By Terrance Turner
July 12, 2022
This afternoon, the House of Representatives’ January 6th Committee hearings continued with more details about the events leading up to the deadly insurrection. Former White House Counsel Pat Cippolone’s testimony was heard on tape, and two new witnesses testified under oath about their involvement with extremist groups and their presence at the rally before the riot. Committee members added disquieting details in their closing statements. One of them ended her statement with a bombshell development; the other ended his with heartbreaking revelations.
Committee Vice Chair Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming) said in her opening remarks that over the course of the seven hearings, the strategy for defending Trump has changed among his supporters. “Now the argument seems to be that President Trump was manipulated by others outside the administration, that he was persuaded to ignore his closest advisers, and that he was incapable of telling right from wrong,” Cheney said. “This, of course, is ludicrous. President Trump is a 76-year-old man. He is not an impressionable child.”
Cheney recapped the argument that Trump was shown evidence that the election was not stolen, debunking voter fraud conspiracies. According to NPR, the vice chair said that in this hearing, viewers will see committee evidence that Trump’s legal team knew that they lacked “actual evidence sufficient to prove the election was stolen. But they went ahead [with] January 6 anyway.”
Still, those closest to Trump in the White House considered the 2020 election over — and lost — by mid-December, according to new video testimony released on Tuesday. Some of those quoted as believing the election was over included Trump’s own daughter, Ivanka. Investigators asked her about Dec. 14: “Did that affect your planning or realization as to whether or not it was gonna be an end of this administration?”
“I think so. I think it was my sentiment probably prior, as well.”
Dozens of lawsuits had failed to find evidence of voter fraud widespread enough to affect the outcome by the time the Electoral College formally cast its votes in favor of Biden on Dec. 14, 2020. The following day, Republican Mitch McConnell, then the Senate majority leader, congratulated Biden as the president-elect and announced that “the Electoral College has spoken.”
In his testimony on Friday played at Tuesday’s hearing, Cippolone said that he also believed at the time that there was no evidence of widespread fraud and that Trump should have conceded the election, saying “That would be in line with my thinking on these things.” He added that former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows also told him that Meadows believed Trump should concede — and said it more than once.
Both Barr and Cippolone testified that Meadows had told them this. “Mark Meadows assured both you and Attorney General Bill Barr that the President would eventually agree to a graceful exit,” asserted one of the House investigators. Cippolone answered affirmatively:
“I would say that that is a statement and a sentiment that I heard from Mark Meadows.”
One highlight of the hearing today was Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) and his vivid description of a White House meeting on Dec. 18, 2020. Involved were lawyer Sidney Powell, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne, who showed up at the White House, gained access from a junior staffer and made their way to the Oval Office, where they were able to speak with the president alone for more than 10 minutes before White House officials learned of the gathering and ran into the room.
The result, Raskin said, was “a heated and profane clash between this group and President Trump’s White House advisers, who traded personal insults, accusations of disloyalty to the president, and even challenges to physically fight. The meeting would last over six hours, beginning here — in the Oval Office — moving around the West Wing, and many hours later, ending up in the President’s personal residence.”
Raskin added: “The Select Committee has spoken with six of the participants, as well as staffers who could hear the screaming from outside the Oval Office. What took place next is best told in their own words, as you will see from this video.”
A video played in which investigators can be heard asking Powell if she thought her unplanned meeting would commence: “Did you believe that it was gonna work, that you were going to be able to see the President without an appointment?”
“I had no idea,” Powell answered.
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone (who testified for over eight hours before the Committee last Friday) was present at the meeting. (His testimony “corroborated key elements of Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony,” committee spokesman Tim Mulvey said in a statement Sunday.) Cipollone said he got a call saying that he needed to go to the Oval Office. “I opened the door and I walked in and I saw General Flynn, I saw Sidney Powell sitting there. I was not happy to see the people in the Oval Office,” he said. “I didn’t think that they were providing — well, first of all, the Overstock person, I didn’t know who this guy was. Actually, the first thing I did was, I walked in and looked at him and said, ‘Who are you?’ And he told me,” Cipollone said. “I didn’t think any of these people were providing the President with good advice. And so I didn’t understand how they had gotten in.”
During the meeting, Flynn spoke of thermostats hooked up to the Internet; Powell allegedly spoke about false claims of voter fraud involving Dominion voting machines and debunked claims involving foreign countries like Iran and China. Former White House Press Secretary Derek Lyons described the meeting as tense: “At times there were people shouting at each other, throwing insults at each other.”
Powell claimed that Cipollone and former senior advisor Eric Herschmann “showed nothing but contempt and disdain of the President.” Cipollone claimed that Powell, Flynn and Lyons “had a general disregard for the importance of actually backing up what you say with facts.” Herschmann added that “what they were proposing, I thought was nuts.”
The screaming and name-calling escalated. Giuliani described himself as saying, “You guys are not tough enough.’ Or maybe I put it another way: ‘You’re a bunch of pussies.’ Excuse the expression. But I’m almost certain the word was used.”
Flynn was screaming at me that I was a quitter and kept on standing up, turning around screaming at me. And at a certain point I’d had it with him,” Herschmann said. “So I yelled back, ‘Either come over or sit your f—king ass back down.”
Cassidy Hutchinson, in text messages, described the meeting as “unhinged” and captured a photo of Meadows escorting Rudy Giuliani off the White House grounds to ensure that he “didn’t wander back into the mansion,” Raskin said. He continued:
“Not long after Sidney Powell, General Flynn and Rudy Giuliani left the White House in the early hours of the morning, President Trump turned away from both his outside advisors the most outlandish and unworkable schemes and his White House counsel’s advice to swallow hard and accept the reality of his loss. Instead, Donald Trump issued a tweet that would galvanize his followers, light a political firestorm, and change the course of our history as a country.
