On the eve of former President Donald Trump’s infamous tweet calling for his supporters to show up in Washington on January 6, the West Wing was “unhinged.”
As shown by the select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, the December 19 tweet followed an Oval Office meeting where insults, personal attacks, and even challenges to fistfights were exchanged among participants, as a group of outside advisers to Trump tried to persuade him to issue an executive order to seize voting machines and name lawyer Sidney Powell as a special counsel to investigate fraud in the election.
In a text message provided to the committee, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who was also in the West Wing at that time, described the meeting to another White House aide. “The west wing is UNHINGED,” she wrote.
Even that fails to describe the fiery nature of the showdown between attorneys from the White House counsel’s office and the likes of Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne. Giuliani testified that he called Trump’s White House lawyers “a bunch of pussies” for not zealously backing Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
On Dec 18, 2020, Sidney Powell, Lt. Gen. Flynn, and others entered the White House for a meeting.— January 6th Committee (@January6thCmte) July 12, 2022
The meeting lasted multiple hours and included two groups of Trump advisers trading insults, accusations of disloyalty to the president, and even challenges to physically fight. pic.twitter.com/azqHAENbmB
During Powell’s taped deposition, between gulps of Diet Dr. Pepper and jabs at what she saw as the White House attorneys’ failures to go along with the conspiracy theories, she described meeting with Trump for about 10 to 15 minutes before the White House lawyers realized that she and the other proponents of his fraud claims were in the Oval Office. Trump, she said, was very interested in parts of their presentation to him. The tone changed when White House lawyers arrived to try to dissuade Trump and things turned heated.
“At times, there were people shouting at each other, hurling insults at each other. It wasn’t just people sitting around on a couch chitchatting,” said former White House staff secretary Derek Lyons in his taped deposition.
In clips played by the committee of former White House counsel Pat Cipollone’s closed-door deposition, the conservative lawyer could barely conceal his scorn for the proposals presented by Powell and Flynn to Trump. He testified that they “had a general disregard for backing what you actually say with facts,” and said of their proposal to seize voting machines, “It’s a terrible idea for the country. That is not how we do things in the United States.”
The pushback enraged the outsiders, according to the witnesses, and Trump viewed the White House office as not offering him “solutions.” The fighting between them continued past midnight.
“I think it got to the point where the screaming was completely, completely out there. People walking in, late at night, they had a long day, and what they were proposing, I thought was nuts,” White House counsel Eric Herschmann said in his taped deposition. “Flynn screamed at me that I was a quitter, kept on standing up and standing around screaming at me. At a certain point, I had it with him, so I yelled back: ‘Either come over or sit your effin’ ass back down.’”
Even though Trump may have verbally appointed Powell to be a special counsel at the meeting, he never followed through on the necessary paperwork afterward. As Cipollone recalled, “I think [Powell] may have been of the view that she had been appointed.” Instead, Trump changed tactics and shifted to calling for a “big protest” on January 6 via Twitter, which he promised “would be wild.”