WASHINGTON | Destroyed documents. Suggestions of pardoning violent rioters. Quiet talks among cabinet officials about whether then-President Donald Trump should be removed from office.
Interview transcripts released by House investigators in recent days — more than 100 so far — give further insight into the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection and the weeks leading up to it, as Trump tried to overturn his defeat in the presidential election. The nine-member committee conducted more than 1,000 interviews, and the lawmakers are gradually releasing hundreds of transcripts after issuing a final report last week. The panel will dissolve on Jan. 3 when the new Republican-led House is sworn in.
While some of the witnesses were more forthcoming than others, the interviews altogether tell the full story of Trump’s unprecedented scheming, the bloody chaos of the attack on the Capitol and the fears of lawmakers and the former president’s own aides as he tried to upend democracy and the popular will.
Some highlights from the interview transcripts released so far:
WHITE HOUSE AIDE TELLS ALL
Previously little-known White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson drew national attention when she testified in a surprise hearing this summer about Trump’s words and actions around the Jan. 6 attack — his rage after security thwarted his efforts to go to the Capitol that day and how he knew that some of his supporters were armed.
The committee has so far released four of her closed-door interviews, revealing new details about what she said she observed in her time as an aide to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Among other revelations, Hutchinson told the committee she had seen Meadows burning documents in his office fireplace “roughly a dozen times.” She said she didn’t know what the documents were or whether they were items that legally should have been preserved.
A spokesman for Meadows declined to comment on Hutchinson’s testimony.
Hutchinson also spoke at length about her moral struggles as she decided how much to disclose — even doing research on Watergate figures who similarly testified about working in President Richard Nixon’s White House.
“My character and my integrity mean more to me than anything,” Hutchinson says she decided, returning to the committee with a new lawyer in June after three previous interviews.
PARDONS FOR EVERYONE?
After the insurrection, Trump floated the idea of a blanket pardon for all participants, but the White House counsel at the time, Pat Cipollone, discouraged the idea, according to testimony from Johnny McEntee, an aide who served as director of the presidential personnel office and was interviewed by the panel in March.
Trump then asked about limiting pardons to only those people who entered the Capitol but who did not engage in violence, but that idea was also met with some pushback, McEntee recalled. He said Trump appeared persuaded by the advice and said he was not aware that the idea ever came up again.
Separately, McEntee said that Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., told him he was seeking a preemptive pardon from Trump as he faced a federal child sex trafficking investigation. Gaetz did not receive such a pardon and has not faced any charges in connection to the probe.
Hutchinson testified that Meadows’ office became so inundated with pardon requests that some turned to Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner to help facilitate.
THE 25TH AMENDMENT
The panel interviewed several of Trump’s Cabinet secretaries about discussions of invoking Section 4 of the 25th Amendment — the forceful removal of Trump from power by his own Cabinet. While some acknowledged it had been discussed, it appears that it was never a likely scenario.
Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says he spoke fleetingly with then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the idea.
“It came up very briefly in our conversation,” Mnuchin testified in July. “We both believed that the best outcome was a normal transition of power, which was working, and neither one of us contemplated in any serious format the 25th Amendment.”
Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the committee he witnessed a brief conversation between the two Cabinet secretaries in the White House and heard the phrase “25th Amendment.” His transcript has not yet been released, but investigators quoted Milley’s interview to both Pompeo and Mnuchin in their interviews.
Pompeo told the committee he didn’t recall the conversation. “I would have viewed someone speaking about the potential of invoking the 25th Amendment as just absolutely preposterous.”
Vice President Mike Pence later dismissed the idea in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying the mechanism should be reserved for when a president is medically or mentally incapacitated. Pence chief of staff Mark Short told the panel that the talk was “a political game” and the process would have taken weeks to play out. “We had 10 days left in the administration,” Short told the panel.
TRUMP FAMILY TESTIFIES
The committee interviewed two of the former president’s children, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, about their conversations with their father during the Jan. 6 attack and in the days before and after.
Trump Jr. did not answer many of the committee’s questions, frequently saying he did not recall events or conversations. He did explain why he texted Meadows the afternoon of Jan. 6, as the attack was unfolding, to say that his father needed to “condemn this s—” immediately and that Trump’s tweets had not been strong enough. “My father doesn’t text,” Trump Jr. said.
Ivanka Trump, who was in the White House with her father on Jan. 6, was also vague in many of her answers. She spoke with the committee about working with her father to write his tweets that day, encouraging him to make a strong statement as the rioters broke into the Capitol. And she testified that she heard Trump’s side of a “heated” phone call with Pence that morning as her father tried to encourage Pence to object to the congressional certification that day. Pence refused to do so.
She also testified that she received a call and a text from Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who was in the Capitol and told her that “the president needs to put out a very strong tweet telling people to go home and to stop the violence now.”
‘GIVE ME FIVE DEAD VOTERS’
Trump lawyer Christina Bobb testified that Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a top ally of Trump, asked some of the former president’s advisers for evidence of fraud so he could “champion” it. Trump falsely claimed there was widespread fraud in the election, despite court rulings and election officials in all 50 states who said otherwise.
Graham told lawyers he would love to support the cause.
“Don’t tell me everything because it’s too overwhelming,” Bobb quotes Graham as saying. “Just give me five dead voters; give me, you know, an example of illegals voting. Just give me a very small snapshot that I can take and champion.”
He did nothing with the information he was given, Bobb said. Graham voted on Jan. 6 to certify President Joe Biden’s win.
NATIONAL GUARD FRUSTRATION
The mob that stormed the Capitol would have faced a much harsher law enforcement response had it been comprised mostly of African Americans, testified retired Army Maj. Gen. William Walker, who led the D.C. National Guard at the time. Walker is now the House Sergeant at Arms.
“I’m African American. Child of the sixties,” Walker testified. “I think it would have been a vastly different response if those were African Americans trying to breach the Capitol. As a career law enforcement officer, part-time soldier … the law enforcement response would have been different.”
The National Guard didn’t arrive at the Capitol for several hours, leaving overwhelmed police officers at the mercy of the violent mob as Pentagon officials said they were sorting out the necessary approvals. More than 100 officers were injured, many seriously, as Trump’s supporters beat them and ran over them to get inside.
Walker expressed deep frustration with the delays, but said he didn’t think that was because the insurrectionists were mostly white.
“I don’t think race was part of the military’s decision paralysis,” he said in one interview, adding, “I think they just didn’t want to do it.”
EXTREMIST GROUP LEADERS
Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio asserted his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination in response to some questions, with his attorney at times telling investigators his client did not belong to the extremist group, whose associates are now facing rare sedition charges in a federal case prosecuted by the Justice Department. But Tarrio himself told investigators he became chairman of the Proud Boys after there was a split vote among eight “elders” of the group. “I took that title for myself,” he said.
Tarrio, who had been released from jail on the eve of the insurrection, wasn’t present for the attack. But prosecutors claim he kept command over the Proud Boys who attacked the Capitol and cheered them on from afar.
He told the panel that in the Proud Boys, the “first degree of membership is that you are a Western chauvinist” and that you “refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.”
Tarrio met Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the extremist group Oath Keepers, in a garage the night of Jan. 5, ahead of the attack. “I still don’t like Stewart Rhodes,” Tarrio said.
Rhodes, who was also interviewed by the panel, was convicted In November of seditious conspiracy for what prosecutors said was a plot for an armed rebellion to stop the transfer of presidential power. Rhodes, who amassed weapons ahead of the attack, declined to answer many questions as well.
Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant, Farnoush Amiri, Lisa Mascaro and Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.