On Monday night, while arguing that former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows should be held in criminal contempt of Congress, the House panel investigating January 6 dropped a bomb that will make future Mar-a-Lago gatherings even more awkward than they likely already are. Making the case that “the White House knew exactly what was happening here at the Capitol” during the deadly insurrection, Rep. Liz Cheney revealed that, along with a handful of Fox News hosts, Donald Trump Jr. had sent a series of texts to Meadows insisting that his father needed to denounce the violence. “He’s got to condemn this shit ASAP. The Capitol police tweet is not enough,” Don Jr. wrote in one message to Meadows, according to Cheney, the committee’s vice chairwoman. “I’m pushing it hard. I agree,” Meadows responded, to which Junior texted back, “We need an Oval Office address. He has to lead now. It has gone too far and gotten out of hand.”
Obviously, Donald Trump did not lead, and it wasn’t until hours after the attack began that he released a video basically saying the insurrection was justified, telling the bloodthirsty mob, “You’re very special” and “we love you,” which he followed up with a tweet that read: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”
But the messages help paint a picture of that day, raising new questions and answering others. For instance, in the former category, it seems pretty clear, as Cheney noted, that not only was the White House keenly aware of how bad the situation was, but the president himself was too. So why didn’t he act? Was it because things were playing out exactly as he wanted them to and he hoped his supporters would actually be successful in blocking the certification of Joe Biden’s win? Sure sounds like it! (Here, let’s recall that on January 8, Republican senator Ben Sasse said in an interview that senior White House officials had told him that as the insurrection unfolded, “Trump was walking around the White House confused about why other people on his team weren’t as excited as he was, as you had rioters pushing against Capitol police, trying to get into the building. That was happening. He was delighted.”)
Then there’s the matter of the content of Don Jr.’s pleas, which, to Trumpologists, sound wildly out of character. Don Jr. condemning violence? The same Don Jr. who proudly poses with the carcasses and severed body parts of animals he’s just slaughtered? Don Jr., the guy whose reaction to the tragic death of a woman on a film set is to sell T-shirts that read: “Guns don’t kill people, Alec Baldwin kills people”? In urging his father (via an intermediary) to denounce the violence, did Don Jr….do something right for once in his life? And the answer is: maybe, kind of, with a giant, flaming asterisk! Because let’s not forget that earlier in the day, during the rally at the Ellipse, Junior told GOP lawmakers: “You have an opportunity today. You can be a hero, or you can be a zero. And the choice is yours. But we are all watching. The whole world is watching, folks. Choose wisely.”
Finally, there’s the question of why Don Jr. was trying to communicate with this father through Meadows. Yes, Trump was the leader of the free world at the time, but surely most presidents inform their staff that calls from their children should be put through, particularly if they’re important. Did Junior initially try to contact his dad directly, only to find himself screened? Did he realize from the get-go that Trump—who’s never appeared particularly fond of his namesake—wouldn’t listen to him and then decide to try Meadows as a back channel? After all this, will Trump change his phone number and forget to give it to his son? Don Jr. has been uncharacteristically quiet on Twitter for the last two days, but perhaps he’ll fill us in soon.
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