WASHINGTON — The House Jan. 6 committee on Tuesday tied Donald Trump to leaders of the violent assault on the Capitol and revealed that a march on the building was long a part of his planned coup to remain in power despite losing reelection.
Committee Chair Bennie Thompson said it is the responsibility of leaders in a democracy to accept the results of an election they lose and tell their supporters that it is over and time to move on and work toward the next election.
“He went the opposite way. He seized on the anger that he already stoked,” said Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat. “Donald Trump summoned a mob to Washington, D.C., and ultimately spurred that mob to wage a violent attack.”
Committee member Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland, said Trump and his allies pushed to overturn the election on Jan. 6, with Trump on the inside leaning on Vice President Mike Pence to simply throw out votes from states Trump had narrowly lost and declare Trump the winner; with extremist groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers on the outside plotting to attack, invade and occupy the Capitol; and with Trump’s enraged mob on its way to the Capitol to demonstrate Trump’s strength.
“All of these efforts would converge and explode on Jan. 6,” Raskin said.
Stephen Ayres, 39, one of the hundreds of Trump supporters who were arrested and charged with illegally entering the Capitol, said he came to Washington specifically because Trump told him to and then marched on the Capitol for the same reason.
“The president got everybody riled up. Told everybody to go down,” he testified Tuesday, adding that he had previously been focused on his family and his job at a cabinet-making company. He said he only left the Capitol after Trump’s eventual tweet asking his supporters to do so.
“If I had done that earlier in the day … I wouldn’t be in this bad situation,” said Ayres, who last month pleaded guilty in federal court. “I lost my job since all this happened. ... It changed my life. Not for the good.”
A second witness, former Oath Keepers publicist Jason Van Tatenhove, said the group was pushing for Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act so they could participate in Trump’s coup attempt. He pointed out that Trump’s mob had set up a gallows with which to hang the vice president.
“This could have been the spark that could have started another civil war, and no one would have won that,” he said.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Florida Democrat, revealed communications from Trump supporters Kylie Kremer and Ali Alexander showing that they knew the plan was to have a march to the Capitol all along, although that was to have been revealed only when Trump called to do so in his rally speech.
“POTUS is just going to call for it ‘unexpectedly,’” Kremer wrote in a text message to pillowmonger and Trump supporter Mike Lindell.
Murphy also showed a draft Trump tweet that the committee obtained from the National Archives advertising the rally. The draft ended: “March to the Capitol after. Stop the Steal!!”
She then laid out the discussion among Trump’s staffers regarding his desire to call on Pence to overturn the election for him. White House lawyers urged that language be removed from his Jan. 6 speech, and it was ― until Trump had yet another conversation with Pence to make him do what he wanted and failed.
He then demanded that wording be reinserted, which it was.
Murphy said Trump then ad-libbed during the speech itself. “A single scripted reference to Mike Pence became eight,” she said.
The committee began sharing video clips Tuesday of its eight-hour session taking testimony from Trump’s White House counsel Pat Cipollone, including a statement that Trump should have accepted the election loss. “Did I believe that he should have conceded the election at a point in time? Yes, I did,” he said in a clip.
Raskin explained how Trump pushed his administration officials to seize the voting machines. Trump Attorney General Bill Barr said he was asked to do this and told Trump: “Absolutely not,” according to a video clip of testimony.
He then displayed images from a proposed executive order Trump’s outside advisers, including original national security adviser Michael Flynn and lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, presented to Trump, which directed the defense secretary to seize all the voting machines and to name Powell as special counsel to investigate the supposed voter fraud.
Cipollone said he wanted no part of that. “I was vehemently opposed. I didn’t think she should be appointed to anything,” he said in a clip.
Raskin then played a montage of video clips of Cipollone, his deputy Eric Herschmann, Powell and others explaining an hourslong Dec. 18 meeting at the White House that included Giuliani, Powell, Flynn and former website entrepreneur Pat Byrne where they continued pushing the scheme.
Cipollone and Herschmann eventually talked Trump out of the idea, but within an hour, Trump sent his tweet calling his followers to the Capitol on the day of Congress’ ceremony to count the Electoral College votes.
Raskin then narrated images and video of Trump supporters’ social media posts — including many that used violent language and some that were from white supremacist groups — to exhort their followers to heed Trump’s call.
“The time for games is over. The time for action is now,” said conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
“Trump’s call to Washington reverberated powerfully online,” Raskin said, playing audio of a Twitter official (whose name was withheld and voice altered) who said if any other person had incited violence the way Trump did, they would have been banned from the platform much sooner. (Trump was eventually banned two days after the Capitol attack.)
Rep. Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican and the committee’s co-chair, closed out Tuesday by revealing that after the last hearing on June 28, Trump tried to call a witness ― “a witness you have not yet seen in these hearings.” The witness did not take the call, Cheney said, and instead alerted their lawyer, who in turn notified the committee. “And this committee has supplied that information to the Department of Justice.”
The seventh public hearing of the committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot also showed a half-dozen Republican members of Congress were involved in that effort, including a Dec. 21, 2020, meeting to discuss a plan to pressure Pence to obey Trump’s demands, and then later sought pardons.
Over the first five hearings, the committee has presented new video of the pro-Trump mob at the Capitol; evidence that Trump had been told by his own staff that he lost the 2020 election but he continued with his lies about “voter fraud” anyway; the pressure Trump 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 sixth public hearing was not originally planned; it was scheduled suddenly and with much secrecy 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.
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. The Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol he spurred — his last-ditch attempt to remain in office — killed five, including one police officer, injured another 140 officers and led to 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.