US Marines returned fire after suicide bombing in Kabul but no enemies were shooting at them

By Brian J. Conley and Mohammad J. Alizada, Alive in Afghanistan, and Joshua Kaplan and Joaquin Sapien, ProPublica

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

During the final days of the U.S. evacuation of Afghanistan in August, a suicide bomber killed 13 American service members guarding an entrance to Kabul’s airport and scores of Afghan civilians huddled outside its walls.

Initial reports said a vicious firefight followed the blast, as surviving Marines defended themselves from militants who unleashed a fusillade of gunfire. One Marine officer told CBS News that his subordinate shot an “opposing gunman” after taking a bullet to the shoulder.

“The attack on the Abbey Gate was followed by a number of ISIS gunmen who opened fire on civilians and military forces,” U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr. told a Pentagon press conference the day of the bombing. “A number of Afghan civilians were also killed and injured in the attack.”

But a declassified military report reviewed by ProPublica and Alive in Afghanistan provides a starkly different account, raising fresh questions about one of the deadliest days for American troops in the 20-year history of the war in Afghanistan.

The report found that some U.S. Marines fired their weapons after the bombing — but no enemy shooters were present. Instead, the Americans were likely reacting to warning shots fired by the British military and other American units in nearby positions. The combination of combat trauma, head injuries, smoke and tear gas caused some of them to believe, incorrectly, that they were being fired upon by an attacker, the report said.

On the day of the bombing, military officials had specific intelligence of a possible attack at the airport. Despite the warning, the report found that multiple possible routes bypassed checkpoints manned by the Taliban, which would have allowed the bomber to approach the gate unimpeded. That attack, it said, was “not preventable” without undermining the evacuation mission. It’s not clear from the ProPublica review whether commanders knew about the existence of the unguarded approaches to the gate.

Despite American and allied troops shooting from multiple directions, military investigators said they found no evidence that Afghan civilians, gathered by the hundreds in a narrow walled corridor leading to the airport’s Abbey Gate, were struck by the resulting gunfire.

“It was a single suicide bomber not accompanied by enemy small arms fire,” the report says. It found that available evidence does not support that “the Marines were engaged by enemy small arms fire or returned fire that harmed civilians or service members.”

But military investigators found that “several Marines returned fire” after the blast. What they were shooting at and who, if anyone, they hit, remains unclear. “There’s wide variation of thought on where the firing originated and who was actually doing the firing,” the report said.

The report is the result of an investigation typically ordered by U.S. commanders after any serious incident. It does not appear to have involved interviews with Afghan witnesses regarding the gunfire. The report says: “Open source research found no reporting to support a conclusion warning shots or engagement of targets in response to the attack caused additional harm to civilians.”

A spokesperson for U.S. Central Command did not immediately respond to a voice message requesting comment.

The report raises new concerns about U.S. military leaders’ decision to staff the entrance with mostly junior Marines who had never been in combat and were not trained for an evacuation mission that involved deciding which Afghans to allow into the airport. Many of the Afghans were interpreters, aid workers or soldiers who had served alongside the American military. They were terrified of reprisals from the Taliban.

The report’s findings run counter to the recollection of U.S. Marines, who reported that several gunmen opened fire on them, and the accounts of Afghan civilians, some of whom said they believed American or foreign troops fired into crowds in the confusion following the blast.

Hospitals in Afghanistan reported treating Afghans who had suffered bullet wounds. A spokesperson for Emergency Hospital, an Italian-run facility in Kabul for treating war victims, said that after the blast it received at least 50 Afghan patients, some of whom had been struck by gunfire.

The suicide bombing occurred in the final days of America’s war in Afghanistan. After the Taliban rapidly regained control of the war-torn country, Kabul’s airport was overrun by Afghan civilians seeking to flee. American leadership responded by sending thousands of Marines to bring order to the airport. They became de facto immigration officers, pulling American citizens, U.S. green card holders and other Afghans considered allies from a crowd of thousands.

