A common answer to Jan. 6 panel questions: The Fifth
By Luke Broadwater, Maggie Haberman and Alan Feuer
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol released a batch of 34 transcripts last week that showed witnesses repeatedly stymying parts of the panel’s inquiry by invoking their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Conservative lawyer John Eastman, who advised former President Donald Trump on how to try to overturn the 2020 election, cited his Fifth Amendment right 155 times.
Political operative Roger Stone did so in response to more than 70 questions, including ones regarding his communications with Trump and his role in the events of Jan. 6. Activist Charlie Kirk took a similar stance, citing the potential for self-incrimination in response to most of the committee’s questions, even about his age and education (he was willing to divulge the city in which he resides).
Time and again, the panel ran into roadblocks as it tried to investigate the effort to overturn the election, the transcripts show.
“Trump lawyers and supporters Jenna Ellis, John Eastman, Phil Waldron and Michael Flynn all invoked their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination when asked by the select committee what supposed proof they uncovered that the election was stolen,” the committee wrote in an executive summary of its final report. “Not a single witness — nor any combination of witnesses — provided the select committee with evidence demonstrating that fraud occurred on a scale even remotely close to changing the outcome in any state.”
The transcripts released Wednesday do shine some light on previously unknown aspects of the committee’s investigation. As part of their questioning, the committee’s lawyers referred to emails or text messages they had obtained through subpoenas, quoting aloud in hopes of eliciting more information from the recalcitrant witnesses.
During the questioning of Mike Roman, director of Election Day operations for Trump’s campaign, a committee lawyer revealed communications that investigators said showed that Roman sent Gary Michael Brown, who served as the deputy director, to deliver documents to the Capitol related to a plan to put forward false slates of pro-Trump electors.
After doing so, Brown sent a photo of himself wearing a suit and a mask with the U.S. Capitol over his shoulder. “Mission accomplished,” he wrote.
Investigators also asked Kelli Ward, the chair of the Arizona Republican Party, who sued to try to block the committee’s subpoena, about a text she sent to a member of the Maricopa County board of supervisors that said: “We need you to stop the counting.”
And investigators revealed how disputes broke out among organizers over the financing of the rally that preceded the violence on Jan. 6, including a payment of $60,000 to Kimberly Guilfoyle, the fiancée of Donald Trump Jr., for her brief speech.
“You’re done for life with me because I won’t pay you a $60,000 speaking fee for an event you aren’t speaking at?” Caroline Wren, a Trump fundraiser, wrote, as she implored Guilfoyle to call and thank Julie Jenkins Fancelli, an heir to the Publix supermarket fortune who had donated millions to put on the rally. “This poor woman has donated $1 million to Don’s Senate PAC and $3 million to this rally and you’ll can’t take five minutes out of your day to thank her. It’s so humiliating. And then you have the audacity to ask me why I won’t have her pay you $60,000?”
The transcripts also show the combative stance some witnesses and their lawyers took during questioning. For instance, a lawyer for white nationalist Nick Fuentes repeatedly challenged the committee’s investigators and accused them of grandstanding.
“I will note the irony of an accusation of grandstanding in a deposition of Mr. Fuentes,” a lawyer for the committee shot back.
Another time, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., asked Stone if he believed “coups are allowed in our constitutional system.”
Stone replied: “I most definitely decline to respond to your question.”
The release of the transcripts came a day before the committee’s planned release of its more than 800-page final report, likely the final act of an 18-month investigation during which the lawmakers interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses.
Hundreds more transcripts are expected to be released before the end of the year, including those in which witnesses provided extensive testimony used by the committee in reaching its decision to make criminal referrals to the Justice Department for Trump, Eastman and others involved in the effort to keep Trump in power after his 2020 election loss.
In an attempt to rebut the committee’s final report, five House Republicans led by Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana released their own report into the attack on the Capitol. That 141-page document criticizes law enforcement failures, accuses Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her senior team of bungling Capitol security and tries to recast Trump’s role in the events of Jan. 6 as a voice for peace and calm.
“Leadership and law enforcement failures within the U.S. Capitol left the complex vulnerable on Jan. 6, 2021,” the Republican report stated. “The Democrat-led investigation in the House of Representatives, however, has disregarded those institutional failings that exposed the Capitol to violence that day.”
A bipartisan Senate report last year also detailed Capitol security failures but did not find any blame in the actions of Pelosi or her staff, who fled from a mob of Trump supporters chanting her name as the speaker tried to get the National Guard to respond to the violence.
The Senate report found top federal intelligence agencies failed to adequately warn law enforcement officials before the Jan. 6 riot that pro-Trump extremists were threatening violence, including plans to “storm the Capitol,” infiltrate its tunnel system and “bring guns.”
An FBI memo on Jan. 5 warning of people traveling to Washington for “war” at the Capitol never made its way to top law enforcement officials.
The Capitol Police failed to widely circulate information its own intelligence unit had collected as early as mid-December about the threat of violence on Jan. 6, including a report that said right-wing extremist groups and supporters of Trump had been posting online and in far-right chat groups about gathering at the Capitol, armed with weapons, to pressure lawmakers to overturn his election loss.
A spokesperson for the House Jan. 6 committee declined to comment.