By Zachary Cohen, Tierney Sneed, Hannah Rabinowitz and Marshall Cohen, CNN
The story of January 6 has largely focused on a cast of very prominent characters, including former President Donald Trump and members of his inner circle who have become household names, like his former attorney Rudy Giuliani and his White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
But those with notable names were merely the tip of the iceberg for the January 6 committee, which spent 18 months investigating Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. The panel interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses behind closed doors, including scores of Trump aides who were hardly ever in the headlines.
The January 6 committee’s report, which came out Thursday, highlights how investigators tracked down little-known insiders — from the Trump campaign to the National Guard to the Republican National Committee — who witnessed key moments and provided critical information to the panel.
One critical example of the outsize role of little-known figures: The committee’s report mentions an unnamed White House staffer who told Trump around 1:21 p.m. on January 6, 2021, that “they’re rioting down at the Capitol.” This represents one of the first instances of Trump being told directly that the situation was descending into violence.
With the panel’s report public and witness interview transcripts trickling out on a daily basis, we’re getting a new glimpse into how these obscure figures played big roles in the inquiry. Some of them even provided information that will be useful to the ongoing criminal probes by the Justice Department and state prosecutors in Georgia, who are investigating Trump’s election schemes.
Here are a few lesser-known insiders and what they shared with the committee.
A young RNC staffer who pushed back on bogus voter fraud claims in fundraising pitches
The committee’s dive into the hundreds of millions of dollars that were made in campaign fundraising off Trump’s bogus election fraud claims includes the story of a young RNC staffer who was fired after he pushed back on some of the assertions being made in fundraising emails.
Ethan Katz, who provided testimony to the committee, was an RNC copywriter who made clear to his superiors he was not comfortable with the false claims the Trump campaign and its allies were making after the election, according to the report.
His direct boss told the committee that she wasn’t sure why Katz was terminated three weeks after the election. However, it came after Katz repeatedly questioned the direction leadership was taking in Republicans’ post-election fundraising messaging.
The first confrontation — corroborated by multiple witnesses — came in a meeting with the entirety of the Trump digital team, in which Katz grilled a higher-up on how the campaign was saying it wanted to stop the count in several battleground states while keeping it going in another.
In the second episode in the report, he refused a directive to write an email declaring Trump the winner in Pennsylvania — an email Katz suspected was meant to preempt the election being called for Joe Biden in that state.
Another copy writer was assigned the task, the report said, and an email falsely declaring a Trump victory in Pennsylvania was sent on November 4.
Katz was one of several lower-level digital staffers who spoke to the committee, shedding light on how the campaign and the RNC tried to walk the line between not putting themselves in potential legal jeopardy by blasting out false claims while exploiting Trump’s fraud narrative for fundraising.
A Trump White House speechwriter who pushed for fake GOP electors early on
Among the first people the committee identifies as having concocted the fake electors strategy — in which slates of fraudulent Trump electors were put forward as alternatives to Biden electors — is Vince Haley, the deputy assistant to the president for policy, strategy and speechwriting.
Texts and emails that Haley turned over to the committee show how he repeatedly pushed the idea of using illegitimate GOP slates of presidential electors in battleground states to some of Trump’s closest staff members.
Supposed election fraud by Democrats is “only one rationale for slating Trump electors,” Haley told Johnny McEntee, an assistant to Trump, in text messages one week after the 2020 election that he turned over to the January 6 committee.
“We should baldly assert” that state legislators “have the constitutional right to substitute their judgment for a certified majority of their constituents” if that prevents socialism, he said.
The messages highlight how Trump allies and White House staffers appeared to know that their efforts to overturn the election could be problematic early on but believed they were justified if the plan was successful in keeping Trump in office.
Haley added, “[i]ndependent of the fraud — or really along with that argument — Harrisburg [Pennsylvania], Madison [Wisconsin] and Lansing [Michigan] do not have to sit idly by and submit themselves to rule by Beijing and Paris,” proposing that conservative radio hosts “rally the grassroots to apply pressure to the weak kneed legislators in those states.”
Haley then sent McEntee names and contact information for state legislators in six states, including Pennsylvania and Michigan. Trump later called several of those state officials, according to the report.
Low-profile players in the fake electors plot who are of interest to criminal investigators
Two not-well-known Trump campaign officials who were already of interest to the Justice Department provided especially helpful testimony to the January 6 committee.
One of them, Georgia-based staffer Robert Sinners, described how he felt misled by campaign higher-ups about the legal sketchiness around the fake electors plan — evidence that might go to show a corrupt intent.
The second, Trump campaign associate general counsel Joshua Findlay, described fielding concerns from the activists being recruited to be fake electors and recounted to the committee how the campaign’s core team tried to hand off the scheme to the more fringe Trump lawyers.
