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CNN Special Reports
American Coup: The January 6th Investigation. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired August 26, 2023 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is now offensively a riot.
TAPPER: What's the bottom line you want the American people to know?
REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): There was a very sophisticated multipart plan, overseen by Donald Trump.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You can't ever accept when they steal and rig and rob.
CHENEY: To attempt to stay in power.
TAPPER (voice-over): As the longest, largest investigation into Donald Trump's attempt to stay president comes to a close, we put it all together.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I got three men walking down the street in fatigues, was carrying AR-15.
TAPPER (voice-over): The explosive testimony.
CASSIDY HUTCHINSON, FORMER SENIOR AIDE WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I heard the president say something to the effect, I don't effing care that they have weapons. Let my people in.
TAPPER (voice-over): New insight from witnesses.
RUSTY BOWERS, (R) FORMER ARIZONA HOUSE SPEAKER: I said you want me to take my state, 3.2 million voters, and just throw them out the window?
TAPPER (on camera): Was he asking you to commit a crime?
MICHAEL LUTTIG, FORMER UNITED STATES ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: It gets back to the criminal intent issue. I don't know what he believed.
CROWD: Hang Mike Pence.
TAPPER (voice-over): And what might lie ahead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The former president and his allies represent a clear and present danger to American democracy. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's over.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not because of what they did on January 6th.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You better run.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's because of what they pledged to do in 2024.
TAPPER (voice-over): A CNN Special Report, "American Coup: The January 6th Investigation."
BOWERS: I'm a very textural artist. I love a lot of texture.
TAPPER (voice-over): In Arizona, the Republican Speaker of the House, Rusty Bowers, is an artist by trade. But last February, Bowers was thrown into a real-life drama.
BOWERS: The bill number was 2596.
TAPPER (voice-over): 2596, one of more than 100 bills submitted in Arizona to tighten access to the ballot box. The measure would have scrapped early voting. All voting would be on Election Day only.
BOWERS: Ninety percent of my district votes early.
TAPPER (voice-over): And it would have mandated paper ballots. But most egregious to Rusty Bowers was this.
BOWERS: With no guidance criteria, the legislature after the election could dismiss the election. And I said, welcome to fascism.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: H.B. 2596 elections.
BOWERS: And so I said, I will give this the respect it deserves.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Education.
BOWERS: So I sent it to 12 committees so we would have a long vetting process.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Military affairs.
BOWERS: Typical is one or two. If it was a controversial bill, you might send it to three. If it goes to four committees, then, then you're getting the message.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Judiciary.
BOWERS: I assigned it to 12 committees.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Transportation.
BOWERS: It was theatrical and I admit it.
TAPPER (voice-over): It's no overstatement to say that, because Bowers stood up for democracy, he will no longer be in the state legislature. BOWERS: I'm Rusty Bowers.
TAPPER (voice-over): Term limited in the State House, he ran in the Republican primary for a State Senate seat.
BOWERS: Let's stood up to the radicals and kept my conservative campaign promises.
My opponent is David Farnsworth.
TRUMP: David Farnsworth is going to do the job.
TAPPER (voice-over): Their positions on the major issues nearly identical, except for one.
DAVID FARNSWORTH, FORMER ARIZONA STATE SENATOR: I believe the election was stolen.
TAPPER (voice-over): Farnsworth bought into Trump's election lies. Bowers did not.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Arizona voters picked David Farnsworth over state house speaker --
BOWERS: I lost big. It is very possible that the bill that I assigned liberally to my committees will be back. The possibility of that getting a governor's signature would just be a disaster. I call it the possibility of going back into the Dark Ages in Arizona.
TAPPER (voice-over): As the United States headed into the 2022 midterm elections, there was perhaps more at stake regarding American democracy than ever before.
From Arizona to Pennsylvania to Georgia, in all the so-called swing states, the former President Donald Trump backed not only those who supported his lies about election fraud in 2020 but also often those who expressed a willingness to undo any future results that they don't like under the pretense of trumped-up fraud.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President.
TAPPER (voice-over): As this was happening, the House Select Committee investigating January 6th was interviewing witnesses, holding hearings and gathering evidence to fully expose what the committee says was a plot, designed to keep Trump as president in 2020 and to try to make sure it can never happen again.
(on camera): What's the bottom line you want the American people to know from these hearings?
CHENEY: There are several things. But one is that there was a very sophisticated, multipart plan, overseen by Donald Trump, to attempt to overturn the election. No president in our history has ever done anything even close to that before.
[21:05:11] TAPPER (voice-over): Vice Chair Liz Cheney, one of just two Republicans on the committee, has spent the last year bucking her party and helping investigate Donald Trump's sophisticated multipart plan. The first piece the committee focused on were the lies.
