manavalan … former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal … former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer

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Correction: Wednesday’s Playbook incorrectly listed Sarah DeCaro among the day’s birthdays.

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