WASHINGTON (CN) — At a hearing that ended with a new witness tampering allegation against Donald Trump, the select House committee on Jan. 6 probed the role of violent extremist groups in the deadly attack on the Capitol and Trump's plans to march with them.
“Basically the president got everybody riled up and told everybody to head on down,” Stephen Ayres, a rioter who pleaded guilty for his role in breaching the Capitol on Jan. 6, testified to the committee this afternoon. “We basically just followed what he said.”
The committee showed how Trump's messaging became more explicit as the odds grew longer on his legal challenges to the 2020 presidential election results.
“President Trump is a 76-year-old man, he is not an impressionable child. Just like everyone else in our country, he is responsible for his own actions and his own choices,” Representative Liz Cheney said Tuesday. “No rational or sane man in his position could disregard that info and reach the opposite conclusion, and Donald Trump cannot escape responsibility by being willfully blind.”
Cheney went on to drop a bombshell at the close of Tuesday's hearing, noting that Trump made a call last week to a committee witness who has not yet appeared publicly. The witness did not answer the phone, and the information has been referred to the Department of Justice.
Among videotaped testimony made public Tuesday, the panel shared statements from a group of Trump officials including White House counsel Pat Cipollone, former Attorney General William Barr, former press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and Ivanka Trump, the former president's eldest daughter, saying they believed Trump had lost the 2020 election when the Electoral College met on Dec. 14.
Trump meanwhile continued his efforts to stay in power.
Cipollone spoke in particular about a "terrible idea" for an executive order that would have directed the military to immediately seize voting machines.
“To have the federal government seize voting machines, that’s a terrible idea for the country. That’s not how we do things in the United States. There’s no legal authority to do that,” Cipollone testified.
Trump purportedly discussed the order on Dec. 18 at a meeting with his criminally indicted former national security adviser Michael Flynn, lawyer and conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell, and Patrick Byrne, a businessman who provided financial backing for several challenges to the 2020 election results.
The group gained access to the Oval Office that night, despite having no appointment with the president. Members of the White House staff were not present at the start of the meeting, which ultimately went on for six hours.
The executive order being discussed would have given Trump the authority to appoint a special counsel to seize machines and prosecute so-called election fraud. Powell was the prospective special counsel.
“I was vehemently opposed. I didn’t think she should be appointed to anything,” Cipollone said in recorded testimony.
Witnesses described the Dec. 18 meeting as a rowdy affair with screaming and heated exchanges between the visitors and White House staff.
“West wing is UNHINGED," Cassidy Hutchinson, then an aide to Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, texted Trump’s deputy chief of staff Anthony Ornato after the meeting.
Rudy Giuliani testified in recorded testimony that the group argued White House attorneys were “pussies" for not backing the executive order.
The tweet heard ‘round the far right
Hours after the meeting, where the executive order was eventually shut down, Trump posted a tweet on Dec. 19 that House investigators say far-right groups such as the Proud Boys took as a direct order for the Jan. 6 attack.
“Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” Trump wrote, encouraging his supporters to head to Washington on the same day Congress was set to certify the results of the Electoral College.