The latest hearing from the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, insurrection fleshed out the links between former President Donald Trump and the far-right extremist groups that were at the vanguard of the violent effort to stop the transition of power and keep him in office, despite his election loss.
The hearing on Tuesday focused on the loose affiliations between Trump, his informal political advisers, and members of far-right militia groups like the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys.
The committee walked through snippets of witness depositions, court documents, previously unseen emails and other materials, to make the case that Trump coyly courted these militants and saw them as his troops on the ground, to pressure Congress to overturn the 2020 election.
“All of these efforts would converge and explode on January 6,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat and committee member who led parts of Tuesday’s hearing, said during his opening statements.
Here are some takeaways from Tuesday’s hearing.
The panel repeatedly highlighted a Trump tweet from December 2020, which they said was a galvanizing call-to-arms that motivated his supporters to come to Washington and disrupt the transition of power.
The tweet claimed that it was “statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election,” and said there would be a “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th.” Trump infamously added, “Be there, will be wild!”
Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Florida Democrat who led part of the hearing, said that the post was “a call to action, and in some cases as a call to arms, for many of President Trump’s most loyal supporters,” citing comments from many of the rioters and far-right extremists, who said they were inspired by the tweet.
After the tweet, pro-Trump groups rescheduled planned protests for late January and switched the date to January 6, according to the committee. “Stop the Steal” leader Ali Alexander quickly registered the website WildProtest.com and used the site as a clearinghouse for information about the protest.
Right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones promoted Trump’s tweet and urged people to flock to DC. Jim Watkins, the administrator of 8kun, an online forum that is the home of the QAnon conspiracy, told the House panel that he decided to go to Washington on January 6 after Trump’s tweet.
“There is going to be a red wedding going down January 6,” a person identified as Salty Cracker said in another clip, referring to a massacre from the television show “Game of Thrones.”
The committee unveiled evidence Tuesday showing how Trump’s call for his supporters to march to the Capitol on January 6 had been planned in advance.
The committee showed a draft tweet – which Trump did not send – calling for marching to the Capitol. “I will be making a Big Speech at 10AM on January 6th at the Ellipse (South of the White House). Please arrive early, massive crowds expected. March to the Capitol after. Stop the Steal!!” the draft tweet says. The tweet, which the committee obtained from the National Archives, includes a stamp saying “President has seen.”
In addition, the committee showed a text message it obtained from rally organizer Kylie Jane Kremer to right-wing businessman Mike Lindell that said the President would “unexpectedly” tell his supporters to march to another stage outside the Supreme Court building, which is behind the Capitol.
“It can also not get out about the march because I will be in trouble with the national park service and all the agencies but POTUS is going to just call for it ‘unexpectedly,’” Kremer wrote.
Katrina Pierson, who also helped organize the rally, wrote in an email to her fellow organizers on January 2: “POTUS expectations are to have something intimate at the ellipse and call on everyone to march to the capitol.”
Alexander, another organizer, sent a text message on January 5, 2021, that was obtained by the committee: “Tomorrow: Ellipse then US capitol. Trump is supposed to order us to capitol at the end of his speech but we will see.”
Tuesday’s hearing focused yet again on the role that Republican members of Congress played helping Trump’s efforts to try to overturn the 2020 election.
The committee’s presentation pointed to a December 21, 2020, meeting where Trump met with Republican members to discuss efforts to object to the election in Congress on January 6, citing White House logs to list the 10 members and members-elect who attended the meeting.
In previous hearings, the committee has highlighted how members of Congress tried to help Trump provide evidence of voter fraud and connect the White House with a Justice Department official who was supportive of Trump’s baseless claims of fraud. In addition, the panel provided new evidence showing how multiple members of Congress sought pardons from Trump after January 6.
Murphy noted that the December 2020 meeting happened several days before Trump told top Justice Department officials that he wanted them to publicly announce that the election was illegitimate and “leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.”
The committee also played audio Tuesday of comments from Arizona GOP Rep. Debbie Lesko. In audio from January 5, 2021, Lesko asked congressional leadership to “come up with a safety plan for members,” raising concerns about what would happen on January 6. The audio was obtained by New York Times journalists Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin from their book “This Will Not Pass” and aired on CNN last month.
