Jan. 6 hearing details how extremists responded to Trump's rhetoric
As part of the Jan. 6 committee hearing Tuesday, a member of the committee pushed back against what she called attempts to cast some of former President Donald Trump's advisers — including Rep. Scott Perry — as manipulating the former president.
"This new strategy is to try and only blame [Trump attorneys] John Eastman or Sidney Powell or Congressman Scott Perry and not President Trump," U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said during the hearing. "The strategy is to blame people his advisers called 'the crazies.'"
Cheney pushed back against that framing, saying Trump is not an "impressionable child."
Trump himself is responsible for his own actions and choices, the congresswoman insisted.
At the end of the day's testimony, Cheney, the vice chair of the House Jan. 6 committee, said Trump attempted to contact a witness who was talking to the panel investigating the attack on the Capitol. The Justice Department has been notified, she said.
“We will take any effort to influence witness testimony very seriously,” Cheney said.
Chad Baker, chair of the York County Democrats, condemned the actions of Perry and Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano in the lead-up to the Jan. 6 riot.
“The actions of Congressman Perry and Senator Mastriano leading up to and on that day need to be held accountable for their actions that contributed to the events that unfolded on this heinous day," Baker said after Tuesday's hearing.
Also on Tuesday, Perry spokesperson Jay Ostrich said the congressman "is using his time fighting for his constituents suffering from an historic economic crisis, not wasting it on petty personal attacks and pitiful, partisan political theater."
Perry previously called the contention that he sought a presidential pardon an "absolute, shameless, and soulless lie." So far, he has refused to testify before the committee.
Shamaine Daniels, the Democratic nominee running against Perry in November's election, called Perry's actions "abhorrent."
"Everything we've learned so far about Scott Perry's involvement in the January 6th Insurrection is shameful, and these hearings continue to reveal more and more about Perry's involvement," Daniels said in a statement. "I'm calling once again for a criminal investigation into his actions, and joining Governor Wolf in calling for his resignation."
The Jan. 6 committee on Tuesday revealed details of an “unhinged” late-night meeting at the White House with a defeated 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 attend 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.
“This tweet served as a call to action -- and in some cases a call to arms,” said 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 laid out 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.
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 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.
But Trump was apparently 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.
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 would fight for the president.
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.
At the witness table to testify in person was Jason Van Tatenhove, a former ally of Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes. Another witness was 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.
The committee began the second half of the hearing making connections between Trump allies Flynn and Roger Stone and the extremist groups who were preparing to come to Washington.
It showed a picture of Rhodes, the Oath Keeper leader, walking with Flynn, the former national security aide to Trump, outside the Capitol at some point.
The committee also heard from former Trump campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson, who testified about her concerns about those planning for Jan. 6.
And the panel showed anew that on the day of the rally, Trump intended to join the mob at the Capitol.
“March to the Capitol after,” Trump said in a draft tweet about the rally.
This was the only hearing 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 alleged that 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 Cheney 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.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
— Reach Matt Enright via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.