Five key takeaways from seventh January 6 US Capitol riot hearing

Tuesday’s wide-ranging hearing attempted to link former President Donald Trump to far-right groups that stormed Capitol.

US Representative Jamie Raskin speaks during a January 6 hearing.
US Congressman Jamie Raskin played a leading role at Tuesday's hearing [Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters]

Former President Donald Trump’s role dominated the seventh hearing this year of the US congressional committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol.

Whether discussing meetings at the White House after the 2020 election or the role of far-right groups in the violence on January 6, Trump was a constant theme at the hearing on Tuesday.

The public session featured for the first time snippets from the video testimony of former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who agreed to speak to the panel last week.

It also tried to link Trump’s public rhetoric to the planning of the assault on the Capitol.

Here are five key takeaways from the hearing:

Cipollone confirms he rejected theory that Pence could overturn election

Cipollone confirmed accounts from previous testimonies that he vehemently rejected efforts to push Vice President Mike Pence to reverse election results.

A previous hearing had detailed how some Trump allies believed that the vice president, who presides over the counting of electoral college votes, can declare a different result than the official election tally.

In a video played on Tuesday, Cipollone tells the committee that he does not disagree with the testimony of a White House aide saying that he had described the theory as “nutty”.

The former White House counsel went on to praise Pence for refusing to go along with those efforts, saying he suggested that the ex-vice president should receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Separately, witnesses later told the committee that Trump added last-minute lines attacking Pence to his January 6 speech, which he delivered ahead of the riots.

Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy, a Democrat, said Trump ad-libbed several references to Pence and “fighting” in that speech.

“A single scripted reference in the speech to Mike Pence became eight,” Murphy said.

“A single scripted reference to rally-goers marching to the Capitol became four, with President Trump ad-libbing that he would be joining the protesters at the Capitol. Added throughout his speech were references to fighting and the need for people to have courage and to be strong.”

Pat Cipollone's video testimony on a big screen during Tuesday's January 6 hearing.
Pat Cipollone praised Trump for refusing to interfere in the certification of the 2020 election [Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters]

Election deniers and other aides clashed at White House meeting

The panel portrayed a contentious meeting between election deniers and aides who were pushing against unfounded fraud claims at the White House on December 18, 2020.

Ex-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had come to the White House for an unscheduled meeting.

Cipollone said he pressed for evidence to back election fraud allegations, decrying what he called Powell’s “general disregard for the importance of actually backing up what you say with facts”.

Eric Herschmann, a former White House lawyer, said he also voiced opposition to some of the conspiracy theories that were being floated to back fraud allegations.

For his part, Rudy Giuliani said he accused aides who were not convinced that there was election fraud of not fighting hard enough.

“Maybe I put it another way: ‘You’re a bunch of p***ies’,” Giuliani said.

Other witnesses described screaming and hurling of insults between the two camps.

“It got to the point where the screaming was completely out there. When you got people walk in – it was late at night – it’s been a long day, and what they were proposing I thought was nuts,” Herschmann tells the committee in a video played at the hearing.

The panel later showed a text message by former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who delivered an explosive testimony late last month, describing the meeting as “unhinged”.

Trump set the date

The panel argued on Tuesday that a Trump tweet calling for a “big protest” against election results in Washington, DC, on January 6 set the date for various far-right groups to descend on the city and subsequently storm the Capitol.

“Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election,” the tweet said. “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”

Democrat Congressman Jamie Raskin said the founder of a website that served as a forum for election fraud claims “confirmed how the president’s tweet created a laser-like focus on the date of January 6”.

The panel then played parts of a video testimony from Jody Williams, owner of the now-defunct website.

“After it was announced that he was going to be there on the sixth to talk, yes, then everything else was kind of shut out, and it was just going to be on the sixth,” Williams told the committee.

The committee displayed posts from that website calling for bringing handcuffs, shields and bats to the January 6 rally.

Donell Harvin, a former top intelligence official for the government of the District of Columbia (Washington, DC), said previously non-aligned groups from the far-right started coordinating together ahead of the January 6 attack.

“All the red flags were up at that point,” Harvin added.

“We have far-right militia collaborating with white supremacy groups, collaborating with conspiracy theory groups,” Harvin said, calling the coordination a “blended ideology”.

He said the groups were sharing “operational intelligence” ahead of the riot.

Committee attempts to draw link between far-right groups and Trump

The committee tried to draw a link between far-right groups, the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys – which are accused of involvement in the Capitol attack – and Trump and his allies.

Raskin specifically highlighted ties between Trump confidantes Michael Flynn and Roger Stone and the far-right organisations, showing photos and text messages between the two men with members of the groups.

Before the hearing, Stone – a veteran right-wing political operative – denied any wrongdoing.

“Any assertion that I knew in advance about, was involved in or condoned any of the illegal actions at the Capitol is false,” the Reuters news agency quoted Stone as saying in an email. “Any claim that I knew from any member of the Proud Boys or Oath Keepers about any plan for illegal activities on January 6th is also false.”

The hearing featured a former spokesperson of the Oath Keepers, who described the group as violent and dangerous.

Early this year, the Department of Justice charged the Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes with seditious conspiracy in relation to his alleged role in the Capitol attack.

Rhodes has pleaded not guilty.

Trump tried to contact committee witness, Cheney says

Vice Chair Liz Cheney, one of two Republicans on the committee, revealed that Trump attempted to contact one of the panel’s witnesses, saying that the incident has been referred to the Justice Department.

President Trump tried to call a witness in our investigation – a witness you have not yet seen in these hearings,” she said.

“That person declined to answer or respond to President Trump’s call, and instead alerted their lawyer to the call; their lawyer alerted us. And this committee has supplied that information to the Department of Justice.

“Let me say one more time: We will take any efforts to influence witness testimony very seriously.”

Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern, who is not on the panel, stressed that “witness tampering” in a congressional investigation is against the law.

“Donald Trump continues to commit crimes to cover up his unconstitutional scheme to overturn the 2020 election,” McGovern wrote on Twitter.

Source: Al Jazeera