TRUMP: Mail ballots, a very dangerous thing for this country because they're cheaters.
TAPPER (voice-over): In the lead-up to the election, Donald Trump had been talking about the possibility of widespread voter fraud for months.
TRUMP: Voting by mail is wrought with fraud. People steal them out of mailboxes.
TAPPER (voice-over): Looking back, it's clear he was laying the groundwork for this.
TRUMP: This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election.
TAPPER (voice-over): Trump may have been crying widespread fraud. But he had no proof.
What the former president did have proof of, based on his own team's assessment of votes, was that he lost, a fact made clear by the January 6th committee, which exposed to the world that so many Trump aides, despite toeing the Trump line in public.
MARIA BARTIROMO, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Are you expecting the president to concede?
JASON MILLER, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: Maria, that word's not even in our vocabulary right now.
TAPPER (voice-over): Knew Trump was going to lose legitimately and that he did lose legitimately, admissions they were forced to make under oath.
MILLER: I was in the Oval Office. And at some point in the conversation, Matt Oczkowski, who was the lead data person, was brought on. And I remember he delivered to the president pretty blunt terms that he was going to lose.
TAPPER (voice-over): Trump campaign attorneys followed up on all of the fraud claims and they quickly concluded that fraud did not take the election from Donald Trump, voters did. The news was told to Trump's chief of staff at the White House, Mark Meadows, in mid to late November.
ALEX CANNON, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN LAWYER: I remember a call with Mr. Meadows. And I remember sharing with him that we weren't finding anything that would be sufficient to change the results in any of the key states. TAPPER (voice-over): During a meeting several weeks later, the president got the same message from his White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, and another White House lawyer, Eric Herschmann.
DEREK LYONS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE STAFF SECRETARY FOR TRUMP: Eric and Pat told the group, president included, that none of those allegations had been substantiated to the point where they can be the basis for any litigation challenge to the election.
TRUMP: It is statistically impossible that the person, me, that led the charge, lost.
TAPPER (voice-over): But Donald Trump continued to refuse to publicly accept defeat.
TRUMP: The evidence of the fraud is monumental and more is coming out.
TAPPER (voice-over): Audacious claims of widespread fraud became a daily occurrence.
TRUMP: Numerous times we found glitches. And every single time, that glitch went 100 percent to Biden and no percent to Trump.
RUDY GUILIANI, FORMER TRUMP PERSONAL ATTORNEY: The only thing left is to vote. That could have been Mickey Mouse. That could have been a dead person.
TAPPER (voice-over): Standing near Giuliani is an attorney named Sidney Powell, who became the face of one of the most notorious and, frankly, most deranged lies, that Dominion Voting Machines were flipping votes for Trump to Biden.
SIDNEY POWELL, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: The Dominion Voting Systems were created in Venezuela at the direction of Hugo Chavez to make sure he never lost an election.
TAPPER (voice-over): After she was sued by Dominion, Powell's attorney eventually conceded that Powell lied, saying that, quote, no reasonable person would conclude that her statements were truly statements of fact, unquote.
But long before that happened, the president's attorney general, Bill Barr, was investigating all of Trump's fraud claims.
BILL BARR, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: There's a little -- getting awkward because obviously he had lost the election and --
TAPPER (voice-over): Barr said he made it clear to Donald Trump at a November 23rd meeting that he had lost.
BARR: Our role is to investigate fraud. And it's just not meritorious. They're not panning out.
MIKE LINDELL, CEO, MY PILLOW INC.: He was going to win in spite of all the fraud.
TAPPER (voice-over): But spurred on by the most ardent election liars, including many in MAGA media.
PETER NAVARRO, ASST. TO PRESIDENT FOR TRADE AND MANUFACTURING POLICY: Clearly the president won this election.
TAPPER (voice-over): Donald Trump would not listen to reason or fact.
BARTIROMO: Where is the DOJ and the FBI and all of this, Mr. President?
TRUMP: Missing in action.
BARR: This got under my skin but I also felt it was time for me to say something. So I set up a lunch with the AP reporter, Mike Balsamo. And I told him that, to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election.
TAPPER (voice-over): A heated Trump-Barr meeting followed and Barr got another opportunity to debunk the lies. Among the claims he focused on were the ones about Dominion Voting Machines.
TRUMP: With a turn of a dial, with a change of a chip, you can press a button for Trump and the vote goes to Biden.
BARR: I told him that the stuff that his people were shoveling out to the public was bullshit. I specifically raised the Dominion Voting Machines. I saw absolutely zero basis for the allegations. But they were made in such a sensational way that they obviously were influencing a lot of people.
