Cheney: Trump attempted to contact Jan. 6 witness

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sharply raising the issue of witness tampering, the Jan. 6 committee revealed Tuesday that Donald Trump tried to contact a person who spoke to the panel about his investigation of the former president and the 2021 attack on the Capitol.

“We will take any effort to influence witness testimony very seriously,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. She said the committee informed the Department of Justice.

The person Trump tried to contact declined to answer or answer his call, Cheney said. Instead, the person alerted his lawyer who contacted the committee.

Cheney’s disclosure was not the first time the panel has raised concerns about witnesses being contacted by Trump’s team in a way that could reflect or at least create the appearance of improper influence. He disclosed examples last week of other times witnesses were sensitized by Trump allies, with some suggesting he was aware they were speaking to the committee, prior to the panel testimony.

A Trump spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Tuesday’s hearing was the seventh for the Jan. 6 panel. Over the past month, the panel has created a narrative of a defeated Trump “detached from reality,” clinging to false allegations of voter fraud and working feverishly to reverse his electoral defeat. It all culminated in the attack on the Capitol, the committee says.

Tuesday’s session revealed details of a ‘messy’ late-night meeting at the White House with Donald Trump’s outside lawyers suggesting the military seize state voting machines in a last-ditch effort to prosecute his false allegations of voter fraud before the defeated president called a crowd for the United States Capitol.

The committee investigating last year’s attack on Capitol Hill is working to show how far-right extremists responded to Trump’s call for a big rally in Washington. As dozens of lawsuits and his voter fraud allegations have failed, Trump met late on December 18 with attorneys at the White House before tweeting the invitation to the rally — “Be there, it’ll be wild! ” Members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers groups now face rare charges of sedition because of the siege.

“This tweet served as a call to action – and in some cases a call to arms.” said panel member, Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla.

The panel featured new video testimony from Pat CipolloneTrump’s former White House attorney, recalling the explosive meeting at the White House when Trump’s outside legal team introduced a draft executive order to seize state voting machines — a “terrible idea,” said he declared.

“That’s not how we do things in the United States,” Cipollone said.

Another aide called the meeting “unbalanced.”

Cipollone and other White House officials rushed to intervene during the late-night meeting Trump had with attorneys Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, retired national security aide Michael Flynn and the chief from online retail company Overstock. He broke out screaming and screaming, another aide testified.

“Where is the evidence ?” Cipollone demanded false allegations of electoral fraud.

“What they were proposing, I thought, was crazy,” testified another White House official, Eric Herschmann.

But Trump was intrigued and basically told his White House lawyers that at least Powell and outside allies were trying to get something done.

“You’re not tough enough,” Giuliani recalled in video testimony, with the president telling White House lawyers. “You’re p——-,” he said, using foul language.

As night turned to morning, Trump tweeted out the call for supporters to come to Washington on Jan. 6, when Congress tallies the Electoral College results. “Be there. Will be wild,” Trump wrote.

Immediately, the extremists reacted.

The panel showed graphic and violent text messages and played videos of right-wing figures, including Alex Jones, and others explaining that January 6 would be the day they would fight for president.

In vulgar and often racist language, posts on far-right forums foresaw the big day they said Trump was asking Washington for. It would be a “red wedding,” one said, a reference to the massacre. “Bring handcuffs.”

Several members of the United States Capitol Police who fought the mob that day sat stone-faced in the front row of the committee room.

“The problem of politicians stoking mob violence to destroy fair elections is the nation’s oldest enemy of constitutional democracy,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said in his opening remarks.

At the witness table to testify in person was Jason Van Tatenhove, an ally of Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes. Another witness was Stephen Ayres, who pleaded guilty last month to disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building. He said that on Jan. 2, 2021, he posted an image that said Trump was “calling on us to come back to Washington on Jan. 6 for a big protest.”

The committee is investigating whether extremist groups, including the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and QAnon adherents who previously sided with Trump, have coordinated with White House allies for Jan. 6. The Oath Keepers denied there was a plan to storm the Capitol.

The committee began the second half of the hearing by drawing connections between Trump allies Flynn and Roger Stone and extremist groups preparing to come to Washington.

It showed a photo of Rhodes, the head of the Oath Keeper, walking with Flynn, Trump’s former national security aide, outside the Capitol at one point.

It was the only hearing this week, as new details emerge. An expected prime-time hearing on Thursday has been suspended for the time being.

This week’s session comes after former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson provided stunning accounts under the oath of an angry Trump who knowingly sent armed supporters to the Capitol on Jan. 6, then refused to quickly call them back as violence erupted, siding with the rioters as they threateningly sought the Vice President Mike Pence.

Trump said Cassidy’s account was not true. But Cipollone in Friday’s private session did not contradict earlier testimony. Raskin said the panel plans to use “a lot” of Cipollone’s testimony.

The Proud Boys said their membership grew after Trump, in his first debate with Biden, declined to condemn the group outright, but instead told them to “step back and stand by.”

The Oath Keepers had also organized for Jan. 6 and established a “rapid response force” at a nearby hotel in Virginia, according to court documents.

The panel also noted that many of the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol appeared to be QAnon supporters. Federal authorities have explicitly linked at least 38 rioters to the pro-Trump conspiracy theory, according to a review of court records by The Associated Press.

One of the most recognizable figures in the attack was a shirtless Arizona man who called himself the “QAnon Shaman”, carried a spear and wore face paint and a Viking hat with fur and horns.

The panel showed, in fast-paced hearings and with eyewitness testimony from the former president’s inner circle, that Trump was told “again and again,” as Vice President Liz put it. Cheney, R-Wyo., that he had lost the election and his claims of voter fraud were simply untrue. Nonetheless, Trump summoned his supporters to Washington and then sent them to Capitol Hill in what President Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., called an “attempted coup.”

___ Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Michael Balsamo in Washington and Michael Kunzelman in College Park, Maryland, contributed to this report.

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For full coverage of the January 6 hearings, visit https://www.apnews.com/capitol-siege.

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