By Aug. 26, the largest noncombatant evacuation in U.S. history had become largely consolidated to a single airport entrance overseen by troops from the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines. Thousands of desperate Afghans were crammed into a narrow passageway leading to the gate, which was hemmed in by tall concrete walls and divided down the middle by a canal that had turned into an open sewer.

It was, essentially, a human cattle chute.

At approximately 5:36 p.m., just minutes before the Marines were scheduled to close the gate and prepare to withdraw, an Islamic State militant named Abdul Rahman Al-Logari detonated a suicide vest containing an estimated 25 pounds of explosives. He had escaped from a high-security prison earlier that month after the U.S. abandoned Bagram Air Base, the central aviation hub for U.S., NATO and Afghan government war fighting efforts.

The blast sent ball bearings hurtling through the crowd and across the canal, tearing through the bodies of Afghan men, women and children and U.S. Marines standing just outside Abbey Gate. The death toll: 13 American servicemembers and an estimated 160 or more Afghans. The report said 39 American troops were injured. More than 200 Afghans were wounded, according to media reports.

In the chaos that followed, the air buzzed with gunfire, and people fled in all directions, some of them stepping over bodies of the dead and wounded, witnesses said.

Gunfire came from multiple directions around Abbey Gate, according to the report. Toward the south, British troops posted around the nearby Baron Hotel fired warning shots from two separate locations. Marines with the 2/1 fired their own weapons. One or more troops — whose identity was redacted — fired several shots toward the Baron Hotel, which would have passed near the Marines who had been guarding the gate, the report says.

“Four rounds would have crossed the frontage of Marines who were entering the canal to recover casualties and take up security positions which would have contributed to their perception that they were taking fire,” investigators found.

Troops in the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines reported firing on two individuals on the rooftop of a building to the east, one of whom had a camera and one of whom had a rifle. But battalion leadership told investigators those buildings were controlled by the Taliban and that it was unlikely Marines received fire from those positions. The report does acknowledge the possibility that “a rogue Taliban member” could have fired at Marines.

Investigators discounted many of the recollections of Marines from the 2/1, noting that they were young and had not experienced combat. Many of those interviewed were near the blast and suffered potential traumatic brain injuries or concussions, the report says.

“It is worth noting that the only Marines who reported receiving the fire following the explosion were junior Marines with no prior combat experience,” the report says. “Other leaders concluded there was no complex attack merely the belief there was one.”

Suicide bomber who killed US troops and Afghans 'likely' used unguarded route to Kabul airport gate

By Brian J. Conley, Mohammad J. Alizada, Samira Nuhzat, Abdul Ahad Poya and Mirzahussain Sadid, Alive in Afghanistan, Joshua Kaplan and Joaquin Sapien, ProPublica, and Lynzy Billing for ProPublica

Days before the final withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, thousands of desperate Americans and Afghan allies seeking to flee the country were using unguarded routes across open fields and through narrow alleys to reach one of the only gates providing access to the Kabul airfield.

Despite intelligence warning of terrorist attacks, U.S. military commanders encouraged use of the routes. Some U.S. officials even provided maps to evacuees trying to bypass Taliban fighters stationed at a checkpoint outside the airport.

It was a decision born of necessity, senior military officials told Alive in Afghanistan and ProPublica. The U.S. had publicly committed to helping the tens of thousands of Afghans who had worked on its behalf to safety. The choice was stark. The government’s hold on Afghanistan was collapsing far sooner than intelligence agencies had expected, and the U.S. was forced to improvise a way to evacuate more than 120,000 people in a chaotic environment barely controlled by its remaining forces.

The Taliban controlled the outer checkpoints and were preventing Americans and Afghan civilians from getting to the airport entrance known as Abbey Gate, according to military officials. Commanders on the ground had to weigh the safety of American forces posted at the gate against concerns about leaving behind U.S. citizens and Afghan allies.

On Aug. 26, U.S. intelligence issued warnings of an imminent threat at the airport. That evening, a man loaded with explosives “likely” used one of the unguarded routes to gain access to Abbey Gate, according to a military investigation reviewed by the news organizations. He detonated his suicide device, killing 13 American servicemembers and an estimated more than 160 Afghan civilians.

