A few hours before the deadly attack on the US capital this year, Donald Trump made several calls from the White House to top lieutenants at the Willard Hotel in Washington and talked about ways to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory from taking place on January 6. .
The former president first told lieutenants that his vice president, Mike Pence, was reluctant to agree to the plan to take over his largely ceremonial role at the joint congressional session in a way that would allow Trump to retain the presidency in another period.
But when Trump conveyed the situation with Pence to them, he pressured his lieutenants on how they could stop Biden’s certification from taking place on January 6 and delay the certification process to get alternative election lists for Trump sent to Congress.
The former president’s remarks came as part of White House strategy discussions he had with White House lieutenants – a team led by Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Boris Epshteyn and Trump strategist Steve Bannon – to delay certification.
Several sources who spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity described Trump’s involvement in efforts to undermine the results of the 2020 election.
Trump’s remarks reveal a direct line from the White House and the Command Center at Willard. The talks also show that Trump’s thoughts appear to be in line with the motives of the pro-Trump mob that carried out the Capitol attack and halt Biden’s certification until it was later ratified by Congress.
The former president’s call for the Willard Hotel to stop Biden’s certification is increasingly a central focus of Parliament’s committee of inquiry into the Capitol attack, as it raises the specter of a possible link between Trump and the uprising.
Several Trump lawyers on Willard deny that night that Trump was trying to stop the certification of Biden’s election victory. They say they only considered delaying Biden’s certification at the request of state legislators due to voter fraud.
The former president made several calls to the lieutenants at Willard on the night of January 6th. He called the attorneys and non-attorneys separately as Giuliani did not want non-attorneys to participate in legal calls and jeopardize the attorney-client privilege.
Trump’s call to lieutenants came the day after Eastman, a late addition to Trump’s legal team, at a White House Jan. 4 outline how he thought Pence could rob himself of his role in preventing Biden’s certification from happen at the joint session. .
At the meeting, which was held in the Oval Office and attended by Trump, Pence, Pence’s Chief of Staff Marc Short and his legal adviser Greg Jacob, Eastman presented a note detailing how Pence could deploy himself in the certification and delay the process.
The memo outlined several ways for Pence to manage his role at the joint session, including throwing the election to the House of Representatives or postponing the session to give states time to send election lists after Trump on the basis of election fraud – Eastman’s preference.
At the time, Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen and his predecessor, Bill Barr, both of whom had been nominated by Trump, had already established that there was no evidence of fraud sufficient to change the outcome of the 2020 election.
Eastman told the Guardian last month that the memo only presented scenarios and was not intended as advice. “The advice I gave the vice president very explicitly was that I did not think he had the authority to simply declare which voters were to be counted,” Eastman said.
Trump seized the note – first reported by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa in their book Peril – and pushed Pence to adopt the arrangements, which some of Willard’s other lieutenants later told Trump were legitimate ways to turn the election around.
But Pence resisted Trump’s prayers and told him in the Oval Office the day after Trump was to count him out of the plans he had to undermine the results of the 2020 election at the joint session because he did not intend to attend.
Trump was furious at Pence for refusing to do him one last favor when, at the critical moment in support of efforts to reinstate Trump as president, he called Willard’s lieutenants sometime between the late evening of January 5 and the early hours of the day. on January 6th.
From the White House, Trump made several calls to lieutenants, including Giuliani, Eastman, Epshteyn and Bannon, who were gathered in suites complete with espresso machines and cola in a mini-refrigerator in the northwest corner of the hotel.
During the calls, the former president first recounted what had happened during the meeting in the Oval Office with Pence, informing Bannon and Willard’s lawyers that his vice president appeared to be ready to leave him at the joint session in several hours.
“He’s arrogant,” Trump told the Bannon of Pence, for example – his own way of communicating that Pence would hardly play ball – in an exchange reported in Peril and confirmed by the Guardian.
But on at least one of those calls, Trump also sought with lawyers at Willard ways to stop the joint session to ensure Biden would not be certified as president on Jan. 6, as part of a broader discussion about buying time to get states to send Trump voters.
The relapse that Trump and his lieutenants seemed to settle for was to persuade Republican members of Congress to raise enough objections, so that even without Pence postponing the joint session, the certification process would be delayed for states to send Trump ballots.
It was not clear whether Trump during the call discussed the prospect of stopping Biden’s certification in any way if Pence refused to put himself in the process, but the former president is said to have enjoyed watching the uprising unfold from the dining room.
But the fact that Trump was considering ways to stop the joint session may help explain why he was so reluctant to cancel the riots, and why Republican Senator Ben Sasse told conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt that he heard Trump seemed “happy” about the attack.
Willard’s leading Trump lawyer, Giuliani, who appears to be following this contingency plan, called at least one Republican senator later that evening and asked him to help keep Congress adjourned and halt the joint session after Jan. 6.
In an answering machine that was recorded around noon. .
“The only strategy we can follow is to protest against several states and raise issues so that we get into tomorrow – ideally until the end of tomorrow,” Giuliani said.
A spokesman for Trump did not respond to requests for comment on this report on Trump’s call. Giuliani did not respond to a request for comment. Eastman, Epshteyn and Bannon declined to comment.
Trump made several calls the day before the Capitol attack from both the White House residence, his favorite place to work, as well as the West Wing, but it was not certain from which place he called his top lieutenants on Willard.
The White House residence and its yellow oval room – a Trump favorite – are significant, as communications there, including from a desk phone, are not automatically commemorated in records sent to the National Archives upon completion of an administration.
But even if Trump called his West Wing lieutenants, the select committee may not be able to fully uncover the extent of his involvement in the events of Jan. 6 unless House investigators secure testimony from people with knowledge of the calls.
This difficulty arises as calls from the White House are not necessarily recorded, and call details that the select committee is seeking to pry free from the National Archives over Trump’s objections to executive privileges only show the destination of the calls.
The House’s select investigators last week opened a new line of inquiry into the activities at the Willard Hotel, just across the street from the White House, and issued subpoenas to Eastman and former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, an assistant to Giuliani.
The chairman of the select committee, Bennie Thompson, said in a statement that the panel prosecuted Trump officials on Willard to reveal “all the details of their efforts to overthrow the election, including who they spoke to in the White House and in Congress.”