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Sunday, January 01, 2023

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Jan. 6 Transcripts Reveal Disagreements That Divided Trump Camp

“Interviews revealed that people in President Donald J. Trump’s orbit had very different views on seizing voting machines, the Proud Boys and each other’s roles.

Former President Donald J. Trump appearing on a screen during a hearing of the Jan. 6 committee.
The House Jan. 6 committee published its final 845-page report on the Capitol attack.Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times

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The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol on Friday released more than 40 additional transcripts of its interviews, bringing the total number of transcripts published to more than 160.

So far, the transcripts have added details to the public’s understanding of how police intelligence failures contributed to the Capitol attackhow former President Donald J. Trump considered “blanket pardons” for those charged, and how Trump-aligned lawyers allegedly tried to steer witness testimony.

The committee is rushing to publish more interviews before Jan. 3, when Republicans will take control of the House. Though the committee conducted more than 1,000 interviews, many of them were informal; only a few hundred were transcribed sessions.

Here are some takeaways from the thousands of pages released this week.

Giuliani thought seizing voting machines could be an impeachable offense.

At a chaotic meeting in the Oval Office in December 2020, outside advisers urged Mr. Trump to use the military to seize voting machines in a bid to rerun the election.

That was too much for even Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer who had encouraged baseless election fraud claims but told Mr. Trump that the plan could be impeachable behavior.

“This may be the only thing that I know of that you ever did that could merit impeachment,” Mr. Giuliani recalled telling the president.

In his interview with the committee, Mr. Giuliani refused to discuss his role in many aspects of the effort to overturn the 2020 election, though he said he had rejected Mr. Trump’s idea of granting him a pardon.

“The president asked me what I thought of it,” he said of the pardon. “And I said I thought it would be a terrible mistake for him.”

Mr. Giuliani was less forthcoming when asked if Mr. Trump had ever thought of pardoning himself. “That would be privileged, actually, if he raised that with me,” he said.

The Secret Service was concerned about the Proud Boys leader’s White House visit.

On Dec. 12, 2020, hours before hundreds of members of his far-right group took part in a pro-Trump protest, Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys, posted a photo of the White House steps on social media.

“Last minute invite to an undisclosed location,” Mr. Tarrio wrote on Parler, a right-wing social media app.

Newly released emails and testimony suggest that some Secret Service agents were concerned about how a prominent far-right extremist had so easily gained access to the White House.

Committee investigators later determined that the White House visit had been a public event that was likely arranged by a friend of Mr. Tarrio, Bianca Gracia, the founder of a group called Latinos for Trump.

In an email obtained by the committee, Ron Rowe, the chief of staff to the Secret Service’s director, asked Bobby Engel, a Secret Service agent: “Can we get some specifics on who submitted him for the tour? Why didn’t we pick up on his role/membership in the Proud Boys?”

Anthony Ornato, a former Secret Service agent who was Mr. Trump’s deputy chief of staff for operations, told the panel that he did not recall if he knew who the Proud Boys were at the time of Mr. Tarrio’s visit. The group’s name notably came up during a 2020 presidential debate.

Mr. Tarrio is one of five members of the Proud Boys who are now on trial in Washington, where they are facing charges of seditious conspiracy. Opening arguments are expected to begin next month.

Virginia Thomas, wearing a blue jacket and colorful patterned scarf, walking down a hall.
Virginia Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, denied that she had discussed her political activities with her husband.Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

Virginia ‘Ginni’ Thomas tried to play down her role in contesting the election.

In a wide-ranging interview, Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas who is known as Ginni, sought to play down her role in attempts to challenge election results.

Ms. Thomas acknowledged that she had exchanged text messages after the election with Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, in which she recommended that he support Sidney Powell, a pro-Trump lawyer who was pushing false accusations that foreign governments had hacked into the country’s voting machines.

