USA TODAY International Edition

What did Trump do amid Capitol siege?

Jan. 6 committee requests records as it re- creates timeline of events

- Bart Jansen

WASHINGTON – Requests sent to telecom and social media companies, and to federal agencies, from the House committee investigat­ing the Jan. 6 insurrecti­on at the Capitol reveal pieces of the puzzle that lawmakers hope to assemble for a minute- by- minute picture of what happened that day.

The goal is to fill in gaps that remain missing, despite all the video and court records that have been released. Questions remain about how rioters coordi

nated their attack to occupy the Capitol.

What was the response to desperate pleas for reinforcem­ents from lawmakers and local officials during the hourslong delay before National Guard troops arrived? Who talked to former President Donald Trump that day – and what did he tell lawmakers who called during the siege?

Casting a wide net for informatio­n at the start of an investigat­ion is a common technique used to build a map of what happened and why. Each scrap of data allows investigat­ors to fill in gaps in previously released video and court records and to squeeze witnesses for informatio­n they might not volunteer or deny rememberin­g.

“It ratchets up the pressure significantly on people who might otherwise say they didn’t remember or denied having communicat­ions,” Jeffrey Robbins, a former counsel to a Senate investigat­ive committee who teaches about congressio­nal investigat­ions at Brown University, told USA TODAY. “Given that it is a crime to lie to Congress, it puts the squeeze on people who may have made those calls or texts, or received them.”

The committee hasn’t released the names of hundreds of people it is reviewing. But dozens of names are included in what the committee calls its sweeping demands of federal agencies, including Trump’s wife and children, and former White House officials such as chief of staff Mark Meadows, counsel Pat Cipollone and communicat­ions director Hope Hicks.

The investigat­ion’s scope is broad. Requests to telecom companies such as AT& T, Sprint, T- Mobile and Verizon ask the companies to preserve records about the time, location and duration of calls – and the content of texts. The letters didn’t ask for the documents yet, which are typically requested under subpoena.

Requests to social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter seek posts already provided to law enforcemen­t, as well as communicat­ions related to efforts to overturn or challenge the 2020 presidenti­al election. The committee also asked for internal analyses about how the companies dealt with misinforma­tion or disinforma­tion.

And requests to eight federal agencies such as the FBI, the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security, seek documents about preparatio­ns and response to the attack.

“The committee is clearly planning to paint with a targeted but ultimately broad brush the range of informatio­n they want about what led up to, occurred during and happened in the aftermath of the riot,” said Bradley Moss, a national- security lawyer who has represente­d USA TODAY in Freedom of Informatio­n Act cases.

But Republican­s urged companies not to cooperate with the investigat­ion that is expected to cover calls and texts lawmakers made that day. If companies or individual­s resist, court battles could take months or years, according to legal experts.

“The real weapon that those seeking to block this investigat­ion or impede it or dilute it or reduce it in some way is logistical: delay,” Robbins said.

The impact of phone calls, texts and posts

Lawmakers have said they hope to weave together a tapestry of what led to the violent insurrecti­on that left 140 police officers injured and interrupte­d Congress counting Electoral College votes.

Call records or texts could reveal previously unknown communicat­ions between people who stormed the Capitol or government officials responding to the attack. Social media posts could chart the connection­s and contributi­ons among participan­ts. And government records may confirm who was making life- anddeath decisions about how to respond to the unpreceden­ted attack.

“Was this an organized effort?” Joshua A. Levy, a former counsel on the Senate Homeland Security and Government­al Affairs Committee who teaches at Georgetown Law School, told USA TODAY. “Were the people storming the Capitol coordinati­ng before they arrived in Washington on Jan. 6?”

H. Scott Fingerhut, a trial lawyer, law professor and assistant director of the trial advocacy program at Florida Internatio­nal University, said he would subpoena everyone in an effort to get the fullest account possible to help decision- makers prevent it from happening again.

“Certain people may have gone on record to say, ‘ I never spoke to so- and- so,’ and these records might refute some things,” Fingerhut said.

The investigat­ive committee’s chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D- Miss., said the panel will seek informatio­n from hundreds of people.

“It’s several hundred people that make up the list of people we plan to contact,” Thompson said.

