Burner phones and a seven-hour gap: What we still don’t know about the Trump White House call logs from Jan 6

Watergate-esque gap in logs raises serious questions about what Trump was doing

John Bowden
Tuesday 29 March 2022 20:22 BST
Capitol riot suspect appears on kremlin TV

Bombshell reporting from CBS News and The Washington Post  published this week revealed that a mysterious gap exists in the Trump White House call logs from the day of the Captiol riot on 6 January 2021.

While rioters attempted to sack the US Capitol, chanted “hang Mike Pence”, and delayed the certification of Joe Biden’s victory, Donald Trump was holed up in the White House with his staff. We now know that several top officials, including chief of staff Mark Meadows, were fielding calls and texts from desperate lawmakers on Capitol Hill who were insistent that the president needed to call off his supporters before the violence got worse.

There is no mention of that in the White House call logs, however, which contain a more than seven-hour gap during the riot where no calls were recorded. The logs are not a complete picture of the communications that White House officials, including the president, had during the riot, given their use of personal cell phones, but the logs are still a point of interest for the House select committee investigating the Capitol riot..

More than anything, the gap serves to heighten speculation regarding what exactly went on in the White House while thousands of Donald Trump supporters were attacking the capitol.

Let’s take a look at the most important questions that remain about the White House communications from the day of the Capitol riot.

Which lawmakers plead for assistance from the White House?

We already know that Mr Trump was speaking with lawmakers during the riot, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. What is unclear is whether those calls occurred on White House phones or through personal cellphones.

What would be revealing about Mr Trump’s potential discussions with lawmakers is the choice of whom he spoke to: Should it be discovered that Mr Trump was primarily seeking to contact lawmakers who supported his attempts to overturn the election, it would fuel the claim from his critics that the violence and chaos that unfolded on 6 January was planned or at the very least cheered on by the president.

It’s already known that Mr Trump attempted to get in contact with two of those lawmakers, Sens Tommy Tuberville and Josh Hawley, during the riot but the contents of their conversations have not been revealed.

(Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

When did the White House attempt to deploy reinforcements to Capitol Police?

The chaos that unfolded at the US Capitol ended in the early evening on 6 January only after reinforcements from the National Guard and local law enforcement agencies arrived to back up a beleaguered Capitol Police force.

The deployment of the National Guard that day has been the source of speculation for months, given that news reports have indicated that the troops were deployed on the orders of Vice President Mike Pence in consultation with House and Senate leadership. Mr Trump was reported to have initially resisted the deployment.

White House call logs could indicate whether Mr Trump had any direct communication with his defence secretary or other top military brass during the riot, or whether the decision was largely made without him.

Did the White House stay in contact with rally organisers?

The extent to which the White House and Trump campaign were involved in organising two “Stop the Steal” rallies around Washington DC on 6 January has been a topic of scrutiny for the committee as it seeks to understand whether the Trump administration expected violence to occur amid the election certification process.

If it were to be revealed that Mr Trump or his team was still talking with “Stop the Steal” organisers as the attack was occurring, it would be a clear indication of the president’s priorities while Congress was under siege.

Donald Trump speaking ahead of the Capitol riot (AFP via Getty Images)

Was anyone using ‘burner’ phones?

The most damning accusation to surface in recent days is the claim that aides to Mr Trump may have been using “burner” or limited-use prepaid cellphones not linked to a cell service account to hide their activities and communications from federal records and investigators in the hours leading up to and during the riot.

The use of such phones by themselves is not illegal, but could raise accusations that the officials were trying to skirt federal records laws. More importantly, they would raise the obvious suspicions about whether Mr Trump’s allies were engaged in illegal activity, or expected their actions to fall under legal scrutiny.

Mr Trump took the rare route of weighing in on those suspicions directly in a statement Monday evening that did little to shake off such concerns: "I have no idea what a burner phone is, to the best of my knowledge I have never even heard the term.”

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