Return to Transcripts main page
CNN Live Event/Special
Now: Jan 6 CMTE Details Ties Between Trump World, Extremists; Now: Former Far-Right Militia Member, Capitol Rioter Testify. Aired 3- 3:30p ET
Aired July 12, 2022 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was his response?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He acknowledged that and said "We've had a lot." Something along those lines and then he fairly quickly move to how fired up the crowd is - was going to be.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what did he say about it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just that they were fired up. They were angry. They felt like the election's been stolen, that the election was rigged.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did he give you any indication of how he knew that the crowd was fired up or an angry?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He continued to reference being able to hear them outside.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REP. STEPHANIE MURPHY (D-FL): Through the open door of the Oval Office, the president could hear the sound of the crowd in the music at the rally at the Freedom Plaza. And these are some of the things that they were saying there at the plaza, just blocks from where the president sat that evening, excited for the next day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROGER STONE, TRUMP OUTSIDE ADVISOR: This is nothing less than an epic struggle for the future of this country between dark and light, between the godly and godless, between good and evil. And we will win this fight or America will step off into a thousand years of darkness.
RET. LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Tomorrow, tomorrow, trust me, the American people that are standing on the soil that we are standing on tonight and they're going to be standing on this soil tomorrow, this is the soil that we have fought over, fought for and we will fight for in the future.
The members of Congress, the members of the House of Representatives, the members of the United States Senate, those of you who are feeling weak tonight, those of you that don't have the moral fiber in your body, get some tonight because tomorrow we the people are going to be here and we want you to know that we will not stand for a lie. We will not stand for a lie.
Ali Alexander, stop the steal organizer: I want them to know that 1776 is always an option. These degenerates in the deed sale are going to give us what we want or we're going to shut this country down.
ALEX JONES, RIGHT-WING MEDIA PERSONALITY: It's 1776, 1776, 1776, 1776.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURPHY: At 5:05 PM, as the Freedom Plaza rally was underway just blocks away, President Trump tweeted, "Washington is being inundated with people who don't want to see an election victory stolen by emboldened Radical Left Democrats. Our country has had enough, they won't take it anymore." To the crowds gathering in D.C. he added, "We hear you and love you from the Oval Office."
The Committee has learned that on January 5th, there were serious concerns at Twitter about the anticipated violence the next day. Listen to what the Twitter witness told us about their desperate efforts to get Twitter to do something.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was your gut feeling on the night of January 5th?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I believe I sent a Slack message to someone that said something along the lines of, "When people are shooting each other tomorrow, I will try and rest in the knowledge that we tried." And so I went to - I don't know that I slept that night, to be honest with you. I was on pins and needles because, again, for months I had been begging and anticipating and attempting to raise the reality that if nothing - if we made no intervention into what I saw occurring, people were going to die. And on January 5th, I realized no intervention was coming. No - there - and even as hard as I had tried to create one or implement one, there was nothing and we were at the whims and the mercy of a violent crowd that was locked and loaded.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And just for the record, this was content that was echoing statements by the former president, but also Proud Boys and other known violent extremist groups?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURPHY: There were also concerns among members of Congress. We have a recently released recording of a conversation that took place among Republican members in the U.S. Capitol on the eve of January 6th. This is Republican Congresswoman Debbie Lesko from Arizona, who led some of the unfounded objections to the election results.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. DEBBIE LESKO (R-AZ): I also asked leadership to come up with a
safety plan for members. I'm actually very concerned about this, because we have - who knows how many hundreds of thousands of people coming here. We have Antifa. We also have, quite honestly, Trump supporters who actually believe that we are going to overturn the election.
And when that doesn't happen, most likely will not happen, they are going to go nuts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURPHY: That same evening, as President Trump listened to the rally from the Oval Office, he was also working on his speech to be delivered the next day. And based on documents we've received from the National Archives, including multiple drafts of the President's speech as well as from witness testimony, we understand how that speech devolved into a call to action and a call to fight.
One of the first edits President Trump made to his speech was to incorporate his 5:05 pm tweet, revising his speech to say, "All of us are here today, do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical left Democrats. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore." He also added "together we will stop the steal." President Trump's edits continued into the morning of January 6th. And as you can see from the President's daily diary here, the President spoke to his chief speechwriter, Stephen Miller, for over 25 minutes that morning.
Following his call with Mr. Miller, President Trump inserted for the first time a line in his speech that said, quote, "And we will see whether Mike Pence enters history as a truly great and courageous leader. All he has to do is refer the illegally submitted electoral votes back to the states that were given false and fraudulent information where they want to recertify." No prior version of this speech had referenced Vice President Pence or his role during the joint session on January 6th. These last minute edits by President Trump to his speech were part of the president's pressure campaign against his own vice president.
