Tuesday’s hearing was equal parts illuminating and sobering as testimony was delivered by former Oath Keeper Jason Van Tatenhove, as well as a man who was charged with disorderly conduct after breaching the Capitol, Stephen Ayres of Ohio.
But there was also testimony via video from Trump’s White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump’s former attorneys Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani that exposed the razor-sharp differences between those in the Trump administration who sought a peaceful transfer of power on Jan. 6 versus those who sought another outcome.
There were records shared with the committee from the National Archives and White House that showed how Trump planned to lead his supporters on a march to the Capitol after his speech on Jan. 6. The documents demonstrated how Trump tried to keep that detail under wraps and only shared this plan with a circle of confidantes who supported his claims of election fraud.
In a draft tweet obtained by the committee that was never ultimately sent, Trump wrote: “I will be making a Big Speech at 10AM on January 6th at the Ellipse (South of the White House). Please arrive early, massive crowds expected. March to the Capitol after. Stop the Steal!!”
Four days before this, newly public records show, then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows received a call from Katrina Pierson, Trump’s onetime spokeswoman and point-person for the rally at the Ellipse. Pierson’s conversation with Meadows spurred her to send out an email to several pro-Trump organizers who were headed to D.C.
Pierson told the groups Trump would call on the crowd to march to the Capitol. If there were ever any doubts that the plan was intended to be kept covert, that was undone in a text sent by Kylie Kremer of Women for America First and exposed by the committee on Tuesday.
There was to be the rally at the Ellipse, Kremer said, and then a second event in front of the Supreme Court sitting just across the street from the Capitol.
“POTUS is going to have us march there/the Capitol. It cannot get out about the second stage because people will try and set up another and sabotage it. It can also not get out about the march because I will be in trouble with the national park service and all the agencies but POTUS is going to just call for it ‘unexpectedly,” Kremer wrote.
‘Stop the Steal’ founder Ali Alexander spilled the beans at least once to an unidentified conservative journalist, the committee said Tuesday. Via text, Alexander said it was “Ellipse then U.S. Capitol.”
Trump was “supposed to order us to Capitol at the end of his speech but we will see,” Alexander wrote.
Trump’s ire toward those who rejected the half-baked legal theories long peddled by attorneys Powell, Giuliani and especially, John Eastman, was boiling over.
He was especially angry with then-Vice President Mike Pence, as testimony and witness statements from officials at the White House, the Vice President’s office, and the Department of Justice have already shown.
He wrongly believed Pence was the key to stopping the certification during the Joint Session of Congress and aligned himself with the legal theory proposed by Eastman in a now-infamous six-point memo.
Despite several intense weeks where White House attorneys, intelligence officials, and others advised Trump that fraud was nonexistent and his course of action was legally doomed, there was no convincing him that Pence couldn’t help him retain power.
In that vein, the committee newly released Trump’s draft speech for the Ellipse along with a portion of his daily White House diary from Jan. 6.
The diary noted a meeting that lasted over 25 minutes between Trump and his senior adviser and chief speechwriter Stephen Miller.
After that call, Trump ordered that a line go into his speech that read: “And we will see whether Mike Pence enters history as a truly great and courageous leader. All he has to do is refer the illegally-submitted electoral votes back to the states that were given false and fraudulent information where they want to recertify.”
“They were last-minute edits that were part of a pressure campaign against his own vice president,” Rep. Murphy said.
White House lawyer Eric Herschmann testified that he did not want the Pence language included and in Miller’s testimony before the committee, Miller said that he and Herschmann had a “sidebar” about it and the lines were removed.
But when Pence and Trump spoke on the phone not long after this decision and Pence informed him he did not have the unilateral authority to overturn the election, Trump lashed out and called Pence a “wimp.”
Once they hung up, the 45th president ordered his speechwriters to reinsert the Pence line. Stephen Miller accused the committee of editing his response on Tuesday, according to The New York Times.
The committee also drilled down on an important Dec. 18, 2020, meeting at the White House where Powell, Giuliani, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and others, including the former CEO of Overstock.com, Patrick Byrne, managed to gain entry to the White House—and 15 minutes of private time with Trump.
By that time, four days had passed since now-President Joe Biden was announced as the certified choice of the Electoral College. Trump had nowhere further to run and the courts had dismissed his allegations of voter fraud as unfounded again and again. Pence was not responding as he wished.
But here were Powell and the others, escorted into the White House by a junior staffer and offering another possibility to the defeated president. During that meeting, Powell offered to serve as Trump’s special counsel to investigate the nonexistent voter fraud. And then, there was a proposal to seize voting machines, something Powell could help Trump do if only he appointed her.
When Cipollone asked Giuliani if he had any evidence to support the wild conspiracy theories on election fraud, he did not. Cipollone was also vocal about not wanting Powell to be appointed to special counsel.
“What they were proposing, I thought was nuts,” Herschmann testified.
Cipollone said of Powell: “I didn’t think she should be appointed to anything.”
Powell was insistent during the meeting, anyway, and claimed every judge who reviewed Trump’s case was corrupt.
“Every one of them is corrupt? Even the ones we appointed?' I'm being nice, I was much more harsh to her,” Herschmann recalled telling her in his video deposition.
The meeting devolved into a screaming match of epic proportions and prompted Cassidy Hutchinson, the former aide to Mark Meadows, to describe it as “unhinged” in a text to Tony Ornato, then Trump’s chief of staff for operations. Giuliani, she noted, had to be escorted from the grounds by Meadows to ensure he didn’t “wander back to the mansion.”
