Cicilline’s comments could be read to suggest the “reportedly” was based on Lee’s confirmation, though that generally refers to news reports. Regardless, lead House impeachment manager Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) opted to withdraw Cicilline’s assertion, maintaining that the sourcing was “not critical in any way to our case.”
But Lee’s objection also served to highlight a subtly vital series of events from that day. The Tuberville call — regardless of the sourcing behind it — reinforces the readily apparent idea that Trump’s focus early in the riot was much more about his own political fate than the danger faced by lawmakers and Capitol staff.
The call, after all, came well after the rioters had breached several barriers near the Capitol. It also came around the time Trump’s first tweet arrived, not calling for peace but instead criticizing Vice President Mike Pence for not unilaterally trying to overturn the election. The Washington Post and others reported that Trump spoke to Tuberville to discuss this topic and to talk about delaying the certification of the results.
What’s more, the reported content of that call not only hasn’t been disputed; it’s actually reinforced by audio of a similar call to Lee by Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani. Giuliani also called Lee while seeking Tuberville later that day, and he left a voice mail in which the content matches the reported content of Trump’s call.
The Dispatch’s Steven Hayes reported on that call the night it happened, publishing a transcript.
“I’m calling you because I want to discuss with you how they’re trying to rush this hearing and how we need you, our Republican friends, to try to just slow it down so we can get these legislatures to get more information to you,” Giuliani said in the voice mail.
Giuliani added: “So if you could object to every state and, along with a congressman, get a hearing for every state, I know we would delay you a lot, but it would give us the opportunity to get the legislators who are very, very close to pulling their vote.…”
Giuliani’s call came after the riot had died down that evening, but it’s readily apparent why Trump and Giuliani would seek Tuberville out specifically: He had been one of the dozen or so senators who said they would object to the election results in key states. There’s really no reason to call a freshman senator who had just been sworn in weeks earlier and has no real legislative heft if your intent is to talk about the riot. They were focused on gumming up the works to buy time.
Thus far we have myriad evidence that Trump, at the very least, wasn’t terribly troubled by the events that day. The Post’s Rosalind Helderman and Josh Dawsey published a must-read story about that earlier this week, dissecting the Trump legal team’s claim that Trump was immediately “horrified” by the scenes.
Trump’s delayed, mealy-mouthed call for the rioters to “go home” (while expressing his “love” for them), didn’t come till 4:17 p.m., more than two hours after the rioters broke into the Capitol. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) acknowledged, “It took him a while to appreciate the gravity of the situation.” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) went further, saying Trump “was walking around the White House confused about why other people on his team weren’t as excited as he was” about the riot.
Trump allies and former White House staffers pleaded in real time — and even publicly on Twitter — for Trump to call off the mob. But Trump resisted for hours and then, in doing so, expressed sympathy for the rioters. If he was truly horrified, he sure had a funny way of showing it.
What the Lee/Tuberville calls reinforce, though, is that Trump wasn’t just slow to appreciate the situation. He was, at the same time, very tuned in to one specific thing: his electoral fate. Even an hour after Capitol barricades were breached — something that played widely on cable news — we have no real evidence he was truly “horrified,” and plenty that he wasn’t.
Tuberville has also now disclosed that he told Trump personally that Pence had been evacuated before ending the call. The call reportedly happened shortly after 2 p.m. and lasted 10 minutes. Trump tweeted attacking Pence at 2:24 p.m. It’s not 100 percent clear that Trump received this message before the tweet, but it’s certainly a valid question. Tuberville’s new disclosure raises all kinds of additional questions (questions that, sadly, probably won’t get definitive answers, given that Democrats are unlikely to call witnesses).
It’s shocking not just because it was a baseless effort to overturn a presidential election, but also because it was obviously doomed. There were never going to be enough votes in Congress to overturn the election results in key states. The effort was apparently to delay the process enough so that state legislatures could conceivably intervene, but that was something they had all resisted doing for weeks, despite the best efforts of the Trump team. There was no new evidence that could have spurred a reversal in the three to four states that would have been necessary.
This far-flung and desperate effort, though, needed to proceed even as the Capitol was under siege. Even if the true danger of the situation wasn’t immediately apparent to Trump, it’s clear he was tuned in. And it lends credence to Democrats’ arguments that Trump’s initial shrug at the situation suggests a president who probably saw value in it.
Clarification: This post has been updated to more accurately reflect Cicilline’s comments. He said, “Sen. Lee then confirmed that he stood by as Sen. Tuberville and President Trump spoke on the phone, and on that call, Donald Trump reportedly asks Senator Tuberville to make additional objections to the certification process.”