Donald Trump is fuming that he has no loyalists on the Jan. 6 House select committee who can run interference on his behalf. The former president is mad at House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for boycotting the process after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rejected two of his five picks. “That was a very, very foolish decision,” Trump said on conservative talk radio last week. He added on social media: “I DEMAND EQUAL TIME!!!”
The committee should call Trump’s bluff and invite him to testify about his efforts to overturn the 2020 election — with the stipulation that he must do so under oath. Every network, including Fox News, would surely carry such a hearing in prime time.
But as fun as it is to fantasize about such a spectacle, everyone knows Trump would never swear to tell the truth in a setting where he would almost certainly perjure, or otherwise incriminate, himself — if he didn’t plead the Fifth. Instead, Trump will continue giving Fidel Castro-length speeches to friendly crowds where he won’t be challenged on specifics.
Remember that Trump refused to be interviewed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III as part of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Tuesday’s congressional hearing into Trump’s interference in the 2020 count began with a reminder of his strained relationship with the truth. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) began questioning Arizona House Speaker Russell “Rusty” Bowers (R) by reading aloud from a statement Trump had just released about a purported phone call he had with Bowers in November 2020. “He told me that the election was rigged and that I won Arizona,” Trump wrote.
Bowers, who was under oath and has shown himself to be a profile in courage, called this a lie. He said he never told anyone, anywhere or anytime, that the election was rigged. Would any serious person believe Trump over Bowers?
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), vice chair of the Jan. 6 committee, said that more than 30 witnesses in Trump’s orbit had invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when called to testify, including Roger Stone, Michael Flynn and John Eastman. Former Trump advisers Stephen K. Bannon and Peter Navarro have been indicted on charges of refusing to comply with subpoenas.
The Justice Department declined to indict former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows or former deputy chief of staff Daniel Scavino Jr. for not testifying, even though the House has voted to hold them in criminal contempt of Congress. This reflects a cautiousness about executive-privilege claims, but the decision not to prosecute has potentially emboldened other former White House officials to not be as forthcoming with investigators as they otherwise might have been.
Cheney concluded Tuesday’s hearing by publicly pleading with former White House counsel Pat Cipollone to appear before the committee. “Our evidence shows that Mr. Cipollone and his office tried to do what was right,” she said. “They tried to stop a number of President Trump’s plans for January 6th.”
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a former White House adviser, said in his videotaped interview with the committee that he interpreted Cipollone’s threat to resign ahead of Jan. 6 as “whining.”
Cipollone and former deputy White House counsel Pat Philbin met informally with committee investigators in April, which means the interviews were neither under oath nor recorded. The absence of on-the-record statements from them will become especially apparent during Thursday’s hearing, when former Justice Department officials Jeffrey Rosen, Richard Donoghue and Steven A. Engel are scheduled to testify about the Jan. 3, 2021, meeting in the Oval Office at which they threatened to resign if Trump made Jeffrey Clark the acting attorney general. Clark, who ran Justice’s environmental division, went behind his boss’s back to assist Trump’s plot to overturn the election.
Cipollone and Philbin were in that meeting, and they work together now in private practice. A person close to Cipollone said that he has been "cooperative with the committee, with President Trump’s permission,” but that he continues to harbor “serious institutional concerns and [executive] privilege issues.”
But these same issues have not stopped other Trump administration lawyers from speaking freely, including former attorney general William P. Barr and Greg Jacob, Mike Pence’s counsel when he was vice president.
Eric Herschmann, a lawyer who worked under Cipollone, has proven to be a star witness. He’s the guy who candidly recalled telling Eastman on Jan. 7, 2021, before hanging up on him, that he needed to get a good criminal defense lawyer. Herschmann’s backdrop during videotaped testimony has featured a baseball bat that says “JUSTICE,” a reference to this verse in Deuteronomy: “Follow justice and justice alone.”
That Old Testament command from Moses is one that Cipollone would do well to heed. In doing so, he could teach his 10 children — and his old boss — that truth and lies don’t deserve equal time.