The role former President Donald Trump played in summoning extremist groups to aid his attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election will be the main focus of the Jan. 6 committee’s hearing on Tuesday at 1 PM ET.
Leading the hearing will be Reps. Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Stephanie Murphy of Florida. During an appearance on Meet the Press this weekend, the Democratic lawmakers said the panel would highlight a Dec. 19, 2020 tweet from Trump that they say served as an invitation for chaos.
Trump started the tweet in question by referencing a debunked report about voter fraud compiled by then-White House trade adviser Peter Navarro. Navarro was subpoenaed by the select committee for his records and testimony on Trump’s fake elector scheme, but refused to comply. He was held in contempt by the House of Representatives, referred to the Justice Department, indicted, and finally, arrested last month. He awaits a contempt trial.
“A great report by Peter,” Trump wrote on Dec. 19. “Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election. Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”
For weeks prior to that tweet, according to testimony already provided to the committee by former Attorney General Bill Barr and other high-ranking officials at the Department of Justice, Trump had long received advice and credible intelligence confirming that the election was fair and there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
It did not stop him from attempting a coup anyway, the committee has said.
Investigators will dive into the impetus for that invitation by reviewing, among other items, evidence connected to a Dec. 18 meeting at the White House and later at the Willard Hotel, where Trump’s attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell pushed hard to have the election results overturned and against the advice of other White House counsel like Eric Herschmann.
On Dec. 18, 2020, former national security adviser Michael Flynn met with Trump in the Oval Office and it was there that Powell reportedly urged the president to seize voting machines and appoint her as special counsel at the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel so she could investigate voter fraud. A draft executive order for Trump to seize machines was mocked up just two days before that meeting. It never went out.
Draft Executive Order Dec 16 by Daily Kos on Scribd
The committee is also expected to parse out the influence that the conspiracy-theory-addled movement known as QAnon had on the White House, key administration officials, and others in Trump’s orbit on the crash course to the insurrection.
Michael Flynn is a reported adherent of the group and it was Flynn’s counsel—and GOP operative Roger Stone’s—that Trump appears to have sought on the eve of the insurrection. Testimony by Cassidy Hutchinson, the former aide to Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, revealed that detail last week.
Hutchinson said Trump asked Meadows to get him in touch with Flynn and Stone, but she did not ultimately hear what came of that conversation.
Both Flynn and Stone have ties to extremist groups. Flynn has been tied to the self-styled militia known as the Three Percenters and Stone has a long, well-documented history of affiliating with members of the neofascist Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. Daily Kos explored this more in-depth in a recent report available here.
Tuesday’s hearing will be the committee’s seventh public presentation and it will be the only one this week.
Witnesses are expected to testify and they reportedly include Jason van Tatenhove, the Oath Keepers onetime media director, and Stephen Ayres, an Ohio man and former Trump supporter who pleaded guilty in June to disorderly conduct in the Capitol. Ayres was once a staunch believer in the former president’s lies about fraud in the 2020 election. When he entered the Capitol on Jan. 6, he sported a “CNN Fake News” facemask.
According to his statement of offense, Ayres posted on social media often before coming to Washington for Trump’s “wild” protest.
“History is being made right in front of your eyes. When your grandchildren ask: Where were you when……..happened?’ What's your answer going to be?” Ayres wrote.
He attached an image to that post with the following message: January 6 Washington, D.C. the president is calling on us to come back to Washington on January 6th for a big protest! Be there, will be wild.”
Ayres Statement of Offense by Daily Kos on Scribd
Ayres was charged alongside co-defendant Matthew Perna, pleaded guilty to a single count of obstruction of Congress. Perna died by suicide after entering his plea. He claimed that members of the anti-fascist “antifa” movement were responsible for the attack and that they had dressed as supporters of Trump’s on the day of the siege.
It is widely anticipated investigators will discuss key Oath Keepers and Proud Boys currently facing seditious conspiracy charges like Proud Boys leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio and members Joe Biggs and Ethan Nordean, plus Oath Keepers chief Elmer Stewart Rhodes and his underling, Kelly Meggs.
While senior committee aides were mum about further hearing details Monday, they did confirm that another hearing will be held next week. The exact time and schedule of that hearing have not yet been released, however.
Shifts in the schedule have been increasingly common in recent weeks as investigators have unearthed new evidence publicly and are working to incorporate or assess it as they go.
