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Inside the January 6 committee with former senior technical adviser Denver Riggleman

Denver Riggleman: The 60 Minutes Interview
Former January 6 committee technical adviser Denver Riggleman: The 60 Minutes Interview 13:43

Tonight, you're going to hear from a former senior staffer inside the January 6th committee — which resumes public hearings on the Capitol siege Wednesday. Members of the committee aren't happy that Denver Riggleman, an experienced military intelligence officer and former Republican congressman, is talking to 60 Minutes about the work he did for them. Nor are they thrilled he's written a book about his time on the committee, called "The Breach." Riggleman has a history of swimming against the tide. Once a member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, he was endorsed twice by then-President Trump, but after hearing what Denver Riggleman has to say tonight, it's unlikely the former president will be buying his book.

Bill Whitaker: Did it hit you at one point that this is way bigger than it appeared in the beginning?

Denver Riggleman: Absolutely. You get a real "A-ha" moment when you see that the White House switchboard had connected to a rioter's phone while it's happening. That's a big, pretty big "A-ha" moment.

Bill Whitaker: Wait a minute: Someone in the White House was calling one of the rioters while the riot was going on?

Denver Riggleman: On January 6th, absolutely.

Bill Whitaker: And you know who both ends of that call?

Denver Riggleman: I only know one end of that call. I don't know the White House end, which I believe is more important. But the thing is the American people need to know that there are link connections that need to be explored more.

  Denver Riggleman

As senior technical adviser for the January 6th committee, Denver Riggleman, a former House Republican and ex- military intelligence officer, ran a data-driven operation pursuing phone records and other digital clues tied to the attack on the Capitol.

Denver Riggleman: From my perspective, you know, being in counterterrorism, you know, if the White House, even if it's a short call, and it's a connected call, who is actually making that phone call?

Bill Whitaker: Is there a simple, innocent explanation for that?

Denver Riggleman: Was it an accidental call? When the White House just happened to call numbers that somebody misdialed a rioter that day, on January 6th? Probably not. 

Denver Riggleman told us he uncovered a lot of disquieting information for the committee.

Republican vice chair Liz Cheney recommended the former conservative congressman for the staff — partly for his political experience, but mostly for his technical expertise.

Denver Riggleman: I think Liz and some of the other people recognized, "He does know how Congress works, he knows how the political system works: He was in the Freedom Caucus, but he also has a background in data intelligence." 

For two decades he served as an Air Force intelligence officer, a contractor for the secretive National Security Agency and ran his own data analysis firm.

When the January 6th committee came calling, he assembled a small squad of data miners and analysts, like he'd had in the military, to comb through 20 million lines of data: e-mails, social media posts, phone records, texts, anything to learn who did what leading up to and on January 6th.

Denver Riggleman: We were able to do things I think in a way that had never been done before with millions of lines of data. And to actually create a graph that shows how these groups actually intermingled. 

Bill Whitaker: Now you were able to identify, I believe, six "centers of gravity?"

Denver Riggleman: Yeah. There are six pretty big centers of gravity, or six groups that we looked at. Really, it came down to Trump team, Trump family, rally goers, unaffiliated DOJ-charged defendants, Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, and others, which are state legislators, alternate electors, things like that. So when you have those six groups of people, you can actually start looking at the connections between them.

Denver Riggleman's "monster"

Once he started connecting the dots this complex graph emerged, which he presented to the committee. Each thick line represents tens-of-thousands of calls and contacts among and between the groups. These are calls and texts from just one person of interest. Multiply that hundreds of times and you end up with this graph Riggleman calls "the monster."

Denver Riggleman: We don't have text content. What we do have is how long they talked, when they talked. That is very important. And really does suggest that there was much more coordination than the American public can even imagine when it came to January 6th.

For example, the data revealed five calls in the weeks before January 6th between the White House and a stop-the-steal activist named Bianca Gracia.

