POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

Trump wanted to trademark ‘Rigged Election!’ and other key findings from the Jan. 6 panel’s latest release

Dec 30, 2022, 9:30 PM
The exterior of the U.S. Capitol is seen at sunset in Washington, U.S., Dec. 13, 2022. REUTERS/Sara...
The exterior of the U.S. Capitol is seen at sunset in Washington, U.S., Dec. 13, 2022. REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger

 (CNN) — The House select committee investigating January 6, 2021, on Friday released another wave of witness interview transcripts.

The new drop, which complements the panel’s sweeping 845-page report and is among a steady stream of transcripts released over the past week, includes interviews with some of the most intriguing figures in the committee’s probe into the US Capitol attack.

Those witnesses include Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife, Ginni Thomas, who told the committee that she regretted texts she sent to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows encouraging election reversal efforts.

Trump White House deputy chief of staff Tony Ornato — whose interview transcript was also released Friday after the committee publicly questioned his credibility in its report — pushed back on another key witness’ claim that he had recounted to her a dramatic episode involving Trump in his motorcade.

Former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, meanwhile, shed new light on how a Trump team shift in strategy came to be.

The latest transcript drop comes as the panel winds down its work with the House majority set to change hands from Democrats to Republicans next week at the start of the new Congress. The releases have shed new light on how the House committee conducted its investigation of the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol — and new details about what key witnesses told the panel.

Here are some of the highlights from the latest disclosures:

Trump wanted to trademark ‘Rigged Election!’ 

Then-President Donald Trump wanted to trademark the phrase “Rigged Election!” days after Election Day in 2020, according to emails provided by Jared Kushner to the House select committee.

On November 9, 2020, then-Trump aide Dan Scavino emailed Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, with the request from Trump.

“Hey Jared! POTUS wants to trademark/own rights to below, I don’t know who to see — or ask…I don’t know who to take to,” the email from Scavino reads, according to a transcript of Kushner’s testimony to the committee, which was released by the panel on Friday.

Two phrases were bolded in the email: “Save America PAC!” and “Rigged Election!”

Kushner forwarded the request and discussed it on an email chain that included Eric Trump, the president’s son; Alex Cannon, a Trump campaign lawyer; Sean Dollman, the chief financial officer of Trump’s 2020 campaign; and Justin Clark, a Trump campaign lawyer.

“Guys – can we do ASAP please?” Kushner wrote.

Eric Trump responded, saying: “Both web URLs are already registered. Save America PAC was registered October 23 of this year. Was that done by the campaign?”

Dollman responded: “‘Save America PAC’ is already taken/registered, just confirming that. But we can still file for ‘Save America.'”

Kushner’s response, according to the transcript, was: “Go.”

Giuliani explains Trump team pivot to state legislatures

A feeling that courts weren’t comfortable with Trump’s legal challenges to the 2020 election drove the Trump team’s pivot to state legislatures, former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told the select committee earlier this year.

The theory that the US Constitution lets state legislatures intervene in the presidential election results first came up within the week after the election, Giuliani told congressional investigators. But he and then-fellow Trump attorney Jenna Ellis looked more closely at the idea when the lawsuits challenging the results weren’t getting traction.

“We just got a bad feeling that these judges didn’t — they didn’t want to hear witnesses, citizens, American citizens, and that if American citizens could get up and testify, there were so many of them that it would make a very big difference,” Giuliani said in his May deposition.

The theory that a state legislature could override the results of a state’s presidential vote is considered a fringe one, and Congress recently enacted statutory changes to limit legislatures’ ability to do so.

At one point, Giuliani said, “It seemed to me the courts didn’t want to be involved in a political question like this. And there was a kind of a discomfort too. Somehow we were trying to think, well, who would resolve something like this. And we started reading the Constitution.”

Thomas explains why she was ‘disgusted’ with Pence in text 

Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, a conservative activist and the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, told the committee that when she said she was “disgusted” with then-Vice President Mike Pence in a text on January 10, 2021, she wasn’t referring to his refusal to stop the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s win, but rather to her frustration with him not talking up election fraud claims. There was no evidence of widespread election fraud in the election.

