Ahead of the Jan. 6 committee’s last expected public hearing this week, Denver Riggleman, a former Republican congressman and onetime adviser to the insurrection panel, stirred up a bit of controversy.
In an interview for 60 Minutes on Sunday, Riggleman said during his months working with the Jan. 6 committee, he had reviewed reams of phone records, text messages, and social media posts, including those belonging to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, an integral player in former President Donald Trump’s push to overturn the 2020 election.
Meadows had turned over more than 2,300 text messages to the panel before ending his cooperation, and Riggleman, among others supporting the probe, was tasked with sorting through those messages.
As Riggleman analyzed them, he told 60 Minutes correspondent Bill Whitaker on Sunday that it quickly became clear that Meadows’ messages represented a “roadmap to an attempted coup” on Jan. 6.
This is not the first time he has used this phrase to describe his findings.
Riggleman told CNN this June, “to look at [the messages] it's almost a roadmap to what happened” on Jan. 6.
But when on 60 Minutes this weekend, the former U.S. Air Force Intelligence officer and counterterrorism expert elaborated further, saying that during his time on the committee, he found a record of a call being made from the White House switchboard to a Capitol rioter on Jan. 6.
“You get a real ‘a-ha’ moment when you see that the White House switchboard had connected to a rioter’s phone while [the riot] is happening. That’s a big, pretty big ‘a-ha’ moment,” Riggleman told 60 Minutes correspondent Brian Whitaker.
The call was unlikely to be “accidental,” according to Riggleman.
But, he acknowledged, during his time as a technical adviser on the probe, he was only able to discern “one end” of that call.
“I don’t know the White House end, which I believe is more important. But the thing is, the American people need to know that there are link connections that need to be explored more,” Riggleman said.
Riggleman left the committee in April to take a job with a nonprofit supporting Ukraine. Notably, his pronouncements this weekend about the switchboard call come just ahead of the release of his new book, The Breach.
The book is about Riggleman’s time serving the Jan. 6 probe and is co-authored with reporter Hunter Walker.
It also comes out just one day before the committee’s public hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 28, at 1 PM ET. It is expected to be the committee’s last.
Members of the Jan. 6 committee responded to Riggleman’s remarks this weekend, stressing that they were already aware of this call.
A committee spokesperson also stressed that the former Republican congressman for Virginia only had “limited knowledge” of the committee’s work since his departure and that the panel did “much of our most important investigative work” after Riggleman had left.
In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” this Sunday, committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin addressed the switchboard call but wouldn’t divulge much else. The Maryland Democrat said the committee had looked into it already and cautioned that there was “lots of contact between people in the White House and different people that were involved obviously in the coup attempt and insurrection.”
Historically, the committee has kept details of its investigation and its plans for hearings under guard, leaving its most explosive findings to come out during its public presentations.
The relationship between Riggleman and the committee hasn’t been without some tension. Sources told The Washington Post that Riggleman was not always clear about his book deal, reportedly telling committee colleagues that he was writing a book though he wouldn’t confirm what it was about. Riggleman’s press interviews and chattering on television about the content of the committee’s subpoenas or how it divided its investigation was “unnerving,” committee staff director David Buckley wrote in a staff-wide email, according to Politico.
When he left the probe officially, Riggleman finally acknowledged to reporters openly that he had received a book deal. But he also said his book wouldn’t come out until next year.
On Sunday, Riggleman told 60 Minutes that as he reviewed the correspondence that flew back and forth in Trump’s orbit before the insurrection, there were eerie similarities between the language used there and the language used by fundamentalists or religious extremists he had studied in the past.
“Honestly, the way they talked, the way they referred to this epic struggle almost sounded to me like [I was] looking at foreign terrorist groups in the past. The way they were talking about religion. You automatically sort of throttle back, sit back in your chair and think, ‘man, that’s a dangerous line of thinking,’” he said.