TAPPER (voice-over): Before the end of December, Barr had quit. His replacement, acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, who came with a blunt yet low-key acting deputy attorney general named Richard Donoghue.
Like Barr, Rosen and Donoghue took seriously and thoroughly investigated each of the fraud claims coming from then President Trump. In late December, Donoghue spoke with the president and told him the truth about numerous false claims, including one involving Dominion machines in northern Michigan.
RICHARD DONOGHUE, FORMER DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: There you had supposedly a cyber-expert group issue a report that said there was a 68 percent error rate. It was not a 68 percent error rate. In fact, it was, I think, a 0.006 percent error rate.
TAPPER (voice-over): Donoghue also debunked fraud claims Trump made about the vote counting done at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.
TRUMP: I don't run to see if people are walking in with suitcases and putting them under a table with a black robe around it.
DONOGHUE: There were allegations about suitcases of fraudulent ballots being smuggled into the facility. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now they're going to start pulling these ballots out from under this table.
DONOGHUE: Ballots being run through multiple times. The U.S. attorney there looked at it, found that none of those allegations were true.
TAPPER (voice-over): Donoghue's boss, Jeff Rosen, then forwarded an email from the White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, asking the Department of Justice to look into the possibility that Italian satellites were changing votes from Trump to Biden.
BRADLEY JOHNSON, CIA CHIEF OF STATION (RET.): They sent these new numbers back up through this military satellite, Italian military satellite.
DONOGHUE: I was skeptical, to say the least. We very quickly determined that that was not a well-founded allegation. And we told the chief of staff and others as well.
JOHNSON: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, I mean, what's going on over there? What were these --
TAPPER (voice-over): The nation's top law enforcement officials were investigating and finding nothing substantive. And in the courts, the usual venue for claims about voting misconduct, the president's team lost over and over again.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Courts again shutting down more desperate attempts to overturn an election.
TAPPER (on camera): You were on George W. Bush's short list for the Supreme Court. You're not some raging liberal. Is that fair?
LUTTIG: Totally fair.
TAPPER (voice-over): Michael Luttig is a highly respected conservative retired federal court judge. Luttig did not hear any of the Trump fraud cases. But he and his colleagues did analyze more than 60 of them.
LUTTIG: We reviewed each individual claim and decided that there was nothing that would have changed the result in a single precinct let alone a single state, let alone nationally.
TAPPER (voice-over): Ahead.
BOWERS: You're asking me to do something that's against my oath. And I'm not going to do that.
TAPPER (voice-over): Donald Trump puts the squeeze on statehouse leaders across the country.
TRUMP: It's going to have a big impact on Tuesday if you guys don't get this thing straightened out fast.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [21:16:36]
BOWERS: We're in my office. This is the Speaker's office.
TAPPER (voice-over): It's not every day a state house politician gets a call from a U.S. president. But that's what happened to Arizona speaker Republican Rusty Bowers after the 2020 election.
BOWERS: Came home from church. My wife and I were sitting in the driveway.
TAPPER (voice-over): The White House popped up on his screen.
BOWERS: So I take the call and Donetta steps out and goes in the house. I sat there in my little Prius and had a chat with the president with bad phone reception. And backed out in front of the house where I get better reception.
TAPPER (voice-over): Rudy Giuliani was on the line, too. And Bowers says it was Giuliani, who began making crazy claims about voter fraud in Arizona.
BOWERS: I can't give you the exact numbers but I'll throw out numbers -- but they're kind of the audacious numbers, like 200,000 illegal aliens voted, 6,000 military ballots were stolen and used.
TAPPER (voice-over): Bowers says Giuliani wanted him to hold an official Arizona House hearing to air these claims publicly.
BOWERS: And then I said, but what's the whole purpose of this? What are you trying to achieve? And they said, well, we've heard that there's an arcane law in Arizona, that if you have sufficient cause, that you can throw out the Biden electors and put in Trump electors. And I said, that's a new one to me. I have never, ever heard of that. And so now you're asking me to do something that's against my oath. And I'm not going to do that.
TAPPER (voice-over): But Bowers says he told Giuliani he had good lawyers and would be happy to put the former mayor in touch with them.
BOWERS: I don't do anything of this magnitude without having strong legal counsel and proof. And the president said, Rudy, you got the proof? He said, yes, I got the proof. I said, I want the proof. I didn't get it when he said he'd do it. He never called my attorneys.
TAPPER (voice-over): But the asks did not stop with Giuliani. Bowers would later get a call from another Trump attorney, John Eastman.
JOHN EASTMAN, TRUMP LAWYER: We know there was fraud.