“I’m actually very concerned about this, because we have who knows how many hundreds of thousands of people coming here. We have Antifa. We also have, quite honestly, Trump supporters, who actually believe that we are going to overturn the election. And when that doesn’t happen – most likely will not happen – they are going to go nuts,” Lesko said.
GOP Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, one of the lawmakers the House panel said attended the December 2020 meeting, is collecting signatures for a letter calling on the House Oversight Committee to hold “immediate” hearings and investigations into debunked election fraud allegations featured in the movie “2000 Mules,” according to a draft copy of the letter obtained by CNN. The film has been widely debunked, and Trump’s former Attorney General William Barr mocked the movie during a taped deposition for the select committee.
Tuesday’s hearing was the select committee’s first chance to show video clips from former Trump White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who was interviewed by the committee in a video deposition on Friday.
Cipollone’s testimony added a top voice to the chorus of former Trump aides who have testified to the committee they told the President there was no substantial evidence that the election was stolen from him.
The video clips of Trump’s former aides, which have been played throughout the January 6 hearings, have helped the committee illustrate how those around Trump didn’t believe his baseless claims about the election, even as he continued to plow ahead with efforts to try to overturn the election leading up to January 6.
The committee issued a subpoena to ultimately obtain Cipollone’s video testimony last week after he was called out at an earlier hearing for not agreeing to sit for a deposition. The committee played 14 clips from Cipollone’s pivotal eight-hour interview last week, which highlighted the split that had grown between Trump and his highest-ranking legal adviser.
In the clips played Tuesday, Cipollone said he was told by then-chief of staff Mark Meadows that in November 2020 Trump would eventually agree to make a graceful departure, that he believed Trump should concede, and that he argued the proposal for the federal government to seize voting machines was a “terrible idea.”
“That’s not how we do things in the United States. There’s no legal authority to do that,” Cipollone said. “There is a way to contest elections. You know, that happens all the time. But the idea that the federal government could come in and seize election machines – I don’t understand why I would even have to tell you why that’s a bad idea for the country. That’s a terrible idea.”
There were numerous clips of Cipollone’s interview played Tuesday, but he could play an even larger role in next week’s hearing that’s expected to focus on what was going on inside the West Wing while the Capitol attack occurred on January 6.
The two in-person witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing described how they were radicalized by right-wing groups and Trump himself, and how it destroyed their lives and continues to pose a threat to American society.
Jason Van Tatenhove, a former national spokesman for the Oath Keepers, described the “radicalization” that he witnessed with the group, and said the country was “lucky” there wasn’t more bloodshed on January 6, when four rioters and one police officer died. Other police officers later died by suicide.
“I’ll admit, I was, at one point, swept up too,” Van Tatenhove said of his time with the Oath Keepers. “There were many red flags, and I probably should have broken from them earlier than I did.”
Stephen Ayers, a convicted Capitol rioter who breached the building on January 6, returned to Capitol Hill on Tuesday as a cooperating witness. He explained how he was “riled up” by Trump’s speech and never planned to go to the Capitol but was “following what (Trump) said” during his Ellipse address.
He said because of January 6, he lost his job, sold his house and was a convicted criminal.
“It changed my life, not for the good, definitely not for the better,” he said. He added that he no longer believes Trump’s lies about the 2020 election, but warned that there are millions of people who still do, which poses a threat for future elections.
“It could end up being down the same path we are right now,” Ayers said. “I felt like I had horse blinders on. Take the blinders off, and make sure you step back and see what’s going on, before it’s too late.”
The committee revealed during Tuesday’s hearing testimony from six participants of a December 18, 2020, Oval Office meeting that devolved into chaos as Trump allies clashed with White House lawyers over various plans for overturning the presidential election – with Trump looking on.
Raskin said the December 18 meeting was “critically important because President Trump got to watch up close for several hours as his White House counsel and other White House lawyers destroyed the baseless factual claims and ridiculous legal arguments offered by Sidney Powell, Mike Flynn and others.”
The committee played video from its interviews with six witnesses who took part in the heated meeting, including Cipollone, who told the panel that he was “not happy” to see people such as Flynn, Powell and Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne in the Oval Office with the former President.
