The Jan. 6 select committee has now held five of its public hearings in which the committee seeks to lay out its findings about the insurrection and the president who fomented it. The presentations in the hearings have been powerful, the recorded interviews compelling, and the rhetoric damning and often electrifying. The theater reviews are in, and the show is getting raves.
But what’s left after stripping away the set dressing and focusing only on the evidence presented? Specifically, how much progress has the committee made in proving its case?
In the opening hearing on June 9, Chairman Bennie Thompson described the committee’s ambitions as follows: to provide “a true accounting of what happened [on Jan. 6] and what led to the attack on our Constitution and our democracy.” Vice Chair Liz Cheney said the committee would present a “seven-part plan overseen by President Donald Trump to overturn the 2020 election.” Committee members spelled out aspects of this plan in their presentation, and a committee source later clarified the seven components of the plan.
In other words, the committee’s hearings should—at least in our view—be adjudged a success from an evidentiary point of view to precisely the extent that they would convince a reasonable person that:
- Trump attempted to convince Americans that significant levels of fraud had stolen the election from him despite knowing that he had, in fact, lost the 2020 election;
- Trump planned to remove and replace the attorney general and other Justice Department officials as part of an effort to pressure the department to spread his allegations of election fraud;
- Trump worked “to pressure Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to count electoral votes on January 6th”;
- Trump tried to convince state lawmakers and election officials to alter election results;
- Trump’s lawyers and other members of the president’s team directed Republicans in multiple states to produce fake electoral slates and send those slates to Congress and the National Archives;
- Trump assembled a destructive group of rioters in Washington and sent them to the U.S. Capitol; and
- Trump ignored requests to speak out against the violence in real time and failed to act quickly to stop the attack and tell his supporters to depart the Capitol.
The first hearing presented an overview of the evidence the committee collected, so it offered a bit of material in several of these baskets and sketched out the evidence members intended to present in a bunch of others. The second hearing, on June 13, was focused almost entirely on establishing the first point. The third hearing, on June 16, covered Trump’s pressure campaign directed at Pence. The fourth hearing, on June 21, outlined Trump’s efforts to push state lawmakers and election officials to change election results and generate fake electoral slates. And the fifth hearing, on June 23, detailed Trump’s initiative to convince senior Justice Department officials to publicly support his claims of election fraud—and his effort to decapitate the Justice Department when they refused.
In this piece, which we will update on an ongoing basis as the hearings progress, we lay out what the committee has presented—or promised to present—on each of the seven points that make up its argument.
Note that these seven points are emphatically not the elements of any known crime, though they may overlap with any of several crimes in important respects. Note as well that the committee is not following the federal rules of criminal or civil procedure in determining the admissibility of evidence. So it would be a mistake to assume that if the committee has established its case, that translates into anything for purposes of either criminal or civil liability.
Rather, the committee in these hearings is telling a story with the seven points as a kind of table of contents of the story it wishes to tell. The public, in turn, gets to decide just how convincing that story is.
What follows is our effort at an evaluation.
Point #1: Evidence That Trump Knew He Had Lost the Election and Lied About Voter Fraud
In her opening statement in the second hearing, Cheney stated Point #1 as follows, quoting a federal court ruling on the subject: “In the months following the election, numerous credible sources—from the [p]resident’s inner circle, to agency leadership and statisticians—informed President Trump and Dr. [John] Eastman that there was no evidence of election fraud.”
First, she promised, the public would hear first-hand testimony that the president’s campaign advisers had urged him to await the counting of votes and not declare victory on election night. Cheney asserted that the president understood “even before” the election that many more Biden voters than Trump voters had voted by mail. She claimed he “knew” that these votes would not be counted until late in the day in multiple states, and would not be finalized—a voting dynamic that she asserted was “expected, reported, and widely known.” She stated that Trump disregarded his campaign counsel and instead “followed the course recommended by an apparently inebriated Rudy Giuliani, to just claim he won, and insist that the vote counting stop, to falsely claim everything was fraudulent.”
She then argued that the president and his legal team’s repeated allegations of fraud by Dominion voting machines were “‘complete nonsense,’ as Bill Barr said.” These allegations were refuted by “President Trump’s own campaign advisors, the Department of Justice, and his cybersecurity experts,” she said.
She then moved to the committee’s third key element. As Pence’s staff began to “get a sense” of Trump’s plan for Jan. 6, staffers asked for a comprehensive briefing on the election from the campaign team, and “on Jan. 2, the general counsel of the Trump campaign, Matthew Morgan—the campaign’s chief lawyer—summarized what the campaign had concluded weeks earlier, that none of the arguments about fraud, or anything else, could actually change the outcome of the election.”
Meanwhile, in her opening statement at the June 13 hearing, Rep. Zoe Lofgren—who led the presentation of evidence at the second hearing—put it as follows:
Former President Trump’s plan to overturn the election relied on a sustained effort to deceive millions of Americans with knowingly false claims of election fraud. All elements of the plot relied on convincing his supporters about these false claims … We will present evidence that President Trump’s claims of election fraud were false, that he and his closest advisors knew those claims were false, but they continued to peddle them anyway.
So how well did the committee substantiate these claims?
The committee did not present a great deal of evidence that Trump, in fact, knew or had any kind of subject understanding that he had lost and intentionally lied about it. There does not seem to be evidence, for example, that he ever confessed to anyone that he was aware that President Biden had defeated him or acknowledged that his claims of voter fraud were garbage. It’s possible, as former Attorney General William Barr suggested in his interview, that Trump had “become detached from reality” and had actually convinced himself of the nonsense he was peddling.
The committee did, however, present a great deal of evidence that credible actors repeatedly informed Trump that he had lost and that he was torturing reality in his public statements—that is, that he had every opportunity to know the truth, whether he was emotionally capable of internalizing that truth or not. The committee presented evidence, in fact, that Trump received this information from a diverse array of actors: his own campaign operatives, his campaign lawyers, senior Justice Department officials, and federal judges. At a minimum, the committee was persuasive that Trump had every reason to know that he had lost and simply chose not to accede to that reality but to propagate falsehood instead.
This story begins before Election Day itself, in the committee’s presentation. Lofgren noted public statements in which Trump claimed early on that he could lose only as a result of fraud. This fact presents perhaps the most powerful single piece of evidence that Trump’s claims of fraud after the election were a premeditated and preplanned response to defeat cooked up in the former president’s mind long before the election even happened. On April 8, 2020, for example, Trump alleged that fraud would occur with voting by mail, and a few months later, he claimed that “the only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged, remember that.”
Trump took other actions before Election Day that seemed designed to help his later fraud narrative. He actively discouraged mail-in voting, for example, despite the pleas of his campaign staff and senior Republicans. Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, was so concerned about the president’s discouragement of mail-in voting that he met with the president and Rep. Kevin McCarthy in the summer 2020 and the two “made our case” for why mail-in voting was not a bad thing for Trump’s campaign. Stepien argued that urging voters to vote only on Election Day would leave a lot to chance and that the Trump campaign, Republican National Committee, and the Republican Party all had the advantage of grassroots workers on the ground who could make mail-in voting work for the president. “But the president’s mind was made up,” Stepien said.
This strategy made no sense from the point of view of actually winning votes. But it made all the sense in the world if the goal was to allow the president to cry foul in the event of a defeat. The more that Democrats voted by mail and Republicans voted in person, explained former Fox News politics editor Chris Stirewalt, the greater the so-called red mirage—the tendency of vote counting to first favor Republicans then swing toward Democrats. Because in many states, in-person votes get counted first, the early vote count looks much more heavily Republican than the full vote count. Stirewalt testified that Fox News tried to explain this effect to its viewers on election night because “the Trump campaign and the president had made it clear that they were going to try to exploit this anomaly, and we knew [the effect] was going to be bigger, because the percentage of early votes was higher.”
Other witnesses commented on the effect as well. Barr, for example, testified that the president claimed there was “major fraud” on election night, before there was any evidence of anything of the kind, and that seemed to be based on the dynamic that many Democratic votes came in later. But Barr said that “everyone” knew this would be the case for weeks in advance. Lofgren asserted that Stepien had testified that he had personally informed the president prior to election night that many votes would be counted in the days after the election—and that while the early votes would favor Trump, the later ones would probably be for Biden. Yet Trump nonetheless went on television, after receiving this information from his advisers, stating that “We want all voting to stop. We don’t want them to find any ballots at four o’clock in the morning and add them to the list.”
The committee also presented evidence that Trump’s claim of victory on election night took place in the face of clear warnings from senior staff that he had not, in fact, prevailed. Jason Miller said he was in the Oval Office when the campaign’s lead data expert told President Trump “in pretty blunt terms” that he was going to lose the election. Stepien stated that he advised the president that it was “too early to call the race” and that Trump should acknowledge this, state he was proud of his campaign, and say that they were in a good position.
But Miller and Stepien testified that Trump listened to attorney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was apparently drunk at the time, and claimed victory anyway. Miller stated that Giuliani wanted Trump to make a speech asserting he had won. Stepien stated that the president disagreed with his advice to be careful and said that he conveyed he was going to “go in a different direction.” And, of course, Trump insisted that evening publicly “we did win this election” and stated that “we want all voting to stop.”
In the days immediately following the election, as the count firmed up, Trump’s campaign operatives again told the president that the numbers just were not there for him to pull out a victory. Stepien described the trajectory of the election as the votes were counted in the week after election night, saying that his view of the election was “very, very, very bleak” at that point—specifically, that Trump’s chances of success were pegged at “five, maybe ten percent,” which he conveyed to the president.
The campaign lawyers, at least the respectable ones, also told the president his claims of fraud had no merit. In one case, Stepien and Faith McPherson received an email from Alex Cannon, forwarded to Mark Meadows, Justin Clark, and Jason Miller, showing the results from an investigation into Arizona voting records following claims that noncitizens had participated. The email, which showed that there was little to no evidence for this claim, was sent up the chain of leadership. Trump responded by marginalizing the lawyers who gave him the bad news. Stepien stated that the president was “growing increasingly unhappy” with his campaign team, and that at this point, he moved Justin Clark out and put Giuliani in to take the lead on the campaign.
In the Office of White House Counsel, the story was the same. Derek Lyons, an associate counsel, said that a month and a half after the election, there was a meeting that concerned various allegations of fraud, during which the office “told the group, the president included, that none of the allegations had been substantiated to the point where they could be the basis for any litigation challenge to the election.”
