Politics

Nine Things We Still Don’t Know About Jan. 6

And the chances we have to find out.

Trump sticks his hands in his air near a teleprompter, looks worried.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit held at the Tampa Convention Center on July 23, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Last week, the Jan. 6 House Select Committee concluded its series of summer hearings on its investigation into the attack on the Capitol. While we learned a lot from these hearings—including that Trump knew and welcomed the fact that his mob was armed when he sent them to the Capitol, he angrily demanded his security detail take him to the Capitol to join the mob he had assembled after his rally on the ellipse, and several Republican Congressman and multiple Trump attorneys requested pardons—there’s still a good number of things we don’t know about what happened on Jan. 6, including facts that have bearing on the possible criminal culpability of President Donald Trump.

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Some of these unknowns may be explored in a new series of September hearings that the committee announced last week—they would likely depend on new witnesses coming forward.

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Here are nine of the biggest remaining things we still don’t know about Jan. 6.

1. To what extent was Trump’s Big Lie premeditated?

The backstory: During the final summer hearing, the committee played audio from Steve Bannon in which the Trump advisor—on the eve of the election—admits that it is Trump’s “strategy” to “take advantage” of the lag in counting of mostly Democratic mail-in ballots to prematurely “declare victory” even though “that doesn’t mean he’s a winner.” The startling confession was first reported by Mother Jones on July 12. It suggests there was a premeditated plan by Trump to use the late-arriving mail-in votes as a pretext to claim he had won no matter what the outcome.

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This would be in line with other testimony the committee presented. For instance, Trump’s Attorney General William Barr inferred the pretextual basis for Trump’s fraud claims in his own testimony in the second hearing: “Right out of the box on election night, the president claimed that there was major fraud underway,” Barr said. “It seemed to be based on the dynamic that at the end of the evening a lot of Democratic votes came in, which changed the vote counts in certain states, and that seemed to be the basis for this broad claim that there was major fraud.” Barr added this was completely bogus: “I didn’t think much of that, because people had been talking for weeks and everyone understood for weeks that that was going to be what happened on election night.”

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Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien testified that he told the president in advance that’s how election night would play out. Stepien also testified that he and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tried to convince Trump to encourage mail-in ballots among his voters that would reverse that dynamic, but that Trump refused. “We made our case for why we believed mail-in balloting, mail-in voting, not to be a bad thing for his campaign,” Stepien said. “But the president’s mind was made up.”

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What we don’t know is this: It’s unclear if there’s any direct evidence that Trump’s specific plan was to use the late-arriving ballots as a pretext to claim victory even if he lost.

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When we might get answers: If associates like Bannon, Rudy Giuliani, or Roger Stone decide it’s in their interests to testify against him, or if Trump is put on trial.

2. What happened to the $250 million Trump raised for his “election defense”?

The backstory: In the hearings, a committee staffer described how the former president raised $250 million for his election legal defense between election day 2020 and Jan. 6, 2021. Despite being billed as a fundraiser for Trump’s “official election defense fund,” no such fund existed. The committee revealed some of where that money went: $1 million was funneled through his post-election “Save America PAC” to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows’ charitable foundation; $1 million went to a conservative organization that employs former Trump staffers; $204,857 went to the Trump Hotel Collection; and $5 million went to the group that planned the former president’s Jan. 6 rally. It’s currently unclear to what extent this bait and switch was legal.

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What we don’t know is: Where did the rest of all that money—more than $200 million—go, how did those groups spend the money they received, and was any of the spending illegal?

When we might get answers: This is a focus of the Jan. 6 committee, so we may get more answers—and a potential criminal referral—when they resume hearings and release their committee report in the fall.

3. Why did Trump tweet about his “wild” Jan. 6 rally immediately after White House lawyers shot down a plan to declare martial law and seize voting machines?

The backstory: The committee revealed the extraordinary details of an “unhinged” White House meeting on Dec. 18 in which Trump was told all of his legal options for challenging the election were gone and White House lawyers shot down his plans to appoint Sidney Powell special counsel and have the military seize voting machines. Immediately after this meeting, Trump sent his infamous 1:42 a.m. tweet “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”

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What we don’t know is: Why did Trump send this tweet right after this meeting? Were plans for Jan. 6 formulated in this meeting, or at this time?

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When we might get answers: If associates who were at the meeting like Powell, Gen. Michael Flynn, former overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne, and Giuliani decide it’s in their interests to testify against him, or if Trump is put on trial.

4. What did Trump and Bannon discuss on the eve of Jan. 6 and in its immediate aftermath?

The backstory: The committee presented evidence that Trump spoke with Bannon for 11 minutes on the morning of Jan. 5, after which Bannon declared on his podcast that “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow,” “it’s all converging and now we’re on the point of attack tomorrow,” and “it’s not going to happen like you think it’s going to happen.” Bannon spoke again with Trump for six minutes at 9:46 p.m. that night. They spoke again for seven minutes at 10:19 p.m. on Jan. 6, hours after the riot had ended. Bannon committed two counts of misdemeanor contempt of Congress by refusing to appear to testify about these calls or turn over any documents related to them. He is currently facing up to a year in prison.