TAPPER: Whom the January 6th Committee sees as a key player in this grand plan to undo the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election.
BOWERS: The ask was kind of that we would throw out the electors. And I said, has it ever been done? He said, no. I said, you want me to take my state, 3.2 million voters, and just throw them out the window because I want to? And that's responsible on my part? I said, OK, thank you. We're not doing that.
TAPPER (voice-over): Bowers kept his caucus on the sidelines. But in the Arizona Senate, Republicans there yielded to pressure from Team Trump and voted to conduct an audit of the results in Arizona's largest county.
BOWERS: When they got the Cyber Ninjas, I thought, I'll watch. This will be interesting. I don't want to be close to that.
TAPPER (voice-over): You might remember the Ninjas. The company was run by a Trump supporter. They employed ultraviolet lights, which could supposedly identify ballots from China.
BOWERS: They came out that Mr. Biden won by a larger margin than previously. And Mr. Trump lost a number of votes.
TAPPER (voice-over): Bowers and his colleagues in Arizona were not the only state officials to feel the heat from Trump and or Giuliani. Material discovered by the January 6th Committee showed it happened over and over across the swing states that Biden won.
GIULIANI: Mr. Speaker, this is Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis.
TAPPER (voice-over): In Pennsylvania, Bowers' counterpart, Republican House Speaker Brian Cutler, got the calls.
JENNA ELLIS, TRUMP CAMPAIGN LEGAL ADVISER: Hello, Mr. Speaker. This is Jenna Ellis and I'm here with Mayor Giuliani.
GIULIANI: Hey, Brian, it's Rudy. I really have something important to call to your attention that I think really changes things.
TAPPER (voice-over): The January 6th Committee says Cutler thought the calls were inappropriate and had his lawyers tell Giuliani to stop them.
GIULIANI: I understand that you don't want to talk to me now. I just want to bring some facts to your attention.
TAPPER (voice-over): And then there was Georgia, where the Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, got an hour-long call from President Trump.
TRUMP: Brad, what are we going to do? We won the election and it's not fair to take it away from us like this.
KAITLAN COLLINS, ANCHOR, CNN THIS MORNING: Trump probably put more pressure on Brad Raffensperger than anyone else. It was immense.
TRUMP: All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes.
COLLINS: And I think it's the phone call that everyone remembers that was later leaked, where he, in turn, berated Brad Raffensperger.
TRUMP: They're going around playing you and laughing at you behind your back, Brad.
COLLINS: He praised him. He seemed to try to charm him at times and even indicated that, if he did not act, that there could be criminal liability for those actions.
TRUMP: You're not reporting it. That's a, you know, that's a criminal -- that's a criminal offense.
TAPPER (voice-over): And it was not just pressure. There were threats, usually from Trump supporters, who felt empowered or incited by him. Take, for instance, the two men in this Hummer with a QAnon decal.
Prosecutors say they drove the vehicle filled with automatic weapons and ammunition from Virginia to the Philadelphia Convention Center in early November 2020, where votes were still being counted.
At the time, Al Schmidt was the Republican responsible for overseeing the vote count in Philadelphia. He received threats aimed at his family.
AL SCHMIDT, COMMISSIONER FOR THE BOARD OF ELECTIONS IN PHILADELPHIA: Tell the truth or your three kids will be fatally shot, it included our address, included my children's names, included a picture of our home.
TAPPER (voice-over): And the Republican House Speaker in that state had protesters show up at his home.
BRYAN CUTLER (R-PA), STATE HOUSE SPEAKER: There were multiple protests, at least three, outside either my district office or my home. My then 15-year-old son was home by himself for the first one.
BRAD RAFFENSPERGER, GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: We have now counted --
TAPPER (voice-over): In Georgia, Brad Raffensperger's wife received disturbing messages.
RAFFENSPERGER: People started threatening her, sending her sexualized texts, those kinds of intimidations.
TAPPER (voice-over): Georgia election worker Shaye Moss testified before the House Select Committee about threats she received via Facebook Messenger.
SHAYE MOSS, FORMER GEORGIA ELECTION WORKER: A lot of threats, wishing death upon me, telling me that, you know, I'll be in jail with my mother.
TAPPER (voice-over): These threats happened after Rudy Giuliani spread lies about her and her mother, Ruby Freeman, who was counting votes with Moss at State Farm Arena in Atlanta on election night.
GIULIANI: Tape earlier in the day of Ruby Freeman and Shaye Freeman Moss and one of the gentlemen, quite obviously, surreptitiously passing around USB ports as if they're vials of heroin or cocaine. I mean, it's obvious to anyone who's a criminal investigator or a prosecutor. They are engaged in surreptitious illegal activity.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): What was your mom actually handing you on that video?