“I don’t think any of these people were providing the President with good advice, so I did not understand how they had gotten in,” Cipollone said in his deposition, according to video played by the committee Tuesday.
Others who were in the room described how the hours-long meeting broke into screaming matches as outside Trump allies Flynn and Powell accused White House advisers of quitting on the President after they challenged their baseless claims about election fraud and outlandish plans for overturning the results.
White House lawyer Eric Herschmann also told the committee that the meeting got to the point where “screaming was completely – completely out there.”
“It was really unprecedented. … I thought it was nuts,” he said in the deposition video, acknowledging he told the group of outside Trump allies to “shut the F up.”
Powell accused the White House lawyers of failing to propose any ideas and showing “nothing but contempt and disdain of the President” during the meeting, according to video from her deposition.
White House aides who participated in the meeting, including Cipollone, also pushed back intensely on the suggestion of naming Powell as a special counsel to investigate voter fraud allegations when it was raised in the meeting.
Flynn had suggested prior to the meeting that Trump could invoke martial law as part of his efforts to overturn the election that he lost to President-elect Joe Biden – an idea that arose again during the meeting in the Oval Office, a source previously told CNN.
At the time, it wasn’t clear whether Trump endorsed the idea, but others in the room forcefully pushed back and shot it down.
Another idea floated in the meeting was an executive order that would permit the government to access voting machines to inspect them, CNN has reported and deposition video played Tuesday confirmed.
The committee was able to illuminate this extraordinary meeting – and another meeting on January 5, while a “stop the steal” rally was underway blocks from the White House – thanks to testimony from multiple White House aides, lawyers, even an official photographer. This strong level of cooperation from Trump insiders made it possible for the panel to bring these details to light.
A series of text messages presented during Tuesday’s hearing are perhaps the most significant and stark piece of evidence yet about how those closest to Trump felt about what he was doing on January 6.
The messages show that Brad Parscale, Trump’s former campaign manager, privately acknowledged that he felt “guilty for helping him win,” and believed the former President’s rhetoric killed someone on January 6, 2021.
Parscale also said that Trump was “asking for civil war,” according to text messages he sent to Pierson, a former Trump campaign spokesperson, which were released by the committee Tuesday.
The correspondence underscores how Trump allies were reacting in real time to what was unfolding on January 6 – events that caused some in the former President’s inner circle to pledge they would no longer support him.
“This week I feel guilty for helping him win,” texted Parscale, who served as Trump campaign’s digital director in 2016 and as Trump’s campaign manager until July 2020, when Bill Stepien took over.
Pierson then tried to reassure Parscale. “You did what you felt right at the time and therefore it was right,” she texted.
“Yeah. But a woman is dead,” texted Parscale, possibly referring to Ashli Babbitt, a pro-Trump rioter who was fatally shot by a US Capitol Police officer after the crowd pushed toward the entrance to the Speaker’s Lobby in the Capitol.
After Pierson disputed that it was Trump’s rhetoric that led to the death, Parscale texted, “Katrina.”
“Yes it was,” Parscale added.
While Parscale’s messages offer a rare window into the minds of those most loyal to Trump on January 6, they also underscore how even those who were most disgusted by the former President’s actions that day were willing to meet with him after declaring they had lost faith.
Many of the previous hearings featured shocking new revelations that even seemed to catch the Justice Department off-guard, especially with the recent bombshell testimony of Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson. The panel has also used its hearings to disclose the fruits of its own investigation, and to publicly prod federal prosecutors to ramp up its criminal investigation.
But things were a little different on Tuesday. In many ways, this time around, the committee took its cues from the Justice Department, and relied heavily on information that previously came out as part of the Justice Department’s major conspiracy cases against the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys,
Lawmakers mentioned internal text messages, details of how these militants planned for violence, and other information connecting these militants to Trump allies Flynn and Roger Stone. Much of this information has been public for months, thanks to court filings from the Justice Department.
This all shows how the various investigations – by the January 6 committee, other congressional panels, the Justice Department, and state prosecutors in Georgia – are overlapping and criss-crossing.
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.
CNN’s Melanie Zanona, Annie Grayer, Alex Rogers, Katelyn Polantz, Andrew Millman and Hannah Rabinowitz contributed to this report.