The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection on Tuesday aimed to connect the dots between then-President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election and the violent mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol.
Tuesday’s hearing was the seventh in an ongoing series in which the select committee has sought to present evidence of what Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., has described as Trump’s “sophisticated seven-part plan to overturn the presidential election and prevent the transfer of presidential power.”
“Now we will show you what other actions President Trump was taking between Dec. 14 and Jan. 6,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla.
Following opening remarks from the committee’s chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Cheney, its vice chair, the lead was taken by Murphy and Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., in presenting witness testimony and evidence obtained by the panel, including White House visitor and phone logs, draft tweets, emails and text messages.
Much of Tuesday’s hearing centered on a tweet sent by Trump the morning of Dec. 19, 2020, in which he called on his supporters to come to Washington for a protest on Jan. 6 that, he promised, “will be wild.”
Murphy and Raskin showed how that tweet set in motion a series of events culminating in the violence that erupted at the Capitol on Jan. 6, inspiring activists, far-right media personalities and thousands of loyal Trump supporters from around the country, including members of disparate violent extremist groups, to descend on the Capitol and fight for Trump.
“Trump’s purpose was to mobilize a crowd,” Raskin said. “And how do you mobilize a crowd in 2020? With millions of followers on Twitter, Trump knew exactly how to do it.”
What were some of the most shocking revelations?
Cipollone testified for the committee. Tuesday’s hearing featured several clips from the recent closed-door deposition given by former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who met with the committee for nearly eight hours last week after receiving a subpoena late last month. Cipollone’s testimony largely corroborated statements made by other witnesses in this and earlier hearings, and offered new details about key moments at the White House in the days and weeks leading up to Jan. 6.
For example, Cipollone said he agreed with then-Attorney General William Barr’s conclusion in early December 2020 that there wasn’t sufficient evidence of widespread voter fraud, and Cipollone was among a number of senior administration officials and close advisers to the president who, after the Electoral College met on Dec. 14 to submit electors to Congress, urged Trump to concede the election and publicly acknowledge that Joe Biden was the rightful winner.
Cipollone, along with several other taped witnesses, also provided new details about a late night meeting at the White House on Dec. 18 that, Raskin said, devolved into a “heated and profane clash” between White House aides like Cipollone and Eric Herschmann and outside advisers such as Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and Michael Flynn, who were encouraging Trump to seize voting machines and appoint Powell as a special counsel to investigate unsubstantiated voter fraud claims.
Giuliani’s legal team admitted they didn’t have evidence of widespread voter fraud. The select committee presented evidence on Tuesday that members of the legal team led by Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and Trump’s personal attorney, did not have proof of the widespread voter fraud that they were claiming had allowed Democrats to steal the election from Trump. For example, Raskin cited a letter sent to the panel by Giuliani’s lead investigator Bernie Kerik, who said “it was impossible for Mr. Kerik and his team to determine conclusively whether there was widespread fraud or whether that widespread fraud would have impacted the election.”
Raskin also shared clips of testimony given by Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller and Justin Clark, a lawyer for the Trump campaign, who both affirmed that Giuliani’s team never presented evidence of widespread voter fraud.
“To say that it was thin is probably an understatement,” Miller said, referring to the evidence that was provided by the then president’s attorneys.
In another clip, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson further bolstered the notion that Trump and his closest allies pushed ahead with their efforts to stay in power even after they knew their claims of a rigged election could not be substantiated. Hutchinson told the committee that when her former boss, then chief of staff Mark Meadows, began acknowledging that maybe there wasn’t enough voter fraud to overturn the election, “I witnessed him start to explore potential constitutional loopholes more extensively.”
Trump associates communicated with violent extremist groups in the lead-up to Jan. 6. As promised, the select committee presented new evidence of direct communications between longtime political operative Roger Stone and Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, who were involved in efforts to challenge the results of the 2020 election, and leaders of right-wing extremist groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, whose members have been charged with leading the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol.
Murphy and Raskin revealed that the committee obtained records from an encrypted chat called “Friends of Stone” whose members included Stone, Oath Keepers founder and leader Stewart Rhodes, former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and Ali Alexander, a far-right activist and organizer with the pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” campaign.
