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What the Jan. 6 committee hopes to learn from Trump White House documents

President Donald Trump speaks on Jan. 6, 2021. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
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It was the first thing House investigators asked for, back in August — and one of a handful of things they appear to be willing to fight for in court: White House records surrounding the events of Jan. 6, 2021, about 800 pages worth, and thousands more from throughout the government.

In January, the Supreme Court said former president Donald Trump can’t block the records from going to the Jan. 6 committee in Congress.

He had sued trying to stop them, arguing that they were covered by executive privilege. But the Supreme Court agreed that it was President Biden’s decision to make. And on Wednesday, Trump lost a separate fight over who visited the White House on and around Jan. 6 when Biden ordered visitor logs of Trump’s White House sent to the Jan. 6 committee, saying those should not be protected by executive privilege either.

These are big losses for Trump and potentially big wins for the committee. We don’t know exactly what’s in those records — they won’t get released to the public — but we do know that the committee thinks they can help answer these questions.

How many times did Trump decline to tell the rioters to leave the Capitol?

Through reporting and the committee’s investigation, we know Trump took hours to say something — anything — to de-escalate the situation, even as people in the Capitol and members of his family sent panicked text messages asking him to call off the rioters. Only at 4:17 p.m., nearly three hours after the attack started, did he share a video statement in which he tepidly told the rioters to go home — and even then he called them “special.”

But Trump took multiple takes of the video, and the committee wants to know what was in them and why they weren’t released. And it believes the National Archives has those videos (since White House officials are required by law to preserve all official records).

In a letter sent to Ivanka Trump in January requesting her testimony about this, the committee writes: “The Select Committee understands that multiple takes of the video were filmed but not utilized. Information in the Select possession suggests the President failed in the initial clips to ask rioters to leave the Capitol. The Select Committee has sought copies of those unused clips from the National Archives.”

What did the pressure campaign on Pence look like?

For weeks, Trump had been publicly urging Vice President Mike Pence to reject states’ electoral votes in states Trump lost when Pence presided over a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6 to certify Biden’s win. Pence considered it, according to reporting from the book “Peril” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, but ultimately decided he had no constitutional authority to reject the votes.

Trump talked to Pence the morning of Jan. 6, the committee notes. But what exactly did he say? And was there more? The committee has asked for “all documents and records” relating to anything to do with Pence, seeing the pressure campaign on him as the crux of that day. (In a tweet, Trump attacked Pence during the riot — as rioters were chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” — for not denying legitimate election results.)

Did Trump order the National Guard deployed?

The committee said acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller told them that Trump never contacted him “at any time on Jan. 6 and never, at any time, issued any order to deploy the National Guard.” And they added that the White House staff pushed away questions [from whom, it’s not clear] on whether Trump “was attempting to hold up deployment of the Guard.”

The committee has specifically asked the Defense Department to hand over “all documents and communications relating to any directions” from Trump to deploy the National Guard. They believe that official records from the White House — emails or texts from top officials about the National Guard — would shed light on this, too.

What exactly did Trump do on Jan. 6?

Committee members have said that they want to trace every minute of Trump’s day. Who did he meet with before he gave the speech on the Ellipse to his supporters, some of whom would later storm the Capitol? Can the committee get hold of draft versions of the speech? What meetings did he attend and who was there? Whom did he talk to during the attack? Who came to the White House before, during or after the attack? What kind of discussions led up to the tweet he sent that afternoon during the attack accusing Pence of not “having the courage” to undermine the election results?

The committee told Ivanka Trump that it already understands that she twice talked to her father, trying to persuade him to tell the rioters to leave the Capitol.

White House logs, calendars, schedules and meeting transcriptions — including everyone in attendance virtually or in person — could help shed light on all of this. (Except, many of those documents the committee won the right to see in court arrived ripped up, underscoring Trump’s penchant for tearing up papers, in likely violation of the Presidential Records Act.)

“January 6 is a very important day,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) has said. “We will get every bit of detail that we can possibly get on that.”

Trump specifically went to court to try to stop the committee from getting White House diaries, calendars and telephone call logs on that day. He also objected to the government releasing notes about and drafts of his Jan. 6 speech.

But Trump appeared to go out of his way to block official White House visitor logs in particular. Early on in his presidency, the White House said those would stay private, even though former president Barack Obama and now Biden have made theirs public, with some exceptions. Then when Trump left office, he asked Biden to keep his logs sealed. Biden has ordered that the logs be released to the committee. It’s unclear if Trump will sue to ask the courts to keep these logs from the committee.

What else might they uncover?

Kinzinger also said that perhaps more important is what happened in the weeks and months before Jan. 6 to lay the groundwork for such an attack. And that’s where the committee appears to be leaving open some room for the unknown.

Before former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows decided to stop cooperating with the committee, he handed over thousands of text messages and pages of emails to the committee from his official work account. And through those, the committee learned that Republicans and Fox News hosts texted Meadows in a panic during the attack, demanding Trump find a way to end it.

What else could they find in records from top White House officials? For example, in late January, Politico obtained a draft of an executive order that Trump had apparently considered issuing, in which demanded he seize the voting machines based on no evidence and stay in power past Jan. 20.

This has been updated with the latest news.