Testimony and findings presented by the House Jan. 6 committee during its public hearings have shown that Pat Cipollone, White House counsel under President Donald Trump, was a crucial witness to many of the central issues the panel is probing.
On Tuesday, Cassidy Hutchinson, who served as a top aide to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, delivered stunning testimony that invoked what she and other witnesses have described as Cipollone’s grave concerns about legal exposure if Trump had marched, or driven, to the Capitol with the mob on Jan. 6, 2021.
Early Wednesday morning, Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., wrote in a tweet that the previous day’s hearing showed Cipollone had “significant concerns re. Trump’s Jan 6 activities” and that he needs to testify before the committee. By that evening, Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., sent a subpoena to Cipollone demanding he appear for a deposition on July 6.
A letter Thompson sent to the former White House counsel mentions Cipollone participated with the committee in an informal interview on April 13, adding it has received more evidence since that interview that Cipollone is “uniquely positioned to testify” but that he has declined to provide on-the-record testimony.
Here are three reasons the panel sent the subpoena and wants to hear from Cipollone:
‘Serious legal concerns’
Behind the scenes, the former top White House attorney raised what Hutchinson and other former West Wing aides have described as grave concerns about criminal charges that could arise from Trump’s actions leading up to and on Jan. 6.
Hutchinson, who also served as special assistant to Trump, testified that the former president wanted his armed supporters to be able to attend his rally at the Ellipse on Jan. 6 and he was intent on going to the Capitol with them that day.
Cipollone, aware that Meadows had raised the notion of heading to the Capitol that day, had a conversation with Hutchinson on Jan. 3 in which he told her that “we need to make sure that this doesn’t happen” and “we have serious legal concerns if we go up to the Capitol that day,” according to her account. Cipollone urged Hutchinson to relay that message to Meadows, she said.
In the days leading up to Jan. 6, Hutchinson said she and Cipollone had conversations about certain crimes that would be implicated, such as obstruction of justice or defrauding Congress’ mandatory counting of states’ Electoral College votes.
As she was departing the White House in the presidential motorcade for Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally at the Ellipse the morning of Jan. 6, Cipollone warned Hutchinson again of the legal risks if Trump went to the Capitol as Congress was counting the electoral votes to certify the 2020 presidential election victory of Joe Biden, she told the panel. Cipollone was also worried that it would look like the White House was “inciting a riot or encouraging a riot to erupt” at the Capitol, Hutchinson testified.
She also said Cipollone told her something to the effect of: “Please make sure we don’t go up to the Capitol, Cassidy. Keep in touch with me. We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen.”
DOJ pressure campaign
Cipollone was involved in the effort to push back against Trump’s flirtation with installing Jeffrey Clark as acting attorney general after being told Clark would carry out the president’s desires related to his fraudulent election law claims.
In the wake of the 2020 election, Trump was repeatedly informed by top officials in the Justice Department that his claims of widespread voter fraud were meritless. Attorney General William Barr did that until his resignation in December 2020. Jeffrey Rosen, then-acting attorney general, and Richard Donoghue, the acting deputy attorney general, also refused to give in to Trump’s pressure campaign asking them to say the election was corrupted.
Amid Donoghue and Rosen’s resistance to Trump’s ask, he sought to replace Rosen with Clark, an environmental lawyer at the agency who was willing to use the Justice Department to advance Trump’s voter fraud claims and overturn the election results. Clark circulated a letter he drafted on DOJ letterhead dated Dec. 28, 2020, saying the Justice Department “identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple States, including the State of Georgia.” It also recommended that the legislature in Georgia, a state Biden won, hold a special session to address the concerns.
Trump met with Cipollone, Donoghue, Rosen, Clark and others in the Oval Office on Jan. 3 to discuss his idea of elevating Clark to acting attorney general, replacing Rosen. Trump told Rosen, according to Rosen’s testimony, that Clark, unlike Rosen, “might do something” about the election fraud claims.
The idea was panned in the room, and Cipollone called the Clark letter a “murder-suicide pact,” according to testimony from Steven Engel, former assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel. Those in the room warned of mass resignations if Clark was promoted.
‘Mike deserves it’
As rioters were calling for then-Vice President Mike Pence to be hanged for counting the Electoral College votes to certify Biden’s win, Hutchinson said she heard Trump, Cipollone and Meadows discussing the rioters’ chants calling for Pence to be hanged.
Some minutes later, when Meadows and Cipollone returned from the dining room near the Oval Office, Hutchinson recounted what happened next. Cipollone was demanding that Meadows do more to quell the mob.
“You heard it, Pat. He thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong,” Hutchinson said Meadows told Cipollone, referring to Trump’s thoughts on Pence. Cipollone responded, “This is f—ing crazy,” and more needed to be done to stop the mob, according to Hutchinson’s testimony.
Pence narrowly escaped the mob in the Capitol. The Jan. 6 select committee showed security footage of the vice president being whisked away by his Secret Service detail during the riot, at one point coming just 40 feet from members of the angry pro-Trump mob.
Thompson and Cheney said in a statement that the panel “needs to hear from [Cipollone] on the record, as other former White House counsels have done in other congressional investigations.”
Although top White House lawyers rarely appear before Congress, in order to ensure they can give candid legal advice to presidents, there is precedent in extreme cases. John Dean, the White House counsel for former President Richard Nixon, testified during the Watergate hearings.