Pat Cipollone had what one former member of the Justice Department described last week to the Jan. 6 committee as “an impossible job” serving the 45th president of the United States, Donald J. Trump.
But Cipollone was “consistent” and “did that job well,” Richard Donoghue, once the second-in-command to former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, testified.
Cipollone “always sided with the department” and did so even as Trump pushed to overturn the results of the 2020 election by attempting to install crony Jeffrey Clark into the attorney general role.
This was a necessary step in a greater plan to have Clark send a letter to swing states falsely informing them their election results were fraudulent and directing them to appoint Trump’s fake electors.
Cipollone, however, appeared to know a bad deal when he saw it three days before the insurrection during a meeting at the White House with Rosen, Donoghue, Office of Legal Counsel head Richard Engel, Clark, and Trump.
Cipollone rejected Clark’s letter and the plan underpinning it as a “murder-suicide pact,” Donoghue told the committee publicly last week.
When the mob finally ensued on Jan. 6, according to testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson, the one-time aide to Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, it was Cipollone who pleaded with a despondent Meadows as a gallows was being erected on the Capitol lawn.
“They are literally calling for the vice president to be f-ing hung,” Hutchinson recalled Cipollone telling the president’s chief of staff.
Meadows replied, saying of then-Vice President Mike Pence, “You heard him, Pat. He thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.”
Cipollone, Hutchinson said under oath, was, in this terrifying moment, at a loss.
“This is f-ing crazy, we need to be doing something more,” Hutchinson recalled Cipollone saying.
Now, the Jan. 6 committee wants Cipollone to do something more, and it has issued a subpoena for his deposition by July 6.
Cipollone’s testimony would be significant for the investigation into the Capitol attack and Trump’s bid to overturn the election results. It would perhaps be some of the most significant testimony to emerge because it would likely expose the former president’s overt role in the insurrection even more directly.
He sat previously for the committee in April, but he was not under oath and the meeting was not transcribed. He appeared with Patrick Philbin, another Trump White House attorney who once joined him to defend Trump against impeachment.
The subpoena now forces Cipollone to decide what he will say under oath and what he will leave under possible attorney-client privilege or executive privilege with the former president.
Cipollone, according to Hutchinson, was one of the few voices of reason surrounding Trump on Jan. 6, even explicitly warning him and others in the president’s orbit that if he went to the Capitol after his speech at the Ellipse, “we’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable.”
He was at meetings where the question of seizing voting machines was raised, and he was there when not just Donoghue, Engel, and Rosen’s resignations were threatened if Trump insisted on installing Clark, but when Bill Barr, Rosen’s predecessor, offered to quit because he would not declare there was election fraud where none existed.
Cipollone threatened to resign in the runup to Jan. 6 often, according to Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser.
Kushner testified before the probe in recorded deposition and told committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney he chalked up Cipollone’s threats to resign as mere “whining.”
Cheney has publicly called on Cipollone to testify before the committee multiple times and has framed the request in a way that would possibly curry public trust around him.
“Our evidence shows that Mr. Cipollone and his office tried to do what was right,” Cheney remarked during a recent hearing.
But according to the letter notifying him of the subpoena, Cipollone has declined to cooperate since April. And this subpoena is among the last-resort options barring something more extreme down the road, like holding him in contempt.
If he were to sit now, it would be under closely negotiated terms with counsel present.
In a statement Wednesday, Thompson and Cheney noted, however: ”Any concerns Mr. Cipollone has about the institutional prerogatives of the office he previously held are clearly outweighed by the need for his testimony."