MOSS: A ginger mint. This time of my life upside down. I don't want anyone knowing my name. I don't want to go anywhere with my mom, because she might yell my name out over the grocery aisle or something. I haven't been anywhere at all. I've gained about 60 pounds. This affect my life in a major way.
TAPPER (voice-over): Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, the only Republican on the January 6th Committee other than Liz Cheney, says all the threats are part of Trump's plan.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): I don't think you can look at the words and actions of Donald Trump and think that he wanted anything except the explosion of these threats to people. He could stop that in a second if he wanted to. But he likes it. There are a lot of members of Congress that I think voted against impeachment because they were scared for their family and for themselves. What does that mean? It means threats of violence worked.
TAPPER (voice-over): Up next.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They suggested that he used the apparatus of government to seize voting machines.
TAPPER (voice-over): After six weeks of lies and pressure from the President of the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Take a moment to mark your ballots.
TAPPER (voice-over): On December 14th, 2020, all 50 U.S. states formally certified their results as their citizens had voted.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The resolution is unanimously adopted.
TAPPER (voice-over): And that, according to the January 6th Committee is what led to a boisterous White House meeting, where the former president considered horrifying action.
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: On December 18th, three people, one of them Trump's former national security adviser Mike Flynn, his lawyer Sidney Powell and Patrick Byrne, the founder of overstock.com were let into the White House by an aide to Peter Navarro, another Trump advisor. Trump saw them, called them into the Oval Office and they start arguing the case, where everyone else is failing Trump and that Trump can take aggressive actions to keep himself in power and to try to impact the results of an election that he had already lost. They suggested that he used the apparatus of government to seize voting machines.
And as this meeting is taking place, another lawyer in the White House, Eric Herschmann, figures out what's happening, calls in the White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, Mark Meadows ends up joining at some point. Derek Lyons, then the staff secretary, on his last day at work, joins Rudy Giuliani, gets called in. And this goes on for hours.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How much time did you have alone with the president? And I say alone, you had other people with you but before the crowd came running?
SIDNEY POWELL, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: Probably no more than 10 or 15 minutes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was in that --
POWELL: I'll bet Pat Cipollone set a new land speed record.
PAT CIPOLLONE, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL FOR DONALD TRUMP: I opened the door and I walked in. I saw General Flynn, I saw Sidney Powell sitting there. I was not happy to see the people in the Oval Office.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Explain why.
CIPOLLONE: I don't think any of these people were providing the president with good advice.
TAPPER (voice-over): The team had arrived with a draft executive order that, had it been signed by Donald Trump, would have immediately ordered the Secretary of Defense to seize, collect, retain and analyze ballot boxes. And it would have created, quote, a special counsel to oversee the operation and institute all criminal and civil proceedings as appropriate.
(on camera): This is a draft of the executive order that would have allowed Trump to seize voting machines. What was your reaction when you heard about that?
CHENEY: I think most Americans could never imagine those things would happen here. And that order and many of the other things that we've learned through our hearings have been really stunning to me, because, repeatedly, I found myself in a situation, thinking, my gosh, how could this happen here? And we really thought it couldn't. But it's just continued to emphasize for all of us that our institutions are fragile.
TAPPER (voice-over): The appointment of the special counsel was not hypothetical. Trump wanted Sidney Powell, a prominent peddler of election lies, in the spot. POWELL: He asked Pat Cipollone if he had the authority to name me special counsel. And he said yes. And then he asked him if he had the authority to give me whatever security clearance I needed. And Pat Cipollone said yes.
And then the president said, OK, you know, I'm naming her that. And I'm giving her a security clearance. And then shortly before we left was when Cipollone and or Herschmann and whoever the other young man was, said, you can name her whatever you want to name her. And no one's going to pay any attention to it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How did he respond? How did the president respond to that?
POWELL: Something like, you see what I deal with. I deal with this all the time.
TAPPER (voice-over): The meeting was extremely heated. But Cipollone arguing against the special counsel idea and against seizure of voting machines.
CIPOLLONE: To have the federal government seize voting machines, that's a terrible idea. That's not how we do things in the United States. There's no legal authority to do that. The three of them were really sort of forcefully attacking me verbally.
Eric, Derek and we are pushing back. And we're asking one simple question. As a general matter, where's the evidence?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What response did you get?
CIPOLLONE: A variety of responses. Like, what do you mean, where's the evidence? You should know.
DEREK LYONS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE STAFF SECRETARY UNDER DONALD TRUMP: There was discussion of well, you know, we don't have it now but we will have it or whatever.