But not everyone wanted these lines regarding the Vice President included in the President's speech, including White House lawyer, Eric Herschmann.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you ever speak to anybody in the White House at the time about this disagreement between the president and the vice president other than the president based on the objection from your counsel?
STEPHEN MILLER, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Maybe had a brief conversation about it with Eric Herschmann.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell me about that. What do you remember him saying to you about this disagreement? MILLER: I just remember him saying that he had a (inaudible) I want
to don't get this wrong - sort of something to the effect of thinking that it would be counterproductive, I think, he thought to discuss the matter publicly.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it came up in the context of editing the President's speech on January the 6th.
MILLER: I just came up in the conversation where Eric knew what was in the speech and so he had a sidebar with me about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURPHY: And so the speechwriters took that advice and removed the lines about Vice President Pence. And later that morning at 11:20 am, President Trump had a phone call with the Vice President. And as the committee detailed in an earlier hearing, that phone call was by all accounts tense and heated. During this call, the Vice President told the President that he would not attempt to change the outcome of the election.
In response, the President called the Vice President of the United States a wimp and other derogatory words. As you can see in this email, after Vice President Pence told President Trump that he would not unilaterally deliver him a second term in office, the speechwriters were directed to re-insert the Mike Pence lines.
Here is how one of the speechwriters described President Trump's last minute change to the speech.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VINCENT HALEY, FORMER ADVISOR FOR POLICY, STRATEGY AND SPEECHWRITING: And as I recall, there was a very tough - a tough sentence about the Vice President that was added.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURPHY: President Trump wanted to use his speech to attack Vice President Pence in front of a crowd of thousands of angry supporters who had been led to believe the election was stolen.
When President Trump arrived at the Ellipse to deliver his speech, he was still worked up from his call with Vice President Pence.
And although Ivanka Trump 0would not say so, her chief of staff gave the Committee some insight into the President's frustration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's been reported that you ultimately decided to attend the rally because you hoped that you would calm the President and keep the event on an even keel. Is that accurate?
IVANKA TRUMP, Senior Advisor To President Trump: No, I don't know who said that or where that came from.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did she share with you about why it was concerning that her father was upset or agitated after that call with Vice President Pence in relation to the Ellipse rally? Why did that matter? Why did he have to be calmed down, I should say?
JULIE RADFORD, IVANKA TRUMP'S FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, she shared that he had called the Vice President a not - an expletive word. I think that bothered her. And I think she could tell based on the conversations and what was going on in the office that he was angry and upset and people were providing this information. And she felt like she might be able to help calm the situation down at least before he went on to stage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURPHY: The President did go on stage and then he gave the speech that he wanted to give. It included the formal changes he had requested the night before and in that morning. But also many important last minute adlib changes. A single scripted reference in the speech to Mike Pence became eight. A single scripted reference to rally goers marching to the Capitol became four.
With President Trump adlibbing that he would be joining the protesters at the Capitol. Added throughout his speech were references to fighting and the need for people to have courage and to be strong. The word peacefully was in the staff written script and used only once. Here are some of these adlib changes that the President made to his speech.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because you'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong. So I hope Mike has the courage to do what he has to do. And I hope he doesn't listen to the rhinos and the stupid people that he's listening to. We fight like hell and if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore.
But we're going to try and give our Republicans, the weak ones, because the strong ones don't need any of our help, we're going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country. So let's walk down Pennsylvania Avenue ...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURPHY: White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, and his deputy did not attend the speech and they were concerned that the statements in the speech about the election were false. In fact, the message that President Trump delivered that day was built on a foundation of lies.
He lied to his supporters that the election was stolen. He stoked their anger. He called for them to fight for him. He directed them to the U.S. Capitol. He told them he would join them, and his supporters believed him and many headed towards the Capitol. As a result, people died. People were injured. Many of his supporters' lives will never be the same.
President Trump's former campaign manager, Brad Parscale, recognized the impact of the speech immediately and this is what he said on January 6th in excerpts from text messages to Katrina Pierson.
Mr. Parscale said, quote, "This is about Trump pushing for uncertainty in our country. A sitting President asking for civil war." And then when he said, "This week I feel guilty for helping him win." Katrina Pierson responded, "You did what you felt right at the time and therefore it was right." Mr. Parscale added, "Yes. But a woman is dead." And, "Yes. If I was Trump and I knew my rhetoric killed someone." When Ms. Pierson replied, "It wasn't the rhetoric." Mr. Pascal said, "Katrina. Yes, it was."
Thank you Mr. Chairman. I yield back.
REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): Gentlelady yields back. We're joined today by Mr. Jason Van Tatenhove and Mr. Stephen Ayres. Mr. Tatenhove is an artist and journalist. He's a former spokesman of the Oath Keepers and a former close associate of Elmer Stewart Rhodes, the founder and President of the Oath Keepers, who has been charged with seditious conspiracy in relation to the Capitol attack.
