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Sweeping new report examines the roots of the U.S. Capitol attack

The storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was a shocking moment for many Americans, but new details are emerging about who was involved and how it was planned. A New York Times report examines the role former President Trump and his allies played in the crucial weeks leading up to the attack. Jim Rutenberg, a writer-at-large for the Times, joins Amna Nawaz to discuss some of the key points.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6 was a shocking moment to many Americans, but more details are emerging about who was involved and how it was planned.

    A new report examines the role President Trump and his allies played in the crucial weeks leading up to the attack.

    Amna Nawaz has the story.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, this sweeping New York Times report looks at the 77 days between the election and the inauguration.

    It examines how the then-president leveraged political, personal and media allies and ultimately a mob at the Capitol to undermine the election results and the centuries-old tradition of a peaceful transfer of power in America.

    Through interviews, documents and examination of videos and social media posts, the report tells the story of a coordinated campaign.

    Now, to look at some of the key points in that weeks-long campaign, Jim Rutenberg joins me now. He's a writer at large for The New York Times.

    Jim, welcome back to the "NewsHour," and thanks for being here.

  • Jim Rutenberg:

    Thanks so much for having me.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, let's start with November 4.

    In the early morning hours after the election, President Trump throws down the gauntlet. He calls the election a fraud. Immediately after that, a parade of Republican leaders echo that claim and cast doubt on the election results, among them, Congressman Kevin McCarthy, Senators Roy Blunt and Lindsey Graham.

    Take a listen to this.

  • Rep. Kevin McCarthy:

    Do not be quiet. Do not be — do not be silent about this. We cannot allow this to happen before our very eyes.

  • Sen. Roy Blunt:

    The media can project, but the media doesn't get to decide who the winner is.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham:

    I have had it with these people. Let's fight back. We lose elections because they cheat us.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Jim, for years, the same elected leaders respected election results, accepted election results.

    What do we know? What does your reporting show about why they chose to back this false claim this time?

  • Jim Rutenberg:

    It was sort of three-tiered.

    There was sort of fear of the base, that Trump voters were angry. President Trump had been preparing the ground to argue that there was rampant fraud if he lost, so that was kind of already in the mix before Election Day.

    Then you have a Georgia run-off coming up, and the party really wants the Georgia base to turn out and still be with President Trump. And then, lastly, there's pure ambition that these standing — last standing Republicans, they want to pick up the Trump base to power their own rises through the ranks.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, eventually, the effort to challenge his election results kind of coalesces around this idea that there were votes that were stolen, right? There was fraud committed.

    And that had been floated in right-wing and conservative media circles for a while among very influential voices, people like Steve Bannon and Charlie Kirk and Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar.

    Nine days after the election, you report on a day. On November 12, the idea is brought to President Trump by Rudy Giuliani. You call that day a turning point. Why?

  • Jim Rutenberg:

    It's basically when the Trump sort of forces or the president himself decides that he's going to plow forward and dispute this election, when, in fact, his legal options are dwindling to the point of nothing.

    His own election lawyers at this point have concluded that they don't really have any options. They have not produced evidence of fraud. They have not found anywhere near enough irregularities to overturn a state. They have got a couple small cases left, but they — that same day, they have lost Arizona. Arizona is now out of reach.

    And here comes Rudolph Giuliani to tell the president, we're going to keep fighting.

    He wants to file these mega-lawsuits that really had questionable legal basis. But they got to float these conspiracy theories about tampered-with voting machines and foreign meddling and democratic deep state malfeasance.

    And the president's own lawyers, who, by the way, have pushed in some cases the limits of the law to begin with, have hit their own limit. And they are saying, don't go with these arguments that Mr. Giuliani is making. It is going to be a disaster for you in the courts.

    And the president shoves them aside because Rudy Giuliani is telling the president what he wants to hear. And from there, it's off to the races into what becomes a wilder storyline the president pursues, and it gets wilder by the day.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And we know, of course, those election result challenges continue in court, even though court after court throws out the fraud cases or sets them aside.

