How the Jan. 6 panel broke through Trump allies’ stonewalling
Donald Trump’s top election-subversion wingmen have stonewalled the Jan. 6 select committee for months, but investigators have found a reliable workaround: their deputies and assistants.
Time and again, the panel has managed to pierce the secrecy of Trump’s inner circle by turning to the aides entrusted with carrying out logistics for their bosses, according to interviews with lawmakers and newly public committee records.
Some of the select panel’s most crucial information has come from Trumpworld staffers, who were often in the room or briefed on sensitive meetings, even if they weren’t central players themselves. It’s a classic investigative strategy that’s paid dividends for select committee investigators, many of whom are seasoned former federal prosecutors.
“We are definitely taking advantage of the fact that most senior-level people in Washington depend on a lot of young associates and subordinates to get anything done,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the select committee. “A lot of these people still have their ethics intact and don’t want to squander the rest of their careers for other people’s mistakes and corruption.”
Aides like Cassidy Hutchinson, a close adviser to former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, and Ken Klukowski, who advised former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, have helped the select committee fill in gaps about Trump’s private meetings, calls and efforts to overturn the 2020 election that investigators could otherwise only obtain from the principal players themselves.
These interviews have given committee members confidence that they’ll be able to tell the full story of Trump’s attempt to stop the transition of power — even though central figures like Clark, Meadows, outside adviser Steve Bannon and attorney John Eastman have declined to provide substantive testimony.
While appearances by Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner drew headlines in recent weeks, select committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said the panel has spent much of its energy lately on figures who are not “household” names but “had knowledge and information about what went on leading up to January 6. And we appreciate them for coming forward with it.”
As Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) put it, “the beauty of emails and meetings is that not many of them are principal to principal. Many of them include staff.”
In addition to providing evidence of what Trump’s key allies were doing in the weeks before Jan. 6, lesser-known aides have also helped the select committee reconstruct a minute-by-minute account of what occurred in the White House on the day of the riot, while a pro-Trump mob ransacked the Capitol. Even in instances where those staffers weren’t providing direct testimony about their own bosses, they were witnesses to important encounters and caught glimpses of Trump or overheard other communications that have proven valuable.
For example, some aides have told the panel who they saw in and around the Oval Office that day and divulged specific times Meadows was making phone calls or had retreated to his private office — details that have helped the committee establish new lines of inquiry.
A major source of that information is Hutchinson, who was Meadows’ assistant during the chaotic final months of the Trump presidency. Hutchinson’s testimony, which spans hundreds of pages across two interviews in February and March, figured prominently in recent court filings lodged by the committee.
Hutchinson’s testimony offered granular details about numerous meetings and phone calls that Meadows convened to discuss options for preventing Joe Biden from taking office. She identified a long list of Republican members of Congress who participated in those meetings — several of whom have themselves refused to cooperate with the investigation.
In addition, Hutchinson described pushback from the White House counsel’s office to legal theories pushed by lawmakers and Trump allies on how to thwart election results, and she was able to identify when many key figures met with Trump himself.
“Almost all, if not all, meetings Mr. Trump had, I had insight on,” Hutchinson told the committee.
In excerpts of her testimony released by the committee, Hutchinson also described Meadows’ post-election trip to Georgia, where he met with aides to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger amid Trump’s effort to pressure the state to reverse his defeat. Plus, she described Meadows’ movements on Jan. 6 — from his early efforts to contact Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Rudy Giuliani to his time with Trump.
“When I had gotten to the West Wing, he was in the Oval dining room,” Hutchinson said of Trump.
“How do you know that?” committee investigator Dan George asked in her February interview.
“Because I heard it announced on my radio which announces the president’s logistical movements,” Hutchinson replied.
And she’s not the only one who provided information about Meadows’ actions that day. The committee has previously released an excerpt of testimony from Ben Williamson, a longtime Meadows aide who followed him from Capitol Hill to the White House. During that interview, the excerpt shows, investigators sought to piece together when the White House was aware of the violence at the Capitol.
“I just wondered, Mr. Williamson, do you remember seeing bike racks being breached?” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the panel’s vice chair, asked Williamson during a January interview.
“Yes, on the TV, correct, congresswoman,” Williamson replied, adding that he talked to Meadows after that breach.
Cooperation from Meadows’ aides has also changed the select committee’s posture in its legal battle to force the former chief of staff to testify. Doug Letter, the House’s top lawyer, told a judge in federal court last week that the cooperation from Meadows’ associates had helped the Jan. 6 panel dramatically narrow its remaining questions.
“We know so much more than we did then,” Letter said during a hearing on Meadows’ lawsuit to block the select committee’s subpoena for testimony and documents.
Meadows’ attorney, George Terwilliger III, emphasized that his client is likely to appeal a potential ruling forcing him to testify, raising the specter that the legal fight could outlast the select panel’s probe, which is scheduled to enter its public hearing phase next month.
Terwilliger did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
And Meadows isn’t the only select committee holdout whose movements aides or internal adversaries have decoded.
The committee has obtained testimony from Alexandra Preate, a press assistant for Bannon, who refused to show up in response to a subpoena in October and is now being prosecuted by DOJ for contempt of Congress. Committee sources indicated that Preate provided useful information about Bannon’s activities before Jan. 6, though they declined to provide specifics. Bannon is due to stand trial in July.
And while Clark pleaded the Fifth in February, declining to testify about Trump’s effort to install him atop DOJ, top aide Klukowski subsequently interviewed with the panel. He appeared along with three Trump DOJ officials — acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen, his deputy Richard Donoghue and Office of Legal Counsel chief Steven Engel — who described their tense encounters with Clark as they sought to avert Trump’s shake-up.
Like Clark, Eastman pleaded the Fifth rather than appear before the select committee. But aides to former Vice President Mike Pence told the committee in painstaking detail about Eastman’s effort to promote a last-ditch theory to overturn the 2020 election.
“Washington is a place where decision-makers will make decisions but it takes a staff to execute and implement them,” Raskin said. “Those people are not bound by the kinds of compromising political allegiances that their bosses are.”