US House panel manages to get Trump’s counsel to depose

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Some allies of Trump reportedly have privately tried to cast doubt on parts of Hutchinson’s testimony, which was the committee’s most explosive to date…writes Ashok Nilakantan

The Senate House Committee probing Jan 6 riots on Capitol Hill has virtually scored a major victory in wrapping a commitment from former White House counsel to ex-President Donald Trump, Pat A. Cipollone to make a statement on what actually happened on that fateful day.

The committee has virtually achieved “Mission Impossible” by securing a deal with Cipollone who had previously pushed back all efforts of the ex-President to overturn the 2020 election result that declared Joe Biden as President. He was in the West Wing, where all key white house advisors and presidential staff work, and was witness to the ex-presidents’ actions on January 6, 2021.

Cipollone, who served as the White House counsel under Trump, was a witness to key moments during Trump’s efforts to retain power, but was unwilling to appear before the committee so far.

In a new twist that indicates a change of mind after the explosive testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to Trump’s Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, he has reportedly reached a deal to be interviewed by Friday, according to people familiar with the inquiry.

The agreement is a major breakthrough for the panel, which has pressed for weeks for Cipollone to cooperate – and issued a subpoena to him last week – believing he could provide crucial testimony.

Cipollone is a key witness to pivotal moments in Trump’s push to invalidate the election results, including discussions about seizing voting machines and sending false letters to state officials about election fraud. He was also in the West Wing on January 6, 2021, as Trump reacted to the violence at the Capitol, when his supporters attacked the building in his name, the New York Times reported.

People close to Cipollone have repeatedly claimed that he could take refuge under executive privilege and attorney-client privilege and inhibit his testimony before the panel. But committee negotiators pressed to hear from Cipollone and Patrick F. Philbin, who was his deputy in the White House.

According to the paper, Cipollone will sit for a videotaped, transcribed interview, according to a person familiar with the discussions. He is not expected to testify publicly.

The panel’s motivation to get Cipollone to testify gained much traction after the devastating testimony last week of Hutchinson, who had recounted in graphic detail conversations with Cipollone in which she said the counsel had expressed deep concern about the actions of Trump and Meadows.

Some allies of Trump reportedly have privately tried to cast doubt on parts of Hutchinson’s testimony, which was the committee’s most explosive to date.

Trump has tried to invoke executive privilege – a President’s power to withhold the release of certain confidential communications with his advisers – to prevent his former aides from cooperating with the investigation. In April, Cipollone and Philbin both appeared for informal interviews with the panel on a limited set of topics, according to an agreement reached by their representatives and representatives for Trump.

The agreement, according to an email reviewed by The New York Times, allowed discussions of a meeting with Jeffrey Clark, a Justice Department official who tried to help Trump cling to power, Trump’s interactions with John Eastman, the conservative lawyer who drafted a legal strategy for overturning the election; any interactions with members of Congress, and Cipollone’s recollections of the events of January 6.

The agreement claimed the two men could not discuss conversations they or others had with Trump, other than one discussion in the Oval Office with Clark in a pivotal meeting on January 3, 2021. However, both were permitted to discuss the timeline of where they were, with whom they met and conversations they had on January 6. If those conditions hold for Cipollone’s forthcoming testimony, they would probably reference conversations such as the ones he may have had with Hutchinson or other officials that day.

Hutchinson told the panel that she recalled that on January 6, Cipollone had objected to suggestions that Trump join a crowd at the Capitol that was pressing to overturn the results of the election. “We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable,” she said, as per the New York Times report.

People familiar with the White House counsel’s schedule on January 6, 2021, say he arrived late to the White House, although it was unclear precisely when.

According to Hutchinson, Cipollone urged Meadows to do more to persuade Trump to call off the rioters. She also told investigators that she heard lawyers from the White House Counsel’s Office say a plan to put forward pro-Trump electors in states that Biden won was not “legally sound”.

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