ERIC HERSCHMANN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: Derek and I both challenged what she was saying. And she says, well, the judges are corrupt. And I was like, every one? Every single case that you've done in the country you guys lost, every one of them is corrupt? Even the ones we appointed?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what's --
HERSCHMANN: I'm being nice. I was much more harsh to her.
TAPPER (voice-over): The meeting very nearly devolved into a physical fight.
HERSCHMANN: Flynn screamed at me that I was a quitter and kept on standing up and turning around and screaming at me. And then at certain point I had it with him. So I yelled back, either come over or set your effing ass back down.
[21:35:01] RUDY GUILIANI, FORMER TRUMP PERSONAL ATTORNEY: I'm going to categorically describe it as you guys are not tough enough. Or maybe put it another way, you're a bunch of pussies. Excuse the expression but that's -- I'm almost certain the word was used.
POWELL: I mean, if it had been me sitting in his chair, I would have fired all of them that night and had them escorted out of the building.
TAPPER (voice-over): The January 6th Committee discovered text messages sent during and following the meeting by Cassidy Hutchinson, the assistant to Mark Meadows, who testified live before the committee hearing in June, describing the meeting as unhinged.
She also snapped this photograph of Mark Meadows escorting Rudy Giuliani from the White House to make sure he did not get back into the mansion.
(on camera): You tweeted, quote, somehow the committee testimony featured live 'underplayed' how crazy that December 18 meeting was. How was it underplayed?
HABERMAN: Because Donald Trump faded into the background as this was all being described. One of the ways in which Donald Trump has escaped a lot of accountability over time is he gets people fighting with each other. And that's what people focus on.
He considered extreme, really unprecedented actions. Now he didn't take them but he was unwilling to foreclose options until the last possible second, no matter how extreme and potentially dangerous they were.
TAPPER: I remember talking to you after that meeting. And you were shaking.
HABERMAN: I was. And it was -- frankly, it took a little bit to process exactly what had happened but I remember getting a text from a senior Republican Senate advisor, asking me if there was going to be an issue in terms of a peaceful transfer of power after this. And I said, yes, there is a legitimate issue here. And I think that was a real neon warning sign.
TAPPER: It was floated, this idea by retired General Michael Flynn, in the Oval Office, that Donald Trump should seize voting machines and ballot boxes from these states that Joe Biden won. What was your reaction when you heard that?
LUTTIG: I said to my wife, this is beyond all comprehension. I never utter a word like this. But that in particular sounded in a banana republic to me. Had that happened, we would have been in a situation, where, literally, we're in a constitutional crisis because nothing in our Constitution gives you the answer.
TAPPER (voice-over): At the end of the evening, no seizure orders were issued. The president decided to go in a different direction. He would take it in a tweet. KAITLAN COLLINS, ANCHOR, CNN THIS MORNING: What he wanted was to show everyone who is telling him he lost the election and that people agree with him.
TAPPER (voice-over): The tweet and the violence that followed, ahead.
TAPPER (voice-over): Hours before sunrise on December 19th, 2020, after a long, loud, disturbing White House meeting about seizing voting machines, President Trump sent a tweet that would change history. Big protest in D.C. on January 6th, it read, be there, will be wild.
COLLINS: What he wanted was to show these lawmakers, not just in Washington but everyone who was telling him he lost the election, he wanted to show them that people agree with him and people backed his lies about the election.
TAPPER (voice-over): Donald Trump was summoning his true believers to Washington, D.C., and evidence pieced together by the January 6th Committee shows they heard that call and began planning immediately.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Women for America First, a pro Trump organizing group, had previously applied for a rally permit for January 22nd and 23rd in Washington, D.C. But in the hours after the tweet, they moved their permit to January 6th.
TAPPER (voice-over): The next day, Ali Alexander, a Trump supporter and leader of the group Stop the Steal, created a website to share and promote logistics about the rally.
RASKIN: It included event times, places, speakers and details on transportation in Washington, D.C.
TAPPER (voice-over): Far right personalities, such as conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, almost immediately began spreading the word on their platforms.
ALEX JONES, RIGHT WING MEDIA PERSONALITY: One of the most historic events in American history has just taken place. President Trump wants the American people to march on Washington, D.C., on January 6th, 2021. The time for games is over. The time for action is now.
TAPPER (voice-over): As word spread, it became clear the Trump faithful, who planned to attend, were also planning for the possibility of violence.
MATT BRACKEN, RIGHT-WING COMMENTATOR: We know the rules of engagement. If you have enough people, you can push down any kind of a fence or a wall.
SALTY CRACKER, PRO-TRUMP YOUTUBER: You better understand some, son, you better understand something. Red wave, bitch. Red wave is going to appeal. Red Wedding going down January 6th.