The committee’s chair and vice chair, Bennie Thompson and Liz Cheney, have both emphasized that they will go wherever credible tips may lead them and have said during the public hearings that it would never be too late for witnesses to come forward.
Committee vice chair Cheney publicly called on former White House attorney Pat Cipollone multiple times to testify in recent weeks. Though he did not appear without a subpoena, Cipollone did ultimately cooperate.
He met with investigators in private last week for a transcribed and taped interview that lasted eight hours and according to remarks by committee member Rep. Zoe Lofgren on Meet the Press this weekend, Cipollone’s testimony “augments and does not dispute [former White House aide Cassidy] Hutchinson’s testimony.”
Hutchinson’s testimony was alarming, to say the least.
The former aide to Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows said under oath that Trump knew the mob was heavily armed and that he vehemently waved off concerns aired by administration officials and others when they told him his supporters were bypassing metal detectors in droves.
Not long after learning this, Trump would deliver his speech at the Ellipse, where he would call on the crowd to walk down to the Capitol with him frequently.
Hutchinson also described how Meadows received at least one warning prior to Jan. 6 that violence was headed to Washington. She said she heard talk of Proud Boys and Oath Keepers often bandied about by those close to Trump, and especially so when Rudy Giuliani was present.
The former White House aide described Trump flying into a fit of rage when he was informed that he would not be taken to the U.S. Capitol to join his supporters after his speech on Jan. 6.
This part of her testimony triggered a wave of challenges to her credibility. Hutchinson said under oath that it was Anthony Ornato, Trump’s chief of operations in the White House, who told her that Trump lunged at the clavicle of Bobby Engel, head of security, when Engel refused to drive Trump to the Capitol following his speech.
Both Ornato and Engel are known allies to the former president and both promptly disputed Trump’s alleged lunging at Engel. But they notably did not dispute that Trump was aware the mob was armed when he insisted on having his supporters march to the Capitol and had already spent hours crying voter fraud while publicly and privately urging then-Vice President Mike Pence to intervene during the Joint Session.
On Monday, a committee spokesperson said no further updates were yet available on Ornato or Engel’s potential testimony before the probe.
The committee also declined to comment on a recent attempt by Trump’s short-lived adviser Steve Bannon to testify before investigators. Bannon goes to trial next week for contempt of Congress after his patent refusal to cooperate with the committee approached its ninth month. He was first subpoenaed in September.
A Trump-appointed federal judge on Monday rejected claims by Bannon that Trump had asserted executive privilege over his records and testimony and, further, rejected a bid from the bombastic Bannon to discredit the committee as illegitimate. Many Trump-world figures in the committee’s investigation have tried this legitimacy gambit. All have failed.
Things are also mum on whether the committee will seriously entertain cooperation in a public setting from Elmer Stewart Rhodes, the onetime leader of the extremist Oath Keepers group. Rhodes extended this offer through his attorney last week but set strict conditions.
Cipollone’s testimony is hotly anticipated because of his proximity to Trump during key moments ahead of Jan. 6, including a stand-off launched by former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen and his deputy, Richard Donoghue. They and other attorneys threatened mass resignations to stave off the total capture of the DOJ by Trump and his lackeys like Jeffrey Clark, a mid-level DOJ attorney who worked in the department’s environmental division until being introduced to Trump by Rep. Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican.
Cipollone called a bid by Clark to have the DOJ formally announce voter fraud in key swing states—and to name fake electors for Trump—a “murder-suicide pact” if successful, Rosen and Donoghue testified.
And perhaps prophetically, according to testimony by Hutchinson, it was Cipollone who warned her that if Trump tried to enter the Capitol on Jan. 6 with the mob at his back, the likelihood of criminal charges being filed against him was astronomically high.
“Please make sure we don’t go up to the Capitol, Cassidy. Keep in touch. We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen,” Hutchinson recalled Cipollone tell her.
There may be portions of a video deposition played on Tuesday or at a future hearing that feature Sara Matthews, too. Matthews once worked as the deputy press secretary under Kayleigh McEnany, Trump’s press secretary. Matthews resigned on the day of the attack in protest and she has since openly defended Hutchinson’s remarks.
The committee will continue to look at the final hours leading up to Jan. 6 as Trump desperately clung to power, and a future hearing will unpack the more than three hours that Trump spent effectively ignoring pleas for help coming from the Capitol, his family, friends, and allies.