US Capitol riot probe examines Trump circle’s ties to extremists

Published July 13, 2022
A video screen is seen during a public hearing of the US House Select Committee to investigate the January 6 Attack on the US Capitol. — Reuters
A video screen is seen during a public hearing of the US House Select Committee to investigate the January 6 Attack on the US Capitol. — Reuters

WASHINGTON: The congressional committee investigating the Jan 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol sought to draw connections on Tuesday between then-president Donald Trump’s closest allies and right-wing militants who stormed the seat of government in a bid to keep him in power.

The House of Representatives committee’s seventh hearing in five weeks was to focus on the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, two pro-Trump groups that investigators say helped plan the attack, as well as QAnon, a right-wing conspiracy theory movement.

The hearing was to explore ties between the two groups and Trump associates including Roger Stone and Mike Flynn, according to a committee aide.

The Oath Keepers provided security to Stone, a self-described “dirty trickster” who has advised Trump off and on for decades, in Washington on Jan 5 and 6 Flynn, a retired Army general, served as Trump’s first national security adviser.

The committee’s seven Democrats and two Republicans have used the hearings to build a case that Trump’s efforts to overturn his defeat in the November 2020 election constitute illegal conduct, far beyond normal politics.

Committee members say Trump incited the riot through his refusal to admit he lost the 2020 presidential election and through comments like his Dec 19, 2020, call on Twitter for supporters to flock to Washington for a “big protest,” saying, “Be there, will be wild.”

They also have questioned the role of some members of Congress in Trump’s Republican Party. Committee aides said Tuesday’s hearing would explore the involvement of some lawmakers.

The hearing is expected to feature video testimony from Pat Cipollone, Trump’s former White House counsel, who spoke to committee investigators behind closed doors on Friday.

The attack on the Capitol, following a speech Trump gave at a rally outside the White House, delayed certification of Joe Biden’s election for hours, injured more than 140 police officers and led to several deaths.

In response to a request for comment, Stone said he was facing the “tactic of guilt by association.” In an email, he said, “Any assertion that I knew in advance about, was involved in or condoned any of the illegal actions at the Capitol is false. Any claim that I knew from any member of the Proud Boys or Oath Keepers about any plan for illegal activities on January 6th is also false.” An attorney for Flynn did not respond to a request for comment.

Neither Flynn nor Stone has been charged in connection with the attack on the Capitol and both have invoked their Fifth Amendment constitutional right against self-incrimination before the Jan. 6 committee. Trump pardoned both after they were convicted or pleaded guilty in cases unrelated to the Capitol attack.

The Oath Keepers and Proud Boys gained national attention during the Trump administration for their support of the Republican president. Trump urged the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” during a September 2020 debate as he campaigned against Biden.

About 800 people, including members of both groups, have been charged with taking part in the Capitol riot, with about 250 guilty pleas so far. Questioning of witnesses during the hearing will be led by Democratic Representatives Stephanie Murphy and Jamie Raskin.

Trump, who has hinted he may seek the White House again in 2024, denies wrongdoing and has falsely asserted that he lost only because of widespread fraud that benefited Biden.

Trump and his supporters — including many Republicans in Congress — dismiss the Jan. 6 panel as a political witch hunt, but the panel’s backers say it is a necessary probe into a violent threat against democracy.

Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2022

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