And then there was the Justice Department. Barr testified that in three discussions with Trump (Nov. 23, Dec. 1, and Dec. 14), he informed the president that he “did not agree with the idea of saying the election was stolen and putting out this stuff, which I told the president was bullshit.” Barr testified that he “repeatedly told the president in no uncertain terms that I did not see evidence of fraud ... that would have affected the outcome of the election.” Barr also said that these claims were “crazy stuff” and that these arguments were “doing a great, grave disservice to the country.”
Barr stated that he told Trump that the campaign had to raise its claims in state proceedings, because the Justice Department doesn’t take sides in elections and is not an extension of his legal team. He stated that he told the president that the department’s role is to investigate fraud, and that it would look at an allegation if it is specific, is credible, and could have affected the outcome of the election. He said he told Trump that the department has been doing that, but the president’s claims were not meritorious and thus were not panning out.
Former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, meanwhile, stated that the president would come to him with allegations, and he would reply that the department already looked into the theories and debunked them.
Former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue said he tried to “put it in very clear terms to the president,” detailing efforts and findings by the department and telling Trump that he was getting false information. Donoghue stated that he told Trump that his claims about a high rate of ballot error in Michigan were wrong. The actual rate was tiny, which Donoghue explained and which Trump accepted, but Trump then proceeded to just move on to other allegations. “And again, this gets back to the point that there were so many of these allegations that when you gave him a very direct answer on one of them, he wouldn’t fight us on it, but he would move to another allegation,” Donoghue recalled.
Donoghue detailed several other allegations he individually debunked, only to have Trump then start talking about double voting, dead people voting, and claims that “Indians are getting paid to vote.” Donoghue said that he reiterated to Trump that the “information he is getting was false and/or just not supported by the evidence.”
Finally, the former U.S. attorney in Georgia, BJay Pak, testified that he was asked in early December by Barr to investigate a videotape Giuliani had shown by way of alleging that Fulton County ballots had been smuggled by suitcase into a counting area: “We found that the suitcase full of ballots … was actually an official lockbox where ballots were kept safe.” Giuliani had only played a clip. Pak said that the FBI interviewed the individuals shown in the video, that nothing irregular happened, and that Giuliani’s allegations were “false.”
In short, the committee is wholly persuasive that Trump was made aware of his defeat and the meritlessness of his claims of fraud. Its presentation on Point #1 lacks only a smoking gun as to Trump’s subjective state of mind in making the claims he advanced. During the committee’s fifth hearing, Chairman Thompson asserted that “Trump knew he lost.” The evidence on this point largely consists of his having laid the groundwork for the claim before Election Day and the information available to him being so voluminous that any blindness on his part was necessarily willful.
Point #2: Evidence That Trump Tried to Pressure the Justice Department to Spread His Allegations of Election Fraud
Well before the Jan. 6 committee hearings began, a Senate Judiciary Committee investigation—which resulted in depositions of Richard Donoghue, Jeffrey Rosen, and BJay Pak, and a report back in October 2021—already released a lot of evidence on this matter.
As a result, the outline of this story is already well known: After Barr resigned, having refused to take up Trump’s bogus allegations, and senior Justice Department officials told Trump they could not support his claims of election fraud, Trump sought to fire these officials and offered the attorney general position to Jeffrey Clark.
Vice Chair Cheney, in the first hearing, claimed that Trump wanted Clark to send a letter to six states notifying them that the Justice Department had “identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election.” This letter, according to Cheney, would have urged states to change their electoral votes. Key Justice Department officials threatened to resign in response, and Trump ultimately backed down.
In its Jun. 23 hearing heard witness testimony from former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue, former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, and former Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel.
In his opening statement, Chairman Thompson stated that the committee’s Jun. 23 witnesses had “resisted Mr. Trump’s effort to misuse the Justice Department as part of his plan to hold on to power.” Thompson promised that the committee would show that Trump had “wanted the Justice Department to help legitimize his lies, to basically call the election corrupt, to appoint a special counsel to investigate the alleged election fraud, to send a letter to six state legislatures urging them to consider altering the election results.” And further, he said, “when these and other efforts failed, Donald Trump sought to replace Mr. Rosen, the acting attorney general, with a lawyer who he believed would inappropriately put the full weight of the Justice Department behind the effort to overturn the election.”
In her opening remarks, Cheney declared that a “key focus” of the hearing would be a letter drafted by Justice Department lawyers Jeff Clark and Ken Klukowski falsely claiming that the Justice Department’s investigations had “[i]dentified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple states, including the state of Georgia.”
“Had this letter been released on official Department of Justice letterhead,” Cheney stated, “It would have falsely informed all Americans… that President Trump’s election fraud allegations were likely very real.” Cheney further said that when Rosen and Donoghue refused to sign the letter, the president intended to replace Rosen with Clark.
In his opening statement, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who lead questioning during the committee’s Jun. 23 hearing, argued that capitalizing upon the Justice Department's credibility was a critical component of the President’s plan to overturn the election. Kinzinger highlighted the independence of the Justice Department over history, stating that this independence is a “point of pride at Justice.” Yet, he stated, President Trump was able to find one candidate at the department “who seemed willing to do anything to help him stay in power”: Jeffrey Clark, “an environmental lawyer with no experience relevant to leading the entire Department of Justice.”
Kinzinger then introduced the committee’s findings concerning a Jan. 3 Oval Office meeting that included senior Justice Department officials, Jeff Clark, President Trump, Pat Cipollone, and Patrick Philbin. Kinzinger played a montage of videos during which officials described the conversation that occurred that evening, which focused on whether the president should replace Rosen with Clark as acting attorney general. Donoghue recalled raising Clark’s incompetence to serve as the attorney general during the meeting and stating that the letter Clark had written was “a murder-suicide pact” which would “damage everyone who touches it.”
Kinzinger closed his remarks by stating that Trump’s campaign to get the Justice Department to intervene in the election aftermath was subsequently echoed by his supporters, underscoring the assertion with video of protestors chanting “do your job” at the Department of Justice on Jan. 6.
In questioning by Thompson, Rosen confirmed that the president had continued to demand that the Justice Department investigate his claims of a stolen election after Barr’s resignation in 2020. He stated that Trump had “asserted that he thought the Justice Department had not done enough.”
Rosen further testified that between Dec. 23 and Jan. 23, the president spoke with him “virtually every day, with one or two exceptions like Christmas Day.” Over all of these meetings, Rosen said, the president had repeatedly expressed his dissatisfaction with the Justice Department’s efforts to investigate election fraud. Trump also requested that Rosen meet with Giuliani on numerous occasions and asked whether the department would appoint a special counsel for election fraud. “At one point,” Rosen stated, Trump raised “whether the Justice Department would file a lawsuit in the Supreme Court.”
According to Rosen’s testimony, Trump asked whether the Justice Department would make public statements or hold a press conference—and ultimately, whether the Justice Department would issue a letter on election fraud to state legislatures in Georgia and other states. Rosen told the committee that the department declined each request, believing that there was no factual or legal basis for the actions proposed by the president.
Thompson then pivoted to ask Donoghue about his Dec. 15 White House meeting with Rosen and Trump, the day after Barr’s resignation. Donoghue stated that the conversation consisted of Trump’s claims of election fraud, with specific emphasis on a report regarding Antrim County, Michigan—which the president asserted the Justice Department should use “to basically tell the American people that the results were not trustworthy.”
Kinzinger then presented a Fox News clip from Nov. 29, 2020, stating that the president had started putting pressure on the department “the first chance he got.” In the clip, Trump stated that the Justice Department was “missing in action”—a sentiment that Republican Congressmen Louie Gohmert, Andy Biggs, Paul Gosar, Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, and Mo brooks echoed thereafter. Kinzinger played a video montage of the politicians reiterating the president’s claims of election fraud, many of them explicitly calling upon the Department of Justice to do more, and calling for a showdown in Congress on Jan. 6.
Turning back to the witnesses, Kinzinger asked Donoghue to explain how he and Rosen had responded to a false “stream of allegations” during a 90-minute conversation with the president on Dec. 27. Donoghue responded that the Dec. 27 conversation was “an escalation of the earlier conversations,” because as December drew to a close, “the president’s entreaties became more urgent.” Donoghue described telling the president, conspiracy by conspiracy, that the Justice Department “had concluded, based on actual investigations, actual witness interviews, actual reviews of documents that these allegations simply had no merit.” Donoghue detailed that there was not a single credible allegation of systemic fraud validated by the Justice Department’s investigations. Kinzinger then presented hand-written notes taken by Donoghue during the Dec. 27 call, including exact quotations, several of which Kinzinger read aloud:
- (Trump) “Judges keep saying – where is the DOJ? Why are they not filing in these cases?”
- (Rosen) “DOJ can’t and won’t snap its fingers and change the outcome of the election.”
- (Trump) “just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen.”
- (Trump) “We have an obligation to tell people that this was an illegal, corrupt election.”
Donoghue testified that he and Rosen tried to explain to Trump that supervising state elections is not generally within the Justice Department’s domain, and further, that the Justice Department cannot determine the result of an election. He stated that he president responded, “that’s not what I’m asking you to do. What I’m asking you to do is to say it was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican Congressmen.”
Kinzinger then asked Rosen to describe a call he received from Trump on Dec. 24, which was his first official day as acting attorney general. Rosen testified that the two had an “extended discussion… with [Trump] urging that the Department of Justice should be doing more with regard to election fraud.” He also stated that Trump asked whether he knew Jeff Clark—a question which Rosen claimed to have found “quizzical.” Clark, after all, would have had “no prior involvement of any kind” with regard to investigations of election fraud, and there was no reason President Trump should even know who he was, let along be asking after him.
Here, Kinzinger pieced together an outline of how the committee understood that Trump had initially become aware of Clark. On Dec. 21, a tweet by Mark Meadows established that Trump had met with a group of congressional leaders that day to discuss overturning the election. The same day, Trump spoke at a conservative political convention, stating that he needed Justice Department backing for his fight against voter fraud. Kinzinger then presented a document showing that Clark had visited the White House the next day, on Dec. 22 at 5:30 pm, along with Rep. Scott Perry. Later, on Jan. 25, Perry told a local news station that he had introduced Clark and Trump at the president’s behest.
“But why Jeff Clark?” Kinzinger asks rhetorically, before playing footage from the committee’s deposition with Giuliani. In the video, Giuliani tells investigators that he recalled telling people, including the president, “that somebody should be put in charge of the Justice Department who isn’t frightened of what’s going to be done to their reputation, because Justice Department was filled with people like that.”
