The White House diaries and the 7-hour gap in Trump’s day on Jan. 6, 2021

The White House diaries and the 7-hour gap in Trump's day on Jan. 6, 2021

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This week, CBS News and The Washington Post revealed that internal White House records from January 6, 2021 showed a more than seven-hour gap between President Donald Trump’s phone calls. From 11:17 a.m. to 6:54 p.m., a time period that included the president’s address at a “Stop the Steal” rally near White House grounds and the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol, the minute-by-minute record of the president’s activities reflects no evidence of Trump making or receiving calls. 

In fact, there is no record of any activity between 1:21 p.m. and 4:03 p.m., when violence on Capitol Hill peaked. It has been widely reported that Trump spoke with allies like Senators Mike Lee and Tommy Tuberville and with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy during the attack.

By law, the president and White House officials are required to “adequately document” and maintain records of the president’s “activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies.” This responsibility was established in the Presidential Records Act of 1978. 

Typically, a president’s calls and actions throughout the day would be recorded in  the Presidential Daily Diary (PDD), a document compiled by White House diarists who rely on a variety of sources.

The diarists are almost never eyewitnesses to presidential happenings, so their work is an amalgamation of the phone records provided by the White House switchboard operator, handwritten notes from the president’s closest aides, Secret Service logs, and a detailed, classified version of the president’s schedule.

White House diarists have a top-level security clearance. They are paid by the National Archives, but are considered nonpartisan career White House staff who often work across Republican and Democratic presidencies.

The people Mr. Trump spoke with on January 6, 2021 and what they discussed has become a key focus for members of the bipartisan House select committee charged with investigating the Capitol riot. Chairman Bennie Thompson told CBS News Tuesday the committee had not received any additional records about the seven hours that are unaccounted for. “We just have to find them,” he said.

The January 6 call log indicates Trump placed several calls through White House switchboard operators in the morning — before the attack on the Capitol. He made more calls later that evening.

But it is not clear why there are no phone records from Trump on the afternoon of January 6. If Trump used the White House switchboard to connect with individuals, the call logs from the White House operators would have been sorted into classified and non-classified records that are given to the diarists at the end of the day, raising questions about whether the full call logs from the afternoon were received by  the diarists that day. 

Former White House officials told CBS News the president routinely used his own cell phone or took calls on the cell phones of his close aides, like deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino and personal assistant Nick Luna.  

Luna appeared before the panel for questioning earlier this month, according to reports.

Trump’s possible use of non-governmental or aides’ phones — or even unregistered “burner phones” — on Jan. 6 has prompted the committee to probe whether Trump made or received some calls with the intention of avoiding notation in the official presidential records provided to the diarists, according to two people with knowledge of the investigation. 

The former president claimed in a statement that he had no idea what a “burner phone” was, but John Bolton, who served as Trump’s national security adviser, told CBS News that he and Trump had spoken about how people have used “burner phones” to avoid having their calls scrutinized.

On Monday, the House select committee recommended holding Scavino in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with  the panel’s subpoena. Scavino, Trump’s longtime social media aide and confidant, has refused to cooperate with the committee, citing Trump’s claim of executive privilege.  

A former Trump administration official described the recordkeeping process within the Trump White House this way: Most days, if the president spoke with someone on a call not routed through the White House switchboard, his executive assistant would make a handwritten note on his private schedule.

1trump-white-house-schedule.jpg
  Page of then-President Donald Trump’s White House schedule, Jan. 6, 2021.

At the end of the day, that annotated schedule, with any notes on additional activity, would then be passed to the White House staff secretary. The documents were then handed to a White House records management official and from there turned over to the diarist to add to the PDD.

If there were additional presidential calls on the afternoon of Jan. 6, it’s not clear if they were lost in the records chain of possession – or if they were never noted. 

“For sure, things got missed,” a former Trump White House official familiar with the records process said, adding that sometimes the handwritten notes would be sent directly to the diarist.

This official, like others interviewed for this story, requested anonymity to speak candidly about their time in the Trump administration.

Another former official said “there is no way ” that these calls “were tracked accurately” but could not say whether that was intentional. “It was messy.”

During the final months of the administration, Molly Michael served as Trump’s executive assistant and sat just outside the Oval Office. Derek Lyons, the staff secretary, had announced his intention to leave the White House before January 6. Phillip Droege was the top records management official. 

Neither Lyons nor Droege responded to requests for comment. A lawyer for Michael also did not respond to a request for comment. Axios reported Michael was not at work for most of the day on Jan. 6. 

The records of the calls – either from the White House switchboard operators or the handwritten notes from a Trump assistant – are given to White House diarists at the end of the day, along with other information.

In previous administrations, the only people with access to this documentation intended for the diarists were the president, the chief of staff, and the staff secretary, a former White House diarist told CBS News. It is unclear who was given  access in the Trump White House. 

The former diarist told CBS News a PDD could be 30 pages or longer, with entries including who the president met or spoke with, where he was and who else was present. “Literally every minute was accounted for,” the former diarist said. The details “were excruciatingly painful.”

Trump’s Jan. 6 PDD appears to be just five pages, based on what was provided to the National Archives and then to the Jan. 6 committee.

In addition to the lack of documentation of any calls in the afternoon of Jan. 6, the PDD – usually compiled and finalized by diarists over the next few days – does not reflect who Trump was with in the afternoon. 

After the president returned from speaking at the rally, which was close to the White House, the detail in the PDD is sparse. The daily diary notes Trump entered the Oval Office at 1:19 pm., spoke with his “Valet” at 1:21 p.m., and then went to the Rose Garden two hours and 42 minutes later. 

It is unclear whether no one took notes on who was with Trump or whether notes were taken but not turned over for inclusion  in the daily diary. 

Potentially complicating any efforts to complete the Jan. 6 daily diary was the handover of power that would take place later that month, on Jan. 20. 

White House diarists are required to cross-reference and finalize the events of the day, the former White House diarist explained, so if there are unknown gaps of time during a president’s day, the diarist would likely search for the information later so that the gaps can be filled, a process that can take days.

Even if the diarists were not able to obtain all of the information necessary to complete the Jan. 6 diary by the time President Biden was inaugurated on January 20, they would still have been required to submit the diary as it stood, along with all the Trump White House documents transferred to the archives. The former diarist said it would be difficult to imagine a scenario in which no records exist because there are always several different entities at the White House simultaneously  logging what the president does throughout the day. The former diarist suggested that purposefully hiding records would likely require coordination with several entities — “Secret Service go along with you, that means the White House operator has to go along with you, that means that the Usher’s office has to go along with you.” 

CBS News contacted some of the aides and allies listed in the daily diary who spoke with Trump before and after the seven-hour gap in the phone records.

He talked to Senator David Perdue, Republican of Georgia, about the Georgia Senate runoff election, according to a source familiar with their call. Perdue had lost the runoff to Raphael Warnock a day earlier, on Jan. 5.

The president tried to reach Senator Josh Hawley, but they did not connect that day. 

Later that evening, he spoke with outside attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Cleta Mitchell, both working to overturn the outcome of the 2020 election.

Robert Costa, Rob Legare and Adam Brewster contributed to this story.

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