“I was frustrated that I thought Vice President Pence might concede earlier than what President Trump was inclined to do,” Thomas said, according to a transcript released Friday. “And I wanted to hear Vice President Pence talk more about the fraud and irregularities in certain states that I thought was still lingering.”

“I wasn’t focused on the Vice President’s role on January 6th,” she said, when asked specifically if the text — previously reported by CNN — was connected to how he handled that day.

At another point in the interview, committee member Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, asked Thomas what specific episodes of fraud concerned her.

“I can’t say that I was familiar at that time with any specific evidence,” she said, pointing instead to what she heard from “friends on the ground” and “grassroots activists” who had “found things suspicious” at polling places.

“I don’t know specific instances,” she said. “But certainly I think we all know that there are people questioning what happened in 2020, and it takes time to develop an understanding of the facts.”

The committee had only limited questions about Thomas’ interactions with her husband and his role on the Supreme Court — an area she would likely be able to decline to answer questions about, given the confidentiality allowed for married couples.

Her husband had no idea she was texting Meadows, Thomas told the investigators.

“He first learned of my text messaging with Mark Meadows in March when he was in the hospital and this committee released them,” she said in her interview.

Regretted text messages sent to Meadows after 2020 election

Ginni Thomas told the House select committee she regretted the text messages she was sending to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows after the election.

“I regret the tone and content of these texts … I really find my language imprudent and my choices of sending the context of these emails unfortunate,” Thomas said.

Thomas’ mea culpa to the committee, captured in a transcript of her September interview that was released publicly Friday, marks a rare moment of public reflection from one of the more intriguing avenues the House panel pursued, after obtaining Meadows’ texts. Thomas, a longtime conservative activist, had been sending Meadows messages about challenging the election results. She explained to the committee at her interview she was concerned about a concession of the election before accusations of fraud were fully explored.

“It was an emotional time. I was probably just emoting,” she said, in response to direct questions from committee member Adam Schiff, a California Democrat. “Some of these are just things I was showing were moving through the movement and I’m regretting that they became public … Certainly I didn’t want my emotional texts to a friend released and made available.”

An attorney for Thomas said in a statement Friday that her “post-election activities” after Trump lost in 2020 were “minimal and mainstream.”

“Her minimal activity was focused on ensuring that reports of fraud and irregularities were investigated,” attorney Mark Paoletta said in the statement. “Beyond that, she played no role in any events following the 2020 election. She also condemned the violence on January 6.”

Witness didn’t recall details, citing ‘fog of war’

One of the key witnesses in the House committee’s investigation, former White House deputy chief of staff Tony Ornato, told the panel he couldn’t recall details from January 6, amid what he called “the fog of war” during the US Capitol attack.

Ornato has been a central figure in the investigation since former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified that he relayed to her how the then-president angrily tried to redirect his motorcade to the Capitol that day — another detail that Ornato told the committee he didn’t recall.

Ornato told the committee that most of his job on January 6 involved relaying information he received to then-chief of staff Meadows and said he couldn’t recall specific details when asked about who was trying to encourage Trump to send out a statement that day.

“I’ll be honest with you, it was a very chaotic time in trying to get the information, and it was usually late information or it wasn’t accurate or it was the fog of war and it was misrepresented. And it was very — a very chaotic day, so I don’t recall those specific details,” Ornato said.

During a public hearing in June, Hutchinson testified that Ornato told her Trump was angry he couldn’t go to the Capitol on January 6 after his speech at the Ellipse and that, during the ride back to the White House, he reached toward the front of the car to grab at the steering wheel.

According to Ornato’s November testimony to the committee, which was released Friday, Ornato did not recall the conversation with Hutchinson and said he was “shocked” by her testimony.

“I was called to put it on,” Ornato told the committee, referring to Hutchinson’s televised testimony, “and I was shocked and surprised of her testimony and called Mr. Engel and asked him, ‘What is she talking about?'”