Rosen testified that after Trump had raised Clark’s name on Dec. 24, he called Clark, who acknowleded that he had met with the president in the Oval Office. During that conversation, Rosen stated that Clark was “defensive” and that he had unexpetedly “found himself at the Oval Office” after talking to Perry. Further, Rosen stated, Clark was apologetic, given that the meeting was unauthorized and entirely inappropriate per a policy that restricts contact between the White House and the Justice Department. This policy is important, Engel testified, because “it’s critical that the Department of Justice conducts its criminal investigations free from either the reality or any appearane of political interference."
Kinzinger next asserted that in an informal interview with Pat Cipollone and his deputy Pat Philbin, Cipollone told the Select Committee that he told Clark to stop talking to the White House on Dec. 26. On the same day, however, Perry texted Meadows urging him to “call Jeff” amd “get going” prior to Jan. 6 and inauguration, according to records presented by Kinzinger.
On Dec. 27, Donoghue testified, Rep. Perry called him “at the behest of the president” to discuss voter fraud allegations specific to Pennsylvania. Donoghue stated that Perry raised Clark on the same phone call. Perry proceeded to send Donoghue a report detailing the exact accusations at hand, which Donoghue said he forwarded to the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Several days later, Donoghue stated, he learned that the report had been debunked.
Cheney then raised the letter that she described during opening statements, asking Donoghue to describe his reaction to receiving it. Donoghue stated that he reread both the email and the letter “because it was so extreme” that he “had a hard time getting [his] head around it initially.” In a response, Donoghue detailed his rationale for rejecting the letter, stating that not only was it not within the department’s purview to “dictate to state legislatures how they should select their electors, but more importantly, [the letter] was not based on fact.” Donoghue testified that he, Rosen, and Clark had a “very contentious” meeting shortly thereafter, during which he told Clark that the letter was “nothing less than the United States Justice Department meddling in the outcome of a presidential election.”
Nonetheless, Donoghue stated, Clark stayed the course, and even “began calling witnesses and apparently conducting investigations of his own.”
Cheney asserted that the Georgia letter’s co-author, Ken Klukowski, had worked with Eastman in the past and maintained a relationship with him even after joining the Justice Department. She said that the document specifically referenced Eastman’s theory about contending electoral slates. She also presented an email from Ken Blackwell, a conservative activist who served on Trump’s transition team, recommending that Pence and his staff meet with Klukowski and Eastman; the email claimed that “the VP and his staff would benefit greatly from a briefing by John and Ken.” Kinzinger stated that at about the same time Clark was working to convince the Justice Department to send the Georgia letter, President Trump and his allies were pressuring the Justice Department to alter the outcome of the 2020 election in other ways.
The committee presented an email sent on behalf of President Trump that included a draft lawsuit that the president wanted the Justice Department to file. The committee also presented Engel’s talking points related to his analysis of this lawsuit, which Rosen had asked him to draft in preparation for a meeting with the president. In that document, Engel asserted that “There [was] no legal basis to bring this lawsuit. Anyone who thinks otherwise simply does not know the law, much less the Supreme Court.”
Engel said at the hearing, “it was a meritless lawsuit that was not something that the Department could or…would bring.” Engel also stated that “the Department of Justice…doesn’t have any standing to bring such a lawsuit. The lawsuit would have been untimely….Neither Georgia nor any of the other states on December 28 or whenever this was was in a position to change those votes.” Engel said Trump’s request for the department to file this lawsuit was an “unusual” one.
Engel recounted that Trump asked Barr to explore whether a special counsel could be appointed to examine issues of election fraud. Specifically, Engel said that Barr asked him to analyze whether the attorney general could appoint a state attorney general as a special counsel to lead an investigation. Engel found that Louisiana state law—which was at issue in this case—prohibited the state’s attorney general from working in any official capacity on behalf of the U.S. government, which meant Barr could not appoint the Louisiana attorney general as the special counsel. Engel noted that neither Attorneys General Barr nor Rosen ever believed it was “appropriate or necessary” to appoint a special counsel to examine Trump’s claims of election fraud.
The committee played a video clip from Dec. 21, in which Barr said that any investigation related to Trump’s election fraud claims was “being handled responsibly and professionally currently within the…department and to this point, I have not seen a reason to appoint a special counsel, and I have no plan to do so before I leave.” The committee showed that on the night of Dec. 23, Trump tweeted, “After seeing the massive Voter Fraud in the 2020 Presidential Election, I disagree with anyone that thinks a strong, fast, and fair Special Counsel is not needed, IMMEDIATELY.”
Kinzinger stated that President Trump offered the job of special counsel to Sidney Powell on Dec. 18. Powell described this conversation with Trump: “on Friday [Dec. 18], he had asked me to be Special Counsel to address the election issues and to collect evidence. And he was extremely frustrated with the lack of, I would call it law enforcement, by any of the government agencies that are supposed to act to protect the rule of law in our republic.” Trump expressed similar displeasure with the Justice Department specifically on Dec. 27, when he said to Donoghue of the department’s skepticism about voter fraud allegations, “you guys may not be following the Internet the way I do.”
Kinzinger noted that Trump “called an emergency meeting with the department’s leadership” on Dec. 31. Donoghue stated in a video deposition that the president was “a little more agitated than he had been” in a previous meeting covering the same set of issues. According to Donoghue, Trump said “this sounds like the kind of thing that would warrant appointment of a special counsel. There was a point at which the president said something about why don’t you guys seize machines?”
Rosen said that in response to the president asking him to seize voting machines, he said the department “had seen nothing improper with regard to the voting machines. And I told him that the…real experts that had been at DHS…had briefed us, that they had looked at it and that there was nothing wrong with the…voting machines. And so that was not something that was appropriate to do.” Rosen added that he did not believe there was legal authority to seize the voting machines.
Donoghue stated that after Rosen told Trump that the Justice Department would not seize voting machines and that it was the Department of Homeland Security that had expertise related to the security of these machines, the president became “very agitated” and called Ken Cucinelli, the de facto deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. According to Donoghue, on that call with Cucinelli, Trump essentially said, “Ken, I’m sitting here with the acting attorney general. He just told me it's your job to seize machines and you're not doing your job.” Rosen noted that he had never told Trump that the Department of Homeland Security could take voting machines or that it wasn’t doing its job.
Donoghue said that during this same meeting, Trump said to Donogue and Rosen, “people tell me I should just get rid of both of you. I should just remove you and make a change in the leadership. Put Jeff Clark in, maybe something will finally get done.”
In response, Donoghue told Trump that he should choose his leadership, but that “the United States Justice Department functions on facts, evidence, and law, and those are not going to change.…the Department's position is not going to change.”
Kinzinger said that on Jan. 1, Meadows sent several emails to Rosen, requesting that the Justice Department investigate novel allegations. The committee presented emails written by Mr. Meadows to Mr. Rosen, asking Rosen to send Jeff Clark to Fulton County to examine “signature match anomalies” there. Rosen said that he did not send Jeff Clark to Fulton County, and he explained that these emails contained the first evidence Rosen had seen up to this point corroborating Clark’s claim that Trump was considering replacing Rosen with Clark before Jan. 4. According to Rosen, he had not been informed about these discussions.
The emails also addressed concerns related to the administration of the election in New Mexico. Rosen said he saw two potential issues regarding the New Mexico claims. First, he thought that this request to investigate may have come “from a campaign or political party.” This was problematic because, as Rosen explained, it is not the Justice Department’s role to support campaigns or parties. What also concerned Rosen about the New Mexico request was that he believed the claims being made on this front had already been examined and debunked.
Kinzinger said that Perry informed Meadows on Dec. 31 about a conspiracy theory that “an Italian defense contractor uploaded software to a satellite that switched votes from Trump to Biden.” Along with a link to a video outlining the theory, Perry wrote to Meadows, “Why can’t we just work with the Italian government?” The following day, Meadows sent that link to Rosen, and Rosen passed it along to Donoghue. Donoghue told Rosen at the time that he thought the video was “pure insanity.”
After Meadows asked Rosen to meet with Bradley Johnson, the man who laid out the conspiracy theory in the video, Rosen said that theory had been debunked, and Rosen would not meet with Johnson. After Meadows appeared to accept Rosen’s answer, the president’s chief of staff contacted Rosen again and said that Johnson had been working with Giuliani, and Giuliani was offended by Rosen’s response. Meadows again asked Rosen if someone at the FBI could meet with Johnson, to which Rosen replied: “there was no way on Earth that I was going to do that. I wasn’t going to meet with Mr. Johnson.” Rosen also said that he “certainly wasn’t going to meet with Giuliani,” which he had “made…clear repeatedly.” Rosen testified that he sent an email to Meadows explaining these views.
Donoghue said he received a follow-up call related to this theory from Kash Patel, a Defense Department official. During this call, Donoghue told Patel that Meadows had raised concerns related to this theory on Dec. 29. Donoghue told Patel that the Justice Department had “looked into [the theory] a little bit,” and that it “was very, very murky at best, and the video was absurd.” Donoghue added that the Justice Department was “not going to have anything to do with [the theory],” and that “I didn’t think it was anything worth pursuing.”
According to Kinzinger, Meadows spoke about the theory frequently at the White House, and the request to examine the theory made its way to Christopher Miller, the acting secretary of defense. The committee presented an audio recording of a call placed by Miller to the Italian defense attache inquiring about this conspiracy theory.
Rosen testified that by Jan. 2, Clark told him that Trump had asked him to consider his willingness to assume the position of acting attorney general by Jan. 4. Rosen had told Clark that he believed Clark was misguided, and Rosen implored him to “be more rational” and understand the lack of factual basis for the claims being made by the president and his supporters. During a Jan. 2 meeting, attended by Rosen, Clark, and Donoghue, Rosen said that Clark continued to make baseless claims of election fraud despite the fact that Clark was not involved in the department’s investigation of these claims. Clark also expressed that he was not convinced that Rosen and Donoghue were capable of conducting these investigations. During this meeting, Rosen said that Clark acknowledged that he had spoken again with Trump without informing Rosen or Donoghue that he was going to do so, despite saying a week prior that he would tell them if the president asked Clark to speak with him.
According to Rosen, Clark said again that the Georgia letter should be sent out; Rosen said that he and Donoghue “were not receptive to that.” Rosen also testified that Clark asked Rosen and Donoghue to sign the Georgia letter during this meeting, and he said he would refuse the acting attorney general position if Rosen and Donoghue signed the letter. But Rosen and Donoghue rejected Clark’s offer.