“This was not the original way it was intended to work,” a senior military official familiar with the investigation told the news organizations, suggesting the compressed timeframe of the evacuation led to the decision to leave the routes unimpeded.

Alive in Afghanistan and ProPublica recently interviewed several Kabul-based doctors who believed they saw gunshot wounds in civilians coming from Abbey Gate. In response to questions, senior military officials provided a preview of their inquiry into the attack, which found there was no evidence civilians had been shot. The officials allowed the news organizations to interview officers familiar with the investigation and view previously unreleased video and drone footage. Later today, the Pentagon is expected to reveal the results of its months-long investigation into the attack.

Taken together, the new information provides the most detailed look yet at the Pentagon’s evolving story of what happened at Abbey Gate that day. Young Marines and Afghan families were exposed to extraordinary danger as a result of a hastily executed evacuation that left ground commanders with hard decisions and limited options.

Ultimately, investigators determined that the attack was “not preventable” without undermining the evacuation mission.

The investigation also provides insight into how the military made a striking reversal of its assessment of the damage done by gunfire that followed the blast. Initially, top officials told the public that Islamic State fighters opened fire on the Marines. Now, the Pentagon has concluded that there was no enemy gunfire. American and British troops fired their weapons, but they didn’t hit any of the thousands of Afghans crushed against the gate seeking refuge, officials said.

The investigation and its conclusions are likely to raise new questions about the Biden administration’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan as the Taliban rapidly retook the country. The suicide bombing at the gates of the airport was one of the deadliest attacks on American forces in the 20-year history of the war. In addition to those who lost their lives, 45 U.S. service members and an estimated 200 or more Afghans were wounded.

With the date of the final withdrawal approaching, tens of thousands of Americans, green card holders and other Afghans flooded toward the Kabul airport, which was surrounded by high walls with entrances at locations around the perimeter.

The crowd pressed against the gates, some attempting to jump the fences while others passed children over the walls to Marines and members of NATO forces inside the airfield. As the situation grew ever more desperate, commanders leading the evacuation decided to shut down all of the main airport entrances on Aug. 25 except Abbey Gate.

Each gate had to close due to its own unique vulnerability, the officials explained. At the northern entrance, three roads converged to provide “high-speed approaches” susceptible to a car bomb. The eastern gate sometimes required an entire squad to evacuate a single civilian because the Marines decided they could only safely bring in one person at a time.

“The reality is that Abbey Gate was the least risky of all the gates,” one official said.

Alongside dozens of U.S. Marines positioned at the gate, U.S. Army soldiers looked on from a tower inside the airport walls. British troops staffed checkpoints and watchtowers to the southwest. And, in an uneasy alliance, Taliban militants worked with allied troops, guarding the perimeter and controlling the access of civilians into the airport.

The Marines positioned a cluster of shipping containers at the end of an entry road to the gate to form what became a Taliban-controlled checkpoint. Past the checkpoint, the area around the gate had natural advantages. The long, narrow path to it was divided in the middle by a sewage ditch, which provided some measure of crowd control. Several surrounding towers offered key vantage points for American and British troops.

But the protections only held up for so long. As the numbers of people grew, more Marines were needed to form a human barrier to hold back the crowd. They were forced into a tight clump, increasing their vulnerability to attack. At the same time, they had to act as de facto immigration officers, examining documents to determine who to allow to pass through the gate into the airport. Soon, the sewage ditch was filled with desperate Afghans, holding up paperwork and pleading with the junior Marines who lined the canal wall.

A video obtained by the military showed the moment of the attack: At 5:36 p.m., a figure dressed in black took a single step out of the crowd and disappeared in a plume of smoke. A Marine in the frame was staggered by the blast wave, which traveled as far as about 50 meters, the senior military officials said.

In the moments after, investigators determined, American and British troops then fired from four positions surrounding Abbey Gate.

