Three minutes after rioters pushed past police lines west of the U.S. Capitol last January, Charles Herbster received a text from a campaign staffer in Nebraska, telling him the Capitol was locked down.
“Thank you,” Herbster replied at 2:14 p.m. EST from a Secret Service motorcade near the White House. A minute later, he wrote: “I was expecting as much.”
Herbster, a leading candidate for Nebraska governor who touts his ties to Trump, spent much of Jan. 5-6, 2021, with then-President Donald Trump’s inner circle, including his sons. The Conklin Co. CEO, who donated $1.3 million to Trump’s presidential campaigns, knew more about the runup to the Jan. 6 protests than he has previously acknowledged.
Herbster’s actions and reactions are detailed in more than 130 texts he and his campaign staff exchanged over a 25-hour period before, during and after protesters breached the Capitol. Several people with knowledge of the texts obtained by the Nebraska Examiner confirmed their authenticity.
Herbster has declined repeated requests since January 2021 to detail what he did and saw in Washington on those days, including three requests this month from the Examiner — one as recently as Monday. On Thursday, when the Examiner’s story was about to publish, Herbster’s campaign offered an interview in the coming days, if the Examiner delayed the story.
Immediately after the riots, the Herbster campaign did confirm to the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal Star that Herbster had attended the Electoral College rally Trump held at noon that day on the Ellipse, just south of the White House.
Herbster was at the Ellipse by midmorning on Wednesday Jan. 6, based on texts he exchanged with staff. A fan of Herbster’s photographed him wearing a VIP tag. The My Pillow CEO, Mike Lindell, was seated nearby:
10:15 a.m. EST, Herbster
I am here immediately in front of the lecturn (sic) center 2 nd row behind Nike (sic) Lindell
10:15 a.m., staffer at Herbster Angus Farms
Get pics. We can def use now!
10:16 a.m., staffer at Herbster Angus Farms
Send out a Facebook message that you are at the trump event today
10:18 a.m., staffer at Herbster Angus Farms
The rally is big news today!
10:20 a.m., staffer at Herbster Angus Farms
I didn’t know there was violence! (Laughing face with tears emoji) amazing what some of the liberal platforms are publishing.
(The staffer had just texted an excerpt from a news report: “The rally marked the most desperate effort yet from disappointed and enraged Trump supporters, who have been leading a months-long campaign of disinformation and violence in tandem with a president who refuses to concede to reality.”)
10:20 a.m., Theresa Thibodeau, who was briefly Herbster’s running mate, writing from Nebraska
We also don’t want to forget that today is the first day of NE legislature so will need to focus on both.
‘In the White House with patriots’
The night before, Herbster, Lindell and other donors joined a who’s who of Trump confidants in the president’s private residence at Trump International Hotel. Herbster and donors used various social media platforms to drop names of key leaders in the meeting. Herbster, in a Facebook post, name-dropped some of the bigwigs.
A campaign staffer sent Herbster a draft Facebook post to review (Campaign staff members are not being named here but are identified by number.):
9:27 p.m., Herbster campaign staffer 1
Post text: I’ve dedicated my life to promoting and preserving the American Dream. Tonight, as I look at our nation’s flag, I’m reminded of the battles and blood spilled to protect our way of life. For me, the white signifies purity and innocence; red, hardiness and valor; and the blue, especially today, signifies perseverance and justice. While so many have chosen the easy path, I will continue to fight for what is honest and true. Right now, I stand in the White House with patriots joining me in a battle for justice and truth. U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville, Alabama; Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani; Mr. Donald Trump Jr.; Mr. Peter Navarro, Assistant to President Donald J. Trump, Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, and the National Defense Production Act Policy Coordinator; Mr. Eric Trump; Mr. Adam Piper, Executive Director Republican Attorney General Association; Mr. David Bossie, President and Chairman of Citizens United and Deputy Campaign Manager of the 2016 Donald J. Trump Presidential Campaign, Mr. Corey Lewandowski; 2016 Donald J. Trump for President Campaign Manager; and General Michael Flynn, 25th United States National Security Advisor. These faithful servants of freedom need our prayers as well as the U.S. Congress. Tomorrow on Capitol Hill, they open sealed electoral voting certificates from each state. This joint session is the last official chance for our members of Congress to object to the widespread voter fraud that happened on November 3. God Bless America.
9:53 p.m., Herbster
Correction we are not at the White House we are in the private residence of the president at Trump International sorry in the meeting with General Flynn
‘Very very very important’
The donors at Trump International were briefed on the final stages of the Trump team’s plans to pressure Vice President Mike Pence and Congress to throw out certified election results from swing states that Trump had lost. The goal: Overturn the election results and keep Trump in office for a second term.