Ms. Thomas denied that she had discussed her activities with her husband. But she did acknowledge that she had been referring to Justice Thomas as her “best friend” in texts with Mr. Meadows, in which she said a talk with her “best friend” had cheered her up while she was distraught over Mr. Trump’s loss.

“My husband often administers spousal support to the wife that’s upset,” she told investigators.

Ms. Thomas also acknowledged taking part in a project called FreeRoots that had sent mass emails to state lawmakers in key swing states saying they had “power to decide if there were problems in their election.”

In a tense exchange with Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming and vice chairwoman of the panel, Ms. Thomas said that she still believed that the election had been marred by fraud. When questioned further, Ms. Thomas could not come up with any specific instances of fraud.

C.I.A. staff had a ‘suicide pact’ to resign if Trump fired the director.

New details also arose this week about plans to replace the director of the Central Intelligence Agency with a Trump loyalist in the final stages of the administration. The committee received testimony about a mass resignation plan at the C.I.A. in opposition to Mr. Trump’s attempt to replace Gina Haspel as director with Kashyap P. Patel, a lawyer and staunch supporter of the president.

According to Alyssa Farah Griffin, the former White House communications director, Ms. Haspel had a “suicide pact” in place, in which the entire intelligence community would resign if she were removed from her post.

“Allegedly, for about 14 minutes, Kash was actually the C.I.A. director,” Ms. Griffin said.

Trump’s White House was marked by constant infighting.

One theme throughout the transcripts is the intense infighting that was a constant feature of the Trump White House. Lawyers fought with lawyers. Communications staff fought among themselves. The president berated aides of all ranks.

Some examples: Ms. Griffin provided a scathing assessment of Kayleigh McEnany, the former White House press secretary: “I am a Christian woman, so I will say this. Kayleigh is a liar and an — She’s a opportunist.”

The Trump adviser Jason Miller told investigators he was “pissed off” when he learned that Cleta Mitchell, a longtime conservative lawyer, listed his name as the official to contact on a document she circulated denying that President Biden had won the election. “I called Cleta and said, ‘What the hell?’” Mr. Miller said. “And she said, ‘Yeah, you guys weren’t moving fast enough, so I just put your name on it and sent it out.’”

Trump didn’t want to do ‘a big PR push’ for a Capitol Police officer who died after Jan. 6.

The transcripts also show the conditional nature of the former president’s support for law enforcement. Mr. Trump agreed at the urging of his staff to lower the flag over the White House to honor a Capitol Police officer who died after Jan. 6, but “was adamant that we not do a press release or a big PR push,” Mr. Miller wrote in a text message.

“We want to make it clear nobody is a stronger supporter of law enforcement than President Trump but we don’t want to blast it out,” Mr. Miller wrote.

A furniture executive bankrolled private jets for Trump’s circle.

Testimony released Friday detailed how Patrick Byrne, a former chief executive of the furniture retail company Overstock, took on the role of a financier who chartered private jets for people in Mr. Trump’s circle as they fought election results.

Trips included bringing Trump supporters and members of the Proud Boys to attend rallies in Washington before Jan. 6, taking lawyers and cyberexperts to investigate voting machines and transporting people who signed affidavits about election fraud.

Mr. Byrne also attended a White House meeting in which participants urged Mr. Trump to seize voting machines. In his deposition, Mr. Byrne said he had called for the meeting and asked the president to “put us in, coach.”

Senator Mike Lee behind a podium with Senators Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham behind him.
Senator Mike Lee initially supported Mr. Trump, but ultimately voted to certify the election for Mr. Biden.Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

In one telling, the fake electors scheme originated from a senator.

According to Ms. Mitchell, Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, came up with the idea to submit alternate electors to cast their ballots for the former president instead of Mr. Biden.

“It was actually Mike Lee’s idea,” she told investigators.

Mr. Lee has said he was eager to fight alongside Mr. Trump, but backed off when evidence of a stolen election did not appear. Mr. Lee ultimately voted to certify the election for Mr. Biden.”

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