The committee announced Sept. 9 at its initial deadline for documents that it had received thousands of pages and staffers were working to keep the flow coming. The National Archives has begun the process to review presidenti­al records.

What leverage does call records provide?

Security videos and body cameras on police officers have already provided vivid glimpses of the riot. More than 600 criminal cases have begun to document which participan­ts did what. But call data could reveal communicat­ions that aren’t yet public among lawmakers, White House officials, government agencies and participan­ts in the siege.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R- Calif.; Rep. Jim Jordan, R- Ohio; and GOP Sens. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama and Mike Lee of Utah have acknowledg­ed talking to Trump that day. Tuberville said he told Trump that Vice President Mike Pence had been evacuated from the Senate chamber. Lawmakers could become witnesses or they might also resist testifying.

Who else might have spoken with Trump or top White House officials? Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and acting Defense Secretary Christophe­r Miller each testified at a May hearing they hadn’t spoken to Trump that day.

“It gives you the basis to ask people, ‘ We’ve got the evidence of the call. What did you talk about?’ including people who denied making calls to certain people,” Robbins said.

The records could also be a cure for forgetfuln­ess.

“Is it believable that at that moment, when the doors were being bashed in, when shots were being fired for God’s sake, that you don’t remember even talking to someone or the tenor or gist of a conversati­on?” Fingerhut said.

Another line of questionin­g could pursue whether lawmakers or White House officials were communicat­ing with rioters, Levy said. Several lawmakers have been accused of giving tours of the Capitol to rioters before the attack. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R- Colo., denied the accusation, which her spokesman called “irresponsi­ble.”

Levy said call records might answer the question: “Were there communicat­ions between the Jan. 6 participan­ts and elected officials or government officials?”

Besides nailing down calls, texts would explain what messages were sent when. As the mob ransacked the building, lawmakers and staffers described the events. Police shot a woman to death outside the House chamber. Rep. Tim Burchett, R- Tenn., texted “shots fired” at 2: 46 p. m. to a reporter.

Rioters had described their exploits on Facebook and Twitter. Other targets are Parler, Telegram and Zello, which have applicatio­ns that rioters used to communicat­e that day, according to federal charging documents.

A Facebook spokesman said the company received the request and looked forward to working with the committee. A Google spokespers­on also said the company is committed to working with the committee. She said events on Jan. 6 were unpreceden­ted, that Google and YouTube strongly condemned them and were committed to protecting their platforms from abuse.

Comments and replies in social media posts could lead investigat­ors to a larger circle of contacts to question, Levy said.

Piecing together posts on social media

A taste of what is available through social media posts can be found among court records that chronicle how rioters planned for travel, accumulate­d protective gear and stayed in contact through encrypted phone apps during the attack.

Ethan Nordean, the self- described “sergeant of arms” for the Seattle chapter of the Proud Boys who faces charges of conspiracy and obstructin­g Congress, posted several messages on Parler. On Dec. 27, 2020, he asked for help with protective gear or communicat­ions equipment because “things have gotten more dangerous for us this past year,” according to court records.

Members of the mob chanted for Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, DCalif., while roaming the halls. Trump tweeted at 2: 24 p. m. – two minutes after the vice president was evacuated – that “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constituti­on.”

Federal agencies are another storehouse of informatio­n. Lawmakers have questioned who was making decisions about how to respond. The documents could shed light on what authorizat­ions were given – or not – and whether one part of the government interfered with another part trying to keep people safe, Levy said.

“It’s the classic, ‘ What did you know and when did you know it?’” explained Levy. “And what did you do once you became informed about the situation?”

The committee requests to federal agencies went to the National Archives and Records Administra­tion, the FBI, the National Counterter­rorism Center, the director of national intelligen­ce, and the department­s of Defense, Homeland Security, Interior and Justice.

The request to the archives covered communicat­ions by Trump, Pence and top White House staffers such as daughter Ivanka Trump and son- in- law Jared Kushner. Others named in the request included Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, and Melania Trump. The request also covered informal advisers such as Steve Bannon, Rudy Giuliani and Roger Stone. Each could eventually be called as a witness.

“We’re going to follow the facts and circumstan­ces around Jan. 6. Wherever those facts lead us, that’s where we’ll go,” Thompson said.

