Jan. 6 committee is telling a story, but plenty of gaps remain
The House committee investigating last year’s mob attack on the U.S. Capitol has used a series of public hearings this month to craft a gripping case that former President Trump orchestrated an attempted coup against the very government he was charged to protect.
Yet despite the willingness of hundreds of former Trump aides, Cabinet officials, family members and legal advisers to cooperate in the probe — and spill damning testimony in the process — there are plenty of gaps in the investigators’ narrative that remain unfilled as the panel heads into another round of public proceedings this week.
Those gaps are largely the result of the refusal of key Trump allies to participate in the investigation, a list that includes his former chief of staff Mark Meadows as well as his most prominent defenders on Capitol Hill: GOP Reps. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Jim Jordan (Ohio), Scott Perry (Pa.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.) and Mo Brooks (Ala.), all of whom have rejected congressional subpoenas to appear before the panel.
Each of those figures has a unique window into Trump’s actions and thinking on and around Jan. 6, when his supporters attacked the Capitol in a failed effort to overturn his election defeat. Each has also downplayed the violence that day and characterized the House investigation as a sham designed merely to hurt Trump politically.
“Speaker Pelosi’s Select Committee on January 6 is the most political and least legitimate committee in American history,” McCarthy said earlier in the month.
The GOP defiance has denied investigators key pieces of the Jan. 6 puzzle as the panel seeks to determine what Trump knew and when he knew it as the violence unfolded that day.
The investigators are promising to deliver new details of Trump’s campaign to remain in power in the coming weeks, when the committee is expected to stage at least four more public hearings. But in a tacit acknowledgement that the story remains incomplete, the panel used its most recent hearing on Thursday to solicit information from holdouts “who might be on the fence,” in the words of Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who heads the committee.
On the big screen behind the chairman was posted the website where those who haven’t yet spoken to the panel can make contact.
“We are able to present this information because so many witnesses have cooperated with our probe. But the fact is there are more people with direct knowledge, with evidence germane to our investigation. I ask those who might be on the fence about cooperating to reach out to us,” Thompson said.
One gap in the story pertains to a tweet sent by Trump from the White House at 2:24 p.m. on Jan. 6, which attacked his vice president, Mike Pence, for refusing to reject electoral votes from certain states. Investigators have sought to learn if Trump knew of the severity of the threat to those in the Capitol, including Pence, at that hour.
Ben Williamson, an aide to Meadows, testified that he watched his boss walk toward the Oval Office to tell Trump the threat was severe. But Williamson said he saw Meadows go only as far as a section of the White House known as the “outer Oval” before Williamson turned around, meaning there was no eyewitness to the content of that discussion — or if it even happened.
“I don’t know where he went outside of that, but it looked like he was headed in the direction of the Oval Office,” Williamson said.
Aides at the White House were certainly aware of the situation. They were in the midst of internal discussions about how to push Trump to send a tweet that could calm the crowds.
Shortly afterward, Trump tweeted that Pence “didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country” — a message that another White House aide, Sarah Matthews, said was like “pouring gasoline on the fire” of violence at the Capitol.
Meadows has provided thousands of text messages to the committee but has refused to testify before it, even under subpoena, leading House Democrats to hold him in contempt of Congress. The Justice Department has not acted on the contempt recommendation.
Another hole in the committee’s narrative pertains to a phone call McCarthy made to Trump in the midst of the riot. The Republican leader was irate that the president hadn’t put out a statement calling off his supporters; Trump responded by blaming far-left groups for the attack and suggesting the pro-Trump rioters were more patriotic than the lawmakers under siege, according to an account from Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), who learned of the contents of the call firsthand from McCarthy.
“When McCarthy finally reached the president on January 6 and asked him to publicly and forcefully call off the riot, the president initially repeated the falsehood that it was antifa that had breached the Capitol,” Herrera Beutler said in a statement that was introduced last year as part of Trump’s second impeachment trial.
“McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump supporters. That’s when, according to McCarthy, the president said: ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,’” she added.
McCarthy has declined to discuss the call with the committee, saying he spoke about it “on three networks” already.
“I had a longer discussion with the American public than my conversation with the president,” he told reporters earlier this month. “So there was nothing to be added.”
The other Republican lawmakers resisting subpoenas also played a role in the events of Jan. 6.
Jordan was part of the Dec. 21, 2020, meeting at the White House in which Trump discussed the strategy for Jan. 6, and he also spoke directly with the president on Jan. 6.
Brooks, wearing concealed body armor, spoke at Trump’s Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse shortly before the Capitol attack, urging the crowd to “start … kicking ass.”
Perry was involved in Trump’s plan to fire his acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, and replace him with another DOJ official, Jeffrey Clark, who was poised to raise the issue of voting “irregularities” with election officials in certain Biden-won states. Perry, according to the Jan. 6 committee, had also requested a pardon from the White House — a charge he has adamantly denied.
Biggs also reportedly sought a pardon and was involved with a prominent “Stop the Steal” activist, Ali Alexander, in Arizona.
Others have been much more cooperative. The committee has brought forward aide after aide to thoroughly debunk two of Trump’s central claims about the 2020 election: that there was widespread voter fraud and that Pence had the ability to unilaterally reject the will of the voters by failing to certify the election results.
“I made it clear I did not agree with the idea of saying the election was stolen and putting out this stuff which I told the president was bullshit,” William Barr, Trump’s former attorney general, told the committee earlier in the month.
But others said the committee failed to show explicit evidence that Trump truly knew he had lost the election but was fighting to remain in power anyway.
“Not sure what Dems accomplished today. Some interesting sidelights (on, say, fundraising) but they had nothing to show Trump believed he lost,” Mick Mulvaney, who once served as Trump’s chief of staff, tweeted after Tuesday’s hearing.
“In fact, they showed the exact opposite. They made the case that he probably should have known…but that is different,” he added.
The committee also dropped two bombshells Thursday related to John Eastman, the attorney for the Trump campaign who crafted its strategy to have Pence reject the certification of election results.
It released a draft document Eastman edited showing him refuting his own legal advice by determining in his redlines that the vice president doesn’t get “to make that determination on his own.”
It also released an email Eastman sent to fellow campaign attorney Rudy Giuliani asking to be included on a presidential pardon list.
Despite a legal battle to shield his emails from the committee, Eastman did appear before its investigators behind closed doors. He pleaded the Fifth “100 times,” according to Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), a member of the panel.
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