TAPPER (voice-over): The term Red Wedding comes from the "Game of Thrones" T.V. series. It means a massacre.
CRACKER: January 6th, kick that fucking door open, look down the street, you're going to be a million-plus geeked up on the barricades.
TAPPER (voice-over): Some of Trump's Twitter followers did consider his tweets to be orders. That's according to a former Twitter employee, whose identity was hidden while testifying to the Committee.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It felt as if a mob was being organized and they were gathering together their weaponry and their logic and their reasoning behind why they were prepared to fight.
TAPPER (voice-over): Members of the Committee say they were finding similar types of chatter across social media platforms.
RASKIN: Quote, calling all patriots. Be in Washington, D.C., January the 6th. This wasn't organized by any group. DJT has invited us and it's going to be wild. Some of the online rhetoric turned to openly homicidal and white nationalist, such as, why don't we just kill them? Every last Democrat, down to the last man, woman and child? And, it's time for the day of the rope. White Revolution is the only solution.
TAPPER (voice-over): TheDonald.Win, an openly racist and anti-Semitic site, became a venue for those considering violence to exchange ideas.
RASKIN: On that site, many shared plans and violent threats. Bring handcuffs and wait near the tunnels, wrote one user. A commenter replied, suggesting zipties instead. One post encouraged others to come with body armor, knuckles, shields, bats, pepper spray, whatever it takes. All of those were used on the 6th. The post concluded, join your local Proud Boys chapter as well.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are the Proud Boys.
CROWD: We are the Proud Boys.
TAPPER (voice-over): According to the committee, the Proud Boys, a far right militia, was active during this time, preparing for January 6th.
RASKIN: The Proud Boys launched in an encrypted chat called the ministry of self-defense. The Committee obtained hundreds of these messages, which show strategic and tactical planning about January the 6th, including maps of Washington, D.C., that pinpoint the location of police.
TAPPER (voice-over): Even more alarming, some of the people making plans in the Proud Boys and in the Oath Keepers, another right wing militia, had direct ties to people close to Donald Trump.
RASKIN: One such ally was Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser. This photo from December 12th shows Flynn and Patrick Byrne, another Trump ally, guarded by indicted Oath Keeper Roberto Minuta. Another view of this scene shows Oath Keeper's leader Stewart Rhodes in the picture as well.
TAPPER (voice-over): Both Minuta and Rhodes were charged with seditious conspiracy, conspiring to use force against the federal government. They have pleaded not guilty. But late last year --
(on camera): A jury has reached a verdict in the seditious conspiracy trial for alleged leaders of the far-right Oath Keepers.
(voice-over): Rhodes and another Oath Keeper were found guilty of seditious conspiracy. Three others they were tried with were convicted on lesser charges. Minuta's trial is underway. More than a dozen Oath Keepers and Proud Boys have been charged with seditious conspiracy. According to the Committee, longtime Trump ally Roger Stone had ties to these groups.
RASKIN: In the same timeframe, Stone communicated with both the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers regularly. The Committee obtained encrypted content from a group chat called Friends of Stone, FOS which included Stone, Rhodes, Tarrio and Ali Alexander.
TAPPER (voice-over): Tarrio is Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys.
RASKIN: The chat focused on various pro-Trump events in November and December of 2020 as well as January 6th. On January 6th, Stone was guarded by two Oath Keepers, who have since been criminally indicted for seditious conspiracy.
One of them later pleaded guilty and, according to the Department of Justice, admitted that the Oath Keepers were ready to use, quote, lethal force if necessary against anyone who tried to remove President Trump from the White House, including the National Guard.
TAPPER (voice-over): Members of the Committee say Roger Stone's connection to the Proud Boys goes back years and showed him taking the oath required for the first level of initiation into the group.
ROGER STONE, AMERICAN LOBBYIST: Hi, I'm Roger Stone. I'm a Western chauvinist and I refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.
TAPPER (voice-over): There are some missing pieces in the public record, such as, what, if anything, did Donald Trump or anyone inside the White House know about the organizing by the far right militias?
CHENEY: The night before January 6th, President Trump instructed his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, to contact both Roger Stone and Michael Flynn regarding what would play out the next day. Ms. Hutchinson, is it your understanding that Mr. Meadows called Mr. Stone on the 5th?
CASSIDY HUTCHINSON, FORMER ASSISTANT TO W.H. CHIEF OF STAFF MARK MEADOWS: I'm under the impression that Mr. Meadows did complete both a call to Mr. Stone and General Flynn the evening of the 5th. CHENEY: And do you know what they talked about that evening, Ms. Hutchinson?
