Veterans of President Donald Trump’s failed reelection campaign had key roles in orchestrating the Washington rally that spawned a deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol, according to an Associated Press review of records, undercutting the grassroots image pushed by groups involved in the event.
A pro-Trump nonprofit organization called Women for America First hosted the “Save America Rally” on Jan. 6 at the Ellipse, a federally owned patch of land near the White House. But an attachment to the permit, granted by the National Park Service, lists more than half a dozen people in staff positions who just weeks earlier had been paid thousands of dollars by Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign. Other staff scheduled to be “on site” during the protest have close ties to the White House.
Since the siege, several of them have scrambled to distance themselves from the rally.
The riot at the Capitol, incited by Trump’s comments before and during his speech at the Ellipse, has led to a reckoning unprecedented in American history.
A week later, Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives, becoming the first U.S. president to be impeached twice. But the political and legal fallout may stretch well beyond Trump, who will exit the White House before Democrat Joe Biden takes the oath of office on Wednesday. Trump had refused for nearly two months to accept his loss in the 2020 election.
Women for America First did not respond to messages seeking comment about how the event was financed and about the Trump campaign’s involvement. The rally drew tens of thousands of people.
In a statement, the Trump reelection campaign said it “did not organize, operate or finance the event.” No campaign staff members were involved in the organization or operation of the rally, according to the statement. It said that if any former employees or independent contractors for the campaign took part, “they did not do so at the direction of the Trump campaign.”
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At least one was working for the Trump campaign this month. Megan Powers was listed as one of two operations managers for the Jan. 6 event. Her LinkedIn profile says she was the Trump campaign’s director of operations into January 2021. She did not respond to a message seeking comment.
AP’s review found at least three of the Trump campaign aides named on the permit rushed to obscure their connections to the demonstration. They deactivated or locked down their social media profiles, removed tweets that referenced the rally and blocked a reporter who asked questions.
Caroline Wren, a veteran GOP fundraiser, is named as a “VIP Advisor” on an attachment to the permit that Women for America First provided to the Park Service. Between mid-March and mid-November, Donald J. Trump for President Inc. paid Wren $20,000 a month, according to Federal Election Commission records. During the campaign, she was a national finance consultant for Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee.
Wren did not return messages seeking comment and locked her Twitter account after the AP reached out to her last Monday to ask her about her involvement in the rally and the tweets she had removed. Several days later, she blocked the AP reporter.
Maggie Mulvaney, a niece of former top Trump aide Mick Mulvaney, is listed on the permit attachment as the “VIP Lead.” She worked as director of finance operations for the Trump campaign, according to her LinkedIn profile. FEC records show Maggie Mulvaney was earning $5,000 every two weeks from Trump’s reelection campaign, with the most recent payment reported on November 13.
Maggie Mulvaney had taken down her Twitter account as of last Monday, although it reappeared after an AP reporter asked her about the account’s removal. On Sunday, the same day the AP published this report, she blocked that AP reporter on Twitter. She did not respond to messages seeking comment.
In a statement issued the same day rioters attacked the Capitol, Amy Kremer, president of Women for America First, denounced the assault and said it was instigated after the rally by a “handful of bad actors,” while seeming to blame Democrats and news organizations for the riot.
The AP reviewed social media posts, voter registrations, court files and other public records for more than 120 people either facing criminal charges related to the Jan. 6 unrest or identified through photographs and videos taken during the melee.
The review found the crowd was overwhelmingly made up of longtime Trump supporters, including Republican Party officials, GOP political donors, far-right militants, white supremacists, off-duty police, members of the military and adherents of the QAnon myth that the government is secretly controlled by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophile cannibals.
Trump’s incendiary remarks at the Jan. 6 rally culminated a two-day series of events in Washington, organized by a coalition of the president’s supporters who echoed his baseless accusations that the election had been stolen from him. A website, MarchtoSaveAmerica.com, sprung up to promote the pro-Trump events and alerted followers, “At 1 PM, we protest at US Capitol.” The website has been deactivated.
Kimberly Fletcher, the Moms for America president, said she wasn’t aware the Trump campaign had a role in the rally at the Ellipse until around New Year’s Day. While she didn’t work directly with the campaign, Fletcher did notice a shift in who was involved in the rally and who would be speaking.
“When I got there and I saw the size of the stage and everything, I’m like, ‘Wow, we couldn’t possibly have afforded that,’” she said. “It was a big stage. It was a very professional stage. I don’t know who was in the background or who put it together or anything.”
In addition to the large stage, the rally on the Ellipse featured a sophisticated sound system and at least three Jumbotron-style screens projecting the president’s image to the crowd. Videos posted online show Trump and his family in a nearby private tent watching the rally on monitors as music blared in the background.
Tim Unes, the founder and president of Event Strategies, was the “stage manager” for the Jan. 6 rally, according to the permit paperwork. Unes has longstanding ties to Trump, a connection he highlights on his company’s website. Trump’s presidential campaign paid Event Strategies $1.3 million in 2020 for “audio visual services,” according to the campaign finance records. The company declined to comment for this story.
Smith reported from Providence, Rhode Island.
Associated Press researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York and Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.