POLITICS

Inside the 'unhinged' Oval Office meeting that divided Trump's orbit before the Jan. 6 attack

  • The meeting lasted six hours and spilled into different parts of the White House.
  • Attorney Sidney Powell and company were pitted against Pat Cipollone and other White House lawyers.
  • "President Trump now knew all these claims were nonsense," Rep. Jaimie Raskin, D-Md., said.

WASHINGTON — An extraordinary meeting in Donald Trump's White House less than three weeks before the Jan. 6, 2021 U.S. Capitol attack exploded into screaming, shouting and threats.

Competing factions were at each other's throats vying for the former president's attention — and decision-making power.

Trump's White House legal team told him – repeatedly – he'd lost the election to Joe Biden. But a group of outside advisors led by attorney Sidney Powell fed the president outlandish theories about foreign influence over voting machines and proposed the immediate mass seizure of disputed machines by the U.S. military.

The plan was never carried out, but it was clear which side won over Trump. After the meeting, at 1:42 a.m. the next morning, Trump tweeted: "Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election. Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild."

The blowup among Trump advisors at the unplanned gathering was one of the key revelations that emerged Tuesday in the seventh hearing of a House Committee investigating the Capitol insurrection.

"The meeting has been called unhinged, not normal and the craziest meeting of the Trump presidency," said committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md. "For all its absurdity," he added, the meeting proved significant because Trump watched his White House lawyers for hours as they "destroyed the baseless factual claims and ridiculous legal arguments" that Powell and others put forward.

"President Trump now knew all these claims were nonsense," he said. 

Here's how the meeting unfolded: 

The three outside advisors who arrived without an appointment

Powell showed up at the White House on the evening of Dec. 18, unannounced and without an appointment. She was joined by former national security adviser Michael Flynn, a retired lieutenant general, and Patrick Byrne, a Trump ally and former CEO of Overstock.com.

The trio was granted access into the White House by a junior staffer, according to Raskin, and they made their way to the Oval Office. 

More:Jan. 6 rioter blames his participation on Trump, false claims of election fraud: Day 7 recap

The meeting lasted six hours, starting in the Oval Office, meandering through the West Wing and spilling into Trump's private residence in the White House. 

A video of deposition by lawyer Sidney Powell is shown during a full committee hearing on "the January 6th Investigation," on Capitol Hill on July 12, 2022.

'A land speed record': White House legal team wanted Powell out

Powell told the committee that it took only 10 to 15 minutes of her crew talking to Trump in the Oval Office before White House attorney Pat Cipollone and others showed up and attempted to break up the meeting

"I bet Pat Cipollone set a new land speed record," Powell said in a videotaped deposition. 

Cipollone said he was "not happy" to see Powell and Flynn, and he didn't know Byrne. 

"The first thing I did, I walked in, I looked at him, and I said, 'Who are you?'" Cipollone said. "I don't think any of these people were providing the president with good advice. So I didn't understand how they had gotten in."

More:Missed the Jan. 6 hearings? What you need to know before they resume this week

Former White House counsel Pat Cipollone is seen on a video during a public hearing of the U.S. House Select Committee to investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 12, 2022.

'It was not a casual meeting'

Former Trump White House attorney Eric Herschmann said Powell and others told Trump that Democrats worked with Venezuela to rig voting machines.

At one point, Flynn took out a diagram claiming communications from individuals across the world about rigged voting machines. He said Flynn also made "some comment about nest thermostats being hooked up to the internet."

Flynn cited his 5th Amendment rights when asked by the committee about the meeting. 

"It was not a casual meeting," said Derek Lyons, a former White House staff secretary. "At times, people were shouting at each other, hurling insults at each other."

'Where is the evidence?': The fighting builds

Powell told the committee that Cipollone and Herschmann "showed nothing but disdain and contempt for the president."

"If it had been me sitting in his chair, I would have had all of them fired that night and had them escorted out of the building."

Cipollone said Powell, Flynn and Byrne started "really verbally attacking" himself and Herschmann. 

More:Paul Ryan was 'sobbing' while watching Jan. 6 attack on Capitol, upcoming book says

"We were asking one simple question as a general matter: Where is the evidence?" Cipollone said. 

He said Powell and others had a "general disregard" for the importance of backing up wild claims. 

A committee exhibit showing Eric Herschmann, former Trump White House adviser, as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 23, 2022.

Herschmann said Powell decried "corrupt judges" to explain how Trump lost every one of his legal challenges nationwide seeking to overturn election results. 

"I was like, 'Every one?'" Herschmann said. "'Every single case that you've guys have done in the country, you guys lost. Every one of them is corrupt? Even the ones we appointed?'"

He added: "I'm being nice. I was much more harsh to her."

A divided inner circle scatters throughout the White House

The meeting continued continued into the night, ending past midnight. 

"It got to the point where the screaming was completely out there," Herschmann said. "What they were proposing, I thought was nuts."

Herschmann said Fynn kept standing up and calling him "a quitter."

"At some point, I had it with him. So, I yelled back, 'Either come over or sit your effing ass back down.'"

A video deposition from Rudy Giuliani is shown as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, July 12, 2022.

Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, former New York mayor who was in the Powell camp, said he told the White House legal team they were a "bunch of pussies" for not wanting to fight the election results. 

Cipollone, Herschmann and the team of White House lawyers broke up into the Yellow Oval Room and Powell, Flynn and Byre went to the Roosevelt Room.

"And I stayed in the Cabinet room – which is kind of cool, I really like that – all by myself," Giuliani said. 

More:Jan. 6 hearing takeaways: Rioter regret, a push to seize voting machines, Trump called witness

Trump sought to appoint Powell  special counsel with security clearance 

Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to Trump's Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, captured the aftermath of the meeting in a text – revealed by the committee – that showed Meadows escorting Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, off the White House grounds to “make sure he didn’t wander back into the mansion.”

Earlier in the night, as the fighting unfolded, Hutchinson texted: “The west wing is UNHINGED."

Two days before the meeting, Trump's advisors on Dec. 16 drafted an executive order that was never executed to direct the Defense Department to seize voting machines "effective immediately."

The draft order, which was handed to Trump at the Dec. 18 meeting, would have also appointed Powell as a special counsel with the power to seize voting machines and the ability to charge people with crimes.

More:On Jan. 6, Trump was out of public view as aides urged him to act. A breakdown of those 187 minutes.

Powell said Trump discussed his hope for her Powell to serve as special counsel with security clearance at the meeting. But she said Cipollone and others told the president that no one would pay attention to the move. 

"You see what I deal with?" Trump fired back, according to Powell. "I deal with this all the time."

A text from Cassidy Hutchinson, former aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, is displayed as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, July 12, 2022.

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @Joeygarrison.