Politics

Jan. 6 panel secures deal to hear testimony from Cipollone

People close to Cipollone have repeatedly cautioned that concerns about executive privilege and attorney-client privilege could limit his cooperation.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone departs the U.S. Capitol following defense arguments in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File


Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel to President Donald Trump who repeatedly fought Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, has reached a deal to be interviewed by Friday before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, according to people familiar with the inquiry.

The agreement was a breakthrough for the panel, which has pressed for weeks for Cipollone to cooperate — and issued a subpoena to him last week — believing he could provide crucial testimony.

Cipollone was a witness to pivotal moments in Trump’s push to invalidate the election results, including discussions about seizing voting machines and sending false letters to state officials about election fraud. He was also in the West Wing on Jan. 6, 2021, as Trump reacted to the violence at the Capitol, when his supporters attacked the building in his name.

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People close to Cipollone have repeatedly cautioned that concerns about executive privilege and attorney-client privilege could limit his cooperation.

But committee negotiators have pressed to hear from Cipollone and Patrick F. Philbin, who was his deputy in the White House.

Cipollone will sit for a videotaped, transcribed interview, according to a person familiar with the discussions. He is not expected to testify publicly.

A committee spokesperson declined to comment.

The panel’s push to hear from Cipollone intensified after the testimony last week of Cassidy Hutchinson, a former White House aide to the chief of staff, Mark Meadows. Hutchinson described detailed conversations with Cipollone in which she said the counsel had expressed deep concerns about the actions of Trump and Meadows.

Some allies of Trump have privately tried to cast doubt on parts of Hutchinson’s testimony, which was the committee’s most explosive to date and was delivered under oath.

Trump has tried to invoke executive privilege — a president’s power to withhold the release of certain confidential communications with his advisers — to prevent his former aides from cooperating with the investigation. In April, Cipollone and Philbin both appeared for informal interviews with the panel on a limited set of topics, according to an agreement reached by their representatives and representatives for Trump.

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The agreement, according to an email reviewed by The New York Times, allowed discussions of a meeting with Jeffrey Clark, a Justice Department official who tried to help Trump cling to power; Trump’s interactions with John Eastman, the conservative lawyer who drafted a legal strategy for overturning the election; any interactions with members of Congress; and Cipollone’s recollections of the events of Jan. 6.

The agreement said that the two men could not discuss conversations they had or others had with Trump, other than one discussion in the Oval Office with Clark in a pivotal meeting on Jan. 3, 2021.

However, both were permitted to discuss the timeline of where they were, with whom they met and conversations they had on Jan. 6. Assuming those conditions hold for Cipollone’s forthcoming testimony, they would presumably cover conversations such as ones he may have had with Hutchinson or other officials that day.

Cassidy Hutchinson, who worked for President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, testifies before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 28, 2022. – Doug Mills/The New York Times

Hutchinson told the panel that she recalled that on Jan. 6, Cipollone had objected to suggestions that Trump join a crowd at the Capitol pressuring to overturn the results of the election.

“We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable,” Hutchinson recalled Cipollone saying.

People familiar with Cipollone’s schedule on Jan. 6, 2021, say he arrived late to the White House, although it was unclear precisely when.

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According to Hutchinson, Cipollone urged Meadows to do more to persuade Trump to call off the rioters. Hutchinson also told investigators that she heard lawyers from the White House Counsel’s Office say a plan to put forward pro-Trump electors in states won by Joe Biden was not “legally sound.”

Members of the House committee had hoped that Cipollone would testify publicly at a previous hearing, but he declined. They then took their case public. From the hearing room dais, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., singled out the former White House counsel by name, saying, “Our committee is certain that Donald Trump does not want Mr. Cipollone to testify here. But we think the American people deserve to hear from Mr. Cipollone personally.”

Any damaging account from Cipollone of Trump’s postelection actions would be a dramatic change of circumstance from Trump’s first impeachment trial, when Cipollone was his chief defender.

During the first impeachment, Cipollone accused Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who served as a prosecutor in that trial and now sits on the Jan. 6 committee, of making false allegations against Trump.

A year later, as Trump pressed on with plans to try to overturn his defeat, Cipollone and other White House lawyers repeatedly threatened to resign if Trump went forward with some of the more extreme proposals urged on him, ultimately persuading him to back off.

Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, also a former White House adviser, told the panel that Cipollone’s threats of resignation were frequent, implying that he did not take seriously his concerns and those of other members of the counsel’s office about the gravity of Trump’s plans.

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“Him and the team were always saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to resign. We’re not going to be here if this happens, if that happens,’” Kushner said in videotaped testimony, a clip of which was played during the first public hearing. “So I kind of took it to just be whining.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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