WASHINGTON — The House committee investigating Donald Trump’s attempted coup to remain in power wrapped up its summer series of public hearings Thursday night, going through a minute-by-minute account of his refusal to tell the violent mob he had called to the U.S. Capitol to stand down.
“Donald Trump’s conduct on Jan. 6 was a supreme violation of his oath of office and a complete dereliction of his duty,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican. “It is a stain on our history.”
Kinzinger pointed out that Trump did not send out his eventual message telling his followers to go home until 4:17 p.m. EST that day, when it was clear that his effort to pressure Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers to simply declare him the winner of the 2020 presidential had failed and that law enforcement officers were regaining control of the building.
Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican and the committee’s vice chair, went back through evidence from the previous seven hearings, including Trump’s claims that millions of illegal votes were counted, that voting machines were somehow controlled by a foreign power and that election workers had manipulated the totals with data off of flash drives.
“All complete nonsense,” she said. “We cannot abandon the truth and remain a free nation.”
The committee members, absent chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who attended the meeting remotely after coming down with COVID-19, filed into the room and face witnesses Sarah Matthews and Matt Pottinger, two former Trump White House aides who were both in the White House on Jan. 6, 2021.
Cheney presided over the hearing, gaveling it into session at 8:01 p.m. Eastern time in the soaring-ceilinged Cannon Caucus Room, packed with extra rows of seats to accommodate the heightened interest.
She immediately announced that because of the new information the committee has been receiving and progress with litigation, the panel would resume hearings in September. “The dam has begun to break,” Cheney said.
The committee began with confirmation of some of the most dramatic testimony by former top White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson about an irate Trump in the presidential SUV demanding that his Secret Service detail take him to the Capitol so he could lead his followers.
The committee presented a portion of a deposition from an unnamed security official who met with the same people Hutchinson met with and got a similar account. A video clip of testimony from retired police officer Mark Robinson, who was in the presidential motorcade escort, said he also was told by Secret Service agents about an argument in the SUV. “The president was upset. He said there was a heated argument or discussion,” Robinson said, adding that there was some discussion even after Trump’s return to the White House that he might still end up going to the Capitol. “The motorcade was placed on standby.”
Virginia Democrat Elaine Luria, who with Kinzinger handled the bulk of the questioning Thursday night, said a security official at the White House, whose identity was not disclosed to prevent “retribution,” said he and his colleagues were “alarmed” that Trump wanted to go to the Capitol at all because at that point it would no longer be a rally but something more akin to an “insurrection” or “coup.”
“We all knew that this would move from a normal democratic event into something else,” the official said on the audio recording.
Luria and Kinzinger presented testimony from multiple witnesses that numerous White House staff were pushing for Trump to make a statement telling his followers to leave the Capitol and go home.
Kinzinger said it was clear from the committee’s information that Trump did not merely fail to act, but: “He chose not to act.”
Matthews said that if Trump had wanted to make a statement in the always-ready press briefing room, he could have walked there in less than 60 seconds. “If the president had wanted to make a statement and address the American people, he could have done that almost immediately,” she said, adding that cameras could have been brought into the Oval Office almost as quickly.
Instead, Trump remained in a private dining room off the Oval Office watching television. “The TV was tuned to Fox News all day,” Luria said.
And instead of helping de-escalate the situation, Trump instead put out his infamous 2:24 p.m. tweet that accused Pence of lacking the “courage” to do what Trump had demanded.
Trump’s aides, from White House counsel Pat Cipollone to assistant press secretary Judd Deere, told the committee about their dismay upon seeing it. Matthews said that having traveled to Trump’s rallies with him all over the country, she knew how his supporters took everything he said literally.
“It was essentially giving the green light to these people,” she said. “They truly latch on to every word and every tweet. In that moment, it was pouring gasoline on the fire and making it worse.”
The committee then revealed for the first time the language top White House aides had written for Trump to read in a videotaped statement:
“I urge all of my supporters to do exactly as 99.9% of them have already been doing ― express their passions and opinions PEACEFULLY.
“My supporters have a right to have their voices heard, but make no mistake ― NO ONE should be using violence or threats to violence to express themselves. Especially at the U.S. Capitol. Let’s respect our institutions. Let’s all do better.
“I am asking you to leave the Capitol Hill region NOW and go home in a peaceful way.”
Trump ignored that, though. Instead, at 4:03 p.m. he ad-libbed a grievance-filled statement that again repeated his lies about having the election “stolen” from him, and only at the end told his followers to go home and that he loved them. It was released on Twitter at 4:17 p.m.
The panel then showed never-before-seen outtakes from Trump’s Jan. 7 speech to the country, in which Trump did not want to criticize his followers who had attacked police officers and threatened to kill Pence and members of Congress or to even admit that he had lost the election. The video showed Trump stumbling through a script and then flat-out refusing to say some of the lines.
“President Trump still could not say the election was over,” Luria said.
Cheney then used a recently disclosed piece of audio of Trump adviser Steve Bannon boasting days before the November 2020 election that regardless of what happened, Trump would insist that he had won, that that was the real strategy.
“Donald Trump’s plan to falsely claim victory … was premeditated,” she said.
Witnesses presenting testimony in person as well as through videotaped interviews with committee staff include White House aides who were in the West Wing on Jan. 6, 2021, with firsthand knowledge of Trump’s activities. They, like the vast majority of other witnesses thus far, are Republicans who worked for Trump or supported his presidency.
In its previous hearings, which began on June 9, the committee has presented evidence that Trump was repeatedly told by his own staff that he had lost the 2020 election, but he continued with his lies about “voter fraud” anyway; the pressure he applied on Pence to simply declare him the winner during the Jan. 6 certification ceremony; the attempts to coerce officials in states narrowly won by Biden, especially Georgia, to reverse the election results in favor of Trump; and Trump’s attempts to subvert the Justice Department into falsely backing his claims of a “stolen” election.
The originally unplanned sixth hearing came about after top Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson disclosed attempts to intimidate her from sharing explosive revelations about Trump’s actions on and leading up to Jan. 6. And last week, the committee, in its seventh hearing, showed how both Trump and key outside advisers knew all along that he planned to lead his mob’s march to the Capitol to pressure Pence and lawmakers into doing his bidding.
Trump, despite losing the election by 7 million votes nationally and 306-232 in the Electoral College, became the first president in more than two centuries of elections to refuse to hand over power peacefully. His incitement of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol — his last-ditch attempt to remain in office ― led to the deaths of five people, including one police officer, the injury of 140 more officers and four police suicides.
Nevertheless, Trump remains the dominant figure in the Republican Party and is openly speaking about running for the presidency again in 2024.
In statements on his personal social media platform, Trump has continued to lie about the election and the Jan. 6 committee’s work, calling it a “hoax” similar to previous investigations into his 2016 campaign’s acceptance of Russian assistance and his attempted extortion of Ukraine into helping his 2020 campaign.