Transcript tales: Notable moments from Jan. 6 panel interviews

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décembre 28, 2022

It’s the final week before a new House GOP majority disbands the Jan. 6 select committee, and its members are using it to dump their thousands of pages of raw evidence into the public domain.

The panel has released transcripts of more than 100 witness interviews — still just a tenth of its total collection — with more dropping daily and shedding new light on the extraordinary effort by former President Donald Trump and his enablers to subvert the 2020 election.

We’ve been combing through the transcripts for new details that weren’t previously aired during the committee’s widely watched public hearings or in its voluminous final report released last week. Here are some of the highlights:

New details on Meadows’ handling of documents

POLITICO first broke the news that Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, told the select committee her then-boss sometimes burned documents in his office fireplace during the weeks leading up to Jan. 6 — including at times after meeting with Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.). Hutchinson’s transcripts offer new details about what she says she witnessed.

It wasn’t just once, Hutchinson recalled. She saw Meadows burn papers after Perry’s visits “between two and four times.” Those meetings, she said, were about “election issues.”

Hutchinson also provided a lengthy description of a bizarre episode in which House Intelligence Committee Republican staffers trucked cartloads of documents to the White House and reviewed them in Meadows’ office for potential release. The timing and description of the episode tracks closely with Trump’s effort to declassify and expose records related to the FBI’s investigation of his campaign’s contacts with Russia, which Trump has long derided as a “witch hunt.”

The former Meadows aide described the unusual way the document review proceeded, noting that the files were brought to the White House from the Capitol and that Meadows kept the original documents in an office safe, closely guarding them and keeping their origins secret. Eventually, he would produce at least eight copies of the documents, with varying degrees of redaction, intending to supply at least two of them to conservative media allies.

Hutchinson noted that one set of documents was meant for House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy — but that the California Republican told her he wanted nothing to do with them. She said based on that conversation, she opted not to offer a set to Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell.

Transcripts also revealed Meadows’ Secret Service code name: “Leverage.”

25th Amendment talk

The select committee has released transcripts from several members of Trump’s Cabinet, mostly detailing the days immediately following the attack on Jan. 6, 2021. Most notable was the interview with former Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, who discussed efforts to persuade Trump or his allies to convene a Cabinet meeting in order to take potential steps to limit Trump’s actions in the final days of his administration. Scalia said he had spoken to other Cabinet members about what to do in the aftermath of the attack.

The panel spoke with Elaine Chao, Trump’s Transportation secretary and wife to McConnell, who resigned immediately after Jan. 6 and took a more muted view of the post-attack discussions. She said she didn’t recall her conversation with Scalia, but she agreed that Trump’s actions on Jan. 6 contributed to her decision to resign.

“I wish that he had acted differently,” Chao said of Trump.

There was little serious consideration of the 25th Amendment, according to the transcripts. Marc Short, former Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, told the panel why: Any genuine effort would take weeks, well beyond the end of Trump’s term, given that the procedure gives the president a chance to appeal.

Short said he received a call from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to discuss the potential invocation of the 25th Amendment, but he said he refused to connect the call to Pence because Short viewed it as a purely political move.

Hutchinson also said she received calls from members of Congress for status updates on discussions on invoking the 25th Amendment. Among those who reached out, she said, were Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), McCarthy and Reps. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) and Mike Johnson (R-La.).

Attorney-client relationships

Trump attorney Sidney Powell, who was a link between the president and some of his fringiest outside advisers, told the select committee that she had attorney-client relationships with four members of Congress over election-related matters. The four: Reps. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas).

Trump allies feared legal repercussions for declaring themselves true electors

Federal prosecutors are eyeing the decisions of pro-Trump Republican activists in seven Biden-won states to design certificates that claimed they were the state’s duly qualified presidential electors. That false electors scheme was a central element of Trump’s bid to remain in power. But in two states — Pennsylvania and New Mexico — the electors insisted that the documents they signed included a caveat: Their status as true electors hinged on whether court rulings affected the outcome of the election.

That caveat may have saved them the legal scrutiny that’s been applied in other states. And now, thanks to the interview of former Trump campaign official Mike Roman, it’s clear why it happened.

Committee staffers read an email from Trump campaign attorney Kenneth Chesebro noting that in a conference call with Pennsylvania’s pro-Trump elector nominees, a concern was raised about the potential for legal exposure if they signed documents without any qualifiers. Chesebro apparently suggested using the caveat in other states as well, but only New Mexico followed suit.

Mundane moments as the Capitol assault began

The select committee transcripts are littered with personal stories about where witnesses were the moment rioters bashed their way into the Capitol. Two from Pence’s top aides stand out. His chief counsel, Greg Jacob, described being at the Capitol refectory on the first floor of the Senate, grabbing a coffee, when a nearby window was smashed in by a rioter with a police shield. That turned out to be Dominic Pezzola, a Proud Boy and the very first rioter to breach the building.

“There was no security that I could see down there, and the glass had shattered just down the hall from where we are, probably 60 feet away,” Jacob recalled.

