Jan. 6 transcripts shed new light on how Trump considered blanket pardons
The panel plans to release hundreds more this week.
WASHINGTON — The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol released on Tuesday 18 additional transcripts that provided more details about how former President Donald Trump considered “blanket pardons” for those charged in connection with the Capitol riot, and how several of his top political allies pushed unsuccessfully to be included in such pardons.
The transcripts, which come from the committee’s trove of hundreds of interviews, build on a growing body of evidence about the extent to which many in Trump’s orbit, including rioters, White House staffers, Republican members of Congress and some of the president’s own lawyers were seeking pardons after the events of Jan. 6, 2021.
Johnny McEntee, Trump’s director of personnel, recalled in an interview how, during his final days in office, the former president had floated the idea of a “blanket pardon” for the breach of the Capitol, but Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, had rejected it.
“Cipollone said no,” McEntee recalled. “One day when we walked into the Oval, I remember it was being discussed, and I remember the president saying, ‘Well, what if I pardoned the people that weren’t violent, that just walked in the building?’ And I think the White House counsel gave him some pushback.”
McEntee recalled Cipollone also rejected Trump’s idea that all White House staff should be pardoned, even those who had played no role in the president’s push to overturn the 2020 election.
“I remember Cipollone questioning on that, ‘Well, why does anyone need a pardon?’” McEntee recalled, adding that the president had responded, “‘Well, just so they can’t go after them for any little thing.’ And I think Cipollone said, ‘Yeah, but no one here has done anything wrong.’”
The batch of transcripts released Tuesday — which included McEntee’s testimony; an interview with Eugene Scalia, Trump’s labor secretary; and two more transcripts from the testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson, a White House aide — brought the number of transcripts the committee has released to more than 100.
The panel plans to release hundreds more this week. Members of the committee have said they are concerned that if they do not publish all their transcripts, Republicans will cherry-pick information from them for release once they take control of the House on Jan. 3.
The Jan. 6 committee last week published its final 845-page report on the Capitol attack and the events that led to it, declaring that Trump’s relentless push to overturn the 2020 election was the central cause of the violence. Trump has slammed the Jan. 6 report, calling it “highly partisan.”
In its report, the committee referred repeatedly to pardon requests, but singled out those from members of Congress who had attended a Dec. 21, 2020, White House meeting in which a plan to overturn the election had been discussed, as “revealing their own clear consciousness of guilt.”
In his testimony, McEntee recalled that Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., told him he had sought a pardon through Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff. McEntee told the committee he believed Gaetz was concerned about a federal sex trafficking investigation. Gaetz has denied wrongdoing in the matter.
Hutchinson told the panel that both Gaetz and Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., had pressed for “a blanket pardon for members involved in that meeting and a handful of other members that weren’t at the Dec. 21 meeting as the preemptive pardons.”
She also said Meadows had sought broad pardons.
“Mr. Meadows was personally concerned that there would be a connotation of violence associated with everybody that had gone to the Capitol that day, so he had thought it was an idea worth entertaining and raising to White House Counsel’s Office to pardon those who had been inside the Capitol,” she said.
She added: “There was a period where several White House staffers and administration officials wanted to pardon themselves prior to leaving, and he was one of them. I don’t remember him lobbying the president very hard for it, but I know that, if there were going to be staff pardons, he wanted to be included in that group.”
A spokesperson for Meadows denied that he had ever sought a pardon from Trump.
According to Hutchinson’s testimony, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, Scott Perry, R-Pa., and Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., all expressed interest in receiving pardons. She also testified that Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, had “talked about” pardons but did not directly ask for one, and that she had heard that newly elected Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., had also expressed interest to the White House Counsel’s Office.
The lawmakers involved have denied seeking pardons, except for Gaetz and Brooks. Brooks has confirmed seeking a pardon for all members of Congress, but said it was because he believed the Justice Department would be “abused” by the Biden administration. Brooks has released the letter he sent the White House, in which he said he was putting the request in writing at the instruction of Trump.
In the newly released transcripts, Hutchinson recalled Greene explaining how many of her supporters, who subscribe to QAnon conspiracy theories, came to Washington for the rally on Jan. 6 that preceded the violence.
While in Georgia with Meadows, Hutchinson recalled a conversation in which Greene “began talking to us about QAnon and QAnon going to the rally, and she had a lot of constituents that are QAnon, and they’ll all be there. And she was showing him pictures of them traveling up to Washington, D.C., for the rally on the 6th.”
She said Greene later had a similar conversation with Trump, showing him a photo of her constituents, one of whom was wearing a “Q” shirt. “Those are all my people,” Hutchinson recalled her saying.
Hutchinson also testified that Trump had wanted to include language about pardoning rioters in a speech on Jan. 7, 2021, but that language was removed.
“I had seen one version where the pardon language was included in it, and then the next version had it taken out,” she recalled. “I understood, from White House Counsel’s Office coming into our office that morning, that they didn’t think it was a good idea to include that in the speech.”
In his testimony before the panel, Cipollone declined to discuss specific pardon discussions, but confirmed he had been opposed to the idea.
“The pardon power is broad. But that was not something that I felt was a good idea, for lots of reasons. And none of that happened, at the end of the day,” he said.
Should he be reelected to the White House, Trump has publicly floated the idea of pardoning Jan. 6 defendants, including at a rally in Texas this year. More than 900 people have been charged in connection with the Jan. 6 riot. Some have said they believed they were doing Trump’s bidding.
The transcripts also include the testimony of former Trump administration officials who said they tried to talk the former president out of some of his more potentially harmful ideas.
Max Miller, a former Trump adviser who was recently elected to represent Ohio in Congress, said that Trump had asked him if his team of lawyers who had pushed false election fraud claims, including Rudy Giuliani, should speak at his rally on Jan. 6, 2021.
“My concern with Rudy Giuliani is that he makes a lot of claims about irregularities in the election, and he’s already involved in active litigation,” Miller recalled. “I didn’t want to embarrass the president by putting him up on that stage and exposing him to other litigation if he decided to piggyback off of a talking point that Rudy may have said.”
Ultimately, Giuliani did speak at the rally, where he called for “trial by combat.”
The transcripts also include testimony from Scalia, the labor secretary, who said he had told the president in mid-December that he needed to accept Joe Biden’s victory.
During his interview, Scalia told the panel he now believes Trump’s conduct for weeks after the election had directly contributed to the violence.
“I was bothered by his continued resistance to that election outcome, and I thought that the totality of his treatment of the election prior to Jan. 6 had contributed in one way or another to the attack on the Capitol,” Scalia said.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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