Jan. 6 committee conducting interviews with Trump Cabinet officials

Jan. 6 committee conducting interviews with Trump Cabinet officials

July 28, 2022 0 By Ellen Novack

Exactly six days after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, the House of Representatives passed a resolution 223-205 urging then-Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.

At the time, Pence said he did not believe this course of action was “in the best interest of our nation or consistent with the Constitution,” and he dubbed the resolution a “political game.” He also issued his refusal to invoke the 25th Amendment before the House had even completed its vote. 

That “game” Pence worried about, however, was reportedly one that some members of Trump’s inner circle had already considered playing. 

In ABC reporter Jonathan Karl’s book, Betrayal, he described a conversation between then-Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and then-Secretary of State Pompeo. Pompeo, Karl reported, sought out “legal analysis” on how the 25th Amendment could be applied and how fast it might work. 

Washington, D.C., was heavily reeling from the Capitol assault. Yet during an appearance on MSNBC last November, Karl said the 25th Amendment talks were quickly nipped in the bud once officials learned the process could be a lengthy one and potentially complicated by the fact that members of Trump’s Cabinet had resigned after Jan. 6, including Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. 

It was reported Thursday that both DeVos and Chao are figures of interest to Jan. 6 investigators, too, and that they may also be asked to cooperate. 

DeVos stepped down 24 hours after the attack and told USA Today this June that she was part of conversations where the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment with other members of Trump’s Cabinet was discussed. 

In a portion of his testimony to the Jan. 6 committee, former White House attorney Pat Cipollone told investigators that former Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia wanted members of the Cabinet to meet 24 hours after the insurrection. Scalia said he asked for the meeting because he felt “trying to work within the administration to steady the ship” would be better than watching more resignations roll in. 

Pompeo has historically denied that he was part of any conversation after Jan. 6 where invoking the 25th Amendment came up.  

DeVos’ recent interview undercuts that claim. 

“I spoke with the vice president and just let him know I was there to do whatever he wanted and needed me to do or help with, and he made it very clear that he was not going to go in that direction or that path,” DeVos said of Pence on June 9. “I spoke with colleagues. I wanted to get a better understanding of the law itself and see if it was applicable in this case. There were more than a few people who had those conversations internally.”

DeVos said when she realized invoking the 25th Amendment against Trump was not a viable path forward, she tendered her resignation. She has not outwardly blamed Trump for Jan. 6, but she told USA Today she “didn’t see the president step in and do what he could have done to turn it back or slow it down or really address the situation.” 

Cassidy Hutchinson, the former aide to Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, testified to the Jan. 6 committee that discussions of removing Trump with the 25th Amendment were flowing after the mob laid siege to the Capitol. Trump had spent three hours watching the mob attack without strongly condemning the violence or taking concerted action to stop it. When he finally delivered a speech in the Rose Garden that afternoon, and only after multiple people had died and much blood had been shed, he proclaimed “we love you” to his supporters before asking them to go home. 

The next day, officials at the White House pushed to have Trump deliver a speech. Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson told the committee under oath that the plan for the Jan. 7 speech mostly went into effect because people inside the White House were terrified of two things: the mounting criticism that Trump didn’t do enough and that the 25th Amendment would be invoked.

“The secondary reason to that [speech] was that, ‘think about what might happen in the final 15 days of your presidency if we don’t do this, there’s already talks about invoking the 25th Amendment, you need this as cover,’” Hutchinson said. 

According to CNN, the committee is also seeking testimony from John Ratcliffe, a former Republican congressman from Texas who vehemently defended Trump during Trump’s first impeachment inquiry for obstruction of Congress and abuse of power as well as during special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference of the 2016 election.

Ratcliffe, despite a woeful lack of experience, ended up confirmed by the GOP-majority Senate to serve as Director of National Intelligence. His appointment was a rollercoaster. Trump first nominated him to serve in the role in August 2019, but Ratcliffe didn’t have support in the Senate. He also didn’t have widespread support in the intelligence community. A review of his record by investigative reporters at ABC revealed that Ratcliffe had exaggerated claims of his involvement in anti-terrorism efforts as well as illegal immigration crackdowns.

Chad Wolf, once the acting secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, and his former deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, are in reported talks to meet with investigators, as well. 

Both Wolf and Cuccinneli were asked to cooperate with the probe voluntarily last October.

Wolf was once much adored by Trump. He began to lead the Department of Homeland Security after then-Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned in April 2019. Despite Nielsen’s overt willingness to enforce any number of Trump’s cruel immigration policies during her tenure, she wasn’t enough of a toady for the 45th president, and he slammed her in the press as an ineffectual before she resigned. When she finally stepped down, Kevin McAleenan, then the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, filled her slot. McAleenan resigned in November 2019. 

Those transitions were riddled with problems, however.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) would later reveal, after its own independent assessment of DHS, that both Nielsen and McAleenan altered or amended internal policies on lines of succession at the department. DHS pushed back on the report when it went public but Wolf ultimately stayed in place with Trump’s full support. Rep. Bennie Thompson, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee as well as the Jan. 6 committee, said the succession rules were altered in haste so Trump’s “ideologues” could bypass typical Senate confirmation procedure. 

Thompson had good reason to feel this way. In a February 2019 interview with CBS’ Face the Nation, Trump acknowledged that he enjoyed lording over acting officials versus those who had to go through more rigorous congressional approval.

Mulvaney, who meets with the committee Thursday, should cooperate without much trouble, if history is any indicator. Though he was a fierce defender of Trump’s during his tenure with the administration, after Jan. 6, Mulvaney became a more vocal critic. 

“You don’t get to where you got to yesterday with something that’s normal. That’s not normal for any citizen, let alone a president of the United States,” Mulvaney said on Jan. 7 when facing questions about whether Trump should be removed through the 25th Amendment.

Since then, Mulvaney has thrown his support behind those Trump officials who have come forward to testify, including Hutchinson. 

The Jan. 6 committee is expected to continue its probe in the weeks ahead, and chairman Thompson has said that additional hearings will be held in September.  



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