Mr. Van Tatenhove broke with the Oath Keepers and has since spoken out forcefully against a violent group.
Mr. Ayres is a former supporter of President Trump. He answered the President's call to come to Washington, D.C. on January 6th. He marched to the Capitol on the President's orders. He pleaded guilty last month to disorderly and disruptive conduct at the Capitol.
Mr. Ayres, who no longer supports President Trump, came forward voluntarily to share his story as a warning. I will now swear in our witnesses. The witnesses will please stand and raise their right hand.
Do you swear or affirm on the penalty of perjury that the testimony you're about to give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
JASON VAN TATENHOVE, FORMER OATH KEEPERS SPOKESMAN: I do.
STEPHEN AYRES, PLED GUILTY TO ENTERING CAPITOL ILLEGALLY ON JAN. 6: I do.
THOMPSON: Thank you. You may be seated.
Let the record reflect that the witnesses answered in the affirmative. I recognize myself for questions.
Today we've discussed how President Trump summoned an angry mob of supporters to Washington, D.C., many of whom came prepared to do battle against police and politicians alike.
We're fortunate enough to be joined by two witnesses who can help us understand who was in the mob that day. Both hard core violent extremists like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys and average Trump supporters swept up in the fervor of the day. Mr. Van Tatenhove, can you help us understand who the Oath Keepers are?
VAN TATENHOVE: I can. Thank you. My time with the Oath Keepers began back at Bondy Ranch with that first standoff when I went to cover them as an independent journalist. I then subsequently covered two more standoffs, the Sugar Pine Mine standoff and the White Hope Mine standoff. It was at that time that I was offered a job as national media director and an associate editor for the Web page.
So I spent a few years with the Oath Keepers and I can tell you that they may not like to call themselves a militia, but they are. They're a violent militia and they are largely Stewart Rhodes. They - and I think rather than try to use words, I think the best illustration for what the Oath Keepers are happened January 6th when we saw that stacked military formation going up the stairs of our Capitol.
I saw radicalization that started with my beginning of my time with them and continued over a period of time as the member base and who it was that Stewart Rhodes was courting drifted further and further right into the alt right world into white nationalists and even straight up racists. And it came to a point where I could no longer continue to work for them, but the Oath Keepers are a dangerous militia that is in large part fed by the ego and drive of Stewart Rhodes who, at times, seemed to see himself as this paramilitary leader.
I think that drove a lot of it. So in my opinion, the Oath Keepers are a very dangerous organization.
THOMPSON: Well, thank you very much. You've talked a little bit about that danger. So what is the Oath Keepers' vision for America and why should Americans be concerned about it?
VAN TATENHOVE: I think we saw a glimpse of what the vision of the Oath Keepers is on January 6th. It doesn't necessarily include the rule of law. It doesn't necessarily include - it includes violence. It includes trying to get their way through lies, through deceit, through intimidation, and through the perpetration of violence, the swaying of people who may not know better through lies and rhetoric and propaganda that can get swept up in these moments.
And I will admit I was swept up at one point as well too. But - I don't know if that answers the question.
THOMPSON: Well, it does. And you talk about being swept up. So at what point did you break with the Oath Keepers?
VAN TATENHOVE: There came a point - there were many red flags and I probably should have broke with them much earlier than I did. But the straw that broke the camel's back really came when I walked into a grocery store. We were living up in the very remote town of Eureka, Montana and there was a group of core members of the group of the Oath Keepers and then some associates, and they were having a conversation at that public area where they were talking about how the Holocaust was not real.
And that was for me something I just could not abide. And we were not wealthy people at all. We were barely surviving. And it didn't matter - I went home to my wife and my kids, and I told them that I've got to walk away at this point. I don't know how we're going to survive or where we're going to go or what we're going to do, but I just can no longer continue, and put in my resignation.
THOMPSON: Thank you very much. Mr. Ayres, there were many people in the crowd that day on January 6th, including you, who were not part of an extremist group. I'd like to start by having you tell the American people a little bit about yourself. Can you tell us about your life before January 6th?
AYRES: Yes. Basically, nothing but a family man and a working man. Worked at the company, a cabinet company up in Northeast Ohio for going on 20 years. Family is my life. I was a supervisor there, so that took up a lot of my other - a lot of my free time. Other than that, with my family camping, playing basketball, playing games with my son.
THOMPSON: Just what any ordinary American citizen, family man, would do.
AYRES: Yep, exactly.
THOMPSON: So this committee has reviewed thousands of hours of surveillance footage from January 6. During this review, we identified you entering the Capitol as we see in this video. Mr. Ayres, why did you decide to come to Washington on January 6th?
