Politics

Jan. 6 Hearing Depicts Least Dignified Series of Events in U.S. Presidential History

“You’re a bunch of pussies,” the president’s personal lawyer told the White House legal team (because they had refused to pursue a theory about the election having been hacked using Nest thermostats).

Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and Pat Cipollone.
Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and Pat Cipollone. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images, and Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

Much of Tuesday’s House Jan. 6 committee hearing focused on the series of events that led Donald Trump to announce his “Stop the Steal” rally near the Capitol—a fateful choice that tore destructively at the fabric of American democracy and whatnot, but, just as importantly, emerged from circumstances that were extremely embarrassing on a human level.

According to the committee, Trump’s 1:42 a.m. Dec. 19, 2020, tweet—which concluded with the sentences “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”—was preceded by a six-hour meeting/clown show/series of screaming meltdowns in the White House.

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Per recorded testimony and narration by committee members:

• The situation began to deteriorate at some point in the afternoon of Dec. 18 when an unnamed “junior staffer” escorted a group into the White House that included former New York Mayor and Trump consigliere Rudy Giuliani (who most recently was seen trying to raise cash by advertising discount flip-flops on Twitter), former national security adviser Michael Flynn (who resigned his position after being accused of lying to the FBI about contact with a Russian official), lawyer Sidney Powell (who has since been sanctioned by a federal judge over her role in frivolous 2020 election lawsuits), and former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne (who I guess is the former CEO of Overstock.com).

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• From there, this group was able to secure an unscheduled meeting with then-President Trump. When White House counsel Pat Cipollone and White House attorney Eric Herschmann learned that this was taking place, they rushed to the Oval Office out of concern that Powell et al. would—to put it politely—provide the president with legal advice regarding 2020 election fraud that was not justified by the available evidence and could put him at risk of prosecution.

• At the meeting, Powell urged Trump to issue an executive order directing the U.S. military (!) to seize some unnamed number of state voting machines and appoint her as a “special counsel” to supervise a process by which the machines would supposedly be used to prove that fraud had taken place.

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• Trump announced that he was, in fact, “naming” Powell as special counsel and granting her a security clearance, a declaration which Cipollone and Herschmann seem to have simply ignored. (Powell was depicted in video clips responding to questions about these events while wearing a leopard-print blouse and, at one point, drinking at extended length from a can of Diet Dr. Pepper.)

•Flynn, according to Herschmann, produced a map purporting to show connections between electronic devices across the world—including Nest-brand thermostats—that had been used to alter voting tallies.

•Giuliani, according to Giuliani, told Cipollone and Herschmann and one of their unnamed colleagues that they were “a bunch of pussies.”

• Flynn, according to Herschmann, told Herschmann he was “a quitter,” after which Herschmann, according to Herschmann, told Flynn to either come to his side of the room to physically fight or “sit [his] fucking ass back down.” (He said “effing” in the testimony.)

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• At one point, chief of staff Mark Meadows’ aide Cassidy Hutchinson sent a text describing the scene in the West Wing as “UNHINGED.” It noted that staffers outside the Oval Office had begun drinking.

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• The meeting finally broke up, after which Giuliani spent some time standing in the “Cabinet Room” by himself, which he described to the committee in a recorded interview as “cool.” White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, in Hutchinson’s telling, then personally escorted Giuliani off White House grounds to make sure he didn’t “wander” back to the White House residence area.*

Not long after this, at 1:42 a.m., Trump—who had apparently been persuaded during this Team of Rivals–esque back-and-forth not to be “a pussy”—sent the message about continuing to pursue claims of fraud and gathering for a “wild” rally on Jan. 6.

At the hearing on Tuesday, following the recounting of these events, committee member and Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin showed a series of video clips and screenshots of Trump’s supporters in far-right militias and online extremist communities reacting to the rally announcement. These included footage of a YouTube streamer named “Salty Cracker,” who said the following: “You better understand something, son. You better understand somethin’. Red wave, bitch! There’s gonna be a red wedding going down January 6! Motherfucker, you better look outside. It’s—you better look out—January 6! Kick that fuckin’ door open! Look down the street! There gon’ be a million-plus armed Americans!”

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Salty Cracker, based on the limited amount of information available about him online, appears to be a white man with an interest in comic books and the Star Wars films.

Ah, the affairs of state.

Correction, July 12, 2022: This piece initially misstated that Hutchinson said Giuliani was escorted off the White House grounds to prevent him from reentering the Oval Office. What she in fact said was that this was done to prevent him from accessing the “Mansion,” i.e., the president’s residence, the central structure familiar from photos. The Oval Office is in the West Wing building, not the residence.

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