The House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol is reportedly looking at a “possible coverup” of White House records focusing on Donald Trump’s phone logs from that fateful day, which bear an unexplained gap of seven hours and 37 minutes covering the period when the violence was unfolding.
Documents obtained by the Washington Post and CBS News put flesh on the bones of one of the great mysteries of January 6: why White House phone logs contain holes in the record despite evidence that the then president busily made calls at the height of the insurrection.
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The documents reveal that Trump’s daily diary shows an entry at 11.17am when he “talked on a phone call to an unidentified person”. The next entry is not until 6.54pm – 457 minutes later – when he asked the White House switchboard to place a call to his communications chief Dan Scavino.
Between those times Trump addressed a rally on the Ellipse, exhorting his supporters to “fight like hell”; hundreds of Trump followers and white supremacists overran police barricades and stormed the Capitol building; and Mike Pence, the vice president, who had been overseeing the certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election, was forced to go into hiding. Seven people died as a result of the attack and more than 100 law enforcement officers were injured.
In an echo of history, the investigation by the January 6 committee of a possible coverup was revealed by the famous Watergate reporter, the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward. His journalistic partner on this occasion was Robert Acosta.
The duo reported that the long gap between call logs was of “intense interest” to elements of the committee. They quoted an unnamed member of the committee who said they were investigating a “possible coverup”.
The J6 committee consists of nine members, seven of whom are Democrats and two – Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois – are Republicans who are participating in the probe in defiance of their party’s leadership.
According to Woodward and Acosta, the committee is looking at possible ways in which Trump skirted around normal accountability governing telephone calls for a sitting president. One theory is that he might have used disposable or “burner phones”.
In a statement to the news outlets, Trump dismissed such speculation. “I have no idea what a burner phone is, to the best of my knowledge I have never even heard the term,” he said.
The disclosure of evidence around the events of January 6 has been a bone of contention between Trump and the committee for months. Last month the National Archives disclosed that it had found boxes of classified documents that the former president had improperly taken away from the White House.
The phone logs containing the six-hour interlude were only handed over to the committee earlier this year after the US supreme court rejected a call by Trump to block the transfer of the documents.
Pressure on the former president over his actions on January 6 comes at an intense moment for him. Earlier this month the committee laid out a case for Trump having violated several federal laws in his attempt to overturn the 2020 election results and stay in power.
This week a federal judge also stated that Trump appeared to have committed multiple felonies in his pursuit of the “big lie” that the election was stolen from him. That ruling came as Judge David Carter ordered John Eastman, the conservative lawyer who advised Trump on how to delay certification of Biden’s victory, to hand over hundreds of emails to the J6 committee.