AYRES: For me personally, I was pretty hardcore into the social media; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. I followed President Trump on all the websites. He basically put out - come to the Stop the Steal rally and I felt like I needed to be down here.
THOMPSON: So you basically learned about the rally on social media, and at some point made a decision to come to Washington.
AYRES: Yes. Yes. I had some friends I found out were coming down. I just hopped on with them right at the tail end when I found out, and came down here with them.
THOMPSON: Thank you very much. The Chair recognizes the Vice Chair, Ms. Cheney of Wyoming, for any questions that she may have.
REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Ayers, when you entered the Capitol last year, did you believe that the election had been stolen?
AYRES: At that time, yes. Everything that I was seeing online, I definitely believed that that's exactly what - that was the case.
CHENEY: And when you heard from President Trump that the election was stolen, how did that make you feel? AYRES: Oh, I was very upset, as were most of his supporters. That's
basically what got me to come down here.
CHENEY: And do you still believe the election was stolen?
AYRES: Not so much now. I got away from all the social media when January 6 happened, basically deleted it all. I started doing my own research and everything. And for me for something like that to be that - to actually for that to actually take place, it'd be - it's too big. There'd be - there's no way you can keep something like that quiet, as big as something like that.
With all the lawsuits being shot down one after another, that was mainly what convinced me.
CHENEY: Well, and I think that's very important. And we've also talked about today and in previous hearings the extent to which the President himself was told that the election hadn't been stolen, by his Justice Department, by his White House counsel, by his campaign. Would it have made a difference to you to know that President Trump himself had no evidence of widespread fraud?
AYRES: Oh, definitely. Who knows, I may not have come down here then.
CHENEY: Thank you very much.
Mr. Chairman, I yield back.
THOMPSON: The gentlelady yields back.
The Chair recognizes the gentlewoman from Florida, Ms. Murphy.
MURPHY: Thank you. Mr. Chairman. You know, earlier today we showed how Donald Trump's December 19th tweet summoned both extremist groups as well as rank and file supporters of President Trump to come to Washington, D.C., the average Americans. He told them to, quote, "Be there, will be wild." And they came. We showed how Mr. President - how President Trump repeatedly told them fight, fight, fight, and they marched to the Capitol.
Mr. Ayres, you were in that crowd at the rally, and then the crowd that marched to the Capitol. When you arrived on the Ellipse that morning, were you planning on going to the Capitol?
AYRES: No, we didn't actually plan to go down there. We went basically to see the Stop the Steal rally and that was it.
MURPHY: So why did you decide to march to the Capitol?
AYRES: Well, basically, the President got everybody riled up and told everybody to head on down. So we basically was just following what he said.
MURPHY: After the President's speech as you're marching down to the Capitol, how did you feel?
AYRES: I was - I'm angry after everything that was basically said in the speech. A lot of the stuff he said he already put out in tweets. A lot of - I've already seen it and heard it before. So, I mean, I was already worked up and so were most of the people there.
MURPHY: So as you started marching, did you think there was still a chance the election would be overturned?
AYRES: Yes, at that time I did, you know, because everybody was kind of like in the hope that Vice President Pence was not going to certify the election. Also the whole time on our way down there, we kept hearing about this big reveal I remember us talking about, and we kind of thought maybe that was it. So that hope was there.
MURPHY: Did you think that the President would be marching with you?
AYRES: Yes. I think everybody thought he was going to be coming down. He said it in his speech, it's kind of like he's going to be there with us. So, I mean, I think - I believed it.
MURPHY: I understand. We know that you illegally entered the Capitol that afternoon and then left the Capitol area later on. What made you decide to leave?
AYRES: Basically, when President Trump put his tweet out. We literally left right after that come out. To me if he would have done that earlier in the day, 1:30, I - we wouldn't be in this - maybe we wouldn't be in this bad of a situation or something.
MURPHY: Thank you.
Mr. Chairman, I yield back.
THOMPSON: The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Maryland, Mr. Raskin.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Van Tatenhove, in the run-up to January 6, Stewart Rhodes publicly implored President Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, the 1807 law that allows the President to call up militias to put down a rebellion against the United States. And I want to get your thoughts about this in the context of your prior relationship with Stewart Rhodes.
I understand that you had conversations with Rhodes about the Insurrection Act. Why was he so fixated on that and what did he think it would enable the Oath Keepers to do?
VAN TATENHOVE: Well, I think it gave him a sense of legitimacy, that it was a path forward to move forward with his goals and agendas. I think we need to quit mincing words and just talk about truths, and what it was going to be was an armed revolution. I mean, people died that day. Law enforcement officers died this day. There was a gallows set up in front of the Capitol. This could have been the spark that started a new civil war, and no one would have won there. That would have been good for no one.