More than one coup: Jan. 6 committee draws a direct line to Donald Trump

The committee downplayed the infamous Dec. 2020 White House meeting. It was actually much, much crazier

By Heather Digby Parton


Published July 13, 2022 9:56AM (EDT)

Sidney Powell, Donald Trump and Mike Flynn (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Sidney Powell, Donald Trump and Mike Flynn (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Earlier this week, the New York Times published an op-ed by former Justice Department (DOJ) prosecutor and primary member of Robert Mueller's Russia investigation team Andrew Weissman in which he shared his concern about what the DOJ is doing about Donald Trump's attempted coup. Weissman suggested that they may have approached the case as one might approach an organized crime investigation starting with the January 6th insurrectionist prosecutions and working their way up. Looking at the case as it's been presented by the January 6th Committee so far, he came to believe it would have been better organized as a "hub and spoke" conspiracy "in which the Ellipse speech by President Trump and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol were just one 'spoke' of a grander scheme." In other words, as a conspiracy with Donald Trump at the center of a number of different plots aimed at accomplishing the same goal.

After hearing all the testimony and evidence so far, it seems clear that's exactly what happened.

As crazy as the committee's presentation of the White House event was, it was actually much, much crazier.

Donald Trump concocted the Big Lie even before the election as a scheme to stay in office if Joe Biden won. He was told over and over again by almost everyone around him that his lies had no basis in fact or law. Yet he and a few accomplices cooked up various maneuvers anyway, from filing specious lawsuits to pressuring state officials to trying to corrupt the Justice Department in an effort to somehow overturn the results. One obscure lawyer came up with a spurious strategy to get partisan players to file fake electoral votes in order to have the vice president claim there was a dispute and refuse to count the votes. All of these plans overlapped in some ways but stood as distinct "spokes" in the president's relentless drive to stay in office no matter what it took.

The public hearing on Tuesday highlighted a couple of other spokes, one which was thankfully never acted upon while the other tragically was. The committee discussed a notorious meeting that took place on December 18th, 2020, four days after the states had all filed their electoral votes. I wrote about it in some detail a while back, based upon the vivid report by Jonathan Swan of Axios, and I have to say that as crazy as the committee's presentation of the event was, it was actually much, much crazier.

RELATED: January 6 hearing makes it clear: MAGA is a cult

On the evening of the 18th, Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the former CEO of Patrick Byrne were waved into the oval office by a member of Trump loyalist Peter Navarro's staff without anyone knowing about it. A major confrontation ensued between the three of them and lawyers from the White House counsel's office as the outsiders tried to persuade the president to declare a national security emergency under an executive order from 2018 (regarding cyber threats) enabling the president to order the military to seize the voting machines to do an audit. The group wanted the president to name Powell as special counsel to "investigate" voter fraud. They had even already drafted the order giving Powell the assignment and ordering the seizure.

Trump listened carefully to the presentation and repeatedly pointed out to the White House lawyers and others who were vociferously arguing against this inane plot that at least Powell and the others were "out there fighting." Trump patched in Rudy Giuliani on the phone and even he was against Powell's plot believing they had a better chance of overturning the election through the state legislatures and he ended up coming over to the White House and joining in person. Powell thought Trump had agreed with the plan to name her special counsel and no one is quite sure if he actually did. In any case, no national security emergency was declared so that "spoke" was abandoned that night. 

Donald Trump was at the center of a number of different plots aimed at accomplishing the same goal.

The committee didn't mention it in the hearing but it's worth noting how Powell and Flynn came up with this looney idea. Sarah D. Wire of the Los Angeles Times did a deep dive on the Patrick Byrne connection and apparently, right around the election, Byrne financed and organized a "crowdsourcing" operation to find the alleged voter fraud. He hired cyber security experts and analysts and first put them up at the Trump Hotel in Washington and then moved the whole group down to a plantation in Georgia owned by another kooky Trump attorney named Lin Wood, supposedly for security purposes. Michael Flynn was intimately involved in all this as was Powell.

This group was the source of most of the allegations that Giuliani and Powell used in their many unsuccessful lawsuits and it was also where Powell and Flynn, as well as a number of fringe players, came up with the stories that the election had been stolen by foreign countries hacking the voting machines, giving them the supposed authority to declare a national security emergency and call out the military. (Flynn had already been agitating for Trump to declare martial law and have the military re-run the election in the swing states.) This is why Byrne was with them at the White House meeting on December 18th where nobody knew who he was. He had financed the whole operation.

The committee did draw a direct line between this meeting and the beginning of the next "spoke" in the coup wheel, January 6th. Less than two hours after Giuliani and the crew finally left around midnight, Trump put out the infamous tweet: "Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!"

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He may have realized that the Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani spokes of his strategy were not going anywhere but Trump still had his fake electors and Mike Pence plot going and it was becoming clear that the 6th was where he would make his last stand. He needed the troops behind him for that so he put out the call.

The committee shared many examples of the troops, particularly far-right extremists, answering it, plotting together and making it clear that "wild" might very well include bloodshed. We've since learned that he was always planning to send them to the Capitol (although organizers were told to keep it on the down low) and he was certainly told on that day that people in the crowd were armed. He has only one degree of separation from militia groups through his old friend Roger Stone and his own government warned him repeatedly that there was a possibility of violence. At this point, it's hard to believe that wasn't exactly what Trump wanted. 

RELATED: Was this finally enough? Trump and his terrorist confederates must be prosecuted

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Commentary Coup Donald Trump Jan. 6 Committee Jan. 6 Hearing John Eastman Mike Flynn Mike Pence Sidney Powell