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Watergate Prosecutor Calls 7-Hour Gap in Trump Phone Records “Suspicious”

The seven-hour gap occurred almost simultaneously with the attack on the U.S. Capitol building.

President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office on September 17, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

A former Watergate prosecutor described a gap in phone records from the Trump White House on January 6, 2021, as “suspicious,” pointing toward evidence confirming that the former president was speaking to people on the phone during the Capitol attack.

More than seven hours of phone records are missing from the logs of former President Donald Trump, according to documents obtained by the January 6 select committee, which is investigating the attack and its preceding events. The gap occurs during the time when the Capitol attack took place.

Writing in an op-ed for NBC News, Jill Wine-Banks, a former Watergate special prosecutor who investigated former President Richard Nixon’s obstruction of justice abuses, described how her phone “rang off the hook” as soon as the story of Trump’s missing phone logs was released. She spoke with many people who compared those missing records to the 18 minutes of tape, recorded in Nixon’s Oval Office, that appeared to have been erased.

Wine-Banks recognized that there wasn’t “credible evidence” yet that the gap in Trump’s records was purposeful. “But the missing chunk certainly appears deliberate,” she added.

“It is unlikely, even incredible, that no one called in to the president for 457 minutes during a crisis when he was in the White House. Even calls that go unanswered in the White House should be listed on official logs,” Wine-Banks explained in her op-ed.

The January 6 committee is likely to have evidence that can explain the gaps in Trump’s phone records, to provide a better idea of whether they were “inadvertent or malicious,” she said.

Handwritten notes from the Watergate investigation taken by an aide to Nixon, Wine-Banks recounted in her opinion piece, “showed that pause started precisely when their conversation turned to the Watergate break-in and ended when they pivoted to other matters.” Similarly, “testimony and phone records will hopefully show whose calls are potentially missing from Trump’s official White House phone log,” Wine-Banks said.

The former Watergate prosecutor said that comparisons to Nixon’s missing records and Trump’s were understandable — but their differences were important to keep in mind.

“Nixon’s gap was a single conversation about covering up a third-rate burglary…Trump’s potentially hours of missing conversations likely regarded the ongoing insurrection and various alleged plans to overturn a free and fair election,” Wine-Banks wrote:

It is often said that Nixon’s cover-up was worse than his underlying crime. The reverse is potentially true for Trump. Trump’s records gap is 25 times as long as Nixon’s, but his alleged crime could be incalculably worse.

Members of the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by a mob of Trump loyalists, who descended upon the building after hearing an incendiary speech from the former president, have also expressed concerns about the missing Trump logs.

In an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program over the weekend, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) said that the gaps in Trump’s phone records “are suspiciously tailored to the heart of the events.”

Like Wine-Banks, Raskin recognized that the seven-hour gap in missing phone records doesn’t prove something nefarious. “But we have no comprehensive, fine-grained portrait of what was going on during that period, and that’s obviously of intense interest to us,” Raskin added.

Last week, committee member Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Virginia) also spoke about the importance of understanding why there are gaps in the record.

The missing information is “very strange,” Luria said, because the committee has reports and evidence that contradict the notion that Trump wasn’t talking to anyone at that time — including accounts from Republican lawmakers and other individuals who say they’ve “talked about the calls they had with the President during that time.”

Referencing Watergate, Luria also said, “this definitely has overtones” of that scandal “because there’s just really no explanation for the seven hours” that are missing.

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