HUTCHINSON: I'm not sure.
KINZINGER: I think what's important is that he was going through the process of selling that the election was stolen and then convincing folks that, look, if you believe that election was stolen from you, violence is the only answer, quite honestly. I mean, that's kind of the American tradition. If you truly believe that the Constitution is being disobeyed, every American would actually be on the Capitol.
TAPPER (voice-over): Up next, Donald Trump puts the squeeze on justice.
DONOGHUE: Him telling us that we should say publicly that it was corrupt, that concerned me.
TAPPER (on camera): You're obviously well aware of what Donald Trump was doing in terms of his election fraud claims. Did you have any apprehension of becoming deputy attorney general?
DONOGHUE: No, I didn't have any concerns about that. I had a great deal of confidence in the team. I wanted to be part of the team. You want to be there when it matters.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You can't ever accept when they steal and rig and rob. Can't accept that.
TAPPER (voice-over): After attorney general Bill Barr resigned, Richard Donoghue was appointed to the number two position in the Department of Justice, the deputy to Jeffrey Rosen, the new acting attorney general.
The two men inherited a department under constant and public attack by the sitting president of the United States, fighting to hold on to an election he falsely claimed had been stolen.
COLLINS: Trump thought the Justice Department was an arm of his presidency and a way for him to tell them what to do. And they should do his bidding and what he wanted.
TAPPER (voice-over): As the new targets of Trump's ire, Rosen and Donoghue fielded near-daily complaints from Donald Trump.
JEFFREY ROSEN, FORMER U.S. ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: Between December 23rd and January 3rd, the president either called me or met with me virtually every day. The common element of all of this was the president expressing his dissatisfaction that the Justice Department, in his view, had not done enough to investigate election fraud.
TAPPER (voice-over): But they were investigating. The Department of Justice had been debunking Trump's wild election fraud lies one by one. But President Trump chose to not listen.
On a December 27th phone call with Rosen and Donoghue, President Trump said the department had an obligation to, quote, tell people that this was an illegal, corrupt election, despite no evidence of widespread fraud.
Trump also pressed them to publicly, quote, just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.
DONOGHUE: That was an exact quote from the president, indicated that he had some political avenue he wanted to pursue with the Congress. But by him telling us that we should say publicly that it was corrupt, that concerned me.
KINZINGER: What he intended was for the Department of Justice to say, we have indications that there was corruption, because, from there, you can take that seed of doubt. And Donald Trump and Republican members of Congress can water it, they can grow that doubt. And then, through there, you could do things like get people to vote against certification on January 6th.
TAPPER (voice-over): As long as Rosen and Donoghue were in charge, they told the president they would not publicly back his false election fraud claims. So Trump had to find someone who would help him do what he wanted to steal the election.
DONOGHUE: Jeff Clark's name had come up on December 27th in the phone call with the president. He brought it up and said, look, people are telling me I should change the leadership. People are telling me that you two are not doing your job. I hear Jeff Clark is great. People tell me he could get in there and do something. And it was surprising to me.
TAPPER (voice-over): Surprising because the president would have no reason to even know who Jeffrey Clark was.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Even within the department, you know, very few people had really heard of Jeffrey Clark.
TAPPER (voice-over): But Donald Trump had. Unbeknownst to Rosen and Donoghue, Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Scott Perry had brought Clark to the Oval Office to meet with President Trump on December 22nd, the day after Perry had been amongst Republican members of Congress who joined Trump at the White House to discuss overturning the 2020 election.
Trump also mentioned Jeff Clark on a separate call with Rosen.
ROSEN: He made what I regarded as a peculiar reference. I don't remember the exact quote but it was something about, did I know Jeff Clark or did I know who he was or something like that.
I was quizzical as to, how does the president even know Mr. Clark?
TAPPER (voice-over): Rosen confronted Clark, who admitted he had broken the long standing policy governing communication between the Justice Department and the White House. White House lawyers Pat Cipollone and Patrick Philbin also intervened and warned Clark to not communicate with the White House. Clark agreed. But just two days later escalated the situation with an e-mail that set off a series of events that would rock the Justice Department.
DONOGHUE: We came in on Monday, December 28th hectic day, as they all were, and then in the afternoon, we got that e-mail, which I had to sit down and read more than once to make sure I understood what he was proposing.
TAPPER (on camera): What was he proposing?
DONOGHUE: He was proposing, sending out a letter signed by the three of us, the Acting Attorney General, myself and Jeff Clark to Georgia, but also the other states, the other swing states as well, suggesting essentially that they set aside the electors assigned to support President-elect Biden and hold hearings, and basically have the state legislatures pick a new slate of electors.