WASHINGTON — Before sending the tweet that would galvanize various militia groups and extremists to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, President Trump hosted an explosive, hours-long meeting at the White House where competing factions butted heads on whether Trump should accept his election defeat or keep pushing unfounded conspiracy theories, House investigators said Tuesday.
Former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, Giuliani associate Sidney Powell and former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, were secretly ushered into the White House on the evening of Dec. 18, 2020, “by a junior staffer,” according to evidence gathered by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
The group was quickly intercepted by Trump’s White House lawyers, including former counsel Pat Cipollone and deputy counsel Eric Herschmann, almost 15 minutes after meeting with Trump alone. And over the next six hours, the two sides fought passionately over whether Trump should accept his loss or keep pushing to overturn the election.
White House staffers said they could hear the screaming from the Oval Office as the two sides fought.
Giuliani, the former mayor of New York who played an integral role in Trump’s efforts to cling to power, argued that Cipollone, Herschmann and others urging Trump to accept his loss were “p***ies.”
“I’m going to categorically describe it as, ‘You guys are not tough enough,’” Giuliani said in a taped deposition. “Or, maybe, you put it another way, ‘You guys are a bunch of p***ies’”
Cipollone, Herschmann and others testified about their frustrations at trying to fight back against a team that pushed conspiracy theories with little to no evidence.
“Where is the evidence?” Cipollone said he asked, repeatedly. The response from Powell and others, Cipollone said, was a dismissal of his concerns and a “general disregard for the importance of actually backing up what you say with facts.”
Powell testified that if she were the president, “I would’ve fired all of them that night and had them escorted out of the building.”
When Herschmann pressed her on the dozens of court cases they kept losing, Powell replied, “Well, judges are corrupt.” Herschmann says he fired back, “Every one? Every single case that you’ve done across the country, that you’ve lost, every one is corrupt? Even the ones we appointed?”
Giuliani, Powell, Flynn and Byrne were alone with Trump for almost 15 minutes before his lawyers rushed in. During that time, Trump wanted to know more about what he could do about baseless allegations of foreign interference in the election, according to Powell’s testimony.
“He was very interested in hearing particularly about the CISA findings, and the terms of [Executive Order] 13848, that apparently nobody else had bothered to inform of,” Powell said in her taped deposition, just before taking a drink of Diet Dr Pepper.
Powell was referring to a 2018 executive order Trump had signed, designed to guard against foreign interference in U.S. elections. Powell, Flynn and others falsely claimed that Venezuela, Italy and other nations had been involved in rigging the 2020 election.
In the meeting, Trump attempted to make Powell his special counsel to investigate alleged voter fraud. He also talked about possibly seizing voting machines.
It was all part of a darker turn Trump took, lawmakers on the House Jan. 6 committee said, after the Dec. 14 counting of electoral votes that formally deemed Joe Biden the president-elect and convinced most of Trump’s own staff and allies that he had indeed lost the 2020 election.
At 1:42 a.m. on Dec. 19, 2020, Trump sent a tweet that House lawmakers say spurred extremist militia groups with deep ties to his closest advisers, including former strategist Steve Bannon and longtime consigliere Roger Stone, to begin planning for a violent march on the Capitol.
“Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election. Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” Trump wrote less than two hours after the raucous showdown at the White House.
That tweet, said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the House Jan. 6 committee, was designed to “mobilize a crowd”.
“Trump turned away from both his outside advisers’ most outlandish and unworkable schemes and his White House counsel's advice to swallow hard and accept the reality of his loss,” Raskin said. “Instead, Donald Trump issued a tweet that would galvanize his followers, unleash a political firestorm and change the course of our history as a country.”