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Critical Trump-era figure to appear before the House Jan. 6 panel

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The House January 6 Committee has interviewed hundreds of people so far in its investigation into the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Today, the panel will talk to someone whose name has come up again and again during public hearings, former White House counsel Pat Cipollone. He's considered a key witness to former President Trump's attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

MARTINEZ: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas joins us now. Ryan, we've heard the name Pat Cipollone a lot from the panel, from witnesses. It subpoenaed him last week. Why are they so eager to talk to him now?

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Well, the committee really has been angling for this interview for a long time. It has already spoken with Cipollone. That was back in April, but it was an informal discussion. Now, as you said, he's set to appear under subpoena. This will be a transcribed interview. It's also expected to be videotaped. And the committee wants to talk to him because as White House counsel, Cipollone was in the room during several key moments and conversations following the 2020 election and up through January 6. So he really is a critical witness here, one of the most critical, even, to Trump's actions and his attempts to toss out the election results.

MARTINEZ: Right, yeah. Hutchinson and other witnesses have described Cipollone as a key figure trying to rein Trump in. So what does the panel want to hear from Cipollone?

LUCAS: There's a long list of things it wants to discuss with him and hear his firsthand account of what transpired. We know he was a firsthand witness to several key moments. That includes Trump's attempts to replace the acting attorney general with Jeffrey Clark, a mid-level DOJ official who wanted to use the department to help Trump overturn the election. Former Justice Department officials have testified that Cipollone helped block Clark from being appointed.

There's also the effort to submit fake electoral ballots and, of course, Trump's actions on January 6 itself and his role in the events of that day. Hutchinson, for example, testified that Cipollone tried to stop Trump from going up to the Capitol on January 6. She said Cipollone told her that, we're going to get charged with, quote, "every crime imaginable" if Trump succeeded in going up to the Hill. And Cipollone also, Hutchinson said, pleaded to get Trump to call off the attack on the Capitol once the violence was underway.

MARTINEZ: And didn't Cipollone also push back against this theory that Mike Pence could unilaterally stop the count?

LUCAS: That's right. That's right. In the run up to January 6, Trump lawyer John Eastman was pushing this wild theory that Pence had the authority on his own to stop the electoral count. Trump campaign aide Jason Miller has testified to the committee that Cipollone confronted Eastman about that. And Miller says Cipollone pushed back very hard on that theory and basically said that it was crazy.

MARTINEZ: All right. Now, this sit-down is happening behind closed doors. The panel has two more public hearings planned for next week. What do we expect to hear there?

LUCAS: Well, the committee is holding a hearing Tuesday. That one is expected to focus on the rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6, how the mob was assembled. And it will likely put a spotlight on the role played by members of two extremist groups that we've talked a lot about in the context of January 6, the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys. And then there's another hearing that the committee has planned for prime time Thursday. And that one is expected to focus on the 187 minutes on January 6 that Trump was kind of absent as the Capitol was attacked, when he wasn't saying anything publicly. He wasn't doing anything to stop the violence that was going down at the Capitol. That's what the committee has planned for now. It's unclear at this point whether there will be more public hearings after that or whether with that hearing, it will have wrapped up, essentially, the public portion of its work.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thanks, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.