Two British troops fired roughly 30 warning shots into the air, the investigation found. One Marine fired four warning shots over the head of what investigators called a “suspicious individual” and said he saw him run away unharmed. Another Marine fired fewer than 30 rounds at an adult male allegedly holding an AK-47, who was positioned on a rooftop to the east.

“What they don’t see is a hostile act,” said a senior official familiar with the investigation. “They don’t see him firing.” Investigators were unable to determine who the man was or what happened to him. The investigation said it was unlikely he shot at Marines, and that if he did, he was most likely a “rogue Taliban member.”

After the gunfire ceased, Marines began to rush casualties — injured and dying Marines and civilians — into the airport for treatment. In the hurried operations that followed, military doctors assessed that many of the injured and dead had been shot. The doctors treated U.S. service members and dozens of Afghan civilians.

After consulting military medical examiners, the investigators determined the doctors were mistaken in their assessment of what they thought were gunshot wounds. None of the doctors recovered bullets from any patients. What the doctors thought were bullet holes were actually caused by ball bearings exploding from the suicide bomber’s device, the investigation concluded. Blast experts interviewed by ProPublica and Alive in Afghanistan said that these metal balls can produce wounds that look extremely similar to those caused by bullets.

ProPublica and Alive in Afghanistan spoke to six doctors from three different Kabul hospitals about their experience treating civilians in the aftermath of the attack. The doctors remained convinced that they saw wounds from bullets, not only ball bearings. All said they had the experience necessary to make the distinction, having responded to numerous terrorist attacks and firefights in their medical careers.

Their accounts suggest a potential gap in the Pentagon’s inquiry. The investigation concluded there was no evidence that civilians had been shot by anyone. But the investigators never spoke to any of the local, Kabul-based physicians who treated the majority of civilians.

Doctors with Emergency Surgical Centre, a well-regarded, Italian-run facility in Kabul that specializes in the treatment of war victims, said they received 10 people with fatal injuries from gunfire.

Eight were shot in the head or neck, they said. The others were shot in the chest. The doctors said they also treated patients with gunshot wounds.

“It was really a disaster situation,” said Dr. Mir Abdul Azim, a senior surgeon on duty that night who has worked at Emergency for 15 years. Azim did not find any bullets in his patients or the dead. But he said he could tell that the wounds were caused by bullets and not ball bearings from the shape and size of the entry and exit wounds, along with other factors such as the tissue damage he saw.

Dr. Hares Aref, a senior surgeon at Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital, one of Kabul’s largest public hospitals, said he personally operated on three patients with bullet wounds in their legs. “We had patients with bullet injury in this attack, it’s clear,” he said. Aref said that the distinction between ball bearing and bullet wounds is clear to him after witnessing multiple similar mass casualty events in Kabul. “My proof is my experience.”

Dr. Rafi Amiri, a surgeon in charge of the same hospital’s emergency department that night, described a visual inspection of dozens of dead Afghans at the hospital morgue. For many of them, he wrapped their heads in cloth, following an Afghan tradition of preparing bodies for burial. A number of them had what appeared to be gunshot wounds. “Their bodies were intact,” he said. “They only had a bullet wound to the head or the chest.”

In the interview, Amiri repeatedly cautioned that he did not conduct a forensic examination and said he was not interested at the time in determining a cause of death.

Pentagon officials dismissed doctors’ external assessments of wounds as scientifically inconclusive. Only an autopsy “could produce definitive results,” said Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesperson for U.S. Central Command.

Urban also said the ball bearings used in the bombing were almost the same size as bullets used by American troops, adding to the potential for confusion.

Dr. David King, a trauma and combat surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Trauma Center, treated victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, in which terrorists used improvised explosive devices loaded with ball bearings and nails. In an interview, he told Alive in Afghanistan and ProPublica that it was very difficult to distinguish wounds from gunshots versus ball bearings.

“As a generalization, I would say that with a high degree of confidence, looking at the hole alone, you largely, generally cannot tell the difference,” he said.

Michael Cardash, a former deputy head of the Israeli National Police Bomb Disposal Division, has examined bomb attacks for more than 30 years. In an interview, he said that some experienced war zone doctors can distinguish such wounds on sight.

