The House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, insurrection is expected to ask Trump White House Counsel Pat Cipollone during a closed-door interview on Friday about what he witnessed in the waning days of Donald Trump’s administration when the former President and his allies tried to overturn the election.
The interview is being recorded on video and could be featured at upcoming hearings, including one on Tuesday about how the violent mob came together and the role of extremist groups, as well as another hearing – which hasn’t yet been scheduled – on the 187 minutes of Trump’s inaction as rioters stormed the US Capitol.
Cipollone began his interview with the committee Friday morning and did not answer questions from CNN when entering the room. His appearance is the result of months of negotiations between his lawyers and the panel about what topics can be discussed. He had previously met with the committee informally in April.
Cipollone was among the handful of people who spent time with Trump as he watched the Capitol riot unfold on television from a dining room off the Oval Office, according to two sources familiar with the panel’s investigation. The committee has heard from other witnesses who said Cipollone, along with other senior Trump advisers including Ivanka Trump and Dan Scavino, were with the President at various points during this time.
Like others who were present and have testified before the committee, Cipollone could help shed light on Trump’s state of mind as the violence was taking place. Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, for example, testified that she heard a conversation in the dining room at one point about rioters chanting “hang Mike Pence.”
Cipollone’s presence in the dining room – which several witnesses have described to the committee – underscores why the committee is seeking his on-the-record testimony as a key fact witness.
Cipollone’s concerns about executive privilege surrounding the role of the White House counsel could lead to him limiting his cooperation with the committee, according to sources familiar with his thinking.
The committee has sought to piece together a comprehensive account of what Trump was doing on January 6, whom he talked to and how he reacted to the violence in real time. The panel has been leaning heavily on witness testimony to do so because of an hours-long gap in White House records during that time period, CNN previously reported.
Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, a member on the committee, pushed back on the claims of privilege Cipollone could assert saying on CNN earlier this week.
“Well, executive privilege is held by the current President, who has not asserted it when it comes to finding out information about the January 6th plot,” Lofgren said. “The attorney-client privilege could be asserted. But, remember, the presidency is his client, not Mr. Trump as a person.”
But Lofgren affirmed, “I’m sure we will get information that’s of use to him and we will also respect his dedication to these principals that he holds dear.”
Cipollone’s name has repeatedly come up during the committee’s hearings so far as he is viewed as a key witness by the committee.
Cipollone was in a key oval office meeting on January 3, 2021, when Trump was considering replacing Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen with DOJ environmental lawyer Jeffrey Clark, because Clark, unlike Rosen, was willing to use the powers of federal law enforcement to back his baseless claims of election fraud.
In that meeting, Rosen and Cipollone discredited Clark’s credentials for the job and categorically dismissed a draft letter Clark had written that falsely claimed the Department of Justice had found evidence of election fraud.
Rosen’s deputy Richard Donoghue testified in a committee hearing that Cipollone said of the drafted letter in that meeting, “that letter that this guy wants to send, that letter is a murder-suicide pact. It’s going to damage everyone who touches it. And we should have nothing to do with that letter. I don’t ever want to see that letter again.”
The committee has revealed that in its previous, informal conversation with Cipollone, Cipollone told the select committee that “he intervened when he heard Mr. Clark was meeting with the president about legal matters without his knowledge, which was strictly against White House policy.”
Hutchinson testified that Cipollone was against Trump calling on his supporters to march to the Capitol in his speech in the morning of January 6 and was particularly against Trump joining his supporters at the Capitol.
Hutchinson said that Cipollone told her on January 3, “We need to make sure that this doesn’t happen, this would be legally a terrible idea for us. We have serious legal concerns if we go to the Capitol that day.”
When the violence broke out at the Capitol, Cipollone marched into the office of Trump’s former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, according to Hutchinson, and demanded they talk to Trump about doing something to intervene.
Hutchinson testified that Meadows told Cipollone that the former President did not want to do anything and Cipollone said something to the effect of Mark, ‘something needs to be done, or people are going to die, the blood’s going to be on your f***ing hands.’
Cipollone wanted Trump to say in his January 7, 2021, speech that the rioters should be prosecuted and described as violent, but Hutchinson said those original lines did not make it into the final version of the speech Trump delivered.
Hutchinson added that from what she understood at the time, the reason individuals like Cipollone wanted that language in there was because there was a “large concern of 25th amendment potentially being invoked.”
The committee has played video of testimony from Jared Kushner saying that Cipollone and his team “were always saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to resign. We’re not going to be here if this happens, if that happens.’” But Kushner said, “I kind of took it up to just be whining to be honest with you.”
Prior to Cipollone’s interview being set, the committee had made a public push to get him to testify under oath.
“Our Committee is certain that Donald Trump does not want Mr. Cipollone to testify here,” said GOP Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who serves as vice chairwoman of the committee, at the close the panel’s fourth hearing on June 21.
“We think the American people deserve to hear from Mr. Cipollone personally,” she added. “He should appear before this Committee, and we are working to secure his testimony.”
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Friday.