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Thursday’s primetime hearing of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol shined an unflattering light on then-President Donald Trump’s reaction to the violent riot waged by his supporters.
Committee members Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., and Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., walked viewers through a minute-by-minute recap of how Trump spent the hours that the riot raged, relying heavily on testimony from a variety of witnesses who were in the White House that day, including former national security adviser Matthew Pottinger and former White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews, both of whom testified in person on Capitol Hill.
The gripping presentation focused on the 187 minutes between the end of Trump’s Jan. 6 speech at the Ellipse, south of the White House, at around 1:10 p.m., and when he finally released a videotaped statement, at 4:17 p.m., in which he grudgingly urged his supporters to leave the Capitol.
Kinzinger and Luria made the case that the violent attack on the Capitol was the culmination of Trump’s multistep effort to remain in power despite having lost the 2020 election, and that his failure to call off the mob intent on blocking the certification of the Electoral College votes showing Joe Biden had won was a deliberate choice.
By effectively delaying the electoral vote count by several hours, Kinzinger said, “the mob was accomplishing President Trump’s purpose, so of course he did not intervene.”
“On Jan. 6, when lives and our democracy hung in the balance, President Trump refused to act because of his selfish desire to stay in power,” said Luria.
Using a combination of live and videotaped testimony, text messages sent by Trump allies, and phone transcripts from those demanding that Trump call off his supporters, the committee filled in the gaps on how Trump spent that fateful afternoon on Jan. 6. Here are some of the most shocking revelations.
Inaction at the Capitol
Luria said the committee’s investigation found that Trump knew the Capitol was under attack within 15 minutes of leaving the stage following his rally at the Ellipse. And yet, she said, from 1:25 p.m. until shortly after 4 p.m., he remained in the White House dining room watching the siege unfold on Fox News.
Witnesses who were at the White House during that period described how advisers, allies on Capitol Hill and the president’s own children repeatedly urged Trump to make a statement condemning the violence and telling his supporters to leave the Capitol.
But instead of heading to the White House briefing room to record such a message, Luria said, Trump was busy making calls to senators, encouraging them to object to the Electoral College certification.
It was only after the Defense Department had mobilized the entire National Guard, elected officials had been moved to secure locations and the failure of the insurrection was apparent that “Trump finally relented” and tweeted a video at 4:17 p.m. telling the rioters to go home, Luria said.
Witnesses refuted a number of Trump’s key talking points
Trump has repeatedly insisted, without evidence, that prior to Jan. 6 he offered to send 20,000 National Guard troops to secure the Capitol that day but that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to accept the offer. Hours before Thursday’s hearing got underway, Trump repeated that assertion on his social media platform, Truth Social. But the select committee swiftly knocked down the claim, showing clips from interviews with multiple former White House staffers, including White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Gen. Keith Kellogg, who served as national security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence. Both stated definitively that they were not aware that Trump issued orders to send the National Guard or any other law enforcement personnel to the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The committee also introduced testimony from two new witnesses who confirmed some details from the testimony of former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who previously testified that she had been told about an alleged altercation between Trump and his Secret Service detail after he was told it would not be safe for him to join his supporters at the Capitol following his speech at the Ellipse on Jan. 6. Thursday night's witnesses, however, did not confirm details about Trump's alleged actions during the altercation.
Hutchinson said she heard about the altercation, which involved Trump grabbing for the steering wheel of his presidential vehicle and lunging at Secret Service agent Robert Engel. Trump has forcefully denied the account, but on Thursday Luria revealed that the panel has since obtained “evidence from multiple sources regarding an angry exchange in the presidential SUV, including testimony we will disclose today from two witnesses who confirmed that a confrontation occurred.”
One witness, who Luria described as “a former White House employee with national security responsibilities,” said they also were told by Engel and former White House deputy chief of staff Anthony Ornato that Trump was “irate” when he was told he could not go to the Capitol.
The other witness, retired D.C. Metropolitan Police Sgt. Mark Robinson, was assigned to Trump’s motorcade on Jan. 6 and sat in the lead vehicle with a Secret Service agent, also known as a “T.S. agent.” In a filmed interview played at the hearing, Robinson told the committee that the T.S. agent told him that “the president was upset,” that he’d been “adamant about going to the Capitol” and that “there was a heated discussion about that.”
Trump’s supporters reacted to his tweets in real time
Throughout the hearing, Kinzinger and Luria wove together testimony about Trump’s inaction at the White House, the efforts by others to convince him to issue a statement condemning the rioters, and video footage of the violence unfolding at the Capitol to show how all these aspects influenced the others.
Some of the starkest examples of this were video and audio clips showing how members of the mob reacted in real time to tweets Trump sent that day, demonstrating, as Matthews said, “the impact that his words have on his supporters.”
In particular, the committee showed footage of rioters reacting angrily to Trump’s 2:24 p.m. tweet criticizing Pence for refusing to go along with the illegal plot to block the certification of some Biden electors. Later it played a recording of walkie-talkie communications between members of the far-right group the Oath Keepers, some of whom were inside the Capitol, reading a subsequent tweet in which Trump urged the mob to “stay peaceful” and to “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement.”
“He didn’t say not to do anything to the congressmen,” a person on the recording is heard saying in response to Trump’s tweet. “He didn’t ask them to stand down.”
Trump’s supporters were similarly receptive when he finally did issue the video statement at 4:17 telling them to go home. In footage shot at the Capitol shortly after that tweet was sent, the rioter known as the QAnon Shaman is seen yelling: “I’m here delivering the president’s message. Donald Trump is asking us to go home,” as others in the crowd watch the president’s video statement on their phones.
The committee also played a clip of testimony given last week by Stephen Ayres, an Ohio man who was charged with participating in the riot, who said he and others at the Capitol began to disperse as soon as Trump’s video message from the Rose Garden came out.
Trump refused to stick to the script
Even after Trump finally gave in to his allies’ pleas to call off the mob and condemn the violence at the Capitol, he struggled to stick to the scripts that staffers had written for him to read on camera. The committee played never-before-seen outtakes from two video messages — one filmed on Jan. 6 in the Rose Garden and a second shot on Jan. 7 in the White House. In both, Trump veered from the script, struggled to condemn those who had stormed the Capitol and continued to assert his false claims of a stolen election.
In a particularly telling outtake from the Jan. 7 message, Trump refused to acknowledge that his options for staying in power had been exhausted.
“This election is now over. Congress has certified the results,” he said before stopping. “I don’t want to say the election is over. I want to say Congress has certified the results without saying the election is over, OK?”
Pence’s Secret Service detail feared for their lives
The committee played chilling testimony from an anonymous White House security official who described hearing “disturbing” radio communications from members of Pence’s Secret Service detail while the Capitol was under siege, before Pence and his family had been moved to a secure location.
“Members of the VP’s detail at this time were starting to fear for their own lives,” said the official, whose voice and identity were shielded to protect him. “They’re screaming, saying things like ‘Say goodbye to family.’”
There will be more hearings to come
Thursday’s presentation marked the eighth in the series of public hearings the select committee has held this summer to share the findings of its ongoing investigation into the attack on the Capitol. Though the primetime hearing had previously been billed as a “finale” of sorts, the committee’s leaders confirmed Thursday that the panel plans to reconvene again in September to share more of the findings it has continued to uncover since it began this round of hearings last month.
“Our committee understands the gravity of this moment and the consequences for our nation,” the panel’s vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said in her closing statement Thursday. “We have much work yet to do, and we will see you all in September.”