Denver Riggleman served eight months as senior technical adviser to the congressional select committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. In a new book, titled ‘The Breach,’ Riggleman delves into some key elements of the committee’s investigation, including an examination of a trove of text messages sent and received by the former White House chief of staff. Mark Meadows in the run-up to the Capitol Riot. The book also revealed for the first time that during the Capitol breach, someone in Trump’s White House called out a rioter who had entered the building.
Riggleman took a somewhat unusual path to the committee. After serving in the United States Air Force and working as a contractor for the National Security Agency, he ran for — and won — a congressional seat representing a district of Virginia in 2018.
At the time, Riggleman was a Republican. He describes himself as “a pure-blood redneck”. Former President Trump actually backed him — twice — and Riggleman joined the staunchly conservative House Freedom Caucus.
Despite Trump’s endorsement, Riggleman lost a primary to a more far-right Republican, and Riggleman became more outspoken about the former president’s embrace of extremism and amplification. of the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory. Following the November 2020 election, Riggleman was one of the few elected Republicans to quickly acknowledge Joe Biden’s victory.
When Congress finally launched its investigation into the Jan. 6 attack, Riggleman raised his hand and joined the committee, where he found himself scrutinizing some of his former colleagues who tried to overturn the election. He eventually left the inquiry in April 2022, before the committee began holding public hearings. Some committee members expressed frustration with Riggleman’s decision to write a book, particularly before the final hearing was held.
In an interview with NPR, Riggleman discussed his work on the investigation, his experience as a congressman, and whether the committee should submit a criminal referral to the Justice Department.
Here are four takeaways from that conversation:
Meaning of White House call for Jan. 6 rioter remains unclear
“The Breach” first revealed that congressional investigators discovered at 4:34 p.m. on January 6, 2021, someone had used a White House phone to call a man who had participated in the riots.
“The call was for an individual rioter as the violence unfolded,” Riggleman wrote.
The identity of the person who made the call remains unknown.
However, multiple news outlets identified the recipient of the call as a low-level Capitol Riot defendant, who pleaded guilty to a non-violent misdemeanor. According to court documents, he had already left the building at the time of that phone call.
The call lasted nine seconds, and the content is also unknown.
Since this detail was made public, some members of the Jan. 6 special committee seemed to downplay its importance.
“This is one of thousands of details that the committee is obviously aware of,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “And so, you know, to me, that’s interesting, but much less interesting than the fact that Donald Trump said to the crowd in public, ‘You have to fight like hell. And if you don’t, you won’t have no more country.'”
Still, Riggleman told NPR that the mere existence of the call demands further investigation.
“Nine seconds is an eternity for a counterterrorism analyst,” Riggleman said. “Whether the call came from inside the White House to an office, was routed through the switchboard, or was defaulted to that number and went to a rioter, is something extremely important. .”
Political pressure is pushing some Republican lawmakers further to the right
During his short political career, Riggleman was a strong supporter of Trump and joined the House Freedom Caucus not out of principle, he says, but out of political expediency.
“There are certain things you do that you think you should [do to] win,” he said. “I had a consultant who was right. He said, ‘Hey, Denver, you gotta be a little crazy if you want to beat the craziest people on the right.'”
He said a similar dynamic may have played a role in the thought process of some House Republicans, who backed Trump’s lies about the election.
“I know there were a few who absolutely didn’t believe the election was stolen, but there was no way they could go against it,” Riggleman said.
In Riggleman’s case, conservatives in his district kicked off his campaign in 2020, in part because he performed a same-sex wedding for his campaign volunteers. This contributed to his loss of a primary contest to an increasingly conservative opponent.
“As a politician, I wasn’t as talented as I thought I was,” Riggleman told NPR.
He says he now regrets his support for Trump and that in 2020 he did not vote for the then president.
“I might have been one of the first incumbent Republicans to see Trump retweeting some pretty crazy QAnon-based troll farm plots and some things that were very dangerous, even some things that called for violence,” he said. “So no, I didn’t vote for him.”
Instead, Riggleman said he decided to write to himself for the president.
Riggleman thinks Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas should be investigated
Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows provided a slew of text messages to congressional investigators, which Riggleman describes as “the crown jewels” for the committee’s work.
“What we found in the texts was a road map to an insurgency fueled by doomsday propaganda,” Riggleman writes in the book. “It was a toxic stew of old-fashioned bigotry and internet authoritarianism.”
Among the trove of messages were texts sent by Ginni Thomas, a longtime conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. In these texts, Thomas expressed the view that the 2020 election was stolen and appeared to ponder legal and congressional strategies to overturn the result.
Shortly after the November 2020 election, Thomas wrote a message to Meadows that bore some similarities to rhetoric spread by QAnon conspiracy theory adherents:
“Biden crime family and voter fraud co-conspirators (elected officials, bureaucrats, social media censorship mongers, bogus streaming media reporters, etc.) are being arrested and detained for voter fraud right now and in days to come, and will live in GITMO barges before military tribunals for sedition.”
“The first time I saw Ginni Thomas’ lyrics, I called it a ‘bourbon lyrics,'” Riggleman said. “You have to take a dose of bourbon to get by.”
Ginni Thomas testified before the January 6 committee last week and denied ever discussing her post-election activities with her husband.
In a statement, her lawyer, Mark Paoletta, said: “Ms. Thomas was very concerned about fraud and irregularities in the 2020 election. And, as she told the committee, her minimal and general activity was to s “to ensure that reports of fraud and irregularities were investigated. Beyond that, she played no role in events following the 2020 election results.”
Riggleman expressed skepticism that Ginni and Clarence Thomas have maintained such a strict firewall when it comes to election discussions.
“It is possible that Clarence Thomas was unaware of Ginni Thomas’ activities not only around January 6 and the election, but over the years as a Republican activist,” he said. “But I don’t know if it’s likely.”
Riggleman said Congress would be justified in taking the extraordinary step of seeking information from Judge Thomas himself, though he said that was unlikely given the committee is currently wrapping up its work.
“I think it would have been appropriate to speak to Judge Thomas,” he said. “I think Ginni [Thomas] coming is quite a big step on the part of the Committee. But I believe that at some point the American public will have to come to their own conclusions about this.”
Should the January 6 committee issue a criminal referral to the Department of Justice?
Political and legal commentators — as well as Jan. 6 committee members themselves — have debated whether Congress should refer a criminal case to the Justice Department at the end of their investigation.
The decision whether or not to indict former President Trump or any other target of the investigation would still rest with the Justice Department, but a dismissal could potentially add political pressure on Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Riggleman told NPR he objects to sending a reference.
“Let the DOJ make that decision,” he said. “Instead of getting sucked into the politics of removals, just present the best case possible to the American public.”
“They’ve already proven that based on conspiracy theories, based on coordination, really based on a president who decided to really frolic with the craziest of the far-right base… it all suggests you had an unfit president for office,” Riggleman said. “Because even with criminal removals, it’s going to be up to the voters if they want to support that kind of nonsense.”