“If he’s a doctor in Kabul, he has probably seen gunshot wounds before,” he said. “I would say, if he is an experienced doctor, he probably knows what he is talking about.”

The military has collected additional evidence that it says disproves allegations of a mass shooting.

The Pentagon investigators conducted interviews with 139 American and British personnel about the incident, according to Urban. “Not a single individual described wanton or reckless shooting post attack,” he said.

While there were “a small number of inconsistencies in the sworn testimony of some of the witnesses interviewed,” Urban said, investigators attributed them to the inexperience of some Marines and the effects of the blast, which left nearby troops disoriented or concussed.

Military officials showed drone footage of the blast site to ProPublica and Alive in Afghanistan reporters. Asked why there was no overhead video of the gate at the time of the blast, the officials said it was because drones were monitoring the airstrip and other “classified threats.” They declined to elaborate. The footage starts three minutes later. The camera bounces between Abbey Gate and other locations around the airport. When it focuses on the gate, no gunfire is clearly visible.

“While this video is not definitive proof that no one was shot during periods of time when the scene was not observed by overhead cameras, they did conclusively demonstrate that the scene of the explosion was not the site of a mass shooting,” Urban said. “Such an incident would have caused panicked fleeing that continued long after the shooting ended and the likes of which were never observed by any video.”

The investigators’ findings are substantially different from the Pentagon’s initial version of events. The day of the bombing, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the leader of Central Command, said that Islamic State gunmen fired at Marines and the crowd. Three weeks later, Maj. Ben Sutphen, operations officer for the battalion at the gate, appeared on CBS News with his own firsthand account.

“He’s blown off his feet,” Sutphen said of a corporal under his command who was knocked over by the blast. “Shot through the shoulder, immediately recovers his weapon and puts the opposing gunman down.”

Urban said Sutphen’s account was “based upon the events as they were shared with him as opposed to his recollection of the events” and that he later told investigators “he may not have been remembering the event correctly.” Urban also said that people close to a bombing can suffer concussions that impair their recall, and thus can “unconsciously” use secondhand information “to fill in the gaps of their memory.”

REVEALED: Kimberly Guilfoyle bragged about raising millions for Jan. 6 rally

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Series: The Insurrection

The Effort to Overturn the Election

Kimberly Guilfoyle, a top fundraiser for former President Donald Trump and the girlfriend of his son Donald Trump Jr., boasted to a GOP operative that she had raised $3 million for the rally that helped fuel the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

In a series of text messages sent on Jan. 4 to Katrina Pierson, the White House liaison to the event, Guilfoyle detailed her fundraising efforts and supported a push to get far-right speakers on the stage alongside Trump for the rally, which sought to overturn the election of President Joe Biden.

Guilfoyle's texts, reviewed by ProPublica, represent the strongest indication yet that members of the Trump family circle were directly involved in the financing and organization of the rally. The attack on the Capitol that followed it left five dead and scores injured.

A House select committee investigating the events of Jan. 6 has subpoenaed more than 30 Trump allies for testimony and documents, including Pierson and Caroline Wren, a former deputy to Guilfoyle. But Guilfoyle herself has so far not received any official scrutiny from Congress.

Guilfoyle's attorney, Joe Tacopina, denied that Guilfoyle had anything to do with fundraising or approving speakers. He said the text from Guilfoyle “did not relate to the Save America rally" on Jan. 6 and the “content of the message itself" was “inaccurate" and “taken out of context." He did not respond to additional questions asking about the accuracy and context of the message.

Reached by phone, Pierson declined to comment.

The text messages show that Guilfoyle expressed specific concerns that she might not be allowed to speak on stage at the Jan. 6 rally. Pierson responded that Trump himself set the speaking lineup and that it was limited to people he selected, including some of his children and Amy Kremer, a grassroots activist who organized the event.

Guilfoyle replied that she only wanted to introduce Trump Jr. and had "raised so much money for this."

"Literally one of my donors Julie at 3 million," she added.

