Jan. 6 panel probes 'unhinged' meeting, Trump rally call
WASHINGTON - The Jan. 6 committee on Tuesday divulged details of an "unhinged" late night meeting at the White House with defeated President Donald Trump’s outside lawyers suggesting the military seize state voting machines in a last-ditch effort to pursue his false claims of voter fraud before he summoned a mob to the U.S. Capitol.
The committee investigating last year's attack at the Capitol is working to show how far-right extremists answered Trump's call to come for a big rally in Washington. As dozens of lawsuits and his claims of voter fraud fizzled, Trump met late into the night of Dec. 18 with attorneys at the White House before tweeting the rally invitation — "Be there, will be wild!" Members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers groups are now facing rare sedition charges over the siege.
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"This tweet served as a call to action -- and in some cases a call to arms." said one panel member, Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla.
Tuesday's hearing was the seventh for the Jan. 6 committee. Over the past month, the panel has created a narrative of a defeated Trump "detached from reality," clinging to false claims of voter fraud and working feverishly to reverse his election defeat. It all culminated with the attack on the Capitol, the committee says.
A video of former US President Donald Trump displayed on a screen during a hearing of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the US Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
The panel featured new video testimony from Pat Cipollone, Trump's former White House counsel, recalling the explosive meeting at the White House when Trump's outside legal team brought a draft executive order to seize states' voting machines — a "terrible idea," he said.
"That's not how we do things in the United States," Cipollone testified.
Another aide called the meeting "unhinged."
Cipollone and other White House officials scrambled to intervene in the late-night meeting Trump was having with attorneys Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, retired national security aide Michael Flynn and the head of the online retail company Overstock. It erupted in shouting and screaming, another aide testified.
"Where is the evidence?" Cipollone demanded of the false claims of voter fraud.
"What they were proposing, I thought, was nuts," testified another White House official, Eric Herschmann.
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But Trump was intrigued and essentially told his White House lawyers that at least Powell and outside allies were trying to do something.
"You guys are not tough enough," Giuliani in video testimony recalled the president telling the White House attorneys. "You guys are p——-," he said, using crass language.
As night turned to morning, Trump tweeted the call for supporters to come to Washington on Jan. 6, when Congress would be tallying the Electoral College results. "Be there. Will be wild," Trump wrote.
Immediately, the extremists reacted.
The panel showed graphic and violent text messages and played videos of right-wing figures, including Alex Jones, and others laying out that Jan. 6 would be the day they fight for the president.
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In vulgar and often racist language the messages beaming across the far-right forums planned for the big day that they said Trump was asking for in Washington. It would be a "red wedding," said one, a reference to mass killing. "Bring handcuffs."
Several members of the U.S. Capitol Police who fought the mob that day sat stone-faced in the front row of the committee room.
"The problem of politicians whipping up mob violence to destroy fair elections is the oldest domestic enemy of constitutional democracy," said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., in opening remarks.
Expected to testify in person was Jason Van Tatenhove, an ally of Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes. Another witness was to be Stephen Ayres, who pleaded guilty last month to disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building. He has said that on Jan. 2, 2021, he posted an image stating that Trump was "calling on us to come back to Washington on January 6th for a big protest."
The committee is probing whether the extremist groups, including the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and QAnon adherents who had rallied for Trump before, coordinated with White House allies for Jan. 6. The Oath Keepers have denied there was any plan to storm the Capitol.
It's the only hearing set for this week, as new details emerge. An expected prime-time hearing Thursday has been shelved for now.
This week's session comes after former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson provided stunning accounts under oath of an angry Trump who knowingly sent armed supporters to the Capitol on Jan. 6 and then refused to quickly call them off as violence erupted, siding with the rioters as they searched menacingly for Vice President Mike Pence.
Trump has said Cassidy's account is not true. But Cipollone at Friday's private session did not contradict earlier testimony. Raskin said the panel planned to use "a lot" of Cipollone's testimony.
On Dec. 29, the Proud Boys chairman posted a message on social media that said members planned to "turn out in record numbers on Jan. 6th," according to a federal indictment.
The group planned to meet at the Washington Monument, its members instructed not to wear its traditional black and yellow colors, but be "incognito."
The Proud Boys have said their membership grew after Trump, during his first debate with Biden, refused to outright condemn the group but instead told them to "stand back and stand by."
The night before Jan. 6, Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio met with Oath Keepers leader Rhodes at an underground parking garage, according to court filings along with images a documentary filmmaker trailing the group provided to the panel.
The Oath Keepers had also been organizing for Jan. 6 and established a "quick response force" at a nearby hotel in Virginia, according to court filings.
After the Capitol siege, Rhodes called someone with an urgent message for Trump, another group member has said. Rhodes was denied a chance to speak to Trump, but urged the person on the phone to tell the Republican president to call upon militia groups to fight to keep the president in power.
An attorney for Rhodes recently told the committee that he wants to testify publicly. Rhodes was already interviewed by the committee privately, and it's unlikely the panel will agree.
The panel also intends to note that many of the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol appeared to be QAnon believers. Federal authorities have explicitly linked at least 38 rioters to the pro-Trump conspiracy theory, according to an Associated Press review of court records.
One of the most recognizable figures from the attack was a shirtless Arizona man who called himself the "QAnon Shaman," carried a spear and wore face paint and a Viking hat with fur and horns.
A core belief among QAnon followers is that Trump was secretly fighting a cabal of "deep state" operatives, prominent Democrats and Hollywood elites, some of whom worship Satan and engage in sex trafficking of children.
The panel has shown, over the course of fast-paced hearings and with eyewitness accounts from the former president's inner circle, that Trump was told "over and over," as Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said, that he had lost the election and his claims of voter fraud were just not true. Nevertheless, Trump summoned his supporters to Washington and then sent them to the Capitol in what panel Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., has called an "attempted coup."
Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo, Farnoush Amiri and Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington and Michael Kunzelman in College Park, Maryland, contributed to this report.