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Inside the 'unhinged' West Wing meeting on Dec. 18

Former White House counsel Pat Cipollone is seen on a video display during the seventh hearing held by the House Jan. 6 committee on Tuesday.
Sarah Silbiger
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Former White House counsel Pat Cipollone is seen on a video display during the seventh hearing held by the House Jan. 6 committee on Tuesday.

In its seventh public hearing, the House select committee detailed an explosive meeting at the White House on Dec. 18, 2020, in which outside advisers to then-President Donald Trump and White House officials clashed over election fraud conspiracy theories and plots to keep Trump in power.

The committee meticulously reconstructed the meeting, playing clips of sworn testimony from various participants, including White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who met with the committee behind closed doors on Friday.

The chaotic White House meeting took place four days after electors met across the country and made Joe Biden the president-elect, and lasted over six hours, beginning in the Oval Office and ending in Trump's private residence.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who co-led Tuesday's hearing, described how attorney Sidney Powell, former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne and former national security adviser Michael Flynn accessed the White House with the help of a junior staffer and spoke with Trump alone for 10-15 minutes before White House officials learned of the meeting and made their way to join.

"I bet Pat Cipollone set a new land speed record," Powell said of the White House Counsel.

For his part, Cipollone expressed frustration at the group assembled before the president, telling the committee he "was not happy to see the people in the Oval Office."

"First of all, the Overstock person, I didn't know who this guy was. Actually, the first thing I did, I walked in, I looked at him and I said, 'Who are you?' And he told me," he recounted. "I don't think any of these people were providing the president with good advice and I didn't understand how they had gotten in."

Derek Lyons, former White House staff secretary, said the two camps were "shouting at each other, throwing insults at each other — it wasn't just sort of people sitting around a couch chit-chatting."

Former White House lawyer Eric Herschmann said the outside group suggested that Venezuela had meddled with the election and that Nest brand thermostats hooked up to the internet were changing votes.

Cipollone recalled "pushing back" on the group of Trump's outside advisors by asking them to provide any evidence that the election was fraudulent.

He said the group showed a "general disregard for the importance of actually backing up what you say."

The outside group of Trump's advisors repeatedly accused the White House team of being too weak to further contest the election results.

"I would categorically describe it as: 'You guys aren't tough enough,' " former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said in a video clip of testimony.

"What they were proposing, I thought, was nuts," said Herschman, and recalled an exchange with Powell about the integrity of judges who had ruled on the Trump team's legal challenges.

"She says, 'Well, the judges are corrupt,' " he recounted. "I'm like — 'Every one? Every single case in the country you guys lost? Every one of them is corrupt? Even the ones we appointed?' I'm being nice, I was much more harsh to her."

Raskin displayed texts from Cassidy Hutchinson — who has already delivered bombshell testimony before the committee — describing the meeting to Tony Ornato, then-White House deputy chief of staff for operations, saying, "the West Wing is unhinged."

The committee also shared a photograph Hutchinson took of then-Chief of Staff Mark Meadows escorting Giulinai off-campus "to make sure he didn't wander back into the mansion."

Cipollone also testified that he spoke out against a plan to appoint Powell as a special counsel in charge of investigating seized voting machines and prosecuting election-related crimes.

"I was vehemently opposed," he said. "I didn't think she should be appointed anything."

It was in the hours after this meeting that Trump tweeted that his supporters should come to D.C. on Jan. 6: "Be there, will be wild!"

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Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.