Findlay also gave valuable testimony connecting the plot to the former president himself. He told the committee that he was tasked by another campaign official in early December with exploring the feasibility of the plan and that the official conveyed to him that the president wanted the campaign to “look into” the alternative electors proposal.
When it was decided that Giuliani would be in charge of the gambit, Findlay was left with the impression that it was because Trump wanted Giuliani to lead it. Findlay testified that Trump campaign leadership backed off the plan a few days after he had been told to look into it, with top lawyers bailing on the idea.
However, the campaign’s director of election day operations, Mike Roman, took on a chief operation role in the gambit.
The role played by Roman — who declined to answer many of committee’s questions in his testimony, invoking his Fifth Amendment rights — was fleshed out by communications handed over to the committee by Sinners. They showed that Roman was organizing information tracking the effort.
Sinners told the committee that he would not have participated with the scheme had he known the campaign’s top lawyers were not on board with the plan. He testified that he felt “angry,” according to the report, that “no one really cared if — if people were potentially putting themselves in jeopardy” by doing this, and “we were just … useful idiots or rubes at that point.”
The Justice Department has been seeking information about Sinners and Findlay. Their committee testimony, along with that of others, showed how the Trump campaign was willing to move forward with the fake electors plot — putting its participants in legal jeopardy — even as its top lawyers sought to distance themselves from the scheme.
An obscure Trump campaign assistant who gave testimony and documents to the committee
To get to the heart of what was happening in the White House and Trump campaign war rooms, the committee looked to junior staffers — people who were key observers to the action but didn’t have an orchestrating role.
One such staffer was Angela McCallum, the national executive assistant on Trump’s reelection campaign.
After the election, McCallum was part of the Trump campaign’s operation to contact hundreds of state legislators to ask for their support for efforts to replace state electors.
Though McCallum does not appear to have had a leadership role in the operation, nor was she directly quoted by the committee, footnotes from the report show that she turned over several text messages, campaign spreadsheets and even a script for calling state legislators.
Her insight appears to have given the committee information on the campaign’s outreach efforts to push the fake electors plan. Her notes say that campaign staff tried contacting over 190 Republican state legislators in Arizona, Georgia and Michigan alone.
McCallum’s text records also show how campaign supervisors viewed the ongoing outreach efforts. In one instance, McCallum provided a text message sent by an operative the committee believes may have brought the fake elector certificates to Washington, based on the message’s photo of the operative in front of the Capitol.
“This has got to be the cover a book I write one day,” the operative, whom the committee could not find to serve a subpoena, said in the message. “I should probably buy [Mike] [R]oman a tie or something for sending me on this one. Hasn’t been done since 1876 and it was only 3 states that did it.”
In another message, the operative, who was McCallum’s supervisor, celebrated after reporters published a recorded voicemail McCallum left on a state legislators’ phone.
“Honest to god I’m so proud of this” because “[t]hey unwittingly just got your message out there,” the message read, according to the report.
He continued, telling McCallum that “you used the awesome power of the presidency to scare a state rep into getting a statewide newspaper to deliver your talking points.”
A National Guard colonel whose quick plan to save the Capitol was slowed by bureaucracy
The long delay in sending National Guard troops to the US Capitol on January 6 was among the most glaring security failures that day. Previously unreported testimony revealed for the first time in the committee’s final report shows that one commander on the ground had his forces ready to respond hours before they were given approval to actually do so.
National Guard Col. Craig Hunter is not a household name, but as the highest-ranking commander on the ground on January 6, his testimony helped the committee untangle conflicting accounts provided by more senior officials and ultimately arrive at a conclusion about what caused the delayed response.
Hunter provided a detailed timeline of his own actions that day, including that he immediately started preparing his troops to respond at around 2 p.m. ET after hearing that shots had reportedly been fired at the US Capitol.
“So, at that point in my mind I said, ‘Okay, then they will be requesting the DC National Guard now, so we have to move,” Hunter told the committee, according to its final report.
Within the hour, Hunter had a plan in place. Over 100 National Guard troops were already loaded on to buses with their gear, and Hunter informed other responding law enforcement agencies that backup was coming as soon as he got approval from his superiors.
“At 3:10 p.m., Colonel Hunter felt it was time to tell his superiors all that he had done and hopefully get fast approval,” the report says.
But Hunter was unaware that a looming communications breakdown between senior military leaders — including the acting secretary of Defense and secretary of the Army — would delay approval of his plan for more than three hours.
At that very moment, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy was putting together a redundant plan for transporting those forces to the Capitol and was not aware that he had already been given authority to issue the order himself, the report says.
The confusion, coupled with a lack of communication between senior military leaders and commanders on the ground, was a key factor in the delayed response, the report says.
In hindsight, the failures of top military officials are even more glaring considering Hunter had already devised a plan that could have been put into motion hours earlier.
They also did not occur in a vacuum. Trump could have personally intervened at any time, to hasten and coordinate the military response, but chose not to.
This story has been updated with additional information.
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