Rosen stated that on Jan. 3, Clark told him that Trump had informed Clark that “the timeline had moved up and that the president had offered him the job and that he was accepting it.” According to Rosen, Clark also asked him during this meeting if he would stay on as Clark’s deputy—which Rosen emphatically declined.
Kinzinger stated that on Jan. 3, “Jeff Clark and the president were in constant communication beginning at 7:00 am.” Notably, the committee also presented White House call logs that show the White House referring to Clark as the acting attorney general by 4:19 pm on Jan. 3.
Rosen testified that he took four steps when he heard that Trump would be offering the job to Clark.
- First, he set up a meeting with the president for that evening.
- Second, Rosen called Cipollone to ensure he would attend the meeting and support the position of the department.
- Third, he called Engel to ask if he would go to the meeting; and
- Fourth, Rosen asked Donoghue and Patrick Hovakimian—the former associate deputy attorney general—to set up a call with the Justice Department senior leadership to inform them of the recent developments.
Rosen stated that White House lawyer Eric Herschmann then called him to tell him that he would also be attending the meeting and supporting Rosen and the department.
Donoghue said that within the department before the afternoon of Jan. 3, only Rosen, Donoghue, Engel and Hovakimian were aware of Clark’s persistent effort to spread false election claims and Trump’s plans to appoint Clark as the attorney general. On Jan. 3, Rosen instructed Donogue to meet with the assistant attorney generals to discuss the situation within the department. During this meeting among department officials, Donoghue asked the assistant attorney generals what they would do if Trump made Clark the acting attorney general. Donoghue testified that all of the assistant attorney generals on the call said they would resign their positions if Trump followed through. (Donoghue noted that John Demers, the assistant attorney general of the National Security Division, expressed willingness to resign along with the others, but that Donoghue asked him to stay in place because “[n]ational security is too important.”
Kinzinger quoted Cipillone’s statement to the committee that he was “unmistakably angry” during the meeting and that he, Herschmann, and Donoghue "forcefully challenged Mr. Clark to produce evidence of his election fraud theories."
Rosen described the beginning of the Jan. 3 meeting with the president in the Oval Office. According to Rosen, Trump began the meeting by turning to Rosen and saying, “one thing we know is you, Rosen, you aren't gonna do anything. You don't even agree with the…claims of election fraud, and this other guy [referring to Jeff Clark] at least might do something.”
Rosen responded:Mr. President, you're right that I'm not going to allow the Justice Department to do anything to try to overturn the election….But the reason for that is because that's what's consistent with the facts and the law, and that's what's required under the Constitution. So, that's the right answer and a good thing for the country, and therefore I submit it's the right thing for you, Mr. President.
Rosen testified that this exchange initiated an hours-long conversation in which all of the Justice Department officials—excluding Mr. Clark—backed Rosen and expressed criticism of Clark. Rosen testified that his opposition to Trump’s plan “wasn’t about me”; it was purely grounded in concerns over the institutional posture of the department and promoting the rule of law in the United States.
Donoghue testified that when he entered the room, approximately ten minutes into the meeting, the discussion was primarily focused on whether the president should replace Jeff Rosen with Jeff Clark. Donoghue said he believed everyone present at the meeting understood that if Clark were appointed as attorney general, the Georgia letter would be circulated.
According to Donoghue, the president asked what he had to lose, a question which triggered an extended conversation about the severely damaging implications—institutionally for the department, more broadly for the country, and politically for Trump—of firing Rosen and hiring Clark. Donoghue also said that he expressed his view during the meeting that Clark wasn’t qualified to run the Justice Department, which Clark countered. Donoghue said that no Justice Department officials supported Clark.
Donoghue stated that during the part of the conversation when the president was asking what he had to lose by hiring Clark, Donoghue told Trump that he would resign immediately. Donoghue said that Trump then asked Engel if he would resign, and he said he “absolutely” would. Donoghue then told the president that he would “lose [his] entire department leadership…within hours.” Donoghue said to the president, “you could have hundreds and hundreds of resignations of the leadership of your entire Justice Department because of your actions. What's that going to say about you?”
Engel described what he said to the president when Trump asked him whether he would resign:
Mr. President, I've been with you through four attorneys general, including two acting as attorney general, but I couldn't be part of this….no one is going to read this letter. All anyone is going to think is that you went through two attorneys general in two weeks until you found the environmental guy to sign this thing. And so, the story is not going to be that the Department of Justice has found massive corruption that would have changed the result of the election. It's going to be the disaster of Jeff Clark. And I think at that point Pat Cipollone said, yeah, this is a murder suicide pact, this letter.
Donoghue added that Engel had said to the president during the meeting that “Jeff Clark would be left leading a graveyard, and that…comment clearly had an impact on the president.”
Engel called it an “absurd premise” that Clark could assume the attorney general position and shift the department’s efforts related to its investigation of election fraud claims. Cipollone told the committee in his interview that Engel’s response to the president appeared to meaningfully impact Trump’s decision-making.
Donoghue noted that Cipollone backed the Justice Department throughout Trump’s conversations with Donogue and Rosen about the role of the department in overturning the election. Kinzinger asserted that Cipollone “left the meeting convinced the president would not appoint Mr. Clark, but he didn't think the president had actually accepted the truth about the election.”
Donoghue testified that after the president announced his decision not to fire Rosen, Clark pushed back, but Trump doubled down. Donoghue said the president then asked him whether he would fire Clark, to which Donoghue responded that he did not have the authority to do so. Trump then asked Donoghue who could fire Clark, and Donoghue said only the president has that authority. Trump said he would not fire Clark.
Donoghue testified that he received a call from the President approximately 90 minutes after the Jan. 3 meeting concluded. According to Donoghue, the President said on the call that “he had information about a truck supposedly full of shredded ballots in Georgia that was in the custody of an ICE agent whose name he had.” Donoghue then told Trump that he had not heard about this theory, and ICE operated within the Department of Homeland Security, but if DHS needed the assistance of the Justice Department, the Justice Department would certainly help. Trump said he understood that and asked Donoghue to make sure that Cucinelli was made aware of the shredded ballot theory. Donoghue reached Cucinelli later that day and relayed the message.
During his closing statement, Kinzinger said that Clark pleaded his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination more than 125 times during committee questioning.
Point #3: Evidence That Trump Pressured Pence to Refuse to Count Electoral Votes
As with Point #2, a considerable amount of evidence on this point had already emerged before the committee addressed it in its third hearing—in this instance from the committee’s litigation with Eastman. In that case, Judge David O. Carter laid out the facts in some detail in his opinion on March 28.
Cheney said in the first hearing that witnesses would testify that Pence and his staff told Trump multiple times that the president’s efforts to pressure Pence to refuse to count the electoral votes was unlawful. Cheney also referred to Carter’s ruling—based on evidence the select committee had presented—which determined that Trump likely broke two federal criminal laws in the course of this conduct.
And, of course, a significant part of the relevant misconduct took place in public. The committee presented video footage of Trump speaking at the Ellipse on Jan. 6, saying that “Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us.” During that same speech, Trump also stated that he would be “very disappointed” in Pence if the vice president did not reject the electoral votes. It is only shortly thereafter that people who had listened to Trump were chanting for Pence to be hanged. The committee has also presented video evidence of a rioter reading aloud a tweet from Trump during the insurrection itself. The tweet says: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”
During the committee’s third hearing, members fleshed out the details of Trump’s efforts to pressure Pence, both publicly and privately, to refuse to count electoral votes during the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6. The three members of the committee questioning the witnesses during the third hearing—Chairman Bennie Thompson, Vice Chair Liz Cheney, and committee member Rep. Pete Aguilar—outlined this focus of the June 16 hearing.
In their introductory remarks, they promised that witnesses in the hearing would describe three general features of Trump’s “relentless” attempt to compel Pence to overturn the election:
- First, that Trump repeatedly made statements leading up to Jan. 6 meant to threaten Pence if the vice president did not reject electoral votes;
- Second (and this component occupied the bulk of the hearing), that most of Trump’s closest advisers recognized that the legal arguments supporting Pence’s supposed authority to refuse to count electoral votes were meritless; and
- Third, that despite Trump’s awareness during the insurrection that rioters were seeking to harm Pence, Trump continued to provoke his supporters to target the vice president.
The select committee provided considerable evidence supporting the notion that the legal theory espoused by Trump and his outside lawyer, John Eastman, in the days leading up to Jan. 6 was not a good-faith legal argument. Rather, it was the product of an extended search for a legal means to justify overturning the election results. On Dec. 13, 2020, the day before the Electoral College met to cast its votes, a lawyer named Kenneth Chesebro sent a memorandum to Rudy Giuliani. In it, Chesebro argued that during the joint session of Congress, the vice president has the authority to “mak[e] judgments about what to do if there are conflicting votes.” Chesebro contended that Pence should not count Arizona’s electoral votes because there were two conflicting slates of electors—citing a group of Trump voters who claimed to be the legitimate electors for the state. (These groups also emerged in other states whose electoral votes were disputed by the Trump campaign.) Cheney highlighted Judge Carter’s assertion that Chesebro’s memo “pushed a strategy that knowingly violated the Electoral Count Act,” and stated that it was “both intimately related to and clearly advanced the plan to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021.”
Soon after Chesebro sent this memo to Giuliani, Eastman began making similar claims. On Dec. 23, Eastman composed a memo in which he argued that the vice president had the power to determine the outcome of the presidential election as the presiding officer of the joint session of Congress. He wrote, “Seven states have transmitted dual slates of electors to the President of the Senate.” These dual slates, Eastman said, gave Pence the authority to declare that Trump had won the election.
Eastman followed this up with another memo. In it, he alleged that Pence could simply reject electoral votes from “disputed” states and deem Trump the winner of the election without considering the vote totals from the certified electoral slates. Testifying before the committee, Pence’s lawyer Greg Jacob stated that there were, in fact, no dual slates from these seven states. Judge J. Michael Luttig explained that Eastman’s claims set forth in these memorandums lacked any legitimate historical or legal justification.
Evidence presented by the committee demonstrated that those closest to Trump believed these legal claims were bogus. Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller stated that White House Counsel Pat Cipillone viewed Eastman’s ideas as “nutty,” and Cipillone conveyed his perspective directly to Eastman. Marc Short, Pence’s former chief of staff, also testified that Cipillone “expressed his admiration” for Pence’s actions on Jan. 6 and said that he agreed with the Pence team’s legal analysis.
