Discovery+ Docuseries ‘Unprecedented’ Features Riveting Footage Of January 6th Capitol Attack, But Donald Trump And Family Don’t Stray From Their ScriptJuly 10, 2022
When Donald Trump is asked about the January 6th attack on the Capitol in Alex Holder’s Discovery+ docuseries Unprecedented, he both downplays the insurrection and affirms the mob’s madness.
“Well, it was a sad day, but it was a day with great anger in our country,” Trump says, a couple months after the attack.
In their interviews, Trump’s children decline to comment on that day.
So too, does Vice President Mike Pence, albeit he has one of the most candid moments of the docuseries. About to sit for an interview six days after the siege, Pence is shown an email with the Democrats’ resolution that he invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. “Yeah, excellent,” Pence says to an aide. “Tell Zach to print me off a hard copy for the trip home.” But Pence doesn’t elaborate, and instead goes into robotic talking points.
Holder’s three-part project, which debuted on Sunday, has drawn attention because of the filmmaker’s appearance before the January 6th Committee last month, as he cooperated with their subpoena and supplied them with his footage.
That quickly raised the prospect that the filmmaker, granted access to Trump and his family during the fall 2020 campaign and afterward, may have captured some sort of unexpected bombshells, just as the committee seeks to fill in the gaps of the former president’s intentions and motives, and what his children knew and did about it. In footage released before the project’s debut, Ivanka Trump was shown in a December, 2020 interview seemingly supporting her father’s post-election challenge while, in testimony to the January 6th Committee, she said that she accepted Attorney General William Barr’s claims that the fraud allegations were bogus.
As unusual as it was for Holder, relatively new to the documentary scene, to land interviews with with president and his children, the final cut of Unprecedented is not particularly heavy in fly-on-the-wall moments nor are the behind-the-scenes encounters all that surprising, perhaps showing the limits to the filmmaker’s access.
Some moments, like a campaign fundraising phone bank, are intriguing, but even then there are instances when the Trumps break away for private conversations or ask him to turn the camera off. In sitdown interviews, Trump sticks to his contention that the election was a fraud while his kids don’t say anything disloyal. And although there is mention that, post-election, Ivanka wanted her father to concede, she doesn’t talk about it. Holder includes multiple clips of the moments as Trump prepares for his interviews, showing the extent to which he was concerned about his visual image, even once complaining that the image looked too “orange-y.”
It’s largely left to the project’s talking heads, including Phil Rucker of The Washington Post and McKay Coppins of The Atlantic, to act as kind of truth tellers, framing the post-election period as yet another instance in which Trump refused to be tarnished with a loss. As we know from the January 6th Committee, there were a number of figures in Trump’s orbit, most recently Cassidy Hutchinson, who were alarmed by what was transpiring and by the president’s reaction to the Capitol attack. Her testimony of that day inside the White House was vividly told, but so far we have few visuals.
Holder got access to the Trumps via Jason Greenblatt, a former White House adviser on Israel, who also has an executive producer credit. The documentary opens with the disclaimer that Trump & Co. had no editorial control, leading to the question of why they would cooperate at all. That may have been because they thought they could win the election and, indeed, a focus of the project is on the Trump dynasty and the extent to which the offspring were enlisted to extend the brand.
We do get a peek at the Trump kids personal stories of growing up with their famous, bombastic father. Ivanka Trump says he was not a conventional father but “none of us ever questioned … we were his top priorities.” In a focus on his very public divorce from Ivana Trump, Trump says that it is “possibly true” that he was not the greatest husband in the world. A surprising revelation: Their dad actually tried out downhill skiing.
His daughter also tells Holder that she spoke to her father the morning after he announced he had Covid, and “I heard it in his voice…I knew right away he was not OK.” That contradicted the initial line being put out by the White House, that he was suffering just mild symptoms.
The whole Trump family angle, though, couldn’t be the sole theme of Unprecedented, given the attack on the Capitol, Trump’s second impeachment and the possibility he will face criminal charges.
Of special interest to the January 6th Committee may be Trump’s interview with Holder in December, 2020, when, after losing dozens of election challenge lawsuits in the court, he tells him, “You still need a judge who has courage, and so far we have not found that judge.” He says that the Supreme Court didn’t have the “guts” to sideline the election result, and that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger “is like a hard headed rock.”
Ironically enough, the most riveting footage is not of the Trumps but of the attack on the Capitol itself, including a moment when his director of photography was struck. We see Trump’s rally at the Ellipse, the simmering anger of his supporters, and finally the images of the mob storming through windows and beating a police officer. It’s yet another connection of Trump’s rhetoric to the violence, which is the focus of the current January 6th Committee hearings.
As for Trump’s family, Unprecedented gives to the idea that they will carry on his father’s politics, along with doubts that he will let them steal much of the spotlight. There’s also a brief mention of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis implementing Trump-style voting restrictions in his state, a nod to his emergence as a rising alternative to the former president.
The docuseries comes amid a flood of Trump books, each with their own set of revelations, and there are more documentaries to come about January 6th and its ringleaders. It’s certainly got its compelling moments, but it’s more of a historic record of what happened, often through the eyes of the Trump kids, than some kind of cinéma vérité access to private conversations in the Oval Office or the campaign war room. Given all that is at stake these days, that type of access may be a thing of the past — not only unprecedented, but unlikely.
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