The Washington Post

Jan. 6 witnesses are doing the right thing now. But they’re not heroes.


Idon’t want to be uncharitab­le toward the witnesses who have come before the nation to testify about the events of Jan. 6, 2021. Many have shown genuine courage and patriotism. I think of Cassidy Hutchinson, an idealistic 26-year-old aide who found herself caught between her conscience and the men who were supposed to be her mentors. It took strong character for Hutchinson to tell her story while the superiors she trusted dodged subpoenas.

But I felt far less moved Thursday night as I watched former White House aides Sarah Matthews and Matthew Pottinger, both well-traveled veterans of Republican wars, take their turns as John Dean wannabes. I don’t share Rep. Liz Cheney’s (R-wyo.) view that Matthews and Pottinger should be long remembered for their “bravery and honor.”

What should we remember? That they realized, at the last possible moment, that they were enabling a president who cared nothing for his country and its values? That they suddenly found the spine and rectitude to storm out on jobs they were going to have for only a few more weeks anyway?

What did that cost them, exactly? A couple days of orderly packing?

There were plenty of Republican­s who declined to serve Donald Trump from the outset of his administra­tion, even though they loved government service. There were others who sacrificed ascendant careers in government and lifelong friendship­s because they resolved to continue opposing him.

There were also a lot of serious Republican­s — many of them in military uniforms — who felt it was their duty to serve the country and try to rein in Trump’s worst impulses. I thought they were wrong, but it was a reasonable choice to make.

And then there were people like Matthews, who eagerly worked for Trump’s reelection campaign, and who, according to her own testimony Thursday, traveled with him for years to the crazy, Mussolinil­ike rallies where he mixed conspirato­rial fiction with insults.

It was interestin­g to hear Matthews say, almost as an aside, that she knew Trump had the power to stop the riot on Jan. 6 because she had seen firsthand how his followers hung on his every word and would do whatever he asked. The cynicism here is hard to stomach. She well understood that Trump was dangerousl­y manipulati­ng nativist masses for his own selfish ends — but, hey, it was all part of the game, right?

Yet here was Matthews at the hearing, rewriting her tarnished résumé in real time, talking about how appalled she was that Trump was “pushing the lie that there was a stolen election” on “one of the darkest days in American history.”

Like it wasn’t entirely foreseeabl­e. Like she hadn’t helped Trump plant that lie over the course of many months, mindless of the consequenc­es.

Matthews, Pottinger, Judd Deere, Eric Herschmann, Pat Cipollone, Kayleigh Mcenany — none of them are really all that different from Josh Hawley, the senator shown fleeing the Capitol after having riled up the rioters with a raised fist. All of them enabled a president who stirred up the worst emotions in American life, who lit the fuse on a crude bomb and then recklessly hurled it into the heart of our democracy. It just took a little longer for things to play out.

And yet, because Matthews and Pottinger also high-tailed it home after the failed coup, the committee repeatedly teed them up for selfrighte­ous preening with questions like: How do you feel, as a former Marine and White House official, about the peaceful transfer of power? (Pottinger, surprise, thinks it’s a good thing.)

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-ill.) praised both witnesses for having “refused to be associated with President Trump’s derelictio­n of duty.” Cheney called Matthews “an inspiratio­n to American women and to American girls.”

Oh, come on. Is that really what Cheney — who took a principled stand against Trump when it was clear she would pay for it with her promising career — is telling her three daughters now? That they should emulate this skilled abettor of lies who suddenly realized on Jan. 6 that maybe Trump wasn’t such a great president after all?

That’s certainly not what I’d tell my young daughter, if she weren’t so disgusted by the meanness and futility around our politics that she’d rather watch a test pattern on TV than sit through 10 minutes of these hearings, as important and dramatic as they are.

If we have Matthews and Pottinger to thank for airing the truth about Trump’s final days, then we have them to thank for that legacy, too.

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