Trump lawyer Eric Herschmann agreed that Eastman was dead wrong. According to Herschmann, it was not conceivable that the vice president would have the authority to choose the president. After hearing Eastman explain his legal theory, Herschmann responded, “Are you out of your effing mind … you’re going to turn around and tell 78-plus million people in this country … this is how you’re going to invalidate their votes, because you think the election was stolen? And I said they’re not going to tolerate that. I said you’re going to cause riots in the streets.” Herschmann paraphrased Eastman’s reply: “There’s been violence in the history of our country … to protect the democracy or protect the republic.”
Miller testified that Trump lawyers Justin Clark and Matt Morgan also believed Eastman was “crazy.” Before Jan. 6, they both expressed their belief that Eastman’s theories were completely meritless. Short testified that he believed Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows also agreed with the view that Pence did not have the authority to refuse to count electoral votes.
Even Giuliani and Eastman himself acknowledged the baselessness of Eastman’s theory. Herschmann described a call he had with Giuliani on the morning of Jan. 6, in which Giuliani admitted that Herschmann and those who maintained that Pence could not refuse the electoral votes were “probably right.” The committee also presented a draft letter to the president—author unspecified—which proposed that the vice president could choose which electors to count during the joint session of Congress. Aguilar then stated that Eastman himself had “eviscerated” that idea on Oct. 11, 2020, in a comment shown on the document, writing: “The 12th Amendment only says that the President of the Senate opens the ballots in the joint session and then, in the passive voice, that the votes shall then be counted. … Nowhere does it suggest that the President of the Senate gets to make the determination on his own.” Further, on December 19, Eastman stated in an email that the fake electors were wholly illegitimate under the law and that these electors would be “dead on arrival in Congress.”
Jacob testified that when he questioned Eastman about Democratic vice presidents refusing to count electoral votes, Eastman said, “Al Gore did not have a basis to do it in 2000, Kamala Harris shouldn’t be able to do it in 2024, but I think you should do it today.”
Despite these acknowledgments, Eastman successfully urged this theory on Trump, who invited him and Giuliani to ardently defend it at the Ellipse on Jan. 6. Giuliani said, “Every single thing that has been outlined as the plan for today is perfectly legal.” Eastman followed. “All we are demanding of Vice President Pence is this afternoon at 1:00, let the legislatures of the state look into this so we get to the bottom of it and the American people know whether we have control of the direction of our government or not.”
White House attorney Eric Herschmann told the committee that the day after the Capitol breach Eastman called him to speak about “something dealing with Georgia,” at which point Herschmann reported that he asked Eastman if he was “out of [his] effing mind” and advised him to “get a great effing criminal defense lawyer.” A few days later, according to records released by the committee, Eastman emailed Giuliani to request inclusion on a list of potential presidential pardon recipients: “I’ve decided that I should be on the pardon list if that is still in the works.” He did not receive a pardon, and when deposed by the select committee, Aguilar stated that Eastman asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 100 times.
Jacob, Pence’s chief legal counsel, testified at the June 16 hearing that the vice president “never budged” from his commitment to properly execute the counting of the electoral votes—which Pence’s legal team determined was the only lawful course of action for the vice president. In a video interview, Short affirmed Jacobs’s description. When Short was asked whether Pence had informed the president of his view that he had no right to overturn the election, Short said the vice president had done so “many times” and in a “very consistent” manner. Short also added that he had clearly conveyed the vice president’s position on the issue to Mark Meadows.
Despite Pence presenting his views clearly to the president, the committee’s evidence illustrates Trump’s persistent weeks-long campaign beginning in December 2020 to convince Pence to unilaterally seek to overturn the election. On Dec. 23, the president retweeted a memorandum that sought to convince Pence to reject the electoral votes. According to Rep. Aguilar, the committee found that over the following weeks, Trump had private discussions with Pence about the counting of the electoral votes. He tweeted about Pence’s role in this process, and he met with members of Congress to discuss Pence’s authorities as the presiding officer at the joint session of Congress scheduled for Jan. 6.
On Jan. 4, Trump’s efforts to pressure Pence became more direct. At a rally in Georgia on that day, Trump said, “I hope Mike Pence comes through for us. … I hope that our great vice president … comes through for us. He’s a great guy. Of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much.” Meanwhile, a conflict between the president and his vice president was beginning to escalate internally. After the Georgia rally on Jan. 4, Trump arranged a meeting with Pence to discuss the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress.
According to Jacob, Eastman described the two legal theories underlying Trump’s pressure campaign during that Jan. 4 meeting. Eastman said Pence could either “reject electoral votes outright” or “declare … a 10-day recess during which … the vice president could sort of issue a demand to the state legislatures in those states to reexamine the election and declare who had won each of those states.” Eastman said both paths were viable, but he did not recommend the outright rejection option because he believed it would not deliver the necessary public acceptance of a Trump victory, according to Jacob.
In that same meeting, Jacob challenged the legality of Eastman’s proposals—arguing that both violated the Electoral Count Act of 1887. Eastman acknowledged this was true, but argued that the Electoral Count Act was unconstitutional insofar as it interfered with the vice president’s plenary power to reject electoral vote slates and that his argument was thus still viable. When Jacob then said this constitutional argument would fail in court, Eastman said courts would not get involved in the dispute because of the political question doctrine.
Jacob told the committee that after the Jan. 4 meeting, Trump had requested that Pence’s staff meet with Eastman again the following day to learn more about his position. On Jan. 5 at 11:06 a.m., around the time the next meeting was scheduled to begin, Trump tweeted, “The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.”
Jacob testified that what had “most surprised” him about the meeting was that, upon arrival, Eastman said, “I’m here to request that you reject the electors”—a request Jacob recorded on a notepad: “requesting VP reject.” Eastman had only the previous day “recommended against” that exact approach in the Oval Office meeting with the president, Jacob said, a move that Pence’s team had seen “as one of the key concessions that we had secured the night before.”
Jacob stated that because Eastman was “pushing the robust unilateral power theory” in this meeting on the morning of Jan. 5—which he noted was simpler to dispute than the proposal to return the slates of electors to the states—they discussed the textual and historical foundations of Eastman’s argument at length. According to Jacob, Eastman in fact “conceded in that meeting that [founding era practice] did not at all support his position” and further “acknowledged, by the end, that there was no historical practice whatsoever that supported his position.” Notwithstanding these concessions, the committee showed footage of Eastman standing on stage on Jan. 6, claiming that Thomas Jefferson would have supported his position.
Jacob also described Eastman’s acknowledgement during the same Jan. 5 meeting that both of Eastman’s proposals for Pence to refuse to count the electoral votes would lose nine-to-zero in the Supreme Court. (Eastman initially contended he might get two justices to support his theory.) Jacob then testified that Eastman, during this meeting, “again tried to say, but ‘I don’t think the courts will get involved in this, they’ll invoke the political question doctrine, and so, if the courts stay out of it … the [states] will send back the Trump slates of electors and the people will be able to accept that.’”
Jacob testified that he protested against this idea, stating that without resolution from the courts, there would be an unprecedented political standoff—and ultimately, he told Eastman, such a standoff “might well then have to be decided in the streets.”
According to Jacob, he and Eastman had another conversation on Jan. 5, during which Eastman doubled back to the “more prudent course” of sending the electoral slates back to the states, rather than rejecting them altogether. It was at this point that Eastman brought up their shared alma mater—the University of Chicago Law School—to concede that “just between us Chicago Chickens, we will understand, as lawyers who have studied the Constitution, that the underlying basis [of the two approaches] really is the same.”
Jacob testified that shortly thereafter, while Pence’s staff felt like they had “sort of defeated” Eastman, the vice president was called into the Oval Office alone. Here, Rep. Aguilar quoted from “Peril” by journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, who write that in that private meeting, Trump asked Pence, “If these people say you have the power, wouldn’t you want to?”
The authors write that Pence then responded, “I wouldn’t want any one person to have that authority,” to which the president replied, “But wouldn’t it almost be cool to have that power?”
Pence is reported to have told Trump no and that it was “simply not possible”—at which point, according to “Peril,” the president said, “No, no, no. You don’t understand, Mike. You can do this. I don’t want to be your friend anymore if you don’t do this.” When asked about this during deposition, Short confirmed that the vice president did not want absolute electoral authority bestowed on any individual.
Jacob told the committee that around 5 p.m. on Jan. 5, he took part in another phone call with Short, Pence, Trump, and Eastman, during which Eastman affirmed his understanding that Pence would not reject electors but nonetheless asked if he would be open to suspending the vote count. That same day, Aguilar stated, the New York Times ran an article describing disagreement within the Trump White House over the vice president’s authority to determine the outcome of the election. Trump denied this story, publishing his own statement in response, which purported that “[t]he Vice President and I are in total agreement that the Vice President has the power to act.” Jacob said Pence’s team was “shocked and disappointed” to see Trump’s statement, “because it was categorically untrue.”
The committee proceeded to play clips from depositions with Short and Miller regarding a heated phone call they had concerning the statement. In deposition, Miller confirmed that the president dictated “most of” the released statement. At this point, Short told the committee that he was so concerned about the situation that he spoke with the head of Pence’s Secret Service detail to convey his belief that it was “likely, as these disagreements became more public, that the president would lash out in some way” at his vice president.
Aguilar then showed a tweet sent out by Trump at 1:00 a.m. on Jan. 6 that reads, “If Vice President @Mike_Pence comes through for us, we will win the Presidency. … Mike can send it back!” And again, at 8:17 a.m., the president tweeted, “All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”
Miller explained that on Jan. 5 and 6, all of the president’s focus was on “what Mike would do or what Mike wouldn’t do.” Jacob testified that on the morning of Jan. 6, while Pence’s staff was finalizing his Dear Colleague statement in which he declared that he did not have the power to reject duly submitted electoral votes, the vice president stepped out to take a call with Trump, which White House records reflect happened around 11:20 a.m. Here, the committee presented photos of Trump in the Oval Office during that conversation, along with interview footage of Ivanka Trump and Eric Herschmann both stating that the conversation was “heated.”
Nicholas Luna, former assistant to the president, said he remembered hearing Trump call Pence a “wimp” in some fashion. “It was a different tone than I’d heard him take with the vice president before,” Ivanka stated—and her chief of staff, Julie Radford, told the committee that she believed Trump had called Pence “the ‘P’ word.”
