Trump’s National Security Adviser Responded to an Attack on the Capitol by Sending Personal Tweets

As former National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien tells it — or told it, in his August 2022 interview with the January 6 Committee — he responded to an attack on the Capitol by sending personal tweets.

CNN reported last week that O’Brien will soon have the opportunity to tell a more credible story to both of Special Counsel Jack Smith’s grand juries, which is why I decided to read the transcript of O’Brien’s interview with the January 6 Committee.

Presumably, Smith wants to ask O’Brien about Trump’s firing of people who questioned his authority to invoke the Insurrection Act, a topic that like recent witness Johnny McEntee, O’Brien addressed in his January 6 interview. Perhaps Smith wants him to explain the plot to seize voting machines and other details surrounding the December 18 meeting, which recent witness Ken Cuccinelli addressed. O’Brien may be asked about his challenge to Cassidy Hutchinson’s credibility in his own January 6 testimony, perhaps the only person who has questioned her testimony who hasn’t since been discredited.

Given the CNN report that he would testify before both the January 6 and the stolen document grand juries, he may be asked about his knowledge of plans to take documents pertaining to topics Trump obsessed about, not just the Russian investigation (which O’Brien calls, “Russiagate hoax documents”), but also specific intelligence about Venezuela; O’Brien claims not to remember anything about the efforts to declassify documents to take.

But the most striking aspect of O’Brien’s transcript was his admitted failure to do much of anything as the Capitol was attacked.

To be fair, the appearance of O’Brien’s almost complete inaction as the Capitol was attacked stems, in part, from his own forgetfulness. He claims to remember only one interagency planning meeting in advance of January 6, even though other witnesses testified to several. He only recalls a concern about threats to the White House in advance, not the Capitol. He doesn’t recall briefing the President, the Chief of Staff, or the White House Counsel of intelligence in advance of the attack. He doesn’t recall any talk of Trump marching to the Capitol.

He recalls speaking to Mike Pence during the attack, but can’t recall most details about the conversation.

He recalls speaking to Biden National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who would not assume power for another two weeks. But he can’t recall whether he spoke to Chief of Staff Mark Meadows during the attack.

He recalls that his Deputy Matthew Pottinger called him and told him he had to resign, but can’t recall that he did so specifically in response to Trump’s text targeting Mike Pence.

He’s certain he made no effort to speak to the President as a mob of his supporters attacked a co-equal branch of government. He did not do so, he explained, because he was in Miami and wanted to speak to the President in person.

The story O’Brien told of his actions leading up to and on January 6 was of breath-taking dereliction of duty.

When asked specifically how he responded to learning that the President’s supporters were attacking the Capitol, he explained he sent some personal Tweets.

Q Okay. All right. So let’s talk about then what you did after receiving that information. What steps did you take now that you’re aware of this violence at the Capitol and had this conversation with the [Vice, sic] President? What did you do next?

A So I did a couple of things. I’m not sure the exact order in which I did them.

Q Okay.

A One is I put out a series of tweets on my personal Twitter account.

[snip]

Q Okay. All right. So, again, you didn’t take any action in particular response to this [Trump’s tweet].

Your tweets don’t start until a bit later, your personal tweets that you sent out.

A Yeah, I’m not sure what time my tweets came out, but I wouldn’t say it’s in direct response to this, but I did tweet that I thought the Vice President was courageous.

Q Yeah, you did.

[snip]

All right. The next one up says, “My first experience in government was serving as an intern for Senator Hayakawa of California. What the mob did to our Senate chamber today was an utter disgrace.”

Again, what motivated you to put that out? And do you remember roughly when that was?

A So, again, I don’t recall — and I don’t have a time or a date stamp on this. I think that was the first tweet that I put out on my personal account.

Q I think this is — you’re right — from your personal account, not the official NSA account.

A Correct. And I wanted to get some tweets out on my personal account because I didn’t have to go through a White House clearance process or get others involved. I wanted to try and act, you know, somewhat quickly and make sure the people that — to the extent anyone followed it or was interested, that was my view.

There were some other calls — to Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, for example. But seemingly no coordination of any response. Just tweets about the internship he had when he was 14.

There are certainly reasons to doubt his forgetfulness. At other times, he uses other tactics to avoid discussing whether he had direct contacts with Trump or anyone else of substance, like invoke Executive Privilege over his own feelings.

Q Were you frustrated, Ambassador O’Brien, with the President’s conduct on January 6th?

Mr. Larson. I think this starts to get into — invariably gets into communications with the President and impressions of the President and all that. So I’m going to assert executive privilege here.

