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What Did Trump Know and When Did He Know It?

THE VIEW FROM HERE - While Sen Howard Baker’s June 1973 Watergate question, “What did the President know and when did he know it?,” is pertinent to Trump, that question may be more relevant to associates like Mark Meadows, his Chief of staff, and to Pat Cipollone, White House Counsel to the President. 

What did they know about the plans of Rudolph W. Giuliani, Gen. Michael Flynn, and attorney John Eastman to have Trump claim the Presidency from inside the Capitol? 

Mark Meadows’s assistant, Cassidy Hutchinson testified that Giuliani had said to her: “We’re going to the Capitol. It’s going to be great. The president’s going to be there. He’s going to look powerful. He’s -- he’s going to be with the members. . .The senators . . . Talk to the Chief [her boss Meadows]. He knows about it.“ 

When Hutchinson told Meadows what Giuliani had said, Meadows confirmed that he already knew by replying, “I don’t know, Cass. Things might get real, real bad on January 6.”  When Giuliani said that Trump was going to be with the members, it meant that Trump was going to go inside the Capitol to the joint session where The House and Senate would be certifying the winner of the Nov 2020 election.  The President may not appear before Congress unless Congress has formally invited the President.  The US Constitution does not provide for the President to arrive after a mob has rampaged through the halls seeking to hang the Vice President, even if Trump thinks that is a good idea. 

On January 6th before Hutchinson left with the Trump entourage to go to the Ellipse, a 52-acre park south of the White House fence, where the Stop the Steal rally was being held, Pat Cipollone hold her not to let Trump go to the Capitol.  Clearly, both Mark Meadows and Pat Cipollone knew that Trump had plans to go, uninvited, to the Capitol.  It defies belief that they would tell a 24 year old female assistant not to let the President to do something unless they had already failed to dissuade Trump from going to the Capitol.   

Do Either Men Have a Privilege Not to Testify under Oath 

Until this far right wing Supreme Court was seated, the Jan 6th Committee could legally force Meadows and Cipollone to testify.  Legally, neither has a legal ground to refuse.  Their strongest defense would be the attorney client privilege, but it is void when a client enlists his attorney’s assistance to commit a crime.  Pat Cipollone, however, may not assert the attorney-client privilege because Cipollone is not Trump’s personal attorney, but rather he is White House Counsel.  Trump’s subverting the US Constitution would be outside any confidentiality with the White House Counsel. 

While Meadows, as chief of staff, would assert executive privilege, the same logic applies to Meadows. Privileges fall in face of being part of a criminal undertaking.  

Because there is no privilege, their next fall back would be the Fifth Amendment.  The Jan 6th Committee, however, can grant immunity and compel them to testify. 

The Political Problem of Meadows’ or Cipollone’s Testifying 

Future Chiefs of Staff and White Counsel may feel hamstrung if there is precedent that they can be forced to divulge what they told the President and what the President said, did, or knew.  Thus, the Jan 6th Committee realizes that it is dealing with Separation of Power issue. It cannot allow a President to force others to conceal his criminal, treasonous and/or delusional behavior, but Congress should not be able to invade the thought processes of Executive Branch. 

We do not know if Meadows, Cipollone and others will testify that Trump knew that he had lost the election or that Trump believed that the election had been stolen. Was Trump a criminal or  mentally ill – “detached from realty” as Attorney General William Barr implied?

“What Did Trump Believe Would Happen on Jan 6 and Why Did He Believe It?” 

Rudy Giuliani’s saying that Trump would look “very powerful” at the Capitol is bizarre.  Why would Trump be “at the Capitol”? Why would he look “powerful . . . with the members”?  Watching his supporters being beaten back by the Capitol police would not make Trump look powerful.  Biden’s certification as President would not make Trump look powerful. 

Trump always has to be the center of attention since that is part of his Histrionic Personality Disorder.  The image which Trump must have had in his mind was his standing before the Joint Session in the House Chamber and being declared winner of the November 2020 election.  In brief, Meadows and Cipollone knew that Trump was delusional. 

Pence’s Refusal to Violate His Oath of Office Called for Plan B -- A Violent Insurrection 

As Pence was refusing to violate his oath of office, Trump supporters devised a back up plan – an armed insurrection to take over the Capitol.  That’s why Trump did not care that his crowd had AK-15's and body armor.  They would need guns “to stop the steal.”  

The incident in the Beast, the President’s SUV, conclusively proves that Trump intended to go to the Capitol with an armed mob. After Trump was physically returned to the White House against his will, he was gleeful at the violent insurrection. Did he think that as soon as the mob breached the Capitol and the traitor Pence was dead, then he would go down to The Capitol to claim the Presidency? 

NOTE:  Meadows and Cipollone likely had told the Secret Service not to take Trump to the Capitol.  Cipollone’s telling the same thing to Cassidy Hutchinson indicates that he wasn’t confident that the Secret Service would bring Trump back to the White House.  Thus, Meadows and Cipollone wanted a 24 year old woman to prevent a coup of the US government. Their valor shall be Chapter I in the Profiles of Cowardice! 

Again, “What did Trump Believe?” 

Did Trump believe that he had won both the electoral college and the popular vote? Did he believe himself to be the nation’s savior?  Paranoia has been described as symptomatic delusions of persecution and/or grandeur.  What could fit the description more perfectly than Trump’s falsely believing that he had won the US Presidency? More grandiose would be his belief that as the leader of an armed insurrection, he could stride into the House Chamber and force Congress to certify him as President. 

(Richard Lee Abrams has been an attorney, a Realtor and community relations consultant as well as a CityWatch contributor.  You may email him at [email protected])