Fox News legal analyst Jonathan Turley said that the seventh hearing of the January 6 committee was “breathtaking”.
Mr Turley shared his sense of shock at the revelations concerning former President Donald Trump and his December 18 2020 meeting at the White House discussing how to overturn the election with his allies.
“It’s damaging …,” Mr Turley said in reaction to the pre-recorded deposition with Trump White House Counsel Pat Cipollone. “The account of that meeting in the [Oval] Office is really breathtaking. It’s very disturbing.”
“At one point, there was a suggestion that there might be fisticuffs,” he noted. “It’s almost like this is Dr Strangelove and the president is saying there is no fighting in the war room. It was just a weird moment.”
“You’re in the Oval Office and people seem to be actually chest pounding. So this is very disturbing. All of these details should disturb everyone,” Mr Turley said.
A major focus of the hearing was Mr Trump’s 19 December tweet about a “big protest” at the coming joint session of Congress: “Be there, will be wild!”
Florida Representative Stephanie Murphy said the tweet “served as a call to action and in some cases as a call to arms”. She said the president “called for backup” as he said Vice President Mike Pence and other Republicans didn’t have enough courage to try to block President Joe Biden’s win at the January 6 joint session.
The tweet “electrified and galvanized” Mr Trump’s supporters, said Maryland Representative Jamie Raskin, especially “the dangerous extremists in the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys and other racist and white nationalist groups spoiling for a fight”.
Mr Raskin said Mr Trump emboldened the groups around a common goal. “Never before in American history had a president called for a crowd to come contest the counting of electoral votes by Congress,” he said.
The committee spliced together video clips from interviews to describe a meeting from December 18, in the hours before Mr Trump’s tweet, in almost minute-to-minute fashion.
Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who tested live before the panel two weeks ago, called the meeting between White House aides and informal advisers pushing the fraud claims “unhinged” in a text that evening to another Trump aide. Other aides described “screaming” as the advisers floated wild theories of election fraud with no evidence to back them up, and as White House lawyers aggressively pushed back.
The video clips included testimony from lawyer Sidney Powell, who had pushed some of the wildest theories, including of breached voting machines and hacked thermostats that she somehow tied to the false claims of fraud.
White House lawyer Eric Herschmann, one of the aides who pushed back, said the theories were “nuts” and “it got to the point where the screaming was completely, completely out there”.
The aides described a chaotic six hours of back and forth, starting with Trump talking to a group of the informal advisers with no White House aides present. Both Mr Cipollone and Ms Powell said in interviews that Mr Cipollone, the White House counsel, rushed in to disrupt the gathering. Ms Powell said sarcastically that she thought Mr Cipollone set a new “ground speed record” getting there.
Mr Cipollone, who sat with the committee for a private interview last week after a subpoena, said he didn’t think the group was giving Mr Trump good advice and said he and the other White House lawyers just kept asking them, “where is the evidence? » But they did not receive any good answers, he said.
Hours later, at 1.42am, Trump sent the tweet urging supporters to come to Washington on January 6.
The Associated Press contributed to this report