U.S. House Jan. 6 committee investigated four Texas conservative figures, transcripts reveal
By Matthew Choi, Robert Downen and William Melhado, The Texas Tribune
“U.S. House Jan. 6 committee investigated four Texas conservative figures, transcripts reveal” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol released a trove of interview transcripts Wednesday from its probe, including testimonies from four Texas conservative figures.
The Texans include the leader of a right-wing militia who was recently found guilty of seditious conspiracy, a state Senate candidate and close political allies of former President Donald Trump, including radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
Most of those interviewed refused to answer questions. Stewart Rhodes, founder of the right-wing Oath Keepers militia, offered extensive accounts about his group’s activities in Texas but declined to answer most questions about the lead-up to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
The transcript release followed the committee’s final hearing Monday, when it recommended that the Justice Department criminally prosecute Trump, his legal adviser John Eastman and other unnamed figures they say incited the riot and sought to undermine the 2020 presidential election’s certification, despite knowing that there was no widespread voter fraud. The charges included obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States government, conspiracy to make a false statement and helping those involved in an insurrection.
The committee’s recommendation is largely symbolic; the Justice Department has the final say in how it conducts its criminal investigations. The committee still plans to release its full report later this week.
Rhodes, who lived in Granbury, was found guilty last month of seditious conspiracy and obstructing an official proceeding, among other charges. Prosecutors said Rhodes and other members of the Oath Keepers planned to bring weapons to the capital during the Jan. 6 rally, and that Rhodes had told members about the need for violence.
“We are not getting through this without a civil war,” Rhodes told followers after the 2020 election. “Prepare your mind, body and spirit.”
The Oath Keepers, which Rhodes founded in 2009, is an extremist right-wing group that rails against large government and mainstream conservatism. It has thousands of members, most of them former military members, spread throughout the country.
Rhodes’ testimony shed new light on the membership of the Oath Keepers: At its peak a few years ago, Rhodes told the committee, the Oath Keepers had roughly 40,000 dues-paying members — roughly 20% of whom he said worked in law enforcement. Rhodes named Hood County Constable John Shirley as one member. Shirley reportedly served as the group’s Texas chapter president and was with the group for more than 10 years. Shirley said he left the group in 2020.
During his interview, Rhodes said he was persecuted by the government and compared himself to a Jew living in Nazi-era Germany.
He also spoke of meeting Kellye SoRelle, a Granbury attorney who later represented the Oath Keepers, at a local protest over COVID-19 restrictions. SoRelle was arrested in Junction in September after being indicted on charges of destroying and hiding potential evidence related to the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol and conspiracy to obstruct Congress’ certification of President Joe Biden’s win, among other charges.
SoRelle is among at least 75 Texans who have been charged with crimes related to the insurrection, according to NPR. Among them: Wylie resident Guy Reffitt, who prosecutors allege “lit the match” of the riot at the Capitol. He was sentenced in August to more than seven years in prison.
Another Texan charged for a role in the insurrection, Garret Miller of Richardson, said he was motivated to bring a gun to the Capitol because of Trump. “I believed I was following the instructions of former President Trump and he was my president,” Miller said, according to an executive summary of the Jan. 6 committee’s final report that was released Monday. “His statements also had me believing the election was stolen from him.”
Eastman’s testimony was included among the transcripts released Wednesday, which show he was asked if he had ever clerked for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. While he answered that he had, he pleaded the Fifth Amendment to almost all other questions, including whether he had had any communications with Cruz on “efforts to change the outcome of the 2020 election.” Eastman also declined to respond when asked if Cruz and U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, were invited to speak at the “Stop the Steal” rally, which Trump held just before rioters stormed the Capitol.
Jones, who is based out of Austin, played a major role in spreading misinformation about the “Stop the Steal” movement to overturn the 2020 election. Jones sought immunity from federal prosecutors investigating the Capitol riot prior to the committee’s subpoena.
In his interview, he pleaded the Fifth for every question but one. Jones was asked about a conversation he had with former Trump adviser and Republican strategist Roger Stone regarding the organization and funding of the “Stop the Steal” rally. He responded by criticizing U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, saying he “forges documents,” before his lawyer intervened.
Stone was a paid host on Infowars, one of Jones’ shows, in 2015. Stone connected Jones with Trump for an Infowars interview in December 2016.
Another one of the Texas witnesses, James P. Waldron, who goes by Phil, is a Dripping Springs resident and retired Army colonel who specialized in information warfare, and who reportedly spoke to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows numerous times after the 2020 election. According to his LinkedIn profile, Waldron served in the U.S. Army from 1986 to 2017. In 2007, he founded One Warrior Any Weapon, a Dripping Springs-based combat and defensive training business.
Waldron declined to answer most of the committee’s questions.
Waldron previously claimed to have visited the White House on multiple occasions after the election, and he told The Washington Post that he spoke with Meadows “maybe eight to 10 times.” He also reportedly briefed several members of Congress on election fraud theories and created a PowerPoint presentation that was “given to, or described for,” Republican members of Congress on the eve of Jan. 6. The 38-page PowerPoint presentation, titled “Election Fraud, Foreign Interference, & Options for 6 JAN,” reportedly included plans for declaring a national security emergency and the seizure of paper ballots.
Waldron was also reportedly at the Willard Hotel in Washington in early January 2021.
“Mr. Waldron reportedly played a role in promoting claims of election fraud and circulating potential strategies for challenging results of the 2020 election. He was also apparently in communication with officials in the Trump White House and in Congress discussing his theories in the weeks leading up to the January 6th attack,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, who chairs the select committee, said in a statement last year. “The document he reportedly provided to Administration officials and Members of Congress is an alarming blueprint for overturning a nationwide election.”
Among the witnesses at the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, D.C., was Bianca Gracia, the head of Latinos for Trump. Gracia helped organize the rally just before the violent mob stormed the Capitol. She also helped fundraise for Trump’s reelection campaign as the executive director of a political action committee targeting Latino voters.
Federal prosecutors released video earlier this year showing Gracia meeting with Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and Rhodes before the rally.
Gracia, a Houston resident, went on to run unsuccessfully to represent Texas’ 11th Senate District. She lost the 2022 Republican primary race to Texas Rep. Mayes Middleton, who won the seat after the general election was canceled. Gracia pleaded the Fifth Amendment to nearly all questions except for where she lived.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/12/21/january-6-committee-capitol-attack-interviews/.
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