Former President Donald Trump’s White House counsel Pat Cipollone testified before the January 6 House committee behind closed doors on Friday.
His interview comes over a year into the committee’s investigation of the circumstances around the January 6, 2021, attack on the United States Capitol and after weeks of televised hearings. In those hearings, witnesses described Cipollone as one of the few figures who repeatedly witnessed Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election without being a participant in them. Although Cipollone appeared behind closed doors with the committee in April, that was not a formal deposition.
Cipollone’s testimony may be linked in the public imagination with another former White House counsel who testified about potential crimes committed by a former president — John Dean. During the Watergate hearings, Dean testified against Richard Nixon and played a crucial role in establishing the 37th president’s culpability in the scandal.
It’s unlikely that publicity-adverse Cipollone will follow in Dean’s footsteps, but he may provide new details on what Trump was doing during the attack on the Capitol, and on the political and legal efforts to reverse Joe Biden’s win.
Who is Pat Cipollone?
Former senator and two-time Republican presidential primary candidate Rick Santorum spoke to Vox about his good friend Cipollone on Friday, and described the former counsel as “a pretty simple and straightforward guy” who focused on his faith, his family, and his work. The two met when their kids went to school together and bonded over their mutual backgrounds.
“He’s a strong Catholic, I’m a strong Catholic,” Santorum said. “He’s an Italian, I’m an Italian, he’s a lawyer, I’m a lawyer. He’s a conservative political person, I’m a conservative political person.”
Santorum made clear that no matter what Cipollone, a father of 10, is like outside the workplace, he believes that Cipollone is a “straight shooter ... the lawyer who tells you in a deposition to simply answer the question and nothing more” and someone “who is not only not interested in fame but would be perfectly happy to never see his name in print.”
But Cipollone is now going to see his name in print around the world. It represents a jarring change from the last time that the former White House counsel was the center of attention in 2019, when he helped lead Trump’s defense in his first impeachment. Then, he crafted a bellicose legal strategy on behalf of his client.
Even before his time as Trump’s White House counsel, which began in 2018, Cipollone was a pillar of Washington’s right-wing legal establishment. He worked for Attorney General Bill Barr in his first stint at the Department of Justice and was in-house counsel for the Knights of Columbus, the prominent Catholic fraternal organization, before becoming a name partner at a law firm where he made $6.7 million the year before he joined the Trump administration.
The University of Chicago Law graduate’s ties to conservative circles run so deep that he was even the godfather to prominent Fox News personality Laura Ingraham when she converted to Catholicism. However, he comes from a humbler background. The son of an Italian immigrant, Cipollone was born in New York and grew up in the Bronx before graduating from a Catholic high school in Kentucky after his father’s factory job was transferred there.
What the January 6 committee wants to learn from Pat Cipollone
The committee views the former White House counsel as a key witness who was inside the room with Trump throughout his months-long effort to overturn the 2020 election. He could provide a firsthand account of situations other witnesses had secondhand knowledge of, and provide new information about Trump’s behavior and actions on January 6.
Cipollone’s deposition comes just over a week after former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s surprise testimony before the January 6 committee, and a little over two weeks after Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), the vice chair of the committee, implored Cipollone to testify on national television, saying, “Our evidence shows that Pat Cipollone and his office tried to do what was right. They tried to stop a number of President Trump’s plans for January 6.”
She went on to say, “We think the American people deserve to hear from Mr. Cipollone personally. He should appear before this committee, and we are working to secure his testimony.” Apparently, her plea was successful.
The former White House counsel has been a fixture in testimony at the televised hearings so far. Hutchinson testified that Cipollone repeatedly warned Trump that the former president would face legal liability if he went to the Capitol on January 6, and that she heard White House chief of staff Mark Meadows explicitly tell Cipollone that Trump agreed with the mob chanting “Hang Mike Pence” outside the Capitol.
“You heard him, Pat, he thinks Mike deserves it, he doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong,” Hutchinson testified Meadows said. Further, top Justice Department officials testified at another hearing that Cipollone threatened to resign as well if Trump appointed Jeffrey Clark acting attorney general and helped block transition efforts.
But this only scratches the surface of what Cipollone might know as the White House’s top lawyer. The question is simply how much he will share.
Cipollone’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment from Vox and a spokesperson for the January 6 committee declined to comment.