The committee promised to provide evidence, in a future hearing, that Trump changed early drafts of his Ellipse speech to explicitly pressure and criticize Pence on Jan. 6. This claim was followed by a committee montage of the president’s famous words to his supporters during that speech, calling Pence to have the “courage” to “send it back to the states to recertify.” And Rep. Aguilar stated that once the vice president released his public letter of protest, rioters became enraged and began to chant, “hang Mike Pence.”
Finally, the committee set out to demonstrate that Trump on Jan. 6 itself was fully aware of the escalating danger to Pence yet continued to hurl inflammatory criticisms at Pence by way of pushing his supporters to storm the Capitol and pressure the vice president to suspend the vote count.
Aguilar stated that the committee “received testimony that the president’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, was notified of the violence at the Capitol by 2 p.m., and likely earlier.”
“The testimony further establishes that Mr. Meadows quickly informed the president, and that he did so before the president then issued his 2:24 p.m. tweet criticizing Vice President Pence for not having ‘the courage’ to do what needed to be done,” Aguilar said. He then played a video of rioters stating that Pence betrayed the president and the country, with one rioter saying that Pence is “nothing but a traitor, and he deserves to burn with the rest of them” because “Pence voted against Trump.”
Sarah Matthews, former White House deputy press secretary, stated that she and another staff member were conferring and “thought that the president needed to tweet something, and tweet something immediately” to deescalate the situation, as by around 2 p.m., it was clear that things were “bad” and “getting out of hand.” They reported this to their superiors, Kayleigh McEnany and Mark Meadows. Shortly thereafter, Matthews described seeing a tweet pop up from the president, criticizing Mike Pence—a move akin to “pouring gasoline on the fire,” by Matthews’s account. Aguilar stated that the committee’s investigation showed that “immediately after” Trump’s 2:24 p.m. tweet, crowds inside and outside the Capitol surged. He played a simulation of the invasion, indicating that rioters opened the East Rotunda door and breached the crypt within one minute of the president’s tweet.
The committee also detailed Pence and his staff’s move to a secure location in the Capitol, showing that at one point, the vice president was only 40 feet away from a violent mob. Aguilar asked Jacob whether, at any point during that time, the president called Pence to check on his safety—to which Jacob responded, “he did not.” Citing a recent Justice Department court filing, Aguilar stated that a confidential witness from the Proud Boys told the FBI that members of the group “said that they would have killed [Vice President] Mike Pence if given the chance.”
The committee also released an email exchange between Jacob and Eastman during Pence’s evacuation on Jan. 6, during which Jacob said: “[T]hanks to your bullshit, we are now under siege.” Eastman replied that the siege was Pence’s own fault for not complying with what the president had said was necessary. Later that day, Jacob explicitly asked Eastman whether he had advised Trump that the vice president cannot unilaterally decide an election, to which Eastman responded that he had advised Trump of this, “but you know him. Once he gets something in his head, it’s hard to get him to change course.”
Even after the insurrection had been quelled, Eastman did not back down: Jacob testified that later that evening, at 11:44 p.m., Eastman “implored me, now that we have established that the Electoral Count Act isn’t so sacrosanct as you have made it out to be, I implore you one last time, can the vice president please do what we have been asking him to do these last two days?”
Point #4: Evidence That Trump Tried to Convince State Lawmakers and Election Officials to Alter Election Results
In his opening statement at the committee’s fourth hearing, on June 21, Chairman Thompson asserted that “pressuring public servants into betraying their oaths was a fundamental part of the playbook, and a handful of election officials in several key states stood between Donald Trump and the upending of American democracy.”
When state election officials refused to “embrace the Big Lie,” Thompson claimed, “Donald Trump worked to ensure they faced the consequences—threats to people’s livelihoods, and lives, threats of violence that Donald Trump knew about and amplified.” Thompson argued that as the American system was jeopardized by Trump’s efforts, it was not the institutions but, rather, the people committed to upholding institutional ideals that protected the country from an illegal seizure of power. He emphasized three points:
- The pressure imposed on election officials stemmed from Trump’s willful dishonesty;
- People who believe Trump’s lies are now seeking positions of public trust; and
- American institutions will hold up only if people in positions of power abide by their oaths of office.
In her opening statement, Vice Chair Cheney asserted that Trump, Giuliani, and Eastman each had a direct role in pressuring state and local election officials to change outcomes in the 2020 election. “Each of these efforts to overturn the election is independently serious [and] each deserves attention both by Congress and by our Department of Justice,” Cheney said. Cheney reminded the audience that while Trump was calling election officials (and often stoking public threats against them), he had already been repeatedly informed by his own campaign staff and the Justice Department that his claims of election fraud were baseless.
In his opening statement, Rep. Adam Schiff—who led the presentation for the committee at the June 21 hearing—showed a video highlighting Trump’s disclosures of state and local officials’ personal information as part of his pressure campaign against them. For example, on Jan. 3, Trump retweeted a tweet that disclosed Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey’s phone number—followed by deposition footage of Shirkey stating that he received “just shy of 4,000 text messages over a short period of time” from people urging him to change Michigan’s electoral votes.
Another state official impacted by the president’s attempted power grab, Arizona Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers, served as the committee’s first witness of its fourth hearing. A “self-described conservative Republican,” Bowers was first asked about a recent Trump statement claiming that Bowers had told him the election was rigged and that Trump had won Arizona. Bowers testified in response that this was false, saying that if “anywhere, anyone, anytime has said that I said the election was rigged, that would not be true.”
In his testimony, Bowers described a call with Giuliani and Trump after the election, during which Bowers asked Giuliani for proof of the campaign’s allegations concerning voter fraud in Arizona. Giuliani promised to provide details, including the names of thousands of allegedly dead voters and evidence that hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants had voted, but he never did. Bowers further stated that the president and Giuliani made a series of requests during the call, including for Bowers to “allow an official committee at the Arizona State Capitol” to hear evidence of electoral fraud and take responsive action. Bowers testified that he refused because he did not trust the evidence and “didn’t want to be used as a pawn.” Bowers stated that on the same call, Giuliani and Trump also proposed that Arizona’s legislature had a legal ability to remove the electors of Joe Biden and replace them with electors for Trump—a proposition that he claims he rejected, saying that such an act would be “counter to my oath … and I will not break my oath.” Bowers testified that Giuliani tried to appeal to their shared political affiliation multiple times, asking, “[A]ren’t we all Republicans here?”
Bowers stated that, on several occasions after this call, he was asked to approve an official hearing of the state legislature, which he declined to do each time. He described numerous incidents in which the Trump team failed to provide evidence for their allegations. And he testified that at one point, Giuliani appeared to acknowledge that he had no basis for his claims. “We’ve got lots of theories, we just don’t have the evidence,” Giuliani reportedly said to Bowers.
Schiff then played a video depicting protesters illegally entering the Arizona Capitol, including Jacob Chansley, the so-called QAnon Shaman known for his prominent role in the Jan. 6 siege, and asked Bowers to verify that the protesters were calling for him by name, which Bowers confirmed.
Bowers testified that Trump called him again in December, and that he told the president that he had supported him and voted for him but would not do anything illegal for him. Nonetheless, Bowers stated that Eastman called him several days later, asking the Arizona speaker to initiate a vote to decertify the electors, using the legislature’s supposed “plenary authority to do so.” When he protested that the legislature did not have this authority, Eastman told him to “just do it, and let the courts sort it out.” Incredulous at this demand, Bowers testified that he declined the request.
Prompted by Schiff, Bowers confirmed that in his view, what the president’s team was asking him to do was counter to his oath to the United States and to the state of Arizona.
Bowers additionally stated that on the morning of Jan. 6, Rep. Andy Biggs asked him to sign a letter sent from Arizona to support the decertification of the electors, which Bowers declined to do. Further, Bowers released a statement asserting that “[t]he rule of law forbids us” to take decertification action as requested by the president and his team.
Introducing the next witnesses, Thompson said that although Trump was seeking to advance his pressure campaign across the country, the former president had a particular focus on Georgia. At a press conference on Dec. 1, while the review of the election in Georgia was still ongoing, Georgia Deputy Secretary of State Gabriel Sterling stated that Trump “likely lost the state of Georgia.” Sterling implored the president to “stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence.” In response to Sterling’s statement, Trump tweeted, “Rigged election. Show signatures and envelops [sic]. Expose the massive voter fraud in Georgia. What is Secretary of State and @briankempGA afraid of. They know what we’ll find!!!”
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Sterling emphasized several times during the hearing that the election in Georgia had been executed effectively, and the outcome reflected the will of Georgia voters. Raffensperger described the election administration as proceeding “remarkably smooth[ly].” And Sterling said the outcome of the election had been confirmed with “a thorough review and audit process.” Raffensperger also offered an explanation as to why the former president had received fewer votes than Republican down ballot candidates: “28,000 Georgians skipped the presidential race, and yet they voted down ballot in other races. And the Republican congressman ended up getting 33,000 more votes than President Trump, and that’s why President Trump came up short.”
The testimony given by Raffensperger and Sterling described Trump’s persistent efforts to compel Georgia election officials to change the outcome of the election in that state despite these officials repeatedly informing the president that his claims lacked any support. Underlying these efforts was Trump’s belief, which he stated during his Ellipse speech on Jan. 6, that “[t]hey defrauded us out of a win in Georgia, and we’re not gonna forget it.”
The committee showed that Trump and his allies repeated several false allegations about the administration of the election in Georgia. On Dec. 2, Trump said, “They found thousands and thousands of votes that were out of whack. All against me.”
Schiff said those close to Trump appeared in Georgia the next day and started peddling an election conspiracy theory, according to which Fulton County election workers at State Farm Arena kicked out poll observers during election night and subsequently brought out suitcases of ballots from under a table and ran these ballots through voting machines multiple times. Trump and his allies said there were 18,000 ballots in these suitcases—purportedly all for Biden. Trump cited this suitcase conspiracy theory during a speech in Georgia on Dec. 5, claiming that “[e]vidence of fraud is overwhelming.”
Giuliani went before the Georgia State Senate and presented a video, which, he said, confirmed this conspiracy theory. According to Giuliani, the video was “powerful smoking gun” evidence that the workers had processed illegitimate votes. He said the workers threw out the opposition and counted the votes in the middle of the night, and the Trump campaign shared Giuliani’s false claims on social media.
According to Sterling, who reviewed 48 hours of surveillance footage from election night and the period surrounding it at State Farm Arena, the tape showed “Fulton County election workers engaging in normal ballot processing,” and no evidence of fraud. Sterling explained that election workers were putting on their coats and beginning to store ballots under the table for the evening—as is typical. However, after an elections director instructed the workers to continue counting the ballots, the workers removed them from under the table to continue their work. He also said that running ballots through the scanner multiple times is normal procedure and that a hand tally confirmed that the election administration in Fulton County was “essentially dead-on accurate.”
