08.13.21

Whitehouse Calls on Select Committee to Investigate New Reports of Dark-Money Coordination behind January 6 Insurrection

Washington, DC – Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote to Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) today to urge the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol to examine the dark-money organizations and powerful donors who organized and funded efforts to undermine the 2020 election – efforts that contributed to the storming of the Capitol on January 6. Whitehouse points to new revelations in recent days that big-money donors and a web of anonymously-funded organizations spread disinformation and applied concerted pressure on federal and state officials to subvert the outcome of the 2020 election, and that those donors and groups were tied closely to the organizing of the “Save America Rally” on January 6. Whitehouse also calls attention to the role members of Congress played in orchestrating the rally and objections to the Electoral College vote certification.

“The attack on the Capitol on January 6 was the culmination of a months-long disinformation campaign designed to allow President Trump to remain in office,” writes Whitehouse. “Public reporting indicates that this campaign was organized and funded by dark-money organizations and powerful donors, and aided and abetted by members of Congress and the Trump administration. As part of your investigation, I ask that the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol . . . examine the funders and organizers whose efforts may have laid the groundwork for the violence that day.”

In January, Whitehouse led colleagues in lodging a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee concerning the behavior of Republican senators related to the insurrection. The Ethics Committee has not issued any findings to this point. Read the complaint here.

Full text of Whitehouse’s letter to Thompson is below. A PDF copy with attachments is available here.


August 13, 2021

The Honorable Bennie G. Thompson
Chairman
Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol
2466 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

VIA EMAIL

Dear Chairman Thompson,

The attack on the Capitol on January 6 was the culmination of a months-long disinformation campaign designed to allow President Trump to remain in office. Public reporting indicates that this campaign was organized and funded by dark-money organizations and powerful donors, and aided and abetted by members of Congress and the Trump administration. As part of your investigation, I ask that the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol (“the Commission”) examine the funders and organizers whose efforts may have laid the groundwork for the violence that day.

The Commission is already examining President Trump’s attempts to subvert the election.[1] The President filed dozens of meritless lawsuits;[2] made direct threats to state and local officials;[3] and issued false public statements alleging election fraud. President Trump and his allies in the administration also sought to convince the Department of Justice to bolster his inaccurate claims and to pressure states to send separate slates of electors.[4] President Trump’s efforts culminated in a groundless attempt to convince congressional allies and Vice President Pence to reject the electors from six states when Congress met to count the Electoral College votes on January 6.[5]

A well-organized network of conservative dark money groups—whose covert operations my Senate colleagues and I have tracked and reported on in other contexts[6]—lent financial and strategic support to President Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. For years, the Bradley Foundation “has heavily funded groups promulgating the falsehood that election fraud is widespread in America,” such as ALEC, Turning Point USA, and the Public Interest Legal Foundation. [7] These efforts accelerated during and after the 2020 election, as these organizations moved from manufacturing legal theories like the independent state legislature doctrine to funding troll farms to spread false fraud claims.[8] Cleta Mitchell, a Bradley Foundation board member and former outside counsel to ALEC, participated in the phone call in which President Trump threatened Georgia election officials with a criminal offense unless they “found” enough votes to overturn the election results.[9] A network of organizations coordinated by Federalist Society board co-chair Leonard Leo similarly propagated the false narrative that the election was stolen. Leo’s so-called Honest Elections Project filed a brief with the Supreme Court challenging the election results in Pennsylvania.[10] At the same time, the Leo-affiliated Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) funded Turning Point Action, a sister organization to Turning Point USA, and Nations in Action Globally Lifting Up, which propagated an election fraud conspiracy theory known as “Italygate.”[11]

Many of these same groups were involved in planning and organizing President Trump’s “Save America Rally” on January 6. These groups obtained permits, provided funding and equipment, and actively recruited participants. The March to Save America website listed eleven groups as rally sponsors.[12] Turning Point Action paid for 350 students to attend.[13] The policy arm of the JCN-funded[14] Republican Attorneys General Association, the Rule of Law Defense Fund, sent robocalls encouraging people to march on the Capitol.[15] John Eastman, a Federalist Society practice group chair and one of the Public Interest Legal Foundation’s directors, spoke at the event.[16] Ali Alexander, one of the rally organizers, said the goal of the event was “putting maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting so that . . . we could change the hearts and the minds of Republicans who were in that body hearing our loud roar from outside.”[17]

There is evidence that Members of Congress were also involved in orchestrating the “Save America Rally.” Three members of the House of Representatives have been identified as alleged co-architects: Reps. Andy Biggs, Paul Gosar, and Mo Brooks.[18] These Representatives coordinated with other congressmen to object to the electoral count that day. It is unclear to what extent those other members were also aware of or involved in the plans for the rally. Clearly, it was in the interests of the attackers to have members keep the balloting open, and I have asked the Senate Ethics Committee to examine whether there was coordination, direct or indirect, between Senate objectors and those involved in the attack on the Capitol.

In order to fully understand what happened on January 6, the Commission should further investigate the role these dark money groups played in propagating President Trump’s misinformation campaign and in orchestrating the “Save America Rally.” The Commission should also examine the extent of any coordination between those groups, the Trump administration, and the members of Congress who objected to the electoral count.

Thank you for your consideration.