And there’s good question of how diligently O’Brien searched for communications relevant to his testimony.

For example, there was a damning document: a draft concession speech that O’Brien wrote for Trump on December 21. O’Brien sent it from his home email account to his White House email account — because maybe his printer was out of paper, he mused.

Q 9 o’clock at night on the 21st.

A Yeah. So I was obviously at home. I probably sent it because I didn’t have a printer. I probably didn’t want to print it or didn’t have a printer at home or it may have been out of paper or something.

And this is something I did on what I considered was my own time. I thought it was — I think by this time the electoral college had already voted, and I think that the primary lawsuits that the President’s legal team had brought had been decided. You know, I can’t be certain, but I’d probably seen that on the news.

And I thought it would be — I thought I’d draft up what was in essence a concession speech, but put it in language that might appeal to the President and I thought might be something that the President could — the type of speech that the President would feel comfortable giving, but at the same time would convey the message that he conceded the election. And I thought it would be good for him and for the country.

O’Brien claims the only one he shared it with at the White House was his own Chief of Staff, not Trump’s or not Trump himself.

Q Did you share this with anyone after you sent it to your own official White House account?

A Yes.

Q With whom?

A I believe I shared it with Alex Gray, my chief of staff.

Q Your chief of staff. I see.

A Right.

Q How about Mark Meadows or the President himself?

A No. I don’t believe I did.

What’s interesting is not just that O’Brien sent it, but that he didn’t turn over an email sent from his own account in his production to the committee. The document should have been turned over to the committee by both O’Brien himself and the Archives. The committee only got the Archives copy

Q Okay. Let me show you another exhibit, this is No. 9, that is an email from your personal account to your official account. I don’t recall if this came from your production or from the Archives.

A I think this came from your production.

Q Yeah. I think that’s right. This is a record produced by the National Archives.

O’Brien wasn’t giving anything up.

And that’s why I find this exchange showing the National Security Adviser — the National Security Adviser!!! — explaining how he was doing business on Signal and WhatsApp and no, he’s not entirely sure whether all his texts got archived properly so suspect.

Q Ambassador O’Brien, how about any other messaging applications, like Signal or Telegram or WhatsApp? Did you use any of those platforms to conduct any official business when you were National Security Advisor?

A I did.

Q Okay. Which of those platforms did you use?

A I think I received some messages from people on WhatsApp and on Signal.

Q All right. And again, tell us what the circumstances would be that would trigger the use of those platforms versus the White House email account or your official device.

A So on the official devices, there was no ability, I don’t think, to put on Signal or any of the other applications.

There were some foreign ambassadors or foreign ministers that would want to get in touch with you and they tended to us Signal or WhatsApp.

[snip]

Q  I’m just wondering sort of the general circumstances that would cause you to go to WhatsApp or Signal. Was it just, hey, it’s a foreign leader, so that’s the platform that he or she uses? Or would you, beyond that, use it for other reasons as well?

A Yeah. So I’m not a consumer of social media or those sorts of applications for the most part. There were some foreign leaders that asked for my cell phone number so that they could connect via Signal, because I think some foreign leaders from time to time would reach out and they were concerned about intercept and they felt there was some safety — that was their opinion — there was some safety. My opinion was different. But they wanted to communicate by Signal or WhatsApp, but it was on rare occasions.

Q I see. Okay. And beyond that, Ambassador O’Brien, would you use WhatsApp or Signal to talk to someone on a personal matter or campaign related or things that you wanted to ensure were kept off of the official government channel?

A Yeah, not that I recall. That was not my practice.

Given how little else he recalls about his job, suffice it to say this “do not recall” whether he used Signal or WhatsApp for other purposes deserves some skepticism, particularly given that everywhere he relies on the committee to pull up call records. Especially given his lackadaisical attitude about preserving whatever Signal texts he sent, at least with foreign ambassadors.

Q Got it. All right. Now, on the subject of these personal devices or accounts, did you provide all [inaudible] with the official communications from these personal accounts to the National Archives when you completed your tenure as National Security Advisor?

A So I don’t know if I had any information on those devices. I do know that when I left the job at the State Department there were some conversations I took screenshots of and I left those behind for the State Department for my files. So that was my practice there.

When it comes to the leaving as NSA, I may have had — you know, I don’t recall, I don’t recall if I screenshotted. I know I screenshotted a few things. I don’t know if they were left behind for the Archives. That would have been my practice. But again, I can’t recall.

It is undeniably true that Robert O’Brien responded to an attack on the Capitol by Tweeting, on his personal account, that Mike Pence was courageous.