BJay Pak, the former U.S. attorney in Georgia, said that after watching the video and interviewing witnesses, he found “that there’s nothing there. Giuliani was wrong in representing that this was a suitcase full of ballots.” Barr expressed a similar sentiment: “[B]ased on our review of [the State Farm Arena video], including the interviews of the key witnesses, the Fulton county allegations had no merit.” Donoghue agreed that the suitcase theory was completely baseless. During a press conference on Dec. 7, Sterling explained that the president’s attorneys had the same State Farm Arena video and “chose to mislead state senators and the public about what was on that video.”
According to Schiff, Meadows reached out to Raffensberger’s office about 18 times to arrange a call between Raffensperger and Trump. By the time Trump reached Raffensperger by phone on Jan. 2, Georgia had certified its electoral votes. Trump said during that call, “[The votes] weren’t in an official voter box [at the State Farm Arena location]; they were in what looked to be suitcases or trunks, suitcases. But they weren’t in voter boxes. The minimum number it could be … was 18,000 ballots, all for Biden.”
Sterling noted that only 8,900 ballots had been scanned at the State Farm location, not 18,000. Raffensperger testified during the June 21 hearing that these allegations had all been repeatedly debunked by several components of the Georgia election administration apparatus. Trump also asserted on the call with Raffensperger, “I heard it was close, so I said there’s no way. But they dropped a lot of votes in there late at night. You know that, Brad.” Raffensberger maintained this was false as well.
Trump also claimed during the call that “close to 5,000” ballots had been cast on behalf of dead people. As with the previous claims, Raffensperger said this was false too. Georgia election officials found that there had only been four votes cast under the identity of dead individuals. Trump also said to Raffensperger, “[T]here’s nothing wrong with saying that … you’ve recalculated because it’s 2,236 in absentee ballots.” Trump went on to say that this recalculation would produce many more votes than he would need to win the state. Raffensberger noted, however, that there was no way to recalculate the votes because the Georgia election officials had “checked every single allegation.”
After Raffensperger told Trump that he would send a link to the unedited State Farm Arena video, Trump said, “I don’t care about a link. I don’t need it. … [W]e’re gonna have a much better link.” Raffensperger then told Trump about the investigations debunking this claim, among others, after which Trump called the officials who conducted the investigations “incompetent” or “dishonest.”
On the same call, Trump warned Raffensperger that it was “very dangerous” for the secretary to be rejecting the claims of election fraud. The former president then asked Raffensperger, “Why wouldn’t you want to find the right answer … instead of keep saying that the numbers are right?” Trump also alleged that he won by at least 400,000 votes, repeating, “I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break.” After making false allegations about the shredding of ballots, Trump insinuated that Raffensperger could be criminally liable for his actions. After this, Trump said to Raffensperger, “I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have because we won the state.”
A couple of weeks before Trump’s call with Raffensperger, the president retweeted a tweet that said Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Raffensperger would go to prison for their role in the election administration. And during the speech at the Ellipse on Jan. 6, Trump repeated the baseless allegations that Raffensperger and other officials had consistently and thoroughly debunked.
The committee also presented evidence that showed that Trump directly pressured another Georgia election official to change the results of the state’s election. After Meadows visited an election audit site in Georgia to meet with Raffensperger’s chief investigator, Frances Watson, Meadows arranged a call on Dec. 23 between Watson and Trump. On that call, Trump said, “You have the most important job in the country right now … the people of Georgia are so angry at what happened to me. They know I won. Won by hundreds of thousands of votes; it wasn’t close.” Trump went on to say, “Hopefully, when the right answer comes out, you’ll be praised.” Trump then told Watson to do “whatever you can do, Frances … You have no idea, it’s so important … And I very much appreciate it.” Finally, Trump asked Watson if she would continue working after Christmas to “keep it going fast” before reminding Watson, “we have that date of the sixth, which is a very important date.”
The committee also explored the harmful effects of Trump’s Georgia election allegations on the lives of election workers. Fulton County election worker Shaye Moss described the threats she faced from supporters of President Trump after Giuliani and the Trump campaign circulated the State Farm Arena video, in which Moss is shown working. And the committee showed deposition testimony of another election worker, Ruby Freeman, relating similar experiences. Giuliani said on Dec. 10 in front of Georgia state legislators that Moss and her mother had been “surreptitiously passing around USB ports” on the night of the election, and that they should have been questioned about their behavior and had their houses searched. Moss testified that what Giuliani described as a USB port was, in fact, a ginger mint. Moss said that threats against her have “turned her life upside down.”
Trump asserted that there were “at least 18,000 … voters having to do with Ruby Freeman,” and called Freeman “a professional vote scammer and hustler.” Freeman said that as a result of the attacks leveled against her, she does not feel that she can introduce herself by name anymore, and she was instructed by the FBI to leave her home for several weeks due to threats related to her work during the 2020 election.
Point #5: Evidence That Trump’s Campaign Team Directed Republicans in Multiple States to Produce and Officially Submit Fake Electoral Slates
During his opening statement on June 21, Rep. Schiff asserted that when Trump’s “pressure campaign” was blocked by state legislatures and a vice president who refused to go along with his plan to overturn the election, Trump pivoted to an alternate approach. Schiff stated that the president and his team “assembled groups of individuals in key battleground states and got them to call themselves electors, created phony certificates associated with these fake electors, and then transmitted these certificates to Washington, and to the Congress, to be counted during the joint session.”
Here, Schiff reminded the audience that despite the fact that all of these efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, it is nonetheless important to note that per Judge Carter’s ruling in Eastman v. Thompson, Trump and his team likely violated numerous federal laws in their efforts, “including conspiracy to defraud the United States.” He promised evidence demonstrating that the president and his top advisers were directly involved in the efforts of this plot—“or what Judge Carter called, a coup in search of a legal theory.” Pulling from Eastman v. Thompson, the committee quoted Carter’s assertion that Trump’s scheme to overturn the election “targeted every tier of federal and state elected officials” and, further, that “[c]onvincing state legislatures to certify competing electors was essential to stop the count and ensure President Trump’s reelection.”
Schiff concluded, “Anyone who got in the way of Donald Trump’s continued hold on power … was the subject of a dangerous and escalating campaign of pressure,” which brought with it “threats of violence and death.”
Much of the June 21 hearing consisted of the committee’s evidence supporting these claims. Josh Roselman, investigative counsel for the committee, presented an email showing that just two days after the election, Trump campaign lawyer Cleta Mitchell asked John Eastman to write a memo “outlining the constitutional role of state legislatures in designating electors.” Eastman did so, distributing the memo to senior officials at the White House and professing the argument publicly by Dec. 3, 2020. The council demonstrated that Republican state officials protested against the proposal, calling it unlawful. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, for example, stated that “[a]ny attempt by the legislature to retroactively change that process for the Nov. 3 election would be unconstitutional.” Roselman then detailed that as officials pushed back against the president’s demands, his pressure campaign intensified, sometimes calling officials out by name on social media and urging his supporters to reach out to them and “demand a vote on decertification.”
The committee also displayed a Trump campaign script and corresponding voice-over showing that campaign workers told Republican legislators, “You have the power to reclaim your authority to send a slate of Electors that will support President Trump and Vice President Pence.”
Roselman further detailed that the president and his advisers sometimes directly contacted state officials themselves. For example, he said, Pennsylvania Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler “received daily voicemails from Trump’s lawyers in the last week of November.” The committee presented voicemails from Giuliani and attorney Jenna Ellis on Nov. 26, 27, and 28. After Cutler asked his lawyers to tell Giuliani to stop calling, Trump’s former lawyer nonetheless continued to reach out, saying on Nov. 30, “I understand that you don’t want to talk to me now … I just want to bring some facts to your attention, and talk to you as a fellow Republican.” And on Nov. 30, former Trump strategist Steve Bannon urged people to take part in a protest outside Cutler’s home, where Trump supporters later gathered, pushing the speaker to “decertify” the electors’ votes. During the first protest, Cutler told the committee, his 15-year-old son was home alone—and his family had to disconnect their home phone line for a period of three days “because it would ring all hours of the night.”
Rolselman additionally stated that the committee spent millions of dollars publishing ads that placed mounting pressure on election officials. The committee played a montage of protests and threats made against state lawmakers in the lead-up to Jan. 6, with one protester stating that “the punishment for treason is death.”
Schiff then introduced the next segment, which he claimed would illustrate how the Trump campaign attempted to replace legitimate electors with their own by convincing the fake electors to cast votes through fraudulent certificates. He alleged that the Trump electors and those involved were told that these slates would be used only if Trump won his legal challenges to the election. For example, Andrew Hitt, former Wisconsin Republican Party chairman, said that he was informed that the electors’ votes “would only count if a court ruled in our favor.”
Committee Investigative Counsel Casey Lucier presented a Nov. 18 memo from Trump campaign lawyer Kenneth Chesebro arguing that the campaign should organize its own electors in the swing states that Joe Biden had won. Chesebro wrote, “Prudence dictates that the ten electors pledged to Trump and Pence meet and cast their votes on December 13 (unless by then the race has been conceded).” Cassidy Hutchinson, former aide to Mark Meadows, testified that “Mr. Giuliani, several of Mr. Giuliani’s associates, Mr. Meadows, members of Congress” were involved in discussions concerning alternate electors in the weeks preceding the election.
Trump also directly enlisted the help of the Republican National Committee (RNC) to coordinate his effort. Ronna Romney McDaniel, RNC chair, stated during deposition that the president had contacted her and “turned the call over to Mr. Eastman, who then proceeded to talk about the importance of the RNC helping the campaign gather these contingent electors in case any of the legal challenges that were ongoing changed the result of any of the states.”
The committee played footage of Trump campaign lawyers Matt Morgan and Justin Clark stating that they had felt that the plan to convene electors in states that Trump lost was inappropriate. Additionally, Hutchinson confirmed that the White House counsel’s office had told Meadows, Giuliani, and a few of Giuliani’s associates that the plan to have alternate electors meet and cast votes for Trump was “not legally sound.”
The select committee also played footage from an interview with Robert Sinners, a former Trump campaign staffer, who stated that “[w]e were just kind of, kind of useful idiots or rubes at that point … I’m angry because I think, I think in a sense, you know, no one really cared if, if people were potentially putting themselves in jeopardy.” He further told the committee that he “absolutely would not have” participated in the plan to replace electors had he known that the president’s own legal team was not on board.
