January 6 panel leaders fear GOP will leak names of national security personnel who testified

Select committee leaders fear the incoming Republican majority could jeopardise the safety of national security personnel who work at the White House

Andrew Feinberg
Monday 02 January 2023 19:08 GMT
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The leaders of the House January 6 select committee investigation have asked the White House to help shield the identities of key witnesses who gave evidence regarding White House officials’ fears that President Trump’s desire to walk to the Capitol with a riotous mob of his supporters indicated his intention to mount a coup against the government he led at the time.

In a letter to Richard Sauber, a White House attorney who serves as special counsel to President Joe Biden, Representatives Bennie Thompson and Liz Cheney — the panel’s chair and vice-chair — noted that the committee had reached agreement with the White House Counsel’s Office to obtain testimony from certain White House personnel on the condition that the identities of any such witnesses would remain secret.

Mr Thompson and Ms Cheney said those White House employees had “provided very important information for the Committee’s investigation” and have had their identities shielded, but warned that the dissolution of the select committee at the conclusion of the 117th Congress means the panel’s former members “will no longer exercise control over this material, and thus cannot ensure enforcement of the commitment to maintain the confidentiality of the identity of the witnesses”.

“Pursuant to long-standing House rules, the official records of the Committee will be archived and pass into the control of the National Archives,” they said, adding that they share an unnamed official’s concern for “the safety, security, and reputations” of the witnesses.

If the identities of witnesses who cooperated with the panel are leaked, it is highly likely that they will be targeted for death threats and harassment by Mr Trump and his allies in the same way other non-political government workers have been targeted after speaking out or acting in a way that put them at odds with Mr Trump.

When then-Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, at the time an active duty US Army officer detailed to the National Security Council, testified against Mr Trump during the inquiry that led to his first of two impeachment trials, the Defence Department made preparations to move him and his family to a secure location due to threats from Mr Trump’s supporters. And when documents relating to the FBI’s 8 August search of Mr Trump’s home were made public in an unredacted form by Mr Trump’s right-wing media allies, two of the agents whose names appeared in the documents immediately began receiving death threats.

Mr Trump’s ex-White House Communications Director, Alyssa Farah Griffin, told the committee that the president “knows” that he is able to spur his followers to threaten the lives of anyone he chooses to target.

“When he attacks me, I do get death threats ... very specific, very violent,” she said, adding later that “he doesn’t care” and that “the team around” the ex-president also knows his statements targeting individuals “results in these kind of things”.

The witnesses the committee is now seeking to protect from the same fate provided one of the most damning pieces of evidence revealed during the panel’s public hearings last summer.

At one such session, the committee presented evidence and testimony garnered from at least one White House official who was interviewed on 11 July of last year, and whose identity was protected because they are still employed at the White House in a role with “sensitive national security responsibilities”.

The official testified that they were “very concerned” about Mr Trump’s intentions on the day of the attack, and in particular his desire to accompany his supporters to the Capitol that day.

"[W]e all knew what that implicated and what that meant, that this was no longer a rally, that this was going to move to something else if he physically walked to the Capitol," the official said. "I don’t know if you want to use the word 'insurrection,' 'coup,' whatever. We all knew that this would move from a normal, democratic, you know, public event into something else”.

The committee also presented internal National Security Counsel chat logs which indicated that Mr Trump’s military aide — the uniformed officer who accompanies the president at all times and carries the so-called “football” that enables him to authorise release of nuclear weapons — had confirmed his desire to walk to the Capitol after speaking to supporters, as well as the fact that Mr Trump’s aides had been “begging him to reconsider”.

A source familiar with White House operations told The Independent that the fact that the anonymous White House official is still employed at the White House indicates that the witness is most likely a civil servant detailed to the White House from the State Department or US Intelligence Community, or an employee — civilian or uniformed military — of one of the units under the auspices of the White House Military Office, such as the White House Communications Agency or White House Transportation Agency.

While most of the panel’s records will pass into the hands of the Committee on House Administration at the conclusion of the 117th Congress, Mr Thompson and Ms Cheney informed Mr Sauber that the transcripts of those witnesses’ testimony will be provided to an unnamed official for “appropriate review, timely return, and designation of instructions for proper handling” by the National Archives and Records Administration, which will eventually become the custodian of all select committee records.

They have recommended that the official provide the Archives with “any necessary written guidance regarding the need for limitations on release or other sensitivities”.

In a similar letter to the Department of Homeland Security, Mr Thompson and Ms Cheney said the panel was providing the department with all transcripts from interviews conducted with Secret Service personnel, and noted that the panel would “no longer exercise control over this material, and thus cannot ensure enforcement of the agreements to maintain the confidentiality of any of these transcripts and related security information” after the committee is dissolved.

“Our expectation is that the transcripts with such instructions will become part of the historical record of our investigation maintained by the National Archives,” they said.

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