But it is also the case that there’s a whole lot of forgetting going on here that looks more like a gap in communications records than anything else.

Which may be on of the biggest things for which Jack Smith would like to get O’Brien on the record.

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30 replies
  1. Commentmonger says:

    Only the very best.
    Believe what they are telling you. He was their very best. The others are/were much worse.

  2. Sloth Sloman says:

    I keep reading these transcripts (and analysis of them) and the one question I keep circling back to is “what is going on in these minds?”

    Are they so convinced they won’t be held accountable that they so brazenly forget everything they do at work while simultaneously touring their great historic accomplishments?

    Or are they really shitting their pants deep down during these answers knowing they may well just end up another number in Trump’s endless stream of sycophants turned into roadkill?

  3. David F. Snyder says:

    Thanks for these details. O’Brien’s selective recall is certainly suspicious and also concerning. I presume Smith has the leverage to ensure a full production of the relevant O’Brien’s communications.

    One thing for sure: he shouldn’t be allowed to act in any of such position ever again.

    • emptywheel says:

      He wouldn’t.

      While I generally think people are too impatient for investigative results, one thing that the time it has taken has done is give people the opportunity to replace their phones (and there are more important people, like Johnny McEntee, who did). EVen if not, a lot of the Trump people using Signal et al were using auto delete (and it seems like that’s one thing O’Brien was suggesting).

      In other words, because of the limits on how one can get encrypted apps, one has to get the phones — all the phones — before things start getting destroyed. One reason it took so long to arrest Rhodes and Tarrio is because they had to work their way up to reconstruct the messaging apps they used.

  4. Oldtulsadude says:

    It strikes me that if one considered Trump as emperor national security would devolve to protection of Trump at all cost.

  5. Doctor My Eyes says:

    It is difficult to believe that an actual National Security Adviser at a time of crisis is talking this way. It is amazing how far down the bar was lowered in only four years. And, speaking at least for myself, I sort of got used to it. This alone is an enormous scandal–this man, with this attitude, with this bullshit testimony that sounds like the scornful hemming and hawing of a two-bit criminal having such a position of responsibility. And he is just one drop in the bucket. No wonder the country is stressed out. At least he didn’t say, “I’ll never sing.”

    He doesn’t remember how he handled his apps while National Security Adviser? Move over, Hillary.

    • Ginevra diBenci says:

      To the MAGA crowd it was/is O’Brien’s faithful parroting of terms like “Russiagate hoax” that qualify him for employment and promotion. When your primary criterion is loyalty display, you have to favor candidates who are lacking in other areas.

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I will never understand Donald Trump’s ability to persuade so many people to empty their pocketbooks and fall on their sword in order to protect.

    Take Robert O’Brien, for example. He has taken the, “I’m sorry Senator, I do not recall….” defense to new heights, in hopes of avoiding the Scylla and Charybdis of either perjury or admissions of egregiously faulty or criminal conduct. A “breathtaking dereliction of duty,” is a good start in describing his conduct.

  7. Dave_MB says:

    I know the entire testimony is preposterous, but he’s really saying that prime ministers and ambassadors think the best way to send messages over Signal or WhatsApp? He’s pretending that governments don”t have secure methods to communicate.

    • c_14FEB2023_0337hET says:

      It’s common for high-level foreign officials to communicate on unofficial platforms, because the official platforms are routinely hacked (due to licensing short-cuts that don’t allow the foreign government agencies to keep up with security patches and the like) or surveilled by political opponents. So yes, prime ministers and ambassadors think Signal or WhatsApp are more secure communications links than official government email accounts.

      [Welcome to emptywheel. Please choose and use a unique username with a minimum of 8 letters. We are moving to a new minimum standard to support community security. The username “c” is far too short to be permitted; it has been temporarily changed to reflect the date/time of your first known comment until you choose a different one compliant with the new standard. Thanks. /~Rayne]

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        I concede that occasionally, and rarely, it might be necessary for a government actor to use private telecoms.

        TFG’s use of telecoms illustrates another reason gubmint actors would use private, non-secure coms that do not comply with government records retention rules. They do not want their own governments to know what they’re doing.

        At best, that’s a breach of trust, and a violation of the rules one agrees to in becoming a government employee. More likely, it’s unlawful and/or criminal conduct designed to hide even more egregious behavior.

    • emptywheel says:

      I guess the question is, who is he communicating with. We know that the same crowd in the Emirates asked Tom Barrack to communicate via WhatsApp. And those same people would have worked with O’Brien closely on Jared’s “peace” deal.