The briefing added ammunition to Herbster’s firm belief that the president had been wronged, as shown by a text he sent during the meeting:
8:55 p.m., Herbster
… this is a very very very important and informational meeting tonight with full written reports of how this election was truly stolen from us and any one who does not believe that is not true is totally inaccurate so we need to think about how that affects my Gov Campaign because we only have one Nebraskan tonight that appears he is standing up with me and that is Adrain (sic) Smith whom I talked with today the Georgia election is very concerning tonight we may loose (sic) both seats at this point looking seriously scary we need to keep praying
Third District U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith was the lone member of Nebraska’s all-Republican, five-member congressional delegation voting not to certify election results. Smith voted to reject results from two states Trump lost: Pennsylvania and Arizona, which had a combined 30 Electoral College votes.
Smith has contended he didn’t want to overturn the election results but wanted to air lingering concerns about the way some states (not Nebraska) had handled the election. Smith had made his decision on certification public the previous day. “Challenging the results of the Electoral College vote is nothing new,” Smith wrote in a Jan. 4 Facebook post. He cited several objections by congressional Democrats to Trump’s 2016 win.
At the Trump rally and in the hours that followed, Herbster and his team continued to text.
They watched Trump tell thousands of supporters to march to the Capitol. “And we fight,” the president said at 1:10 p.m. “We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
Five died, 769 criminally charged
Five people died during or in the immediate aftermath of the riot, and 140 police officers were injured; 769 people have been criminally charged. Rioters disrupted and delayed House and Senate votes to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.
Herbster said nothing in his texts about the damage or violence at the Capitol. Text excerpts are interwoven here with action unfolding on Capitol Hill, based on a USA Today timeline (shown here in bold):
Rioters begin grappling with police on the Capitol steps.
1:24 p.m., Herbster
(Texts eight pictures from the rally, including one of Mike Lindell and three of Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump speaking.)
Capitol police order evacuation of Library of Congress, Madison Building and Cannon House Office Building on Independence Avenue, across from the Capitol.
1:31 p.m., Herbster
Walking to motorcade with the President
(Texts photos of black vans and black SUVs on White House grounds.)
1:36 p.m., Thibodeau
Rioters breach police lines on the west side of the Capitol and scale the walls moments later.
2:14 p.m., Herbster campaign staffer 2
Be careful on posting right now. Us Capitol on lockdown due to protests. FYI.
2:14 p.m., Herbster
2:15 p.m., Herbster
I was expecting as much.
2:21 p.m., Herbster
We have secret service with us they are moving us out quickly to board the jet.
2:22 p.m., Thibodeau
Good to know. Please keep us posted and let us know when you land.
2:24 p.m., Herbster
(Sends two photographs from the Secret Service motorcade driving through DC streets flanked by protesters.)
2:25 p.m., Herbster
In the motorcade now
Trump tweets out: “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!”
2:43 p.m., Herbster campaign staffer 2
There is absolutely ZERO place for what is happening right now. Unacceptable.
Should we do a post on what is happening? … thoughts?
2:44 p.m., Herbster campaign staffer 1
If we do a post right now we would have to be extremely careful. People are very emotional and we don’t want our words to be construed as something different than our intentions. I am on my way to the office now. Will discuss.
2:44 p.m., Herbster campaign staffer 3
No. If violence happens I don’t want any of our commentary out there that can be used against us. Let’s hold off on anything related to the Capitol until we see how these protests play out. We don’t need the risk.
Huffington Post reporter tweets images of rioters at the House dais. “They’re in the chamber.”
2:50 p.m., Herbster campaign adviser
I say radio silent now
Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., texts, “shots fired.”
3:01 p.m., Herbster campaign staffer 2
We can for now but we will have to do a statement condemning this behavior.
Rioters are photographed on the Senate floor.
3:05 p.m., Herbster campaign staffer 2
(Sends copy of tweet from Nikki Haley, former ambassador and former South Carolina governor: “Every American has the right to peacefully protest. What’s happening right now at the U.S. Capitol building is wrong and un-American. We are better than that.”)
3:08 p.m., Herbster campaign staffer 2
… we should post something to the tune of “while I support the right for every American to peacefully protest, what is happening right now at the Capitol is unacceptable and dangerous. We can and must be better than this.” Charles are you near by? Can’t let this fester too long without saying something. Rep and Dems alike are all speaking out. We Need to be seen as a leader on this
3:09 p.m., Herbster
I am in motorcade headed to Airforce 3
3:10 p.m., Herbster campaign adviser
President needs to calm this too if you can get to him
3:11 p.m., Herbster
There is a much bigger threat possible Iran but can’t say anymore that is why they rushed out
Trump tweets: “I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order – respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!”
Iranian plot hinted
Campaign staff told the World-Herald that afternoon that Herbster had attended the midday rally but said he left before the protests turned violent.
Herbster’s mention of Iran dovetails with a CBS News report that morning: Air traffic controllers in New York reported receiving a threat of an Iranian plot against Trump, one year after a U.S. drone strike killed an Iranian general. By midmorning, CBS News reported that federal officials did not consider the threat credible.
At 3:17 p.m., Herbster’s staffers tweeted out part of a statement they were preparing for him, condemning the violence: “While I support the right for every American to peacefully protest, what is happening at the Capitol is unacceptable and dangerous. We must be better than this. Please pray for peace, our country and safety of all Americans.”
3:43 p.m., Herbster campaign staffer 2
Good statement from Laura Ingraham.