Lucier further stated that “documents obtained by the Select Committee indicate that instructions were given to the electors in several states that they needed to cast their ballots in complete secrecy.” Laura Cox, the former Michigan Republican Party chairwoman, testified that a Trump campaign worker had informed her “that the Michigan Republican electors were planning to meet in the Capitol and hide overnight so that they could fulfill the role of casting their vote … per law in the Michigan chambers.” Cox told the committee she had rejected the idea, telling the worker “in no uncertain terms that that was insane and inappropriate.”
Lucier then asserted that the Trump campaign’s scheme was in fact translated into action:
In one state, the fake electors even asked for a promise that the campaign would pay their legal fees if they got sued or charged with a crime. Ultimately, fake electors did meet on December 14th, 2020 in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Nevada, and Wisconsin. At the request of the Trump campaign, the electors from these battleground states signed documents falsely asserting that they were the quote, "duly elected electors," from their state and submitted them to the National Archives and to Vice President Pence in his capacity as President of the Senate.
The committee then presented photos of the fake electoral certificates as compared to their authentic counterparts, noting that the fraudulent documents were legally meaningless. However, Eastman wrote in an email that it didn’t matter that the electors lacked state authority, claiming that “the fact that we have multiple slate of electors demonstrates the uncertainty of either. That should be enough … Better for [Pence] just to act boldly and be challenged.”
The committee further displayed text messages showing that the Trump campaign had attempted “to ensure that the physical copies of the fake electors’ electoral votes from two states were delivered to Washington for January 6th.” For example, a staffer for Sen. Ron Johnson texted a Pence staffer minutes prior to the joint session, stating that Johnson wished to hand-deliver the fake electors’ votes from Michigan and Wisconsin to the vice president, to which Pence’s staffer replied, “Do not give that to him.”
Point #6: Evidence That Trump Assembled a Destructive Group of Rioters in Washington and Sent Them to the Capitol
This is a key point for the committee, as it was for the impeachment managers last year, and while it’s one that has not been focal in the hearings yet, the committee spent some energy on it in its overview.
According to Cheney’s remarks in the first hearing, the committee intends to show that “President Trump summoned a violent mob and directed them illegally to march on the United States Capitol.” Cheney stated that the full evidence for this claim will be presented in two hearings later this month. But she and other members highlighted a few preliminary bits to support the point, offering an early look at the committee’s evidence.
The committee laid out a narrative beginning during the presidential debate in September 2020, in which Trump addressed the Proud Boys directly, telling the far-right extremist group to “stand back and stand by.” The committee presented Proud Boys member Jeremy Bertino saying that recruitment skyrocketed after this comment. It further presented several tweets by Trump in December 2020, encouraging his supporters to come and “stop the steal”—or, in the committee’s telling, block the peaceful transfer of power—on Jan. 6. One of Trump’s tweets reads, for example: “The BIG Protest Rally in Washington, D.C., will take place at 11:00A.M. [sic] on January 6th. Locational details to follow. StopTheSteal!”
The committee showed the infamous clip of Trump’s speech on the day of the Capitol breach itself, in which he stated: “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol.” It also previewed the argument that Trump’s rhetoric against Pence on Jan. 6 incensed the rioters, including video of the president stating at 12:05 p.m.:
I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. I hope so. I hope so. Because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election… All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify, and we become president, and you are the happiest people… And if he doesn't, that will be a, a sad day for our country, because you'll never, ever take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.
And the committee argued that Trump’s supporters were moved by his words, displaying footage of one Jan. 6 attendee reading aloud a tweet by Trump alleging that “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.”
The committee also played a montage of Proud Boy interviews in which rioters declared that they had come to Washington because Trump had called them.
In her closing statement during the June 21 hearing, Cheney asserted that the committee’s evidence demonstrated that Cipollone and those working under him “tried to do what was right” and “stop a number of President Trump’s plans for January 6th.” Cheney previewed that members of the Trump White House staff will detail Cipollone’s efforts on Jan. 6, and she said the committee is “working to secure his testimony.”
So far, at least, it is unclear whether the committee is in a position to move the evidentiary ball on whether Trump intended to provoke a riot or merely behaved recklessly.
The committee presented evidence detailing requests made by Republican congressmen for presidential pardons related to their role in the insurrection. The committee displayed an email sent by Rep. Mo Brooks to the White House on Jan. 11, which requested “all purpose” pardons for all members of Congress who objected to the certification of the electoral votes from Pennsylvania and Arizona.
Further, Kinzinger asserted that witnesses informed the committee that Trump “considered offering pardons to a wide range of individuals connected to the president.” Herschmann testified during a video deposition that Gaetz requested a pardon from the president that covered all actions “from the beginning of time up until today.” Herschmann said the “general tone was we may get prosecuted because we were defensive of…the president’s positions on these things.”
Cassidy Hutchinson, a former executive assistant for Meadows, testified that Gaetz and Brooks pushed for blanket pardons for all members who participated in a Dec. 21 meeting with the president related to overturning the election in addition to other members who were not at that meeting. Hutchinson said Gaetz had been advocating for a pardon since early December 2020, and he reached out to Hutchinson to inquire about setting up a meeting with Meadows to discuss a pardon. Hutchinson stated that several members of Congress contacted her about pardons. In addition to Gaetz and Brooks, Hutchinson said that Rep. Gohmert, Rep. Perry, and Rep. Biggs asked about receiving presidential pardons, and Rep. Jordan spoke about pardons for members of Congress generally but did not request one for himself specifically. Hutchinson also noted that although Rep. Greene did not contact her, Hutchinson heard that she had asked the White House Counsel’s office about receiving a pardon.
John McEntee, the former director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office, testified that Gaetz told him that he asked Meadows for a presidential pardon. McEntee also said that he had heard references to a blanket pardon for all people involved in the activities on Jan. 6, and he also said that Trump floated the idea of pardoning all members of his staff before leaving office.
In his closing statement during the fifth hearing, Chairman Thompson said the committee would show in upcoming hearings “how Donald Trump tapped into the threat of violence, how he summoned the mob to Washington, and how after corruption and political pressure failed to keep Donald Trump in office, violence became the last option.” The committee also presented a tweet sent by Trump on Dec. 19, in which he wrote, “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”
The committee presented video footage during the June 23 hearing of President Trump speaking at the Ellipse:
In the state of Arizona, over 36,000 ballots were illegally cast by non-citizens. 11,600 more ballots than votes were counted, more than there were actual voters. You see that? In Wisconsin, corrupt Democrat run cities deployed more than 500 illegal, unmanned, unsecured drop boxes, which collected a minimum of 91,000 unlawful votes.
Point #7: Evidence That During the Attack, Trump Ignored Requests to Speak Out and Failed to Act Quickly
This is perhaps the area in which the committee has the greatest gap to fill in the public’s understanding of Trump’s conduct during the insurrection. Cheney claimed in her overview that evidence presented in the final two June hearings will show that “while the violence was underway, President Trump failed to take immediate action to stop the violence and instruct his supporters to leave the Capitol.” She said that, “aware of the rioters’ chants to hang Mike Pence,” Trump responded, “Maybe our supporters have the right idea” and that perhaps Pence “deserves it.” She quoted from text messages between the White House and Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham insisting the president needed to act to stop the riot. For example, Hannity wrote to Trump’s then-press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany: “Key now, no more crazy people”; “No more stolen election talk”; and “Yes, impeachment and 25th amendment are real, and many people will quit.” McEnany responded in part: “Love that. That’s the playbook.”
She also quoted a document written by a White House staff member seeking to advise Trump on how to act amid the riot. The document says, “Anyone who entered the Capitol without proper authority should leave immediately.” She also said that Trump’s supporters on Capitol Hill—including Kevin McCarthy—and around the country implored the president to act to stop the violence. However, Cheney said, Trump did not tell the rioters to leave the Capitol, and the president did not “call … any element of the United States government to instruct that the Capitol be defended.” Specifically, she noted, Trump did not call the secretary of defense, and he did not speak to the acting attorney general or the Department of Homeland Security. Trump also did not order the deployment of the National Guard, and he did not attempt to work with the Justice Department to deploy law enforcement personnel.
Rather, Cheney promised evidence that Trump “sat watching television” while the rioters were attacking the Capitol. She said that testimony will reveal that Trump “refused for hours to do what his staff and his family and many of his other advisers begged him to do, immediately instruct his supporters to stand down and evacuate the Capitol.” Only after multiple hours of the riot, she said, did Trump release a video in which he told the rioters to leave the Capitol. However, the president also said in the video, “We love you and you’re very special.”
At points, she claimed, Trump even seemed to endorse the riot, saying to his staff that his supporters “were doing what they should be doing.” Cheney promised testimony that Trump did not want to instruct the rioters to stop their attack but was, rather, yelling at advisers who were telling him to take a stronger stand. Cheney said the evidence will show that “[t]here’s no doubt that President Trump was well aware of the violence as it developed.”
In the committee’s third hearing, it began to tack out the evidence promised by Cheney. The committee specifically highlighted the president’s lack of regard for the safety of his vice president and escalatory criticisms directed at Pence, summarized in detail in Point #3. That hearing presented evidence from depositions that both internal staffers and congressional leaders advised senior White House staff to have the president do something to deescalate the violence. For example, Short stated that on Jan. 6, McCarthy told him that he had been in contact with a White House official and “expressed frustration” that the White House was not “taking the circumstances [as] seriously as they should [at] that moment.”
During the fifth hearing, the committee presented evidence that President Trump did not speak with Acting Attorney General Rosen or Acting Deputy Attorney General Donoghue on Jan. 6. Rosen testified that in addition to speaking with Justice Department officials, he communicated with senior White House officials and members of Congress on the day of the insurrection. And Rosen said he spoke twice with Pence on Jan. 6. On the first call, Rosen updated the vice president about the Justice Department’s efforts related to the attack. The second conversation was a conference call regarding what time Congress would be able to reassemble to finish counting the electoral votes. Rosen also noted that the department sent more than 500 agents and officers from the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the U.S. Marshals to support the effort to secure the Capitol.
Donoghue testified that he assisted in the effort to reconvene the joint session of Congress on the evening of Jan. 6. Donoghue said that he participated in a briefing for Pence on Jan. 6. Donoghue also noted that, like Rosen, he spoke with Cipollone, Meadows, the congressional leadership.