WASHINGTON — In the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes tried to get the organization’s general counsel, Kellye SoRelle, to put him in touch with the White House, she told NBC News.
In addition to her work with the Oath Keepers, SoRelle was a volunteer for Lawyers for Trump during the 2020 election and was in contact with many of the people fighting a doomed legal battle to try to overturn the 2020 presidential election and keep former President Donald Trump in office. The contacts include, she said, people in Rudy Giuliani’s and Sidney Powell’s camps, as well as those inside the administration, although she added that she “wasn’t, like, communicating with Trump directly.”
Rhodes wanted her to put him in touch with the White House. “He was hitting me up for a contact,” said SoRelle, a family law lawyer who previously ran for the Texas state House. “He didn’t have any access points.”
As he prepared an open letter calling on Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6, 2021, Rhodes asked SoRelle to send it to the White House. She says she declined.
As SoRelle tells it, despite her close relationship with Rhodes, she never put him in touch with key figures, putting a firewall between her work with the Oath Keepers and her work to overturn the election results. Nonetheless, she was on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol (although didn’t enter the building) on Jan. 6. And on the night before the attack, she was present in a parking garage as Rhodes met with Enrique Tarrio, the head of the Proud Boys, the other predominant organization in a smorgasbord of extremist groups connected with the Capitol attack.
SoRelle has already spoken extensively with the Jan. 6 committee, and given her overlapping roles, it’s likely that testimony will come up at the panel’s next public hearing Tuesday, much of which the committee has said will focus on the role of the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys and the goal they shared with Trump to stop the certification of the Electoral College votes.
A source familiar with the Jan. 6 committee’s work said SoRelle was of great interest to the committee given her links both in Trump’s orbit and with members of the alleged seditious conspiracy.
Her dual role could play a part as the committee tries to establish a deeper connection between both camps. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” the person said.
Rhodes attorney James Bright said he didn’t think it was a story that Rhodes — who prosecutors say had organized a militia ready and willing to take up arms on behalf of Trump — was trying to get in touch with the president ahead of Jan. 6.
“Hundreds of people try to get in touch with politicians daily,” Bright said.
Robert Costello, a lawyer for Giuliani, said Giuliani had “no connection” to the Oath Keepers. “I represented Mr. Giuliani at the time, and I don’t believe he had a ‘camp.’ In any event, Rudy Giuliani has no connection to the Oath Keepers or the Proud Boys or any other fringe group,” Costello said.
Powell didn’t respond to a request for comment. Last month, a judge ordered Rhodes’ attorneys to disclose whether Powell’s group Defending the Republic was helping to pay their legal fees following reporting from Mother Jones and BuzzFeed News.
The FBI seized SoRelle’s phone last year as part of its seditious conspiracy investigation against several members of the Oath Keepers, including Rhodes, in connection with the Jan. 6 attack.
SoRelle co-signed two of the open letters that prosecutors have cited in that case. Full archived versions of the letters, which are no longer online, were provided to NBC News by one of the online sleuths investigating the Jan. 6 attack.
One open letter dated Dec. 14, 2020, calls on Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, saying that “millions of American military and law enforcement veterans, and many millions more loyal patriotic American gun owners stand ready to answer your call to arms, and to obey your orders to get this done.”
The open second letter, dated Dec. 23, 2020, was more explicit, informing Trump that if Congress certified the election on Jan. 6, “tens of thousands of patriotic Americans, both veterans and non-veterans, will already be in Washington D.C., and many of us will have our mission-critical gear stowed nearby just outside D.C., and we will answer the call right then and there, if you call on us.”
Citing George Washington, the letter encouraged Trump to immediately invoke the Insurrection Act and not to “let the fact that it is Christmas stop you.”
“Give American patriots a grand Christmas present by dropping the hammer now,” the letter said.
Oath Keepers’ beliefs about the Insurrection Act are expected to play a major role at their trials, as defense attorneys have said there was no plan to storm the Capitol on their own but rather that they planned to wait for direction from Trump.
“They were not there to storm the Capitol, to stop the certification, to take over the Government,” Rhodes’ lawyers have argued before. “They were waiting for President Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act.”
You may not have heard of SoRelle during the 2020 campaign, but you probably saw her video. On Election Day, SoRelle was in Detroit, one of the majority-Black cities Trump singled out when he made wild, unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud even before the November 2020 election.
Sitting in her vehicle at around 2:40 a.m. outside the Detroit convention center, SoRelle recorded a man removing a box from a white van and placing it into a red wagon, the kind you might roll a kid around in.
Soon a conservative website posted the video, and it went viral. SoRelle thought there was malfeasance afoot. “SoRelle is raising alarms that the box may have been a ballot box that arrived long after all ballots were expected to have been received at the counting facility,” the story said.
Eric Trump, the president’s son, tweeted a link to a Gateway Pundit post about the video on Nov. 4.
The problem was, as an ABC affiliate would soon reveal, SoRelle hadn’t recorded a ballot box. She’d recorded a news photographer who was wheeling in media equipment to cover the counting of the votes. Gateway Pundit eventually removed its post. (Eric Trump’s tweet, meanwhile, remains online.)
But SoRelle’s mixup didn’t stop her from believing conspiracy theories about the election or suing to try to keep Trump in office.
SoRelle still believes the election was stolen. At first, she was somewhat hopeful that the Jan. 6 committee would reveal the full secret plan, the deep state figures who were really pulling the strings behind the scenes and setting up those who stormed the Capitol. But she has since soured on the committee, saying it is only protecting those who she believes set the Capitol rioters up.
Rhodes himself is reported to harbor grudges toward Trump for not showing up at the Capitol after he told his supporters to march to the building and said he’d “be with” them there.
Several Oath Keepers have pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy, including William Todd Wilson. Under oath, Wilson told a judge that he was in a hotel suite with Rhodes on the night of Jan. 6 and that Rhodes was on the phone with someone whom Rhodes repeatedly implored “to tell President Trump to call upon groups like the Oath Keepers to forcibly oppose a transfer of power.”
Rhodes, Wilson said, tried to talk to Trump directly, but the person on the line “denied Rhodes’ request to speak directly with President Trump.”
SoRelle says she wasn’t with Rhodes when the phone call is reported to have happened at the hotel suite, and she said she didn’t know whom he may have been talking to. At the time, she believes, she was trying to grab food with another Oath Keeper who was arrested later.
That night, after the Capitol attack, they joined Rhodes back at the suite. They watched the news, ate some snacks, drank a couple of beers.
“We went and got the vehicle out of the parking garage,” SoRelle said. “And everybody headed to the Olive Garden.”