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What we don’t know is this: What did Trump and Bannon discuss on those phone calls, and why is Bannon willing to face prison to cover up for Trump?

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When we might get answers: If Bannon ever decide it’s in his interests to testify against the former president, or if Trump is ever put on trial.

5. What did Roger Stone and Michael Flynn know about plans for violence by associates in right-wing militias, and what did they tell the White House?

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The backstory: Stone and Flynn were close associates of the former president who were respectively convicted of and pled guilty to Trump-related felonies as part of the Robert Mueller probe, but were ultimately pardoned by Trump in the aftermath of the election. Stone was intricately tied with two groups that led the assault on the Capitol—the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys—who served as personal security details for him at various points, including on Jan. 6. The leaders of those groups have since been charged with seditious conspiracy for their roles on Jan. 6. Flynn was provided security by another far-right militia group that the Oath Keepers worked with, the 1st Amendment Praetorian, which was also involved in various Jan. 6-related events. We also know that White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows was instructed by Trump to call Stone and Flynn on Jan. 5. Cassidy Hutchinson further testified that Meadows did call into a meeting at the “war room” in the Willard Hotel, which is where Stone and Flynn were gathered with Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman, but the details of that meeting are still unknown.

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What we don’t know is this: How much did Stone and Flynn know about plans by right-wing militias to attack the Capitol and commit violence on Jan. 6? What might they have conveyed to Trump and/or Meadows about those plans?

When we might get answers: Leaders of the Proud Boys are scheduled to go on trial in December, which will likely reveal new details. Leaders of the Oath Keepers are set to go on trial in September—though they have asked for an additional delay—and some members of the group are already cooperating with the government in exchange for plea deals.

6. What happened to those deleted Secret Service text messages?

The backstory: The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General has opened up a criminal investigation into missing Jan. 6 texts from 10 secret service agents. The texts were deleted, according to the Secret Service, as part of a standard data migration on Jan. 27, 2021, but the Department of Homeland Security had been warned to preserve all records from Jan. 6. The details of this investigation are critical, because they could confirm or rebut testimony by Hutchinson surrounding the details of Trump’s alleged demands to be taken by his security detail to the Capitol after his Jan. 6 rally.

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What we don’t know is this: Why were those texts deleted, was a crime involved, and is there any evidence or testimony that would corroborate Hutchinson’s dramatic account?

When we might get answers: The DHS IG investigation will ultimately likely produce more answers and a possible criminal referral.

7. Who did Trump (and Meadows) speak with on the phone on Jan. 6 and what was said?

The backstory: The committee presented White House call logs that contained a 7-hour gap on Jan. 6. Witnesses said Trump was watching TV and making phone calls during much of this period. We know about details of a handful of these calls, mostly due to reporting from outlets like the Washington Post. But there is not a complete record of who Trump spoke with and what was said. Hutchinson also testified that there was a 20 to 25-minute period when the attack on the Capitol had begun where Meadows shut himself in a secure car for a private phone call, but the committee did not reveal who he was talking with.

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What we don’t know is this: Who was Trump speaking with in these critical hours and what was he saying? (Less critically, but also interesting: who was Meadows talking to in that 25-minute window?)

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When we might get answers: If Congressional associates testify against the former president, or if Trump or Meadows is put on trial.

8. Who placed a pipe bomb at RNC and DNC headquarters on the eve of Jan. 6?

The backstory: On Jan. 5 a person wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt, a face mask, gloves, and black and light gray Nike Air Max Speed Turf sneakers with a yellow logo appeared to place what was later discovered to be a pipe bomb outside of Democratic National Committee headquarters. Video evidence also links that suspect to a bomb that was placed outside of Republican National Committee headquarters around the same time. Neither bomb exploded.

What we don’t know is this: Who was the pipe bomber?

When we might get answers: The Department of Justice is investigating, but 18 months later it seems the trail has gone cold.

9. Did Trump directly engage in witness tampering?

The backstory: The committee presented evidence that an apparent intermediary for Trump tried to pressure a Jan. 6 committee witness to stay “loyal.” It was later reported the witness was Hutchinson and the intermediary was her former boss, Meadows. The committee later said that Trump tried to personally call another possible witness after this initial act of potential witness tampering, but the call was not taken. It was instead reported to the committee and ultimately to the Department of Justice.

What we don’t know is this: How many of these sorts of calls were made? Who were the recipients? What was said? Did the former president commit felony witness tampering?

When we might get answers: We might learn more at the committee hearings scheduled for September, when the committee releases its report, if associates decide it’s in their best interests to testify against him, or if Trump is put on trial.

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