    There's another effort to challenge specifically the election results in Georgia and Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. That's taken up by the Republican attorney general in Texas, Ken Paxton.

    You have mentioned a little bit about the conflict between White House lawyers and Rudy Giuliani and President Trump's other allies. What else did you learn for reporting about how bad that conflict got?

  • Jim Rutenberg:

    That conflict was, there was shouting, and there — basically, there was an exchange of words between Justin Clark, who was the deputy campaign chief and also sort of a lead coordinator of the legal team, and Mr. Giuliani, where Mr. Giuliani accuses the president's kind of rank-and-file lawyers of lying to him: They're lying to you, sir.

    And Justin Clark responds by calling Rudy Giuliani a name I will not share on national television. But what we learned is — and some of this, we all get to see before our very eyes — is, for every attorney who isn't going to go down the rabbit hole with the president, he can find five who will.

    And that certainly happens with these national — these attorneys general in the many states.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, we see over the weeks that follow the legal challenges unravel.

    There's a new strategy that emerges, which is, block the congressional certification of results on January 6. Jim, tell us how that message spreads, how it makes its way to thousands of Americans, and how they're convinced to make their way to Washington, D.C., on the basis of a lie.

  • Jim Rutenberg:

    That's sort of the real sort of engine behind all of this, the big lie.

    And, obviously, the president himself is tweeting at the time, multiple times a day, making outlandish claims. You have a conservative media sort of ratings war, where these new players like Newsmax and One America News are finding new ratings by carrying this idea that the president actually won and this is going to be a stolen election, which FOX News could do in its prime time and with its opinion shows, but, in fact, it's news division had already declared Joseph Biden the winner.

    So, FOX is kind of hamstrung. And it's getting outflanked on the right. So, there's — that's driving every — that's driving their competition to be more Trumpy in the hours when FOX can't and in these other networks.

    You have social media, of course, with crazy conspiracies ricocheting through. But then you also have something that's much more organized and traditional. A group called Women For America First is running a bus tour, going state to state, pressuring local officials, and, ultimately, national sitting senators and congressmen to get behind the president's bid to object to these results or reject these results on the 6th, which, mind you, would be the equivalent of rejecting 20 million votes across the country.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And, of course, we all know what unfolded there at the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

    But, Jim, before I let you go, I need to ask you about one specific element of this, which is the role that Mitch McConnell played, because, over the 77 days that you track in your reporting, there is a real evolution in his statements.

    Take a listen now to what he had to say on November 9, and then later on January 19.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell:

    President Trump is 100 percent within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options.

    They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Jim, what does your reporting show led to that evolution over time?

  • Jim Rutenberg:

    Well, in the beginning, Mr. McConnell is very concerned about Georgia, like his other party members. He wants the president's help, because, by the way, holding Georgia is vital to Mitch McConnell remaining the majority leader of the Senate. They need to win those two races.

    On top of that, there are messages being sent through the president's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, as well as the presidential son-in-law and aide Jared Kushner, that the president will come around, that, as the legal process plays out, he will, of course, accept reality and concede.

    Well, when that still hasn't happened by December 14, when the Electoral College solidifies and certifies the vote, Mitch McConnell's getting fed up and realizing that that's not going to happen.

    And then there's a political component to this that becomes very important as well. The Republicans start realizing that their best argument in the Georgia Senate contest is that we need to have a Republican Senate to be a check on a Democratic president, and President Trump at that point is not really allowing them to make that case.

    So, from there, he just gets angrier and angrier. He says himself there that it just spun so out of control, he couldn't take it. And so that's certainly an element too.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Just one of the many elements in a sweeping report out in The New York Times from Jim Rutenberg and his colleagues, an incredibly crucial part of American history.

    Jim Rutenberg, writer at large for The New York Times, thank you very much for being with us.

  • Jim Rutenberg:

    Thanks so much for having me.

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