Thanks to conveniently lax White House record-keeping, the question of exactly whom Donald Trump was talking to as a mob of rioters he inspired attacked the Capitol on January 6, 2021 has been something of a mystery.
On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported there is Nixon-style gap in Trump’s call records that were turned over to the House committee investigating the attack. The gap is seven hours 37 minutes long, spanning from 11:17 a.m. to 6:54 p.m., before and after the riot. As the Post notes, Trump was “known for using different phones when he was in the White House, according to people familiar with his activities.” The paper reported that, in defiance of rules dictating that all communications from the White House must be preserved, he may have resorted to tactics associated with drug dealers to preserve secrecy:
The House panel is now investigating whether Trump communicated that day through backchannels, phones of aides or personal disposable phones, known as “burner phones,” according to two people with knowledge of the probe, who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information. The committee is also scrutinizing whether it received the full logs from that day.
“I have no idea what a burner phone is, to the best of my knowledge I have never even heard the term,” Trump said in a statement.
Well, that settles the question.
Some details are known about Trump’s communication on that day. The 11 pages of call logs produced by the National Archives, which holds onto presidential records, include records of chats on the morning of 1/6 with Steve Bannon, Rudy Giuliani, Stephen Miller, and several other associates. That evening, Trump spoke with Bannon again as well as White House counsel Pat Cipollone and adviser Jason Miller. Various outlets have reported conversations Trump had during the missing hours, including his failed attempt to get Mike Pence to dispute the election and a call he mistakenly placed to Senator Mike Lee instead of Senator Tommy Tuberville seeking the same goal. Trump’s intimate involvement in the dubious legal strategy to attempt to overturn the election, which was spearheaded by Bannon, John Eastman, and Senator Ted Cruz, among others, is undoubtedly of interest to House investigators.
They will also certainly be attempting to fill in the blanks on hours still unaccounted for, during which it seems highly likely that Trump spent a lot of time on the phone. As the investigation nears its climax, the questions of whom he might have been talking to and what he might have been advocating are essential ones.