The committee obtained video from the evening of January 5th. Gracia was part of a clandestine meeting with the heads of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, the paramilitary groups that would breach the Capitol the next day.

Denver Riggleman: And, you know, when you have the White House switchboard and certain other cell phone numbers connected to Bianca Gracia, that is a link that needs to be investigated. The thread that needs to be pulled, is identifying all the White House numbers, and why we have certain specific people, why they were talking to the White House.

Riggleman: Meadows’ text trove revealed a “roadmap to an attempted coup” | 60 Minutes 02:50

Specific White House phone records are kept secret to protect every administration. But in his book, "The Breach," Riggleman wrote he begged the committee to push harder to identify numbers that showed up on the monster.

Denver Riggleman: I was one of those individuals, sadly, at the beginning, you know, where I was very, very aggressive about these linked connections; getting those White House phone numbers.

Bill Whitaker: Did you express those concerns to the committee at the time?

Denver Riggleman: Yes. 

Bill Whitaker: What was the response?

Denver Riggleman: The response was, "Go forth and just do the best you can with the resources that we have."

Riggleman requested $3.2 million -- but only received a fraction of that. His team burrowed into the data.

The mother lode dropped into their laps – not just phone records, but more than 2,000 actual texts to and from Mark Meadows, former President Trump's chief of staff. There were numbers, but no names, so, riggleman told us, his team made a giant spreadsheet painstakingly identifying the people behind each number – and when they did, they were privy to the real time thoughts of Trump family members, former cabinet secretaries, members of Congress, conspiracy mongers, even a Supreme Court justice's wife.

Bill Whitaker: You've called the texts from President Trump's Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows "the Crown Jewels." Why?

Denver Riggleman: It was a roadmap. You know, it showed actually the evolution of the beginning arguments from alternate electors all the way through rally planning, all the way to day of. It showed conspiracy theories. It showed the saturation of QAnon. 

Bill Whitaker: How'd you get 'em?

Denver Riggleman: He gave 'em up.

Bill Whitaker: Do you think it was a mistake?

Denver Riggleman: You know, if you go back to the simplest explanation, I think he wanted to give up some of his text messages. By the way, I got a, this is a caveat: We don't know if we got 'em all. But what we got is pretty valuable. 

Bill Whitaker: You have said, "These texts provide irrefutable, time-stamped proof of a comprehensive plot at all levels of government to overturn the election." "Irrefutable?"

Denver Riggleman: Irrefutable. Early in the text messages they were talking about alternate electors, you know, I think as soon as November 5th or November 6th. 

Bill Whitaker: Right off the bat.

Denver Riggleman: Come on. Right off the bat.  

The first mention of January 6th was two days after the election. Donald Trump Jr. wrote the White House chief of staff, "this is what we need to do," and laid out a rambling scheme to seat alternate electors, a plot the department of justice is investigating. "We get Trump electors," he wrote in part… "it gets kicked to Congress 6 January 2021." … "once again," he concludes, "Trump wins."

Many other texts were of bizarre election conspiracies: Chinese plots to install President Biden … entreaties to seize voting machines as part of God's plan …  even a call from Republican lawmakers for President Trump to declare martial law and stay in power. From the sheer number of texts, it seems almost half the world had Mark Meadows' phone number.

Riggleman: Ginni Thomas’ beliefs were an “open secret around the beltway” | 60 Minutes 02:35

Denver Riggleman: The Meadows text messages show you an administration that was completely eaten up with a digital virus called QAnon and conspiracy theories: an apocalyptic, Messianic buffoonery, You can look at the text messages as that roadmap, but it's also a look into the psyche of the Republican Party today.

Bill Whitaker: People in the Republican Party would say, "You're an opponent, you're the opposition. Of course you're gonna say this."

Denver Riggleman: I would tell them this: I'm not their enemy, I'm just a guy who's trying to tell you that the data doesn't support that the election was stolen.

