In the days and hours before the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, diehard Donald Trump allies gathered at Washington’s Willard Hotel, hunkered down as the last-ditch efforts to overturn the 2020 election went forward. What exactly they were doing in those meetings was a subject of intense interest for Congress’ Jan. 6 investigation, but the committee ran into the limits of its powers as it struggled to reconstruct the specifics of those eleventh-hour meetings.
Now, special counsel Jack Smith’s office is taking its shot, hoping to figure out exactly what went down in the Willard “war room” — and just how involved Trump himself was in the Willard-based efforts to stop the transfer of power to then president-elect Joe Biden.
Special counsel investigators are grilling witnesses about the crucial Willard meetings, two people with knowledge of the investigation tell Rolling Stone. It could prove to be a fruitful line of questioning. One former senior Trump administration official, who stayed on through the Jan. 6 riot, simply refers to it as “the crime headquarters.”
The Willard, a luxury hotel a block from the White House, became the site of what participants described as a “war room” for Trump-aligned lawyers and diehard MAGA operatives working to overturn the 2020 election. The summit took place in the days and hours before the certification of electoral college votes on Jan. 6, and participants included Trump advisers and allies such as Giuliani, John Eastman, Bernard Kerik, Boris Epshteyn, and Steve Bannon.
Investigators led by special counsel Jack Smith have questioned multiple witnesses — including then-top Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani — about the timeline and deliberations of the meetings, seeking to reconstruct the events, the sources say. The investigators also plan to bring in additional witnesses who have knowledge of the Willard meetings, the sources add.
The federal investigators are also focused on the level of Trump’s direct involvement in the meetings, the sources say. The then-president reportedly called Rudy Giuliani on Jan. 5 to complain about Vice President Mike Pence’s refusal to go along with a plan to block the counting of legitimate electoral college votes, according to interviews conducted by the Jan. 6 Committee.
The special counsel’s office declined to comment on this story. But Smith’s interest in Trump associates’ activities at the Willard Hotel, where the then-president’s lieutenants reportedly oversaw the effort to disrupt the count of legitimate electoral college votes, suggests the special counsel is exploring Trump’s role in and knowledge of the efforts to disrupt the proceedings.
Early this week, the former president was sent a target letter related to this investigation, strongly suggesting that an indictment — Trump’s third of the year — could be coming soon. The letter listed the federal statutes under which Trump is expected to be charged, including conspiracy, obstruction, and civil rights violations.
Smith’s office’s efforts to reconstruct what occurred at the Willard during the tumultuous Trump-Biden presidential transition could address questions left unanswered by Congress’ wide-ranging investigation into Trump and his associates.
The January 6 House committee interviewed a number of Trump allies in attendance about the Willard “war room,” including Giuliani and Kerik. But others, including Trumpist attorney Eastman, invoked their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination when asked even basic questions about whether they were in attendance at the Trump “war room” in early Jan. 2021.
“We didn’t get to peek behind the curtain there because they stonewalled us,” a former Jan. 6 committee staffer tells Rolling Stone in reference to the Willard investigation.
The House committee also focused on the phone call Trump apparently made to deputies at the hotel the day before the insurrection.
During Giuliani’s interview with the January 6 House committee, investigators asked about a phone call which they said took place between Trump, Giuliani, and Bannon at the hotel. Trump, one investigator said during Giuliani’s deposition, “called you and Mr. Steve Bannon and conveyed to you that the Vice President was very arrogant and that the President wasn’t happy with him,” according to transcripts released by Congress.
Giuliani, citing attorney-client privilege issues, declined to describe the substance of his call with the former president.
The Trump “war room” at the hotel was a subject of particular interest for the committee’s investigation for its role as a hub for the Trump campaign’s attempts to block the counting of electoral votes on January 6. Top Trump advisers used the so-called “command center” while pressuring Vice President Mike Pence to reject the counting of legitimate electoral votes and encourage state legislatures to instead send slates of bogus pro-Trump electors in battleground states where the former president had lost to Joe Biden.
In a sign that the fake electors plot could be a key part of the Smith investigation, the special counsel’s office has issued subpoenas to election officials in Arizona, Michigan, and Wisconsin seeking information about the activities of the Trump campaign.
Despite the “command center’s” importance in Trump’s attempted coup, during the presidential transition, the Willard hub attracted the private ire of other Trump advisers who were quietly embarrassed by Giuliani and others’ efforts. Other members of the administration and Trump campaign advisers, the former official says, regularly mocked their work and had nicknames for the “Star Wars cantina” of 2020 dead-enders.
One former senior Trump campaign official tells Rolling Stone that, in discussions at the time with other Trump aides, they called the Willard hotspot “idiot island.”
Source link: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/trump-jan-6-jack-smith-willard-war-room-1234792827/