After that meeting ended, Trump, in the wee hours of Dec. 19, sent out another tweet.
This tweet was the “inflection point,” Rep. Murphy said.
It cited a bogus report about election fraud, and then claimed it was “statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 election.”
“Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” he wrote.
The tweet was a shot of adrenaline for his followers, and the right-wing and extremist blogospheres lit up. The committee displayed a host of messages and videos and podcast clips that appeared online in the hours and days that followed.
Commentators like Alex Jones and others spoke of “geeked up and armed” supporters who would appear in D.C. on Jan. 6 to help Trump secure his victory, or in one case, his “red wedding,” a pop culture reference to a gory massacre depicted in the fictional TV series Game of Thrones. There was white supremacist sentiment laden in the messages. The threats were homicidal and collecting at a furious past.
“Why don’t we just kill them?” One message began. “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.”
For other supporters, Trump’s rally on Jan. 6 was to be “the day of the rope.”
“White revolution is the only solution,” one post read.
A former employee from Twitter testified to the committee but only under the condition that their identity remains secret. Their voice was modulated in a clip of video testimony aired Tuesday.
“I was concerned the former president for the first time was speaking directly to extremist organizations and giving them directives,” the former Twitter employee said.
They had never seen “that sort of direct communication” before.
What was also unprecedented about that tweet, Rep. Raskin said, was how it unified the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys together, two extremist networks that have historically kept themselves separated due to disputes in ideology.
A Dec. 19 text from Oath Keeper Kelly Meggs spelled out the new culture shift.
“Well we are ready for the rioters, this week I organized an alliance between Oath Keepers, Florida 3%ers and Proud Boys. We have decided to work together and shut this shit down,” Meggs wrote.
Meggs, along with Rhodes and Proud Boy leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio and several other members of the groups, now face seditious conspiracy charges.
The former Twitter employee described what they saw from the backend of the social media site as scary. If another user did what Trump did on the platform, they would have been booted from it long before Trump finally was suspended, the employee said.
The sheer gravity of what finally unfolded on Jan. 6 and what more could have happened was disturbingly punctuated by an unlikely witness: former Oath Keeper media director Jason Van Tatenhove.
Tatenhove was once closely aligned with the extremist group and its leader, Elmer Rhodes, but he said he turned away from them after overhearing a fellow member assert that the Holocaust was fake, he testified.
Rhodes saw himself as a “paramilitary” leader of men should Trump go through with a plan to stop the transfer of power. And the opportunity presented by Trump with the invite on Dec. 19 played right into Rhodes’s own skewed fantasies about himself and the Oath Keepers declared mission.
“I think it gave him a sense of legitimacy, that it was a path forward to move forward with his goals and agendas. I think we need to quit mincing words and talk about truths and what it was going to be was, an armed revolution. I mean people died that day. Law enforcement officers died this day. There was a gallows set up in front of the Capitol. This could have been the spark that started a new civil war and no one would have won there. That would have been good for no one.”
Rhodes was always trying to “legitimize” what he was doing, he added.
“Whether by wrapping it in the trappings of ‘it's not a militia, it’s a community preparedness team.’ ‘We’re not a militia, we’re an education outreach group, a veterans support group. But again, we got to stop with this dishonesty and mincing of words. He’s a militia leader and he had these grand visions of being a paramilitary leader and the Insurrection Act would have given him a path forward with that,” Tatenhove said. “The fact that the president was communicating, whether directly or indirectly messaging; that gave [Rhodes] the nod. And all I can do is thank the gods that things did not go any worse that day,’ he said.
Text messages exposed Tuesday showed another moment of clarity from an unexpected source. In a series of texts from Trump’s former campaign manager Brad Parscale to Katrina Pierson after the insurrection, Parscale expressed guilt and remorse.
“This is about Trump pushing for uncertainty in our country,” Parscale wrote.
Pierson, who helped organize the rally at the Ellipse and warned Trump campaign and White House staff about “crazies” who would show up on Jan. 6, told Parscale “you did what you felt [was] right at the time and therefore it was right.”
“Yeah,” Parscale responded. “But a woman is dead.”
Pierson replied, “You do realize that was going to happen.”
Parscale acknowledged he did.
“Yeah, If i was Trump and knew my rhetoric killed someone,” he wrote.
Pierson said, “it wasn’t rhetoric.”
Parscale, who had been kicked off as manager of Trump’s campaign less than a year before this, addressed Pierson by her first name as if to drive the point home.
“Katrina. Yes, it was,” he wrote.
Ohio resident Stephen Ayres, who was charged with disorderly conduct after entering the Capitol on Jan. 6, testified on Tuesday that had Trump not issued the call to action on Dec. 19 or promoted claims of fraud so thoroughly, he may never have shown up in Washington on Jan. 6.
Three of the police officers who defended the Capitol and the battled the mob for hours on Jan. 6 including U.S. Capitol Police Office Harry Dunn, Sergeant Aquillino Gonnel and former Metropolitan Police Department Officer Michael Fanone were present during the hearing Tuesday.
Ayres went to shake hands with the officers and when Fanone was asked if he accepted the apology, Fanone responded: “That apology doesn’t do shit for me. I hope it does shit for him.”
Officer Dunn remained seated during the exchange. Ayres approached Dunn as well and tried to hug him, telling him: “I’m really sorry,” NBC News reported.
The committee is expected to hold a hearing next week, though it has not yet released information about the exact date or time or confirmed if it will indeed be held in primetime. Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne is reportedly cooperating with the committee and is slated to testify behind closed doors this Friday.
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