The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack detailed former President Trump’s “complete dereliction of duty” as he ignored pleas to condemn the violence and call off the mob from his White House Counsel, top aides and members of his own family.
“This man of unbridled destructive energy could not be moved, not by his aides, not by his allies, not by the violent chants of rioters, or the desperate pleas of those facing down the rioters,” said Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., during Thursday’s prime-time hearing.
The Democrat-led committee shed light on the much-talked about but still murky 187 minutes that stretched from his speech to his supporters at 1:10 p.m. ET to his 4:17 p.m. ET video statement asking them to return home.
The hearing, led by military veterans Reps. Elaine Luria, D-Va., and Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., used witness testimony to piece together Trump’s actions the afternoon of Jan. 6, as there was not an official call log from the White House that afternoon and nothing included in the presidential daily diary.
“The chief White House photographer wanted to take pictures because it was, in her words, ‘very important for his archives and for history.’ But she was told: ‘no photographs’,” Luria said.
White House counsel and White House officials testified that Trump did not make any calls to the secretary of defense, the attorney general or the secretary of homeland security during the siege.
Although the White House call logs are empty, Trump lawyer and ally Rudy Giuliani’s call logs show at least two calls between him and the president that day. The committee also noted that other Trump calls that day are known, including several to Republican senators to urge them to delay the certification of Biden’s win.
‘I’ve seen the impact that his words have on his supporters’
A major theme from the hearing was how much television the former president consumed as the chaos and violence unfolded.
“President Trump sat in his dining room and watched the attack on television while his senior-most staff closest advisers and family members begged him to do what is expected of any American president,” Luria said. “When lives and our democracy hung in the balance, President Trump refused to act because of his selfish desire to stay in power.”
The committee played video clips of news coverage from Fox News, to show what Trump watched in real time as he tuned in from his dining room, just off from the Oval Office. He watched as his supporters, donning red caps and chanting his name, overwhelmed and outnumbered police as they flooded the Capitol grounds and attempted to breach the Capitol.
At 1:49 p.m. ET, just as D.C. police were declaring a riot at the Capitol, Trump tweeted out a video of his speech at the Ellipse earlier that day and did not comment on the violence.
Kizinger noted that between 1:49 and 2:24, when Trump posted a subsequent tweet, “staff repeatedly came into the room to see him and plead that he make a strong public statement condemning the violence and instructing the mob to leave the Capitol.”
The panel shared video testimony from top advisers and his children imploring Trump to call off the attack.
Cassidy Hutchinson, a former White House staffer, has previously testified to a conversation between White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
“I remember [Cipollone] saying something to the effect of, ‘Mark we need to do something more. They’re literally calling for the vice president to be effing hung.’
Hutchinson recalled Meadow responding: ‘You heard him Pat, he thinks Mike deserves it, he doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.’ “
Trump eventually relented to calls from his aides and allies and recorded a video in the Rose Garden late that afternoon to tell his supporters to leave the Capitol.
The committee shared a draft of his remarks, which read: “I’m asking for you to leave the Capitol region now and go home in a peaceful way.”
But in the video, Trump went off script, and didn’t say those words. Instead, he repeated his false claim that the election was stolen and praised the rioters, saying, “Go home, we love you.”
Thursday’s witnesses were Trump aides who resigned following Jan. 6
Testifying live Thursday were Matthew Pottinger, Trump’s deputy national security adviser at the time, and Sarah Matthews, Trump’s deputy press secretary. The pair resigned following the events of Jan. 6, dismayed by what they deemed an inadequate response from the president at quelling the violence.
Matthews recalled the 2:24 p.m. ET tweet from Trump that read, in part: “Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done.”
“I thought that the tweet about the vice president was the last thing that was needed in that moment. And I remember thinking that this was going to be bad for him to tweet this because it was essentially him giving the green light to these people telling them that what they were doing at the Capitol and entering the Capitol was OK, that they were justified in their anger,” said Matthews, who described herself as a “life-long Republican”.
She added that as a Trump campaign aide, she had seen the impact his words had on his supporters. “They truly latch on to every word and every tweet that he says, and so I think that in that moment for him to tweet out the message about Mike Pence, it was him pouring gasoline on the fire,” she said.
Matthews said White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told her “in a hushed tone” that Trump “did not want to include any sort of mention of peace in that tweet.”
She said McEnany told her “it took some convincing on their part those who were in the room and she said that there was a back and forth going over different phrases to find something that he was comfortable with, and it wasn’t until Ivanka Trump suggested the phrase ‘stay peaceful’, that he finally agreed to include it.”
Pottinger said he was “disturbed” by Trump’s tweet attacking Pence and that it was “the opposite of what we really needed in that moment which was a de-escalation.”
The panel described one of Trump’s final interactions on Jan. 6, as he departed the White House dining room at 6:27 p.m. ET to go to the residence.
“As he was gathering his things in the dining room to leave, President Trump reflected on the day’s events with an unnamed White House employee,” Kinzinger said, adding the employee recalled Trump saying: “Mike Pence let me down.”
What comes next?
In his closing statement, Kinzinger said Trump abandoned his responsibilities as commander-in-chief on Jan. 6.
“Whatever your politics, whatever you think about the outcome of the election, we as Americans must all agree on this: Donald Trump’s conduct on Jan. 6 was a supreme violation of his oath of office and a complete dereliction of his duty to our nation,” he said. “It is a dishonor to all those who have sacrificed and died in service of our democracy.”
He said when the committee releases its report, it will recommend “changes to laws and policies to guard against another January 6.”