The House panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol painted a portrait of a White House in post-election chaos at its latest hearing on Tuesday before closing with a bombshell: Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming saying former President Trump had tried to call a witness set to appear at a future hearing.
Here are five takeaways from the hearing.
Trump may have sought to influence a witness
Cheney, the vice-chair of the panel, just before the committee closed for the day said Trump had tried to contact a witness and that the Justice Department had been alerted.
“After our last hearing, President Trump tried to call a witness in our investigation, a witness you have not yet seen in these hearings,” Cheney said. “That person declined to answer or respond to President Trump’s call and instead alerted their lawyer to the call. Their lawyer alerted us, and this committee has supplied that information to the Department of Justice.”
“We will take any effort to influence witness testimony very seriously,” Cheney said.
Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland told reporters after the hearing that he did not have more details or know personally which witness Cheney was referring to. But he said more broadly the committee was trying to send a message that witness tampering is a crime, and “people should not be approaching witnesses to try to get them to alter their testimony.”
This isn’t the first time the issue has come up.
At a hearing late last month with former Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, Cheney displayed a text message sent to one undisclosed witness that read, “[A person] let me know you have your deposition tomorrow. He wants me to let you know that he’s thinking about you. He knows you’re loyal, and you’re going to do the right thing when you go in for your deposition.”
Trump tweet galvanized extremists
A tweet sent by Trump at 1:42 a.m. on Dec. 19, 2020, appeared to launch a blizzard of activity within extremist circles and far-right chat rooms, the committee argued.
“Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” Trump tweeted.
The panel described it as the tweet that sparked national extremist groups like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys to descend on the nation’s capital for the purpose of helping Trump override his election defeat.
In a series of screen grabs, texts and encrypted messages that were flashed before the hearing room, the select committee demonstrated the fierce tenor of the conversations occurring in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s plea. Many of them urged violence, interpreting the president’s call for a “wild” protest to be a call to arms.
“This week I organized an alliance,” Kelly Meggs, a Florida-based leader of the Oath Keepers, said in a Facebook post, referring to an unprecedented partnership with the Proud Boys. “We have decided to work together and shut this shit down.”
One group, Women for America First, rescheduled a rally in Washington, for Jan. 6 in response to Trump’s plea, the committee said. Ali Alexander, another “Stop the Steal” agitator, also applied for a permit on Jan. 6 within days of the tweet.
“Never before in American history had a president called for a crowd to come contest the counting of electoral votes by Congress or engaged in any effort designed to influence, delay, or obstruct the joint session of Congress in doing its work required by our Constitution,” said Raskin, one of the panel members who led the questioning on Tuesday.
The threat of thousands of protesters descending on Washington alarmed even some of Trump’s closest supporters, who voiced concerns that violence could erupt as a result.
Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko of Arizona, a member of the far-right Freedom Caucus, said she asked House leaders to come up with a “safety plan for members.”
“I’m actually very concerned about this because we have who knows how many hundreds of thousands of people coming here,” Lesko said, falsely asserting “Antifa” could be present.
“We also have, quite honestly, Trump supporters who actually believe that we are going to overturn the election,” she added. “And when that doesn’t happen — most likely will not happen — they are going to go nuts.”
Clash in Oval Office highlights Trump desperation
New details emerged Tuesday about a marathon meeting in the White House on Dec. 18, 2020, when four of Trump’s most controversial allies in the ‘Stop the Steal’ effort came unannounced to meet the president and were confronted by another group of Trump aides who wanted him to simply concede defeat.
“What ensued was a heated and profane clash,” said Raskin.
The uninvited guests were Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Michael Flynn and Patrick Byrne, the CEO of Overstock.com, who wanted Trump to seize voting machines and name Powell as special counsel overseeing the audit. They were met by a stunned group of West Wing staffers — Pat Cipollone, Eric Herschmann and Derek Lyons — who tried to talk Trump out of pursuing either course of action.
“I was not happy to see those people in the Oval Office,” said Cipollone, noting that he walked in, saw the Overstock CEO and said, “Who are you?”
“I didn’t think any of these people were providing the president with good advice,” he said.
In the meeting Powell outlined fantastic theories surrounding election fraud, including promoting a theory that a Nest thermostat was used to alter the results tabulated by voting machines.
The committee flashed an executive order weighed by Trump that would give the secretary of Defense the power to seize voting machines from states. It would also allow him to appoint a special counsel to investigate voter fraud — a concept rejected by the Justice Department given the lack of evidence.
Cipollone offered several blunt assessments about the meeting, summarily dismissing the concept of seizing voting machines.
“That’s a terrible idea for the country,” he said in response to questions from the committee. “I don’t understand why we even have to tell you why that’s a bad idea for the country. It’s a terrible idea.”
While Trump ultimately was not able to formalize any appointment for Powell, he did pledge to get her the security clearance necessary for the role.
“I didn’t think she should be appointed to anything,” Cipollone said in his closed-door meeting with the committee’ investigators last week, adding that he pushed back on the idea.
Those outside the White House knew of Trump’s plans to march to rally
Explosive testimony last month from Hutchinson revealed White House staff were alarmed by Trump’s desire to march to the Capitol and pushed to deter him from the idea.
Hutchinson testified that Cipollone feared Trump could be charged with “every crime imaginable” if he incited the crowd.
But text messages revealed by the committee Tuesday showed those outside the White House, including those who organized the rally, seemed more certain that the president would make the call for his supporters to head to the Capitol.
“POTUS is going to have us march there/the Capitol,” rally organizer Kylie Kremer wrote in a text to My Pillow founder Mike Lindell, adding that he wanted his involvement kept under wraps.
“It can also not get out about the march because I will get in trouble with the National Park Service and all the agencies but POTUS is going to just call for it ‘unexpectedly.’ ”
The committee also showed a draft text, marked with a “president has seen” stamp, that would have Trump tell rally goers to “march to the capitol after” his speech.
Trump’s campaign manager credited him with inciting the riot
Former Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale blamed Trump’s rhetoric in his rally speech for inciting the Capitol riot.
“This is about Trump pushing for uncertainty in our country. A sitting president asking for a civil war,” he wrote in a message to former Trump campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson shortly after 7 p.m. on Jan. 6.
“This week I feel guilty for helping him win.”
The texts show Pierson responded saying Parscale did what he thought was right at the time.
“Yeah, but a woman is dead,” Parscale said in reference to Ashli Babbitt, “But if I was Trump and I knew my rhetoric was going to kill someone.”
When Pierson said “it wasn’t the rhetoric,” Parscale responded, “Katrina. Yes it was.”