In a move that marks a turning point in the Jan. 6 committee’s investigation, the panel voted Thursday to subpoena former President Donald Trump over his role in the Capitol attack.
“We need to hear from him,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the chair of the select committee, said moments before the vote. “It is our obligation to seek Donald Trump’s testimony.”
The vote, which was unanimous among the bipartisan nine-member panel, could set up a virtually unprecedented confrontation. Going back more than a century, only four former Presidents have testified before Congressional committees, according to research conducted by the Senate, but all did so on a voluntary basis—not under a subpoena.
Rep. Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming and the vice chair of the committee, offered the motion to subpoena the President at the end of the hearing, saying such a move was necessary for both Congress and the American people to hear from the man at the center of a deadly assault on American democracy. “Our duty today is to our country and our children and our Constitution,” she said. “We are obligated to seek answers directly from the man who set this all in motion.”
The vote came at the conclusion of the Jan. 6 panel’s ninth investigative hearing and its first since August, and as the committee is winding down its work. The panel is preparing to publish its final report sometime this fall, which will lay out its findings in narrative detail and put forth proposals to thwart any future insurrections or attempted coups. The House resolution establishing the select committee says it’s to be terminated 30 days after issuing the report. Trump is currently the subject of numerous investigations, including a federal probe related to his activities on Jan. 6, 2021, by the Justice Department.
Soon after Thursday’s historic vote, Trump mocked the move and, in particular, its timing. “Why didn’t the Unselect Committee ask me to testify months ago?” Trump wrote on his social media platform Truth Social, adding, “Because the Committee is a total ‘BUST’ that has only further served to divide our Country which, by the way, is doing very badly.”
Much of the new testimony and material unveiled on Thursday corroborated evidence that the panel has previously divulged to the public, including that senior officials repeatedly told Trump that his claims of voter fraud were false, and that he planned to declare victory no matter the outcome.
Committee members shared that one of Trump’s top campaign aides, Brad Parscale, testified that the former President said as early as July 2020 that he intended to say he won the election, even if he lost. The panel also disclosed a memo from Tim Fitton, president of the right-wing group Judicial Watch, that outlined a plan for Trump to declare victory regardless of the will of the voters.
In an email, sent on Oct. 31, 2020, Fitton suggested that Trump say, “The ballots counted by the Election Day deadline show the American people have bestowed on me the great honor of re-election to President of the United States — the deadline by which voters in states across the country must choose a President.” He went on, “We had an election today — and I won.”
Trump encouraged his supporters to vote in person on Election Day and discouraged them from voting by mail. This created a so-called red mirage that showed Trump leading in key swing states by Election Night, but before the counting of mail ballots, which were mostly cast by Democrats. According to aides, Trump worked to engineer such a scenario so that he could say he won prematurely and then sue to stop the counting of absentee ballots.
Read more: The Jan. 6 Committee Returns With One Viewer in Mind: Merrick Garland
The Jan. 6 committee also played footage of longtime Trump ally and notorious political trickster Roger Stone, who advocated for preventing the transfer of power by force before Election Day. “I say, f-ck the voting, let’s get right to the violence,” he told allies on Nov. 2, 2020, days before the election. “I really do suspect it’ll still be up in the air,” he added. “When that happens, the key thing to do is to claim victory. Possession is nine-tenths of the law. No, we won. F-ck you.”
Around the same time Trump and his associates were conspiring to hold on to power, Trump privately admitted that he lost, according to multiple former administration officials, including his communications strategist Jason Miller and White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson.
The committee also revealed a directive that Trump signed days after the election to pull American military forces from Somalia and Afghanistan as another piece of “key evidence” that he knew the election was over.
“Knowing he was leaving office, he acted immediately and signed this order on Nov. 11, which would have required the immediate withdrawal of troops from Somalia and Afghanistan, all to be completed before the Biden inauguration on Jan. 20,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois. Trump’s order was never executed.
The panel showed taped testimony from Hutchinson who said that Trump was irate after the Supreme Court declined to hear his case challenging the election outcome. “The President is just raging about the decision,” she said, describing it as one of his “typical anger outbursts.”
She went on to say that Trump told her direct superior, former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, something to the effect of “I don’t want people to know we lost, Mark. This is embarrassing. Figure it out. I don’t want the people to know we lost.”
“POTUS is livid”
Some of the most revealing new information presented Thursday came from a tranche of nearly one million emails, recordings, and other electronic records that the panel obtained from the Secret Service, according to Rep. Adam Schiff, Democrat of California. The new evidence confirmed that the agency had multiple warnings that the crowd that planned to come to Washington that day was likely to be armed and geared toward violence.
“Secret Service had advanced information more than 10 days beforehand regarding the Proud Boys planning for Jan. 6,” Schiff said. “We know now of course that the Proud Boys and others did lead the assault on our Capitol building.”
There was also a stream of messages on an online forum that foreshadowed an attack on the Capitol, including that “gallows don’t require electricity” and “patriots will be there, armed to the teeth.” One user posted that, “‘Our lawmakers’ in Congress can leave one or two ways: 1. in a bodybag. 2. after rightfully certifying Trump the winner.”
One Secret Service email corroborated Hutchinson’s explosive testimony over the summer that Trump was fuming when agents wouldn’t drive him to the Capitol after he had directed his supporters to march to the Capitol. “POTUS is livid,” the email said.
The revelations came after a public spat between the committee and the Secret Service this summer, when the agency said it had inadvertently deleted text messages from the days around Jan. 6, citing a technical glitch from a system migration.
One of the most harrowing moments of the Jan. 6 committee’s ninth hearing was when it showed previously unseen documentary footage of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers on that day, as they hid in a secure location.
“Do you believe this?” Pelosi said, after hearing that legislators still trapped in the chamber were putting on gas masks.
The video further showed Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pleading with top officials in the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense to send reinforcements, and Pelosi calling then-Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to authorize the deployment of the state’s national guard. The segment underscored the acute sense of fear that members of Congress felt for their personal safety as rioters stormed the building.
When the committee ended the hearing Thursday afternoon, it remained an open question whether it would be the last one. Thompson has previously said that the panel had no other hearings planned. But committee members had for months said they would conclude their presentation to the public with one or more hearings focused exclusively on their recommendations to prevent a similar attack in the future. And several of them said Thursday that they intended to unveil more evidence of witness tampering.
Cheney, in particular, invoked an ominous warning over what could one day unfold if the country didn’t take substantive action to safeguard American democracy.
“Our institutions only hold when men and women make them hold, regardless of the political cost,” she said. “We have no guarantee that these men and women will be in place the next time any future President is inclined to attempt what Donald Trump did in 2020.”
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