During its seventh hearing on Tuesday, the House Jan. 6 committee showed how former President Donald Trump, with the backing of supporters like onetime National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and ex-Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne, continued to push claims of widespread voter fraud, even after White House lawyers challenged those assertions. The panel also focused on how Trump's tweet ahead of Jan. 6, calling on people to come to Washington, D.C., for a "big protest" that would "be wild," galvanized his supporters, including many with ties to right-wing and white nationalist extremist groups.
Is this the Oval Office or the 'Star Wars' cantina?
On Dec. 18, 2020, Trump met with Flynn, Byrne, and his lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell at the White House. A junior staffer let them in, unbeknownst to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who told the Jan. 6 committee during his testimony on Friday that he raced to the Oval Office when he found out about the gathering. "I was not happy to see the people in the Oval Office," Cipollone said. "I don't think any of these people were providing the president with good advice, and I don't understand how they had gotten in."
The meeting lasted six hours and was contentious, Cipollone testified. The White House lawyers pushed back when the Trump allies discussed having the then-president sign an executive order allowing the Department of Defense to seize voting systems and naming Powell, a proponent of several election conspiracy theories, as special counsel to oversee the effort. "I don't think she should be appointed to anything," Cipollone testified. During her testimony, Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, called this meeting "unhinged."
Neal Katyal, a former acting U.S. solicitor general, referred to the random assortment of Trump supporters in the Oval Office as a "motley crew of Star Wars bar scene people," while former U.S. attorney Joyce Vance thought it was stunning that "the Overstock guy and a lawyer who faces ethical discipline and possible disbarment are sitting in the Oval Office, holding a private, unscheduled meeting to discuss how a failed candidate who lost the election can hold onto power. And no one thought to make it public at the time."
MSNBC host Ari Melber found both the meeting and talk of a Powell appointment "important evidence, because it shows: Trump taking direct action to move a campaign lawyer into a government post for (potentially illegal) government action to overthrow the election," he tweeted. Melber also noted that even during the final days of his presidency, "Trump still did not know his own authority over which appointments he could make, or whether he could personally grant security clearances (POTUS can), and would ask WH counsel, can I do this?"
Not so fast, Pat Cipollone
After receiving a subpoena late last month, Cipollone finally agreed to testify before the Jan. 6 committee, sitting down for his eight-hour interview on Friday. The hearing featured several clips from his recorded testimony, including when Cipollone said former Vice President Mike Pence was "courageous" and should receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, for not joining the plot to overturn the election results. This praise was heavy-handed, conservative lawyer George Conway tweeted. "I'm grateful to Vice President Pence for it, but I honestly don't think he should be given the Presidential Medal of Freedom for declining to participate in a coup d'état," he wrote. Vance agreed, tweeting, "Cipollone isn't a hero and Pence isn't a hero. If they were we would know all the details and would have known them during the 2nd impeachment, about the 12/21 meeting where sitting members of Congress who are currently running for re-election, got together to subvert the election."
Vance was referring to another piece of evidence presented on Tuesday: White House visitor logs that show 10 Republican members of Congress attended a Dec. 21, 2020, meeting at the White House focused on getting Pence to help overturn the election. The logs show that GOP Reps. Brian Babin of Texas, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Andy Harris of Maryland, Jody Hice of Georgia, Jim Jordan of Ohio, and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, as well as then-incoming Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, were physically present. Hutchinson testified that Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) and Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) participated in the meeting via telephone.
A 'bombshell' from Liz Cheney
At the conclusion of Tuesday's hearing, the committee's vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), revealed that Trump recently tried to contact a witness in the investigation whose testimony has not yet been shared publicly. "That person declined to answer or respond to President Trump's call, and instead alerted their lawyer to the call," Cheney said. "Their lawyer alerted us. And this committee has supplied that information to the Department of Justice." Cheney, who did not identify the witness, added that the committee "will take any effort to influence witness testimony very seriously."
This was a "bombshell," Katyal said during an appearance on Deadline White House. While Trump could argue that he didn't know this person was going to be a witness, Katyal explained that this defense might not hold up if there are parties to certain conversations, like the witness' lawyer. "Witness tampering is a pretty simple test," Katyal said, adding that it's "not the kind of thing you have presidential prerogatives. This is Trump acting now as a private citizen. He's not the president. There's no possible privilege claims or anything like that, it's just simply, are you trying to prevent this person from coming forward to tell the truth ... is that your intent?" Katyal concluded that it "could be a very easy criminal case if the evidence is the way that Congresswoman Cheney suggested it might be."