Republican­s oppose requests for private info

Republican lawmakers who could be targeted in the investigat­ion have warned the dragnet could extend to any American with a phone or computer.

McCarthy urged telecom companies to resist the requests. He said complying would put the private data of “every American with a phone or computer in the crosshairs of a surveillan­ce state” run by Democrats.

McCarthy had told colleagues that when he told Trump the crowd was comprised of his supporters, Trump replied: “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,” according to Rep. Jaime Herrera Butler, R- Wash.

Another potential target of the probe, Rep. Mo Brooks, R- Ala., who spoke during Trump’s rally near the White House before the attack on the Capitol, told Newsmax that he wasn’t texting with Trump.

But he said he was texting with other lawmakers and probably used “caustic words” about Pelosi and President Joe Biden. He argued that Democrats shouldn’t be allowed on “a fishing expedition, a witch hunt, a star chamber.”

A group of 11 House Republican­s wrote to 13 tech companies urging them not to turn over private phone records.

“This power- hungry, smear- campaign of a committee knows this request is a blatant overreach of their congressio­nal authority,” Rep. Andy Biggs, R- Ariz., said in a statement about the letter.

Legal battles over subpoenas could last years

The committee could subpoena documents if companies or individual­s resist the voluntary requests. Legal experts said despite the Trump tax decision, Congress has well- establishe­d authority to compel cooperatio­n. But court battles could tie up for months or years – longer than the committee is willing to wait.

“If the Congress of the United States cannot investigat­e the facts leading up to and the nature of an insurrecti­on, and the extent to which insurrecti­onist activity is continuing, I don’t know what Congress has the power to do,” Robbins said.

But the legal fight could be prohibitiv­e. The case of Don McGahn, the former White House counsel who was subpoenaed during a Trump impeachmen­t investigat­ion, spent two years fighting a subpoena before negotiatin­g to testify behind closed doors.

“You can expect to see on the part of some people lawsuits in federal court seeking to quash subpoenas, limit subpoenas, delay the production dates for subpoenas, all the usual standard fare of blockading and impeding and slowing down Congress,” Robbins said.

Moss said there are limits to what Congress can compel using a subpoena under the Stored Communicat­ions Act and Supreme Court decisions such as in the 2018 case Carpenter v. the United States.

The cases raise questions about whether Congress can compel telecom providers to provide informatio­n like under a law enforcemen­t investigat­ion, so individual­s may be able to narrow the range of informatio­n that companies provide, Moss said.

“In the end, there will no doubt be some litigation by certain political officials to quash subpoenas tied to their particular records, but a wealth of data will ultimately be produced to Congress just like in any other oversight inquiry,” Moss said.

 ?? JACQUELYN MARTIN/ AP ?? Then- President Donald Trump spoke at a rally in Washington on Jan. 6 not long before rioters stormed the Capitol.
JACQUELYN MARTIN/ AP Then- President Donald Trump spoke at a rally in Washington on Jan. 6 not long before rioters stormed the Capitol.
 ?? JERRY HABRAKEN/ USA TODAY ?? Rioters storm the U. S. Capitol on Jan. 6 as lawmakers inside debated the certification of the presidenti­al election. Questions remain about how rioters coordinate­d their attack.
JERRY HABRAKEN/ USA TODAY Rioters storm the U. S. Capitol on Jan. 6 as lawmakers inside debated the certification of the presidenti­al election. Questions remain about how rioters coordinate­d their attack.
 ?? OLIVIER DOULIERY/ AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES ?? Reps. Liz Cheney, R- Wyo., and Bennie Thompson, D- Miss., are members of the Select Committee to Investigat­e the January 6th Attack on the U. S. Capitol.
OLIVIER DOULIERY/ AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES Reps. Liz Cheney, R- Wyo., and Bennie Thompson, D- Miss., are members of the Select Committee to Investigat­e the January 6th Attack on the U. S. Capitol.
 ?? ANDREW HARNIK/ AP ?? People shelter in the House gallery Jan. 6 as rioters try to break into the House Chamber at the U. S. Capitol.
ANDREW HARNIK/ AP People shelter in the House gallery Jan. 6 as rioters try to break into the House Chamber at the U. S. Capitol.

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