Ornato said that Robert Engel, the lead Secret Service agent in Trump’s motorcade on the day of the US Capitol attack, didn’t know what Hutchinson was referring to. Hutchinson testified that Ornato relayed the story about Trump’s outburst to her back at the White House, while Engel was in the room.

The committee makes clear in its final report it did not find Ornato’s testimony credible.

Questioned statistics on supposed dead voters in 2020 election

An attorney on Trump’s post-election legal team questioned some of the statistics being used to support claims of mass fraud, pointing out that many supposedly dead voters in Georgia likely sent in their ballots before they died, according to a January 6 committee transcript released Friday.

The committee read an email from the attorney, Katherine Friess, to Giuliani during the panel’s interview with him. In the email, Friess weighed in on a chart being prepared for Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican.

“Many of the dead voters on the Georgia list sent their vote in before they passed. I don’t think this makes a particularly strong case, and I think it’s possible that Chairman Graham will push back on that,” Friess said in the email, according to the committee investigators who were questioning Giuliani.

CNN previously reported that another Trump lawyer, Christina Bobb, told the committee that Graham promised to “champion” Trump’s election fraud claims, saying: “Just give me five dead voters.” And Georgia election officials told Trump they found two votes cast in the names of dead people, not 5,000 as the former president suggested.

Friess said in her email that she was raising the issue so that everyone is aware of “what the data actually says.” Hundreds of names on the list were of people who had died after their ballot was received, according to the committee’s description of the chart.

An attorney who represented Friess in litigation she brought to block a committee subpoena of her phone records did not immediately respond to CNN’s inquiry about her email.

Liaison denies she was banned from Justice Department

A Trump administration official who was accused of trying to access sensitive Justice Department election-related information denied in testimony to the committee that she was barred from entering the DOJ’s building, as was reported at the time.

Heidi Stirrup, who was working as the White House liaison to the DOJ during the 2020 election, said that her badge to enter in the building was deactivated briefly in November 2020, but that after a day or two it was reactivated and she was able to reenter the building.

In her deposition with the committee, Stirrup recounted conversations she had with then-Attorney General Bill Barr and another DOJ official when she was seeking information about what the department was doing to investigate voter fraud allegations after the 2020 election. She told congressional investigators that she “took it upon” herself to talk to the DOJ officials about how the department was approaching the allegations, after being asked by “friends” not in the federal government what was going on.

Stirrup told the committee that Will Levi, the other DOJ official she spoke to, shared with her a memo Barr sent to the department outlining the authority that US attorneys had to investigate allegations presented to them in their state. According to the transcript, Stirrup emailed that memo to various other Trump administration officials — including John Zadrozny and John McEntee, who both worked in the White House. She told the committee that she couldn’t recall having conversations with any of those individuals about DOJ’s investigations into the allegations, and said she shared with them the memo because she thought they would be interested in it.

‘Team crazy’

Robert Sinners, who worked on the Trump campaign’s Election Day operations in Georgia in 2020 and helped organize the slate of alternate GOP electors there, told congressional investigators that his “intent was never to be aligned with team crazy.”

Sinners said he was assured that lawyers had signed off on the alternate elector plan and didn’t realize that numerous lawyers working with the Trump campaign had soured on the electors idea by the time the fake electors were convening on December 14, 2020, according to a transcript released Friday night.

In hindsight — after more fully understanding the extent of the schemes to overturn the 2020 election and the reservations some Trump attorneys had about these plots — Sinners told investigators he was both “ashamed” to have helped organize the fake electors and “angry.”

CNN previously reported that Sinners emailed the fake electors asking for “complete secrecy and discretion” on December 13, 2020, a day before the GOP electors convened at the Georgia capitol. Sinners told the panel that efforts to ensure Georgia’s GOP electors met in secrecy had more to do with skirting Covid-19 restrictions and avoiding protesters than keeping the elector plan under wraps.

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Trump wanted to trademark ‘Rigged Election!’ and other key findings from the Jan. 6 panel’s latest release