Guilfoyle was referring to Julie Jenkins Fancelli, a Publix supermarket heir who Guilfoyle had developed a professional relationship with during the campaign.

Until now, Wren has been the only person identified as having worked with Fancelli. As ProPublica reported last month, Wren also boasted in private conversations with colleagues of raising $3 million for the events of Jan. 6.

It remains unclear whether that amount was really raised and, if so, how the majority of it was spent. Some of the money raised from Fancelli flowed to dark money groups that supported the rally, according to wire transfers described to ProPublica, planning documents and interviews with insiders.

In a statement from her attorney, Wren acknowledged helping to produce the rally but did not provide further details about her role in fundraising.

“To Ms. Wren's knowledge, Kimberly Guilfoyle had no involvement in raising funds for any events on January 6th," the statement said. “They were both present at a peaceful rally with hundreds of thousands of Americans who were in DC to lawfully exercise their first amendment rights, a primary pillar of American democracy."

The texts between Guilfoyle and Pierson and interviews with Trump officials also suggest that Guilfoyle attempted to influence the lineup of speakers scheduled to appear at the event.

On the night of Jan. 5, Trump Jr., Guilfoyle and Wren attended an event at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, where Trump donors mingled with prominent figures in the movement to overturn the election, according to interviews and social media posts from attendees.

Around the time of that event, Wren called rally staff and urged them to allow speaking roles for Ali Alexander, a far-right provocateur and leader of the Stop the Steal movement; Roger Stone, a former Trump advisor; and conspiracy theorist and InfoWars leader Alex Jones, according to a former campaign official who was told details of the call by people who listened to it.

Trump aides had already deemed the men too radical to go on stage, worrying they might embarrass the president.

During the call, Guilfoyle voiced her support for the controversial speakers, the former campaign official was told. She also specifically demanded that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who had sued to challenge election results in four other states, address the crowd. Alexander later said on a newscast that he also received a call from Guilfoyle that same evening.

Tacopina, Guilfoyle's lawyer, said she did not urge staffers to change the speakers. "Your contention that Ms. Guilfoyle approved a speaking list for January 6th is patently false," he wrote. He threatened to “aggressively pursue all legal remedies available" against ProPublica.

But the texts show Guilfoyle and Pierson talking about a “leaked" speaking list — an apparent reference to an article about the Jan. 6 rally published by the conservative news website Breitbart the day before.

That list included Alexander, Stone and Paxton, among others.

“All I know is that someone leaked a list of 'speakers' that the WH had not seen or approved," Pierson wrote. “I've never had so much interference."

Guilfoyle responded: “Yea and this the list we approved."

Tacopina did not answer further questions about what Guilfoyle meant in the text where she said "we" had approved a speaking list.

Untangling the relationship between Guilfoyle, Wren and Fancelli is key to understanding the financing of the events of Jan. 6.

In January 2020, Guilfoyle was appointed national chair of the Trump Victory finance committee, a leading fundraising vehicle for Trump's reelection campaign. She brought Wren on as her deputy.

Guilfoyle, through her relationship with Trump Jr., had access to the family and a certain star power that appealed to donors. Wren, by all accounts a relentless, high-energy worker, brought fundraising expertise and a Rolodex of wealthy Republicans willing to invest handsomely to keep Trump in office. The duo ultimately brought in tens of millions of dollars toward Trump's reelection.

The pair focused primarily on ramping up the campaign's “bundling" program, a method of fundraising that relies on volunteers collecting money from their personal networks.

Fancelli, a reclusive member of one of the country's richest families, was one of those volunteers, according to interviews and internal Trump Victory records. Splitting her time between Florida and Italy, Fancelli raised at least $72,000 from her friends and family.

She stood out to Wren and Guilfoyle, who in 2020 considered her for a role as Florida state co-chair for the bundling program, according to an internal Trump Victory planning document reviewed by ProPublica. The document highlighted Fancelli as a person Guilfoyle should contact personally.

Tacopina said Guilfoyle had never seen any such document "nor is aware of its supposed existence."