(Texts an image of Facebook message from conservative TV host Laura Ingraham: “Security breach at Capitol is disgraceful. The president needs to tell everyone to leave the building. Now. Anyone who thinks this is going to grow the MAGA movement is delusional. It hurts the movement, the Trump legacy, and, of course, the country.”)
3:48 p.m., Herbster
We are in the air in Airforce 3 GOD Speed
(Herbster was flying by private jet to a meeting of the Republican National Committee near Jacksonville, Florida. Herbster had texted earlier that he would be traveling on “Airforce 3” with Trump Jr., TV personality and Trump adviser Kimberly Guilfoyle and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Lewandowski was a campaign consultant for Herbster for much of 2021.)
5:15 p.m., Herbster staffer 3
Charles, you will receive a statement shortly for your review. Glad you’re safe.
5:19 p.m., Herbster
Just landed in Jacksonville safely
5:31 p.m., Herbster
Corey read the statement also said it was done very well we just landed safely in Jacksonville …
Thibodeau now a competitor
Several of the Herbster staffers who exchanged texts with him during the riots no longer work for his campaign. They declined to comment for this story. Two said they had signed nondisclosure agreements with Herbster.
The Nebraska Examiner asked Thibodeau what she thought of the texts. She did not directly address them in a statement from her campaign.
Thibodeau, who is now challenging Herbster for the Republican nomination for governor, said last week she was concerned by what she saw at the Capitol and had prayed for the country. She said she thought Herbster should have spent more time in Nebraska campaigning, instead of being in Washington.
Her statement said she didn’t reply to many of the Herbster team’s texts because she was running her child care center and helping her sister, Aimee Melton, run for re-election to the Omaha City Council.
Trump, who endorsed Herbster in October, has largely backed candidates who support his rejection of the 2020 election results, according to regional political consultants and a local political scientist who spoke with the Examiner.
Herbster and his team were pressing for Trump’s support during the Washington visit:
10:31 p.m., Jan. 5, Herbster
Corey was with the President today in the Oval Office talked with him about me and the Governors race he told him that he is in all the way and the President will do whatever We ask him and endorse also the President suggested Don Jr travel across the stare (sic) with me after I announce Don Jr said he will do whatever I need to help President ask Mark Meadows to meet with me and give him a list of what he can do to help so mark has already called me
10:34 p.m., Herbster campaign staffer 3
10:36 p.m., Herbster campaign staffer 2
That’s fantastic news!
10:41 p.m., Herbster
Ashley is going to stay in D C work with Dave Bossie and Corey fund raise for Kristie (sic) myself and only one other candidate probably Senate seat in Arizonia (sic) just two Governor raises (sic) mine and Kristie President will come and campaign for both Kristie and I
(Note: “Kristie” refers to South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who has endorsed Herbster in his gubernatorial run.)
10:42 p.m., Herbster campaign staffer 3
Outstanding. That national fundraising will help greatly.
10:50 p.m., Herbster
Corey and Don jr asked me to go with them tomorrow on the jet to Florida to the RNC meeting to have me make some more solid connections At the meeting so will do that immediately following the Presidents Address the President also told Corey he is going to call Matt and try to get me a speaking time at CPAC in Orlando if possible
10:51 p.m., Herbster campaign staffer 3
That will all translate into money for the campaign. Great work.
‘No way we can really know’
Herbster’s campaign told the Examiner last week that he had not been called to testify before the select committee in Congress investigating the Jan. 6 riots.
When he announced his run for governor in April, Herbster said he still didn’t know who had won the 2020 election. “There’s no way we can really know that, because none of the states would look at those irregularities,” Herbster told Omaha’s KMTV.
“If it’s the difference between being disloyal to President Trump or becoming governor of Nebraska,” Herbster told the crowd at his announcement, ” I will not be disloyal to the 45th president.”
On Thursday, Herbster reinforced his views: “I love — I love — what Donald J. Trump did as our 45th president of the United States,” he told a group gathered at Omaha’s VFW Post 2503.
Herbster was accompanied by Kellyanne Conway, whom he called his “national campaign manager.” She led Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Herbster is scheduled to speak Sunday on a panel in Orlando, Florida, at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Some of Trump’s supporters defend what happened on Jan. 6, while other Republicans have criticized the violence and destruction of property. The RNC passed a resolution earlier this month describing what happened as “legitimate political discourse.” RNC leaders later said they were referring to the peaceful protests.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and several other GOP officials read the resolution differently. McConnell said the RNC description was wrong. He described the events of Jan. 6 as a “violent insurrection.”
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., told the National Review that the Capitol riots were “shameful mob violence,” not “legitimate political discourse.” He declined to be interviewed for this story. Here’s what he told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Jan. 8, 2021:
“While blood was actually being shed in the Capitol, and I was in the Senate chamber, and the Secret Service was trying to rush the Vice President to safety, at those exact moments, the President is rage-tweeting against the Vice President. Why? Because Vice President Pence had the audacity to fulfill his oath of office to the Constitution. It’s a big deal. Lies have consequences.”
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