President Donald Trump refused multiple pleas from those in his inner circle on Jan. 6, 2021, to call off the escalating violence at the Capitol, a “dereliction of his duty” that amounted to a “supreme violation of his oath of office,” the Jan. 6 committee asserted Thursday evening in the last of eight hearings that have expanded the country’s understanding of the riot and how it happened.
Throughout the latest hearing, former Trump administration staffers testified both in person and in videotaped depositions about how they urged Trump that day to make a public statement condemning the Capitol assault, and how he instead watched the riot unfold for more than three hours on Fox News from the dining room off the Oval Office.
At one point, former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone recounted for committee investigators all the officials who asked Trump to try to quell the violence on Jan. 6, including White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, White House lawyer Eric Herschmann, Deputy White House Counsel Patrick Philbin, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, National Security official Keith Kellogg, and Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
When asked whether Trump was among those who didn’t want to call off the attack, Cipollone said: “I can’t reveal communications, but obviously, I think, you know, yeah.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois, who led questioning of the hearing with Rep. Elaine Luria, Democrat of Virginia, said Cipollone’s testimony revealed that Trump simply did not want to convince the mob to stop the attack aimed at blocking Joe Biden’s election victory. “There’s no ambiguity in what he said,” Kinzinger said. “Almost everybody wanted Trump to instruct the mob to disperse. Trump refused.”
The committee offered a minute-by-minute breakdown Thursday night of the 187 minutes when the Capitol was besieged, chronicling a harrowing day for lawmakers and law enforcement who feared for their lives as the rioters breached the halls of Congress.
An unnamed White House security official—whose voice was altered to protect their identity—told the committee in taped deposition that the scene was so volatile that “there were calls to say goodbye to family members” from those on Vice President Mike Pence’s Secret Service detail around the time he was escorted out of the Senate chamber to a secure location. “The vice president’s detail thought this was about to get very ugly,” the official said.
It was one of several times the panel chose to highlight how fearful many of those in the Capitol were during the attack. In a rare moment that elicited laughs from the hearing room’s audience, the committee showed security footage of Sen. Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, running from the mob, hours after he had helped whip up some of Trump’s supporters outside the Capitol.
The panel also aired testimony from members of the Trump White House detailing the protracted efforts of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to get Trump to ask his supporters to stop their assault on Congress. At first, McCarthy called the president, who didn’t follow through on his requests. Then, he tried members of Trump’s family, such as Kushner, hoping they could get through to him. “I got the sense they were scared,” Kushner testified. “He was scared, yes.”
Other members of Trump’s administration recalled how the President called senators on Jan. 6 to press them not to certify the Electoral College count, and how he refused to call in any law enforcement assets when the Capitol was under siege. Ultimately, Pence called Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller to send the National Guard and other resources to restore order on Capitol Hill.
The panel had two witnesses testify in person: former National Security Council official Matthew Pottinger and former Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Matthews. Both were members of the Trump White House who left the administration in response to Trump’s actions on Jan. 6. Matthews told the panel that she encountered only one member of the White House staff, whom she didn’t name, who didn’t want to condemn the violence because they thought it would be “handing a win to the media.” Irate, Matthews pointed to the television and told her colleagues, “Does it look like we’re effing winning?” She resigned from her White House post that day.
Much of the hearing focused on Trump’s power over his supporters who stormed the Capitol. The panel showed communications from rioters responding to Trump’s communications in real time. After the president’s infamous 2:24 p.m. tweet, in which he criticized Pence for not having the “courage” to block Biden’s win, a far-right activist texted his fellow insurrectionists, “POTUS is not ignorant of what his words would do.”
Later, the committee reviewed how Trump eventually filmed a video in the Rose Garden asking his supporters to go home, but only after it was clear that their attempt to stop Biden’s election certification was destined to fail. Within minutes, his supporters saw his video and left the Capitol, according to footage shown by the panel. “He says to go home,” one rioter said. “That’s our order.”
At the end of the day, after the Capitol was secure, Trump left the West Wing for the residence. An unnamed White House official recalled how Trump spoke to them before retiring for the night. The President did not bring up the attack, but instead lamented the vice president’s unwillingness to go along with his scheme. “Mike Pence let me down,” Trump said.
In one of the most striking moments of Thursday’s hearing, the committee aired never-before-seen outtake footage of Trump on Jan. 7, 2021, the day after the attack, in which he still could not bring himself to admit he lost the election. “I can’t say that,” he bellowed, referring to the written script displayed on the teleprompter. “I don’t want to say the election’s over.”
The House committee used part of the hearing to back up part of the explosive testimony of former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said that Trump desperately wanted to march to the Capitol with his supporters on Jan. 6 after his rally at the Ellipse. Some Secret Service officials questioned Hutchinson’s version of events, particularly that Trump attempted to grab the steering wheel. The panel aired portions of a deposition from Sgt. Mark Robinson of the Metropolitan Police Department, who said he was informed that “the president was upset and was adamant about going to the Capitol and that there was a heated discussion about that” once he got into the motorcade following his speech.
Thursday’s hearing came amid a separate public spat with the Secret Service over deleted text messages in the days around Jan. 6, which the agency has said it can no longer retrieve because of a technical glitch from a system migration. The committee’s chairman, Rep. Benny Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi, and its vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, have suggested the lost messages could amount to a violation of the Federal Records Act.
Earlier hearings have revealed how Trump continued to insist he won the election even after multiple White House advisers told him that wasn’t true, and how Trump pressured Pence to reject Biden’s Electoral College victory. Others focused on Trump’s attempts to coerce state election officials to decertify Biden’s victories, and on the ways he tried to corrupt the Justice Department to help overturn the election. An abruptly scheduled session late last month was devoted to Hutchinson, who testified that the Secret Service told Trump on Jan. 6 that many of his supporters were heavily armed but he told them to go to the Capitol anyway, a revelation that some former prosecutors have argued opens him up to criminal liability. The former president also wanted to march with them to the Capitol, despite Cipollone saying Trump would be “charged with every crime imaginable” if he did, Hutchinson testified.
The hearing Thursday evening was the panel’s eighth so far this year. Committee members had billed it as a kind of season finale to the first tranche of public hearings, leaving open the possibility of more to come as the investigation yields additional information. The committee is also preparing to hold one or two hearings in September when it releases its preliminary report with recommendations for how to avoid a similar coup attempt in the future.
Committee members characterized everything that had been presented thus far as a damning portrait of the former president’s culpability. “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,” Kinzinger said. “It is a stain on our history. It is a dishonor to all those who have sacrificed and died in the service of our democracy.”
Luria invoked President Abraham Lincoln, who 23 years before the Civil war warned, “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.” She went on, “Trump was the author” of this attack on democracy. “And we the people, for ourselves and our posterity, should not let Donald Trump be the finisher.”
Thompson and Cheney both made clear that the committee’s investigation was not over, and that more hearings would be scheduled. “Our committee will spend August pursuing emerging information on multiple fronts,” Cheney said in her opening statement.
At the end of the nearly three-hour hearing, she added, “See you in September.”
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