Several outside advisors came to the White House on Dec. 18, 2020 for what ended up being an expletive-filled, six-hour-plus meeting with Trump to hash out election fraud conspiracies and strategies to keep the president in power despite his electoral loss. The extremists participating included attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne, and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. According to the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, these advisors accessed the White House with the help of a junior staffer and were not given proper clearance nor a reserved meeting time on the president’s official schedule.
Less than 15 minutes after the meeting got underway in the Oval Office, members of the White House legal team found out about it and joined in. The tone became increasingly heated as the external group proposed a series of extreme ideas—including invoking martial law and seizing voting machines—and internal team pushed back, demanding factual information and cautioning against blatantly illegal actions.
In testimony provided to the House Select Committee, several members of the administration who participated that day articulated just how surreal the meeting became, eventually moving from the Oval Office to the president’s private residence. White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said, “I don’t think any of these people were providing the president with good advice, so I did not understand how they had gotten in.” Another former staff secretary, Derek Lyons, added: “It was not a casual meeting. At times there were people shouting at each other, hurling insults at each other. It wasn’t just sort of people sitting around on the couch like, chit-chatting.”
January 6, 2021
- Shortly after the contentious marathon meeting wrapped up, Trump tweeted an invitation to his followers at 1:42 am on Dec. 19, 2020, saying: “Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election. Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”
- The House Select Committee later provided evidence that this tweet helped incite the attack on the Capitol. A former Twitter employee disclosed that after Trump’s middle-of-the-night tweet went out, the platform tracked a noticeable spike in violent right-wing discourse.
The Big Lie
- During the Dec. 18 meeting, Powell, Flynn, and Byrne discussed conspiracy theories with Trump in an effort to convince him to declare a national emergency that would provide legal cover for holding on to power.
- According to testimony from Eric Herschmann, a Trump White House attorney, Flynn argued that Democrats were working with Venezuela to manipulate the results of the election. In an attempt to prove his outlandish claim, the former national security adviser “took out a diagram that supposedly showed IP addresses all over the world, and who was communicating with whom via the machines,” Herschmann testified, adding that he made “some comment about, like, Nest thermostats being hooked up to the internet.”
- During the meeting, the group discussed appointing Powell as a potential special counsel to investigate election fraud and floated the idea of seizing voting machines using military personnel.
- Powell defended her conspiracy theories against accusations that each one had been proven baseless in court. When she claimed that all of the judges hearing the cases were corrupt, Herschmann said in testimony to the Jan. 6 committee that he was incredulous: “I was like every one? Every single case that you’ve done in the country, you guys lost. Every one of [those judges] is corrupt? Even the ones we appointed?”