On or just before July 14, 2020, Guilfoyle called Fancelli directly, according to a different set of text messages reviewed by ProPublica. The next day, Fancelli made her largest federal political contribution to date, according to campaign finance records: $250,000 to Trump Victory.

By election night, she had chipped in $565,000 more, records show.

Tacopina did not address the July 2020 phone call in his statement and did not respond to questions about Guilfoyle's relationship with Fancelli. Fancelli did not respond to requests for comment.

After the election, Wren became the main fundraising consultant for a newly formed super PAC run by two of Trump Jr.'s closest aides. The super PAC, called “Save the US Senate PAC," placed ads starring Trump Jr. in which he encouraged Georgians to vote Republican in the bitterly contested runoff elections that would result in Democratic control of the Senate.

That PAC was primarily funded by LJ Management Services Inc., a company closely linked to Fancelli's family foundation. It gave $800,000 to the PAC in several installments, records show.

In late December, Wren became involved in the rally preparations for Jan. 6.

Wren told multiple organizers interviewed by ProPublica that she was carrying out the wishes of the Trump family. Some believed her and feared that defying her would upset the Trumps. Others suspected she was exaggerating.

“Caroline kept talking about her connections to Don Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle," said Cindy Chafian, a rally organizer who told ProPublica she was put in touch with Wren and Fancelli by Alex Jones. “I thought she was full of crap."

As ProPublica previously reported, Wren told Dustin Stockton, another rally organizer, that she had raised $3 million for Jan. 6 and “parked" funds with three Republican dark money groups supporting the rally.

In one case, Wren routed roughly $150,000 from Fancelli to the Republican Attorneys General Association's Rule of Law Defense Fund, which then purchased a robocall instructing Trump supporters to come to Washington and march on the Capitol after the president's speech. The robocall was purchased in order to satisfy the conditions of the donation, a person familiar with the transaction told ProPublica.

ProPublica also reported that Wren had pressured rally organizers to allow Jones and other far-right leaders to speak on stage before the president. The effort grew so intense and volatile that on the morning of Jan. 6, a senior White House official suggested rally organizers call the U.S. Park Police on Wren to have her escorted off the Ellipse. Officers arrived but took no action. Wren has previously declined to comment on the incident.

Around the same time, Guilfoyle sat with Trump and other members of his inner circle in the Oval Office and discussed the growing throngs outside, according to The Washington Post. “They're just reflecting the will of the people," she reportedly told the president. “This is the will of the people."

On stage later that morning, Guilfoyle gave a rousing speech introducing Trump Jr. “We will not allow the liberals and the Democrats to steal our dream or steal our elections," Guilfoyle told the crowd.

Trump Jr. then exhorted the crowd to send a message to the Republican members of Congress who “did nothing to stop the steal."

Trump Jr. did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

Jones and Alexander left the rally early. Wren escorted the men away from the White House as they prepared to lead the march on the Capitol.

As the Capitol plunged into chaos later that day — police officers outnumbered and overrun, lawmakers huddled behind makeshift bunkers, tear gas enshrouding the building — Guilfoyle boarded a private jet.

She was off to Florida with at least two major Trump donors, Nebraska gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster and California entrepreneur Richard Kofoed, who had chartered the jet. The plane left Dulles International Airport at 3:47 p.m., according to aviation records. It dropped Herbster off on Florida's Amelia Island before heading for West Palm Beach. Wren listed both Kofoed and Herbster as her VIPs for the rally in planning documents. Planning documents show Cassidy Kofoed, Richard Kofoed's 23-year-old daughter, also worked with Wren on preparations for Jan. 6.

Herbster confirmed that he was on board the plane with Guilfoyle. Richard and Cassidy Kofoed did not respond to requests for comment.

In response to questions about the flight, Tacopina said that Guilfoyle lived with Kofoed and his wife at a rented property in Mar-a-Lago from approximately December 2020 through July 2021.

Guilfoyle has continued her role as a major Trump fundraiser. In October, she was put at the helm of Trump's super PAC, called Make America Great Again, Again!