They also showed photographs of Stone with Rhodes and other since-indicted members of the antigovernment paramilitary group, as well as encrypted text messages indicating that Florida Oath Keepers leader Kelly Meggs, who is among those charged with seditious conspiracy and other criminal counts in connection with the Jan. 6 riot, spoke with Stone on the phone on Jan. 5 and 6.
And they presented a video clip of a deposition given to the committee by Kellye SoRelle, the Oath Keepers’ general counsel, who explained how, ahead of Jan. 6, Stone brought together members of the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys and other groups that have historically not worked together.
The committee showed evidence that Trump’s plans to march to the Capitol were widely known before his speech on Jan. 6. During the panel’s last hearing, Hutchinson testified that Trump had made clear days before Jan. 6 that he wanted to march to the Capitol with his supporters after his rally at the Ellipse, and that senior White House advisers, including Cipollone, objected to this plan.
On Tuesday the committee provided additional evidence of Trump’s advance planning for a march to the Capitol, including an undated draft tweet obtained from the National Archives, which was marked with a “president has seen” stamp, that read: “I will be making a Big Speech at 10AM on January 6th at the Ellipse (South of the White House). Please arrive early, massive crowds expected. March to the Capitol after. Stop the Steal!!”
The committee also presented copies of text messages sent by at least two different organizers of the Jan. 5 and 6 “Stop the Steal” rallies, informing others that Trump was planning to call for his supporters to march to the Capitol on the 6th.
“The evidence confirms this was not a spontaneous call to action but rather was a deliberate strategy decided on in advance by the president,” Murphy said.
Trump and Bannon spoke on Jan. 5. Raskin and Murphy said the committee has obtained White House phone logs showing that Trump spoke to his on-again-off-again adviser Steve Bannon at least twice on Jan. 5. After their first call, Bannon made the now infamous statement on his podcast that “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow.” The two men spoke again later that evening.
Cheney said Trump tried to call a Jan. 6 witness. In her closing remarks, Cheney disclosed that after the panel’s last hearing, Trump tried to call a witness who has not appeared publicly before the committee. Cheney said that this person declined to respond to the former president’s call, and instead informed their lawyer, who alerted the committee, which in turn informed the Justice Department of Trump’s efforts to contact the witness.
“We will take any efforts to influence witness testimony very seriously,” Cheney said.
Who were the witnesses?
In addition to Cipollone and Hutchinson, the committee showed clips of witnesses who have appeared via video at earlier hearings, including Ivanka Trump, Herschmann and Giuliani.
Other witnesses who appeared for the first time via video Tuesday included 8kun owner and operator Jim Watkins; Jody Williams, founder of the pro-Trump forum TheDonald; and Katrina Pierson, a former Trump campaign spokesperson and one of the organizers of the Jan. 6 rally.
The committee also presented an audio recording of testimony given by an anonymous former Twitter employee, who spoke about the impact of Trump’s Dec. 19 tweet calling for his supporters to descend on Washington on Jan. 6 and their concerns about the potential for violence that day based on the responses to Trump’s tweet.
After more than two hours, the panel swore in its live witnesses: Jason Van Tatenhove, a former spokesperson for the Oath Keepers, and Stephen Ayres, an Ohio man who was charged with participating in the riot at the Capitol.
Ayres, who pleaded guilty last month to one charge of disorderly conduct inside a restricted building and agreed to cooperate with the government’s investigation of Jan. 6, testified that he was motivated by Trump’s tweet to come to Washington that day because he was under the impression that the election had been stolen.
Ayres said he wasn’t planning to march to the Capitol until he heard Trump instruct the crowd to do so at his rally on the Ellipse, and that he and those around him left the Capitol after seeing a video on Twitter of Trump urging them to go home, hours after the Capitol first came under attack.
Select committee aides said Monday that the panel plans to hold its next hearing next week. Cheney said Tuesday that the hearing will feature more of Cipollone’s recent testimony about Trump’s behavior as the riot was unfolding on Jan. 6.
“We will walk through events of Jan. 6 next week, minute by minute,” Cheney said in her closing remarks.