WASHINGTON — Before Sarah Matthews, a former White House deputy press secretary, even opened her mouth to testify Thursday before the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, the House Republican Conference told her. attacked on Twitter as a “liar” and a “pawn” of the Democrats.
The group did not mention the man sitting next to her, Matthew Pottinger, the former deputy national security adviser, who was also there to issue a scathing indictment of the behavior of President Donald J. Trump on the day of the riot. Nor did Mr Trump himself mention Mr Pottinger when he raged hours later with a statement calling Ms Matthews a renowned researcher who was “clearly lying”.
The contrast highlighted how, in a series of eye-opening hearings that focused on issues of democracy, the rule of law and the peaceful transfer of power, another less discussed theme emerged: the gender dynamics that was a powerful undercurrent.
During the exposure of Mr. Trump’s elaborate efforts to nullify the 2020 election, the House Select Committee relied on the accounts of several women who have come forward to tell their stories publicly. Their statements and the attacks that followed laid bare the fact that women still often pay a higher price than men for speaking out.
Representative Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming and vice-chair of the panel – a woman who herself faced heavy consequences for her insistence on publicly condemning Mr Trump’s conduct – was explicit about the role of gender in the proceedings . She positioned herself as the champion of women who agreed to testify in public, comparing them favorably to the many men who refused to do so.
At the committee’s prime-time hearing on Thursday, Ms Cheney wore a white jacket, the color of the women’s suffrage movement. She invoked Margaret Thatcher, the first woman to serve as Prime Minister of Britain, and the struggle of American women for the right to vote by describing the women who had appeared publicly during the panel’s inquiry as ” an inspiration to American women and Americans.” girls.”
The upshot was that, as the committee unfolds the story of the Jan. 6 attack — releasing footage of a mostly male crowd ravaging the Capitol on behalf of Mr. Trump, the president watches in support from the wing west – many of the witnesses who have emerged most prominently have been women, with Ms Cheney as their defender.
It’s a notable strategy by Ms Cheney, a tough and belligerent conservative who throughout her career has worked to avoid being seen through the prism of gender.
Key revelations from the January 6 hearings
It comes as the Republican Party has struggled to diversify and broaden its appeal to female voters, a group that polls show was a weak spot for Mr Trump in 2020 and has only strayed away. from him since. A recent New York Times/Siena College poll found that six in 10 women believed Mr. Trump’s actions after the 2020 election threatened democracy, while men were almost evenly split, with 48% sharing this view. and 45% saying he was just exercising his rights. .
Ms. Cheney was the highest-ranking Republican woman on Capitol Hill last year when she broke with her party after the riot and exposed Mr. Trump and his campaign lies, voting to impeach him for inciting insurrection. Within months, she had been ousted as the No. 3 Republican in the House, and she now faces losing her seat in Wyoming as she faces a tough primary election next month against a Trump-endorsed opponent. .
It was hard not to hear some parallels when Ms Cheney described on Thursday how Ms Hutchinson, the 26-year-old former White House aide turned critical public witness, knowingly exposed herself to harsh criticism from former colleagues. Ms Cheney said Ms Hutchinson “knew all along that she would be attacked by President Trump and the men in their 50s, 60s and 70s who hide behind executive privilege.”
“But like our witnesses today, she has courage and she did it anyway,” Ms Cheney added.
After Ms Hutchinson’s testimony, Mr Trump dismissed her in an interview with Newsmax as “that girl” who was making up stories. “She has serious issues, let me put it that way,” he said. “Mental problems.”
Amanda Carpenter, a former adviser to Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Jim DeMint of South Carolina, both Republicans, said it was remarkable to see a conservative woman draw attention to gender dynamics.
“I know how difficult it is for these women in these circumstances,” Ms Carpenter said. “I imagine it means a lot to the targeted women. It means a lot to me just watching it.
The House Republican Conference’s Twitter attack on Ms Matthews, who works as a House Republican aide, was quickly taken down. But Mr Trump’s targeting of her and Ms Hutchinson was consistent with how the former president has often publicly treated women who challenge him, criticizing them in personal terms intended to question their credibility, sanity and their self-esteem.
Mr. Trump’s allies like to describe him as an equal-opportunity counter-puncher who would attack anyone who crosses his path. But over the years, he singled out female antagonists with particular viciousness, including television personalities Mika Brzezinski and Megyn Kelly, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and General Motors chief executive Mary T. Barra. His allies, many of whom sought his approval, imitated his behavior.
In Ms Hutchinson’s case, a person close to her said, stories were bought from pro-Trump media outlets defaming her personally.
Garrett Ziegler, a junior White House aide to Mr. Trump, went on a misogynistic rant during a livestream last week after attending a Jan. 6 committee interview in which he repeatedly refused to answer the questions. In the rant, he used sexist slurs against his former female colleagues who cooperated with the investigation.
“Pat Cipollone, Bill Barr, Marc Short, they’re saying the same thing, but you’re attacking young women,” said former Rep. Barbara Comstock of Virginia, a Republican whom Trump has once called a “RINO loser.” ,” for Republican in name only.
Ms Comstock was referring to the former White House lawyer, former attorney general and former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence – all of whom gave closed-door testimony to the committee that portrayed Mr Trump under a unflattering day.
“She’s a role model,” said Ms Comstock, who is close to Ms Cheney. “The president is doing this, and it’s intentional.”
Some of the male witnesses also faced professional consequences and public rebuke for their candour. Arizona House Speaker and Republican Rusty Bowers was censured by his state’s Republican Party after his emotional testimony before the committee. Mr Bowers, who is running for re-election, told NBC News it would take “a miracle” for him to survive politically.
And Mr. Barr, who as attorney general directly told Mr. Trump that his allegations of voter fraud had no basis, echoed the sentiment about the realities of cooperation.
“I get a lot of vitriol from the right,” Mr. Barr said in a brief interview.
Yet while male witnesses have received criticism from the right – in Mr. Cipollone’s case, Mr. Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., tweeted that he should “grow a spine and save” – the attacks have not been of the same volume or intensity, or the same degree of personal viciousness, as those against Ms Hutchinson in particular.
Mr Trump’s allies insist they have substantive concerns about what Ms Hutchinson told the committee. They raised specific challenges on factual issues in his testimony, focusing on a discrepancy between his account and that of Eric Herschmann, a former White House attorney. Each claimed authorship of a handwritten note displayed during one of the hearings that provided instructions on what the president might have said to the rioters on January 6.
Efforts were also made to undermine the veracity of some of the most explosive parts of Ms Hutchinson’s testimony. Secret Service officials, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, disputed a scene Ms Hutchinson said she was told about in which Mr Trump allegedly grabbed a Secret Service agent and lunged at the steering wheel of the SUV. he was riding as he demanded to be driven to the Capitol on January 6.
But the speed of Twitter’s attack on Ms Matthews was remarkable given that it came from her own colleagues. The House Republican Conference Twitter account that singled her out is run by two former Trump campaign aides.
Led by Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, who replaced Ms Cheney as Republican No. 3, the Twitter account took on an aggressive tone throughout the hearings – intended to appeal to the proverbial “one-person audience”. “.