House investigators investigating last year’s attack on the US Capitol have targeted a figure they believe crucial in discerning former President Trump’s actions during the long hours of the insurgency: Trump’s former senior Attorney.
Pat Cipollone, who served as White House Counsel for the last half of Trump’s tenure, has emerged over the past few days as a key player in the behind-the-scenes drama that unfolded on Jan. 6, 2021, after a mob broke out at the White House Trump supporters had breached the Capitol, and a team of Trump’s increasingly desperate aides were scrambling to persuade a reluctant president to recall them.
During Tuesday’s revealing hearing on Capitol Hill, Cassidy Hutchinson, the former senior adviser to Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, said Cipollone hinted at problems in advance on Jan. 6 and became angry during the attack when Trump and Meadows failed to take action Curbing violence, even as the mob threatened to kill Vice President Mike Pence.
“Mark, something has to be done or people will die and the blood will be on their hands,” Cipollone Meadows warned, according to Hutchinson’s firsthand account.
Cipollone appears to be a useful foil for Meadows. Both men had first-hand insight into the many plans to keep the President in power. But where the committee has labeled Meadows a servile Trump loyalist, they have made it clear that they see Cipollone as one of the few inner-circle figures protesting the president’s bellicose plans for January 6, including his persistent intention to with him to march supporters to the Capitol that day.
“Please make sure we don’t go to the Capitol, Cassidy,” Hutchinson told the select committee, relaying Cipollone’s request to her on the morning of Jan. 6. “Keep in touch with me. We will be charged with every crime imaginable if we get this movement going.”
Cipollone has met with investigators informally behind closed doors but has not testified under oath. That’s a mistake, said Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the special committee’s vice chair, who has used the public hearings to urge its cooperation.
“We think the American people deserve to hear personally from Mr. Cipollone,” she said during another hearing on June 21.
After numerous public pleas, the committee lost patience on Wednesday and issued a subpoena for Cipollone’s testimony.
The subpoena said he was “uniquely positioned” to help the committee investigate Trump’s “awareness of and involvement in activities designed to undermine the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.”
The White House Counsel was aware of Trump’s various strategies to stay in power after his election defeat. It was Cipollone’s office that pushed back the plan to send bogus voters from states Trump had lost for being “unlawful.”
“Hey, that’s not legally sound, we’ve spelled that out internally, it’s okay that you think that, but we’re not going to be entertaining this in an official capacity of the White House on behalf of the President, we’re closing it,” Hutchinson characterized the White House office, as it said in part of its testimony released in court documents in April.
He also attended the now infamous Oval Office meeting on Jan. 3, where a host of legal advisers talked Trump out of firing his acting attorney general and replacing him with a Justice Department attorney willing to substantiate the unsubstantiated allegations of the to bring Presidents up on voter fraud.
The idea that the Justice Department would falsely tell key states that it suspected such fraud, Cipollone warned at the meeting, was the legal equivalent of a “murder-suicide pact,” according to testimony from Richard Donoghue, presented last week was then Deputy Attorney General.
Cipollone or his office also repeatedly raised legal concerns about Trump’s planned Jan. 6 speech and actions, and repeatedly attempted to pressure the White House into action as the attack unfolded.
The White House Attorney’s office wanted to remove the language from Trump’s speech and encourage his supporters to “fight” and march to the Capitol. Trump did both anyway.
“Both Mr. Herschmann and the White House Office asked the speechwriters not to record that language for legal reasons and also because of the visuals of what the President wanted to do that day,” Hutchinson said, referring to another top -Trump attorney Eric Herschmann.
Cipollone also told Hutchinson a few days before the attack he was concerned if Trump marched to the Capitol it could appear as if he was helping to start a riot or aiding other crimes.
“Pat was concerned that it would look like we were interfering with the judiciary or the electoral college count … that it would appear like we were interfering with what’s happening on Capitol Hill,” she said.
Cheney has repeatedly indicated that they are also positive about Cipollone’s actions on January 6th.
“In fact, our evidence shows that Mr. Cipollone and his office were trying to do the right thing. They have attempted to halt a number of President Trump’s plans for Jan. 6,” she said at the panel’s fourth hearing.
Hutchinson’s personal testimony added new detail to this portrait.
Cipollone prompted Meadows to demand action from the President on at least two occasions, both when rioters stormed the Capitol for the first time and again when he heard chants of “Hang Mike Pence” coming from the crowd.
Hutchinson said Cipollone told Meadows: “This is crazy, we have to do something more.”
Meadows, she said, was indifferent and replied “something along the lines of, ‘You heard him, Pat. He thinks Mike deserves it.’ ”
Cipollone took on the difficult role of White House Counsel in the fall of 2018, just as the mid-term elections were approaching and Democrats, poised to wrest the House from GOP control, were poised to bombard the Trump White House with new investigations .
He was also the face of Trump’s legal team during his first impeachment in 2019 and 2020, when Democrats claimed the then-president abused his power to use key defense aid to Ukraine to pressure President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to oppose to identify the Biden family. The House of Representatives impeached him without Republican support; The Senate declined to convict.
The Democrats then hammered at Cipollone and the other members of Trump’s defense team, saying they were advocating baseless arguments. Spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had suggested that they should all be disfellowshipped.
“I don’t know how they can keep their attorney status in the comments they make,” Pelosi had said.
By the time of Trump’s second impeachment trial in 2021, Trump was no longer in the White House and Cipollone was no longer representing him. He had rejoined a private firm in Washington DC and had slipped off the media radar until the recent House of Representatives hearings on the January 6 attacks brought him back into the public eye.
Amidst efforts to secure Cipollone’s attendance, the committee has gained a strong ally in John Dean, former President Nixon’s White House adviser whose explosive testimony before Congress during the Watergate scandal led to Nixon’s ultimate downfall. For his role in the cover-up, Dean was charged with obstruction of justice, pleaded guilty, and was jailed for approximately four months. After that, his license was revoked.
Now Dean is urging Cipollone to take a similar step, saying his constitutional oath obliges him to cooperate with investigators into the Jan. 6 events.
“It seems the older you get, the more involved you become with your career and where you’re going from the White House. I believe Cipollone has this problem. He has a large family to feed. He’s probably looking at Republican clients and being influenced in Washington. And he’s worried about damaging all of that,” Dean said in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Wednesday night, alluding to Cipollone’s 10 children.
“But I’m telling you, if we don’t address the issues this issue raises with Trump and January 6th,” he added, “we won’t have much of a democracy for him to worry about.”