He continued: “I’m finding that everything they believe, the system they have sort of built up in their mind based on the support of Donald Trump is false.”
The push for a coup is ”a pretty simple thing to see” just by reading the texts that were publicly released already, Riggleman added.
“if you just read them, just please for the love of god, just think about what these people are saying to each other; to the chief of staff or president of the United States. You should come to the conclusion that, listen, even if it is not criminal, it is idiotic. And we don't want somebody like this making decisions for the United States. Either for domestic or foreign policy. That’s it,” he said.
Riggleman, who was brought aboard the committee with support from Republican vicechair Liz Cheney, also explained how his thinking around Jan. 6 had evolved over time.
“I went from [it was a] riot to [it was] coup-like movements,” he said of his early assessments. “At this point, I think it’s pretty evident that this was an attempted coup.”
This opinion is uniformly shared among all members of the committee. As the hearings got underway this summer, investigators used that descriptor regularly.
But the “big a-ha” moment Riggleman described was not exactly that, according to committee member Rep. Adam Schiff.
Schiff told CNN’s Jake Tapper during a Sunday appearance that the committee has been careful not to overstate or understate matters.
Riggleman’s recent remarks “pose a real risk,” Schiff said.
Rep. Lofgren also elaborated, telling CNN that every lead Riggleman generated was looked into.
“Everything that he was able to relay prior to his departure has been followed up on and in some cases didn't really peter out (sic), or there might have been a decision that suggested there was a connection between one number and one e-mail and a person that turned out not to pan out. So we follow up on everything, and, you know, I don't know what Mr. Riggleman is doing really,” she said.
As for the phone call to the Jan. 6 rioter from the White House, details have been limited in the public arena so far. After Riggleman’s interview on 60 Minutes, however, CNN did confirm the identity of the cell phone owner
The phone reportedly belongs to Brooklyn, New York resident and Trump supporter Anton Lunyk.
The call from the White House landline to Lunyk’s phone lasted just nine seconds, beginning at 4:34 PM on Jan. 6.
The timing is interesting: it came less than 30 minutes after Trump issued a video halfheartedly asking rioters to go home as he simultaneously praised them for being “very special.”
Lunyk pleaded guilty to parading inside of the Capitol illegally this April alongside two friends: Francis Connor and Antonio Ferrigno. The men were originally facing multiple charges, including entering and remaining in a restricted area, violent entry, disorderly conduct, and parading or demonstrating inside of the Capitol.
He reportedly has no memory of receiving the call and does not know anyone who worked in the Trump White House.
At present, there are no known connections between Lunyk and anyone who worked at the Trump White House. And as pointed out by CNN, Lunyk’s car was spotted in New York City at 8:28 p.m.. on Jan. 6. This could mean that by the time the call was made to Lunyk’s phone, he was likely already in transit to New York from the Capitol.
It does not appear that Lunyk, Connor, or Ferrigno have any direct ties to extremist groups like the Proud Boys or Oath Keepers or their members.
But court records show that in the Instagram group chats from November 2020, where Lunyk, Connor, and Ferrigno discussed how the election was “stolen” from Trump, Ferrigno named one of the group chats “The Proud Boys” and then renamed it “The Proud Boys and Friends” a month later. In January, the name was changed one more time to “The Oath Keepers,” CNN reported.
After the Capitol attack, the virulent messages continued.
Connor, for example, sent Lunyk a message on Instagram on Jan. 8, 2021.
“Our job yesterday wasn’t completed. our end goal was to brutally murder [then Vice President Mike] Pence and [Speaker of the House Nancy] Pelosi, and sadly today they’re still breathing, therefore we must come back stronger and fiercely next time around,” Connor wrote.
On Jan. 12, 2021, Lunyk boasted that he was “gonna shoot Pelosi.” Other chats featured threats to rape Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
An attorney for Lunyk did not immediately return a request for comment to Daily Kos.