Denver Riggleman III is a proud son of Virginia. He told us his family never questioned going to church or voting Republican.

Denver Riggleman:  I'm an Appalchian boy, man. 

In 2013, he settled here on 50 green acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia outside Charlottesville, where he helped his wife, Christine, pursue her dream of opening a distillery.   

Bill Whitaker: This smells delicious.

Denver Riggleman: You wanna eat the air.  

It was Christine's Bourbon that got him into politics. Frustrated with high liquor taxes and government red tape, he made an unsuccessful run for governor in 2017. Soon, a seat opened up in Virginia's conservative fifth congressional district. He ran, and to his surprise, he won, and in 2018 found himself in the seat once held by James Madison.

Denver Riggleman: "The Accidental Congressman" I called myself.

A Republican with a libertarian bent, he joined the Freedom Caucus, the most conservative wing of the party. He voted with President Trump 92% of the time, but says his loyalty was questioned because he'd sometimes reach across the aisle to work with Democrats. Christine told us the beginning of the end was when Denver decided to officiate the wedding of two gay campaign workers.

Bill Whitaker: So you're this staunch conservative, and you officiate at a same-sex wedding?

Denver Riggleman: Yeah, Christine's driving there. She goes, "You know honey, you might have the shortest political career in the history of Virginia." I said, "It'll blow over in two weeks." 

Bill Whitaker: What happened?

Christine Riggleman: It didn't blow over.

Denver Riggleman: No. It was, it was brutal.  

Bill Whitaker: What'd you think of how he reacted to the criticism?

Christine Riggleman: I think he stood his ground, and he doesn't regret doing it.

He told us he also doesn't regret calling white supremacists "cultural parasites" after they marched on Charlottesville. Or denouncing QAnon from the floor of Congress.

Denver Riggleman: They were spreading this rumor that because of the gay wedding, that I was trying to change the sexual orientation of children. You know, that, that really is a QAnon-based conspiracy theory.

But his independence riled the Republican base. He lost his seat in 2020 to a Republican further to his right. 

Bill Whitaker: Do you consider yourself a Republican today?

Denver Riggleman: No. No. I left the Republican party. I'm Independent. And I don't even want to call it "Independent." I'm unaffiliated. I'm just me.

And this now unaffiliated ex-congressman had a skill set that caught the attention of the January 6th committee. He joined the staff in August of last year.

Why a former January 6 committee senior staffer is speaking out | 60 Minutes 01:59

Riggleman's data team was first to identify a telephone number in Meadows' texts belonging to Ginni Thomas – wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Thomas texted links tied to QAnon, including this one saying the "Biden crime family & ballot fraud co-conspirators … are being arrested & detained … & will be living in barges off Guantanamo Bay to face military tribunals for sedition …" she added, "I hope this is true."

Bill Whitaker: What did you think of those Ginni Thomas texts?

Denver Riggleman: Actually as far as academically, it was hellaciously insightful.

Bill Whitaker: Insightful in what way?

Denver Riggleman: Insightful about how the conspiracy theories and, sort of, this, this digital virus had really metastasized in the GOP.

Bill Whitaker: You make it sound like an infection.

Denver Riggleman: It is an infection. But Ginni Thomas, specifically, to see somebody like that who has that type of access to the president and married to a Supreme Court justice pushing that type of nonsense to the chief of staff to the president, that's, that should be an eye opener for everybody.

Riggleman left the committee last April. He told us one reason, they wouldn't subpoena Ginni Thomas.   

The committee provided 60 Minutes a statement that reads in part: "Mr. Riggleman had limited knowledge of the committee's investigation. He departed… prior to… our most important investigative work… the committee has run down all the leads that arose from his work."  

Last week, Ginni Thomas agreed to be interviewed.

Produced by Graham Messick. Associate producers, Jack Weingart and Eliza Costas. Edited by Craig Crawford.

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