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Inside the ‘crazy’ Trump meeting where baffled lawyers battled conspiracy theorists

Inside the ‘crazy’ Trump meeting where baffled lawyers battled conspiracy theorists
A team of lawyers assembled by Donald Trump to challenge the results of the 2020 election arrived at the White House with a binder full of conspiracy theories and a draft executive order to seize voting machines, writes Richard Hall

A White House meeting described at various times as “crazy,” “contentious,” “unhinged” and “hot-blooded” took centre stage a the January 6 committee’s latest hearing on Tuesday.

The committee heard from key participants in the meeting, which took place just four days after the electoral college met to certify the election for Joe Biden. It was described by the committee as “critically important” to understanding Mr Trump’s actions in the days leading up to January 6.

On 18 December, in the dying days of his presidency, a motley crew of lawyers and supporters assembled by Donald Trump to challenge the results of the presidential election arrived at the White House. They came armed with conspiracy theories and a draft executive order that would have effectively annulled the results of the presidential election. And they arrived to a receptive audience in the president.

Attorneys Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, retired national security aide Michael Flynn and the head of the online retail company Overstock managed to reach the president before many of his top advisers knew it was taking place.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone and other officials scrambled to intervene. When they did, chaos ensued.

What followed was a division of the room between White House advisers who knew Mr Trump had lost the election, and the outside legal team who were furious that not enough was being done to pursue their conspiracy theories about voter fraud and a stolen election. The row would last for some six hours.

Crucially, the outside legal team brought with them a plan to rectify the situation in the form of a draft “executive order” calling for the US military to seize states’ voting machines. This plan would later be promoted by Mr Trump, according to testimony from former attorney general William Barr.

Mr Trump, who had himself spread and encouraged those same conspiracy theories, seemed to side with Ms Powell and her cohort. At one point during the meeting, he offered to give Ms Powell a job as a special counsel for the Department of Justice to investigate non-existent voter fraud, participants testified.

<p>Committee was shown a picture of Rudy Giuliani being escorted out of the White House following the meeting </p>

Committee was shown a picture of Rudy Giuliani being escorted out of the White House following the meeting

Mr Giuliani in video testimony recalled the president telling the White House attorneys that they were “not tough enough” and using crass language, calling them “p*****s”.

The meeting descended into screaming and even threats of physical violence between the two groups.

Eric Herschman, a former senior White House adviser, said “the screaming was completely out there.”

“What they were proposing I thought was nuts,” he added.

Pat Cipollone, White House counsel to Mr Trump, forcefully rejected the plan to seize voting machines.

<p>Sidney Powell wanted to be appointed special counsel, to the horror of White House lawyers </p>

Sidney Powell wanted to be appointed special counsel, to the horror of White House lawyers

“To have the federal government seize voting machines? That’s a terrible idea for the country. That’s not how we do things in the United States,” Mr Cipollone testified.

He also said that he “vehemently opposed” the hiring of Ms Powell as special counsel, adding: “I didn’t think she should’ve been appointed to anything.”

Mr Cipollone continued that he repeatedly asked for the outside legal team to provide evidence for their claims, but received none.

“There was a real question in my mind and a real concern, particularly after the attorney general had reached the conclusion that there wasn’t sufficient election fraud to change the outcome of the election, when other people kept suggesting there was, the answer is ‘what is it,’ and at some point you have to put up or shut up,” he said.

The meeting went on past midnight, and spread across several rooms in the White House, before arriving back where it began in the Oval Office.

When the meeting was finished, Mr Giuliani was escorted off White House grounds to make sure he did not wander back, US Representative Jamie Raskin said at Tuesday’s hearing, citing other testimony.

Cassidy Hutchinson, a former White House aide whose own bombshell testimony revealed Mr Trump’s thinking before January 6 in the committee’s last hearing, wrote in a text message after the meeting had wrapped up: “The west wing is UNHINGED.”

Apparently unsatisfied by the conclusion of the meeting, Mr Trump took to Twitter in the early hours of the morning and called for his supporters to come to Washington on January 6, the day when Congress would certify Mr Biden’s election victory.

“Be there. Will be wild,” he wrote.

Mr Raskin summarised the evidence about the meeting as “critically important” to understanding Mr Trump’s motives in spreading lies about the 2020 election because the president “got to watch up close for several hours as his White House Counsel and other White House lawyers destroyed the baseless factual claims and ridiculous legal arguments being offered by Sidney Powell, Mike Flynn and others.”

The implication is that Mr Trump knew that his claims of a stolen election were bogus, and that he went all out to cling to power anyway.