Key Trump allies refused to answer January 6 panel questions

Transcript of interviews with allies of former US president show that they invoked the Fifth Amendment when questioned.

Five seemed to be their favourite number.

Key allies of former US President Donald Trump invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer any substantive questions when they appeared before the congressional committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, records show.

The panel released the transcripts of 35 interviews with witnesses on Wednesday as it prepares to make public the final report of its January 6 probe.

Close Trump allies – including right-wing operative Roger Stone, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and lawyer John Eastman – spent almost the entirety of their interviews with the panel invoking the Fifth Amendment, which protects against self-incrimination.

The amendment, part of the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights, shields people from being compelled to be witnesses against themselves.

While some former officials in Trump’s orbit and the former president himself defied the committee’s subpoenas, risking criminal charges, others appeared before the committee but effectively offered no information.

Stone even refused to answer basic factual questions, such as his age and where he lives.

This is how the conversation went:

Question: “Mr Stone, where do you reside?”

Answer: “On advice of counsel, I will be availing myself of my Fifth Amendment rights.”

Question: “How old are you?”

Answer: “On the basis of the advice of counsel, I will yet again assert my Fifth Amendment rights to respectfully decline to answer your question.”

In the Flynn interview, investigators appeared to get frustrated with the former US general’s incessant invoking of the Fifth Amendment.

The interviewer demanded to know the basis for refusing to answer questions and asked whether Flynn fears that his answers would incriminate him in later proceedings.

Flynn’s lawyer retorted by asserting that the Fifth Amendment serves to “protect the innocent from being ensnared in ambiguous circumstances”.

In a public hearing of the panel earlier this year, the committee’s vice chair, Congresswoman Liz Cheney, noted witnesses’ refusal to give meaningful answers in interviews.

“Roger Stone took the Fifth. General Michael Flynn took the Fifth. John Eastman took the Fifth,” she said. “Others like Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro simply refused to comply with lawful subpoenas, and they have been indicted.”

Bannon, a top Trump adviser, was sentenced to four months in prison in October for refusing to cooperate with the committee.

Early this week, the panel recommended criminal charges against Trump, arguing that he violated the law in his campaign to overturn the 2020 elections. Trump repeatedly made false allegations of voting fraud, which lawmakers say culminated in the events of January 6.

Trump’s supporters stormed and ransacked the Capitol in an effort to prevent the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.

“That evidence has led to an overriding and straight-forward conclusion: The central cause of January 6th was one man, former President Donald Trump, who many others followed. None of the events of January 6th would have happened without him,” a summary of the final report reads.

The panel’s chair, Congressman Bennie Thompson, said on Monday that the committee will also release its “non-sensitive records” before the end of the year.

“These transcripts and documents will allow the American people to see for themselves the amount of evidence we’ve gathered and continue to explore … that has led us to our conclusions,” he said.

While continuing to reiterate his baseless claim that the 2020 election was “stolen”, Trump has denied any wrongdoing related to January 6, often rebuking the congressional panel and dismissing its work as a political witch-hunt.

Source: Al Jazeera