Jacob said he quickly tapped out an email to attorney John Eastman — an architect of Trump’s last-ditch bid to stay in power — with whom he’d been feuding throughout the day. Jacob told the committee that to get back to Pence, who by then had left the Senate floor, he followed the military aide with the so-called nuclear football, a briefcase with the nuclear codes, convinced that she would be permitted to get close to the vice president.

Short recalled a similar experience, except he was one floor lower than Jacob, getting lunch from the Senate carryout.

“You’re in line waiting for a cheeseburger when all hell breaks loose,” a committee staffer noted during Short’s interview.

Short said he sprinted back to Pence’s location as rioters began to enter the building. “I never got my cheeseburger,” he noted.

The most hostile Jan. 6 interview

Rep.-elect Max Miller’s (R-Ohio) interview with the Jan. 6 select committee was notable if only for the outright hostility he and his lawyer displayed for the panel.

Even other witnesses who had little regard for the committee largely played nice in their interviews. But Miller and his attorney repeatedly derided the panel’s investigators, objected to even basic, foundational questions and openly attacked the committee as an illegitimate “show” rather than a serious probe.

“It’s a simple question,” an unidentified committee interviewer said, at one point, after Miller’s attorney objected to a question about how often Miller interacted with Trump during the months before Jan. 6. “No one is trying to do a perjury trap.”

Later, Miller’s attorney Larry Zukerman attacked the committee investigator for “putting on a show for the congresswoman and the congressman” — a reference to Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who had dialed into the call.

“You know, this is all pomp and circumstance here that will eventually lead to nothing,” Zukerman said.

Eventually, the repeated insults provoke Kinzinger to chime in, accusing Miller’s attorney of being the one trying to “put on a show.” He then inadvertently referred to the committee as “the prosecution,” prompting a sharp response from Miller, who said he viewed Cheney’s presence in the interview as “trying to intimidate me because I knocked your buddy off the block” — a reference to his primary victory over Cheney ally Anthony Gonzalez earlier this year.

Fuentes was eyed by criminal investigators

Nick Fuentes made headlines when Trump hosted him as a dinner guest in November, but the select committee had long eyed him as figure of interest for the role his “Groyper” movement played in the attack on the Capitol. Groypers are the followers of the white nationalist Fuentes, and several of them have been charged for playing leading roles on Jan. 6.Fuentes didn’t go into the Capitol but was outside as rioters clashed with police, and he later described the scene as “awesome.”

In his February deposition, Fuentes pleaded the Fifth, and his attorney informed the select committee that the U.S. attorney’s office in D.C. had labeled him a “subject and possibly a target” of an ongoing criminal probe.

Dan Quayle, the conscience

The former vice president was more ubiquitous than previously known in his effort to advise figures around Trump about how to handle his efforts to subvert the election.

Quayle, notably, advised Pence not to attempt to overturn the election results on Jan. 6 and rather to perform the traditional, constitutionally required task of counting electoral votes certified by the states. But in a transcript of Trump national security adviser Robert O’Brien’s interview, Quayle emerged yet again. He was among the voices, O’Brien noted, telling him not to resign, as Republican mainstays fretted about potential chaos in the closing days of Trump’s administration.

Drama among the organizers of the Jan. 6 rally

The select committee transcripts lay bare the open hostility between different factions of Trump’s “Stop the Steal” allies.

Kimberly Guilfoyle was feuding with GOP fundraiser Caroline Wren. White House adviser Max Miller said Katrina Pierson exaggerated her influence. Pierson advised Trump to keep “psychos” off the rally stage, saying he shouldn’t give speaking slots to Roger Stone, Alex Jones and Michael Flynn.

“You’re done for life with me because I won’t pay you a $60,000 speaking fee for an event you aren’t speaking at?” Wren said to Guilfoyle, per select committee records. “That’s fucking insane.”

Deals to shield evidence from DOJ

The Jan. 6 select committee indicated in numerous interviews with defendants — some awaiting sentencing for storming the Capitol — that it had agreed not to share any evidence it obtained during its interview with the Justice Department, unless that evidence described additional crimes or the committee suspected perjury.

Those promises at least partially explain the panel’s fraught relationship with the Justice Department that became a theme throughout the latter half of its investigation, with the department repeatedly trying to obtain witness transcripts, only to be rebuffed by the panel until mid-December.

Lofgren beefs with Tarrio

When Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio submitted to a deposition — just weeks before he was charged for his role in the events of Jan. 6 — Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) used the moment to pop in for a quick confrontation.

She pointed to something called “Tarrio’s Telegram,” in which Tarrio printed a picture of Lofgren with a caption that apparently called her the c-word, saying she was “blind in one eye.”

“I’m wondering what you meant by that,” she asked Tarrio.

Tarrio said he didn’t recall posting the item. Lofgren then left the deposition as quickly as she arrived.

The issue popped up again, when a committee staffer squarely asked Tarrio whether he called Lofgren the c-word, prompting his lawyer, Dan Hull, to pop in and question the relevance of the questioning.

“That’s a word that’s been around since the 1300s in London. It’s not a particularly nice word for a lot of people, but —”

“You know the history of that word?” a committee staffer replied.

“Unfortunately, I do,” Hull said.

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