Trump’s purpose was to mobilize a crowd, and how do you mobilize a crowd in 2020? With millions of followers on Twitter, President Trump knew exactly how to do it. At 1:42 a.m. on December 19th 2020, shortly after the last participants left the unhinged meeting, Trump sent out the tweet with his explosive invitation. Trump repeated his big lie and claimed it was ‘statistically impossible’ to have lost the 2020 election, before calling for a big protest in DC on January 6th: ‘Be there, will be wild!’
“Trump’s supporters responded immediately. Women for America First, a pro-Trump organizing group, had previously applied for a permit for January 23rd in Washington, DC., several days after Joe Biden was to be inaugurated. But in the hours after the tweet they moved their permit to January 6th, two weeks before. This rescheduling created the rally where Trump would eventually speak.
The next day, Ali Alexander, leader of the ‘stop the steal’ organization and a key mobilizer of Trump supporters registered wildprotest.com, named after Trump’s tweet. WildProtest.com provided comprehensive information about newly organized protests in Washington. It involved event times, places, speakers and details on transportation to Washington DC. Meanwhile, other Trump supporters, including far right media personalities, began promoting the wild protest on January 6th.”
One of the clips involved a reference to a ‘red wedding,’ which is “a pop culture reference to mass slaughter,” Raskin said. “But the point is: Trump’s call to Washington reverberated pervasively and powerfully online. The committee has interviewed a former Twitter employee who explained the effect that Trump had on the Twitter platform this employee was on the team responsible for platform and content moderation policy on Twitter throughout 2020 and 2021. The employee testified that Twitter considered implementing a stricter content moderator policy after Trump told the Proud Boys to just ‘stand back and stand by’ from the lectern at the September 29th presidential debate.”
“My concern was that the former president for seemingly the first time was speaking directly to extremist organizations and giving them directives. We had not seen that sort of direct communication before and that concerned me,” the former employee said. The dialogue with investigators is captured below:
So just to clarify further, you were worried and others at Twitter were worried that the president might use your platform to speak directly to folks who might be incited to violence?
A: Yes. I believe that Twitter relished in the knowledge that they were also the favorite and most used service of the former president and enjoyed having that sort of power within the social media ecosystem.
Q: If President Trump were anyone else, would it have taken until January 8th, 2021 for him to be suspended?
A: Absolutely not. If Donald — if former president Donald Trump or any other user on Twitter he would have been permanently suspended a very long time ago.
Despite these grave concerns, Trump remained on Twitter then came the December 19th tweet and everything it inspired. “Not only were these individuals ready and willing, but the leader of their cause was asking them to join him in this cause and in fighting for this cause in DC on January 6th,” the employee said. “I will also say what shocked me was the response to these tweets.”
Many of Trump’s followers came on Twitter to say they were ready to fight. One asked, “Is this the sixth D-Day. Is that why Trump wants everyone there?” Another wrote: “‘It will be wild’ means we need volunteers for the firing squad.” Jim Watkins, the owner of a fringe online forum that was the birthplace of the Qanon extremist movement, said that when the president of the United States announced that he was going to have a rally, ‘I bought a ticket and went.’ Another follower posted the following:
“Why don’t we just kill them? Every last Democrat down to the last man, woman and child. The average Democrat is a traitor. They do not care about election fraud; the punishment for treason is death.”
Some knew that the cops will be standing in the way of their attempt to overturn the election, so one wrote: “I’m ready to die for my beliefs. Are you ready to die, police?”
Another on an openly racist and anti-Semitic forum called TheDonald.win wrote, “Cops don’t have standing if they’re laying on the ground in a pool of their own blood.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin noted: “The Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers are two key groups that responded immediately to President Trump’s call. The Proud Boys are a far right street fighting group that glorifies violence and white supremacy. The Oath Keepers are extremists who promote a wide range of conspiracy theories and sought to act as a private paramilitary force for Donald Trump.
The Department of Justice has charged leaders of both groups with seditious conspiracy to overthrow the government of the United States on January the sixth. Trump’s December 19th tweet motivated these two extremist groups, which have historically not worked together to coordinate their activities. On December 19th at 10:22 a.m., just hours after President Trump’s tweet, Kelly Meggs, the head of the Florida Oath Keepers, declared an alliance among the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys and the Florida Three Percenters, another militia group.”
He wrote, ‘We have decided to work together and shut this s–t down.’ Phone records obtained by the Select Committee show that later that afternoon, Mr. Meggs called Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, and they spoke for several minutes. The very next day, the Proud Boys got to work. The Proud Boys launched an encrypted chat called the Ministry of Self-Defense.”
“The committee obtained hundreds of these messages, which show strategic and tactical planning about January the 6th, including maps of Washington, DC that pinpoint the location of police. In the weeks leading up to the attack, leaders in both the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers worked with Trump allies,” Raskin said. “One such ally was Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security advisor and one of the participants in the unhinged meeting at the White House on December 18th.”
As the groups began to coordinate — and as their anger over the election grew — employees at Twitter started to panic about the potential for inciting violence. One of them said:
“I believe I sent a Slack message to someone that said something along the lines of ‘When people are shooting each other tomorrow, I will try and rest in the knowledge that we tried.’ And so, I went to — I don’t know that I slept that night, to be honest with you. I — I was on pins and needles because, again, for — for months I had been begging and anticipating and attempting to raise the reality that if nothing — if we made no intervention into what I saw occurring, people were going to die. And on January 5th, I realized no intervention was coming.” They added that “as hard as I had tried to create one or implement one, there was nothing and we were — we were at the whims and the mercy of a violent crowd that was locked and loaded.”
One of the people in that crowd was Stephen Ayres.