There were already questions about whether Team Trump was trying to pressure witnesses in the Jan. 6 investigation, but those concerns became even more serious this week, toward the end of the latest Jan. 6 committee hearing.
Rep. Liz Cheney, the Republican vice chair of the bipartisan panel, explained from the dais, “After our last hearing, President Trump tried to call a witness in our investigation — a witness you have not yet seen in these hearings. That person declined to answer or respond to President Trump’s call and instead alerted their lawyer to the call.”
The Wyoming congresswoman added, “Their lawyer alerted us, and this committee has supplied that information to the Department of Justice. Let me say one more time, we will take any effort to influence witness testimony very seriously.”
Naturally, this led to all kinds of questions, not the least of which is who, exactly, the former president contacted. As NBC News reported overnight, some answers are coming into focus.
Former President Donald Trump tried to call a member of the White House support staff who was talking to the House committee investigating the Capitol insurrection, a source familiar with the issue told NBC News on Wednesday. CNN first reported that the witness works at the White House.
To be sure, the bigger picture is still missing pieces. We don’t yet know, for example, the staffer’s name or title.
But according to the CNN report, the White House support staffer in question “was not someone who routinely communicated with the former president.”
In other words, Trump keeps in touch with plenty of people who used to work for him, but this person isn’t one of them. The staffer, mindful of the larger circumstances, saw a call from Trump and was immediately concerned, reinforcing the fact that the two did not regularly interact.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, the Democratic chair of the panel, said it was “highly unusual” for Trump to make the call.
The same CNN report added that the support staffer — who has spoken to congressional investigators — was "in a position to corroborate part of what [former Trump White House aide Cassidy] Hutchinson had said under oath.”
There are legal experts who can speak to this with far more authority than I can, but it seems unlikely that an unanswered telephone call would itself constitute witness tampering (unless Trump left an incriminating voicemail message, which even he would probably know not to do).
That said, given what else we know about this story, it’s hardly outlandish to wonder whether the Republican — who has an unfortunate history in this area — reached out to a witness with improper intentions in mind.
What’s more, the fact that the committee is raising these concerns publicly appears to have a larger purpose: Thompson, Cheney, and their colleagues are effectively throwing a brushback pitch, letting the former president and his associates know, “If you’re trying to interfere with witnesses, now is the time to stop.”