Jan. 6 probe: Trump set rally after ‘unhinged’ White House meeting, attempted to contact panel witness
“We will take any effort to influence witness testimony very seriously,” Cheney said.
In a heated, “unhinged” dispute, Donald Trump fought objections from his White House lawyers to a plan, eventually discarded, to seize states’ voting machines and then, in a last ditch effort to salvage his presidency, summoned supporters to march on the U.S. Capitol for what turned into the deadly riot, the House Jan. 6 committee revealed Tuesday.
In another disclosure, raising the question of witness tampering, the panel’s vice-chair said Trump himself had tried to contact a person who was talking to the committee about potential testimony. And still more new information revealed that Trump was so intent on making a showing at the Capitol that his aides secretly planned for a second rally stage there on the day of the attack.
Rep. Liz Cheney, the panel’s vice chair, said it had notified the Justice Department that Trump had contacted the witness who has yet to appear in public.
“We will take any effort to influence witness testimony very seriously,” said Cheney, a Wyoming Republican.
The panel showed graphic and violent text messages and played videos of right-wing figures, including Alex Jones, and others vowing that Jan. 6 would be the day they would fight for the president.
Messages beaming across the far-right forums laid out plans for the big day that they said Trump was asking for in Washington. It would be a “red wedding,” said one, a reference to a mass killing in “Game of Thrones.” “Bring handcuffs.”
Several members of the U.S. Capitol Police who fought the mob that day sat stone-faced in the front row of the committee room.
Members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers groups are now facing rare sedition charges over the siege. Nine people died the day of the attack and in its aftermath.
“This tweet served as a call to action — and in some cases a call to arms,” said one panel member, Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla.
The committee revealed new details about what happened next, as planning was underway for Trump’s big rally on the Ellipse outside the White House, and aides scrambled to secretly set up a second stage outside the Capitol complex across the street from the Supreme Court.
In a Jan. 4 text message from rally organizer Kylie Kremer to Trump ally Mike Lindell, the MyPillow CEO, Kremer explains: “This stays only between us, we are having a second stage at the Supreme Court again after the Ellipse. POTUS is going to have us march there/the Capitol.”
Kremer warns that if the information gets out, others will try to sabotage the plans and the organizer “will be in trouble” with the National Park Service and other federal agencies.
”But POTUS is going to just call for it ‘unexpectedly,’” Kremer wrote.
On the morning of Jan. 5, Trump ally Ali Alexander sent a similar text to a conservative journalist saying: “Ellipse then US capitol. Trump is supposed to order us to capitol at the end of his speech but we will see.”
And the panel showed a draft tweet from Trump, which was obtained from the National Archives and never sent, calling on supporters to arrive early for the rally and expect crowds.
“March to the Capitol after. Stop the Steal!” the draft Trump tweet said.
Committee member Murphy said, “This was not a spontaneous call to action, but rather was a deliberate strategy.”
Tuesday’s was the only hearing this week, as new details emerge. An expected prime-time hearing has been rescheduled for July 21.
Cheney said the Trump team is shifting its strategy in dealings with the committee, and is now trying to shield the former president from blame, suggesting he received bad advice from “crazy” advisers or was otherwise “incapable” of understanding some of the details of the situation.
Trump is “not an impressionable child,” Cheney said. “Just like everyone else in our country he is responsible for his own actions.”
The panel also heard from a sorrowful Stephen Ayres, the Ohio father who said he got caught up in social media after the election, but has since lost his job and his house after joining the mob at the Capitol. He pleaded guilty last month to disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building.
When Trump summoned supporters to Washington, “I felt like I needed to be down here,” he testified.
Ayers hugged and apologized to the police officers after the hearing.
“The problem of politicians whipping up mob violence to destroy fair elections is the oldest domestic enemy of constitutional democracy,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.
Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick, Nomaan Merchant and Michael Balsamo in Washington and Michael Kunzelman in College Park, Maryland, contributed to this report.
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