Building on the prior Cassidy Hutchinson hearing, the January 6 Select Committee last Tuesday further advanced the ball on proving that former President Donald Trump intended violence to occur that day, and the committee therefore moved toward proof beyond a reasonable doubt of criminal violations. We incorporate that continued accumulation of evidence in the seventh edition of our criminal evidence tracker (available below and as a separate PDF).
Over the first five hearings, the committee had been presenting a case against Trump that implicated the same two federal crimes that a federal judge found Trump likely violated: 18 U.S.C. 371, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and 18 U.S.C. 1512, obstruction of Congress. In those five hearings, the committee amassed a mountain of evidence that, among other things, Trump knew he lost the election and still sought to procure phony votes, phony electoral certificates, and a phony legal justification for then-Vice President Mike Pence to execute the final stage of essentially a planned coup.
The sixth hearing and last Tuesday’s seventh hearing established a new element of these possible conspiracy and obstruction crimes and other possible offenses: violent intent. Hutchinson established Trump’s violent intent on January 6, and Tuesday’s hearing went back to the origins of Trump’s desperation: his loss of all legitimate avenues to challenge the election after the Electoral College met on December 14 and confirmed Joe Biden as the nation’s next president.
The committee on Tuesday carefully worked its way forward, building a bridge from December 14 to Trump’s violent intent on January 6.
First, they showed that after the December 14 Electoral College vote, multiple close aides and family members knew: it was over. For example, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone shared that he agreed that Trump should have conceded the election at that time. The committee used Cipollone extensively and to good advantage, demonstrating why it was so important that they got his testimony before this particular hearing. Others told Trump directly of their belief that the contestation process had run its course and that he should accept the results.
Trump came to a critical fork in the road on December 18, where in an Oval Office meeting he had to choose between what Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien called “Team Normal” and what some Trump advisers called “Team Crazy.” In that “unhinged” meeting, “Team Crazy,” including Trump lawyer Sidney Powell and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, brought a draft executive order they had prepared wherein they proposed that the U.S. military seize state election machines. That was a plan which generated disagreement from “Team Normal” during the meeting and which Cipollone unequivocally denounced during his deposition.
The committee then showed that Trump chose “Team Crazy” when, shortly after the draft Executive Order was rejected and the hours-long meeting ended, he sent his “will be wild” tweet on December 19 at 1:42am. The evidence presented made clear that the far-right militia and other figures understood that tweet as a call to violence.
In the second half of the hearing, the committee continued to bridge forward from that tweet to the violence of January 6. Longtime Trump ally and outside adviser Roger Stone, former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and others provided some of these critical links. As for Flynn and Stone, both of whom Trump had pardoned during the time between the election and January 6, we learned that they had direct relationships with violent right-wing groups—photographs of Flynn being guarded on December 12 by an indicted Oath Keeper and encrypted text messages from January 5 and 6 between Stone and the indicted leader of the Florida Oath Keepers spoke for themselves. One rally organizer explained that Trump wanted to surround himself with “the crazies” because they were “very very vicious in publicly defending him.”
White House visitor logs presented by the committee revealed that on December 21, Congressmen Brian Babin, Andy Biggs, Matt Gaetz, Louie Gohmert, Paul Gosar, Andy Harris, Jody Hice, Jim Jordan, and Scott Perry and then-Congresswoman-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene met at the White House to discuss January 6. We learned earlier that some of these members, as well as Congressman Mo Brooks, had requested pardons from Trump following the attack on the U.S. Capitol. As Brooks told Meadows, “only citizens can exert the necessary influence” needed to overturn the election. This raises questions as to whether Flynn and Stone are the only ones who provide links between Trump’s tweet and the January 6 violence.
Then as they have done before, the committee used live witnesses to good effect. Former Oath Keepers spokesman Jason Van Tatenhove noted that January 6th “could have been the spark that started a new civil war” through an “armed revolution.” Militant members of the mob expected it to be just that. His testimony drove home the violent threat that the Oath Keepers and similar militia groups pose to the fabric of American democracy—driven and enabled by insurrectionist-in-chief Trump, whose rhetoric presented them with an opportunity to “become a paramilitary force.” Capitol-rioter Stephen Ayres testified that he was taken in by Trump’s repeated lies about the election having been stolen and he, like many others, responded to Trump’s call to Washington. The reference to Sergeant Aquilino Gonell, who was seated in the audience and whose injuries sustained on January 6 have forced him to retire from law enforcement and find other work, was also poignant.
Finally, we already knew of multiple apparent incidents of witness intimidation. In this hearing we learned that Trump may have personally attempted to do so by contacting a witness directly. The committee has referred the matter to the Department of Justice. 18 U.S.C. 1512 punishes witness intimidation with fines, up to 20 years of imprisonment, or both.
We think that this hearing like the ones before it will have an impact on the Department of Justice’s own assessment of the evidence because, as we note above, there was additional proof of Trump’s criminal intent with respect to the violence on January 6. We would only add that the impact is not only on federal prosecutors but also on state prosecutors, including in Georgia with regard to the RICO conspiracy Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis may be pursuing.
Finally, the seventh hearing amplified the historical significance of the committee’s hearings as a whole. We have mounting evidence of crimes that were allegedly committed and conspiracies that were allegedly led by an American president in office. They are attacks against democracy itself—and ones with apparent violent intent no less—that caused the first non-peaceful transfer of power in our nation. These hearings have already secured their place in the history books, and they will continue do so with the next hearing to come this week.
And as important as Cipollone was on Tuesday, he’ll surely be even more significant next week when we hear about the many failures of Donald Trump on January 6. We think that, when you put those details together with all of the evidence we have already, next week could be the week that takes us across a critical line—from that federal judge saying there were more likely than not crimes, to sufficient proof for DOJ and state prosecutors to charge Donald Trump at the federal level, at the state level, or both.
We will continue to update our charts after any future public hearings. The current editions are provided below and as a separate PDF.
Readers may also be interested in our hearing synopses that accompanied each of the earlier editions following those public hearings, including: the initial introduction as well as those for the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth updates.
The January 6th Hearings a … by Just Security