    • timbozone says:

      O’Brien is more subtle than that. He’s asserting that he can’t recall if there were any comms while stating that he personally believed that these various texting/comm platforms were unlikely to be secure. Further, he’s implying that foreign leaders and diplomats et al reached out to him over these platforms >at their suggestion< and not the other way 'round. But is there any record of that in the government's archives? Well, he says there might be from some of his past jobs at USG…but then sez nothing about his last gig for the Trump White House. Somewhere in there he should have been asked if he gave any screenshots to the Archives from any of these non-governmental channel communications while he was the National Security Advisor. Was he?

  8. Bears7485 says:

    It’s amazing how the “deep state” conspiracists have zero issues with O’Brien using a messaging service to communicate with foreign leaders.

    And O’Brien, for all of his “I’m not a social media user” bullshit, didn’t have any problem using the auto-delete feature to cover his ass.

  9. Just Some Guy says:

    Is there a reason this article has the same picture accompanying it as the one about the, ahem, “recalled” Saab? Just curious. Thanks as always.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          When a question is worthwhile, time and resources being what they are. Most readers check the title. But, yes, snark is as common here as a potty mouth.

          • Just Some Guy says:

            I would just like to point out that the titles of each article have nothing to do with each other. O’Brien’s testimony is in the Saab article, obviously, but it’s in this reader’s estimation not even the most salient or interesting parts of the article, which is why I glazed over his name. Since so many of your other comments do seem to be good-faith efforts at explanation, I’m not sure why the snarky comment was necessary, nor is the reasoning that snarkiness is “common” much of a good excuse.

            • earlofhuntingdon says:

              Let me spell it out. Whinging about duplicated pictures for two related articles is as helpful as complaining about a typo or minor point of grammar. People haven’t time for it.

              • Just Some Guy says:

                In my experience, the authors here at emptywheel have been appreciative and thankful when readers such as myself and many others have pointed out typos. Which makes sense considering the entire goal seems to be communication, not obfuscation.

                Furthermore, while my question may have been “whinging” to you, I assure you it was in good faith, and based in a simple miss of O’Brien’s name in another article with an unrelated title (despite your pretense otherwise).

                Lastly, do you have any role whatsoever here at emptywheel? I’m not aware of one, nor have I ever read your byline on an article, but then again maybe I’m just a lowly “Entertainment Weekly” reader. Your comments are usually helpful and responsive. Why you are choosing to be otherwise towards me for what was, again, a good faith question, I can’t fathom. But I wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day, from this simpleton who has plenty of time!

                • bmaz says:

                  Naw, I really do not give a damn about miscellaneous typos if they do not alter the content of the message. Marcy I think usually appreciates it, but I just find it tedious.

    • harpie says:

      I think that’s because it is a photo of TRUMP’s fourth and final National Security Advisor, Robert O’BRIEN, and both posts refer to some aspect of his testimony to the J6 Committee.

  10. timbozone says:

    In a quick search of the document using “screen*” in the search field, I quickly stumbled across this lying liar’s testimony about not recalling much of anything about his conversation with Senator Lee the night of the insurrection. He doesn’t recall anything specific about a Guliani voicemail forward to him by Lee. In fact, his memory seems to be so leaky as to be not likely be believable to a reasonable person. Whether Smith will push further than the Committee was able to with O’Brien is not clear…but the investigators should press this guy for what seems like obvious perjury. Basically, O’Brien is trying to say that he was so mediocre that the heads of states, spies, and US Senators, the President of the US, etc, relied on his judgement so heavily that they frequently contacted him in the middle of the night…when O’Brien’s— the National Security Advisor’s!— long-term memory would be assured to be at its foggiest?

    My prediction is that if evidence seems to mount that he’s in jeopardy of obstruction charges that he’ll suddenly realize that he has a substance abuse problem (alcohol if the heat isn’t too serious, barbituates if it looks like he’s in great jeopardy) and check himself into a nice hidey hole at the Shady Farms Recovery Center for Congenital Liars.

  11. Chris says:

    Lafayette Square? Lafayette Square. Hmm. No. No. I mean, it has a familiar ring to it – there’s probably one in every city! But no, just can’t place it.

    [Welcome back to emptywheel. SECOND REQUEST: Please use the same unique username each time you comment so that community members get to know you. We have other community members named “Chris” “Kris” “Christopher” or “Kristopher.” Please also select a username with a minimum of 8 letters to meet this site’s standard for security purposes. Thanks. /~Rayne]

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