Jan. 6 Panel Presents Evidence of Trump’s Refusal to Stop the Riot
"The House panel painted a detailed picture of how, as officials rushed to respond to an attack on the United States government, the commander in chief chose for hours to do nothing.
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As a mob of his supporters assaulted the Capitol, former President Donald J. Trump sat in his dining room off the Oval Office, watching the violence on television and choosing to do nothing for hours to stop it, an array of former administration officials testified to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack in accounts laid out on Thursday.
In a final public hearing of the summer and one of the most dramatic of the inquiry, the panel provided a panoramic account of how, even as the lives of law enforcement officers, members of Congress and his own vice president were under threat, Mr. Trump could not be moved to act until after it was clear that the riot had failed to disrupt Congress’s session to confirm his election defeat.
Even then, the committee showed in never-before-seen footage from the White House, Mr. Trump privately refused to concede — “I don’t want to say the election’s over!” he angrily told aides as he recorded a video message that had been scripted for him the day after the attack — or to condemn the assault on the Capitol as a crime.
Calling on a cast of witnesses assembled to make it hard for viewers to dismiss as tools of a partisan witch hunt — top Trump aides, veterans and military leaders, loyal Republicans and even members of Mr. Trump’s own family — the committee established that the president willfully rejected their efforts to persuade him to mobilize a response to the deadliest attack on the Capitol in two centuries.
“You’re the commander in chief. You’ve got an assault going on on the Capitol of the United States of America, and there’s nothing?” Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer, told the panel. “No call? Nothing? Zero?”
It was a closing argument of sorts in the case the panel has built against Mr. Trump, one whose central assertion is that the former president was derelict in his duty for failing to do all that he could — or anything at all, for 187 minutes — to call off the assault carried out in his name.
Thursday’s session, led by two military veterans with testimony from another, was also an appeal to patriotism as the panel asserted that Mr. Trump’s inaction during the riot was a final, glaring violation of his oath of office, coming at the end of a multipronged and unsuccessful effort to overturn his 2020 election loss.
In perhaps one of the most jarring revelations, the committee presented evidence that a call from a Pentagon official to coordinate a response to the assault on the Capitol as it was underway initially went unanswered because, according to a White House lawyer, “the president didn’t want anything done.”
And the panel played Secret Service radio transmissions and testimony that showed in chilling detail how close Vice President Mike Pence came to danger during the riot, including an account of members of his Secret Service detail being so rattled by what was unfolding that they were contacting family members to say goodbye.
Both pieces of testimony were provided by a former White House official whom the committee did not identify by name — and whose voice was altered to protect his identity — who was described as having had “national security responsibilities.”
The witness described an exchange between Eric Herschmann, a lawyer working in the White House, and the White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, about the call from the Pentagon.
“Mr. Herschmann turned to Mr. Cipollone and said, ‘The president didn’t wantanything done,’” the witness testified. “Mr. Cipollone had to take the call himself.”
Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings
The committee also played dramatic radio recordings over the span of 10 minutes, from 2:14 to 2:24 p.m., from the moments in which the Secret Service sought a route to safety to evacuate the vice president from the Capitol, where he was being held in his office near the Senate chamber as the mob closed in.
“Harden that door up,” one agent said. “If we’re moving, we need to move now,” another said. And at another point: “If we lose any more time, we may lose the ability to leave.”
And in a frightening moment over the radio traffic, an agent warned: “There is smoke. Unknown what kind of smoke it is.”
Mr. Cipollone described to the committee how he most of the rest of the White House staff believed Mr. Trump needed to do more to quell the violence, but demurred when asked about the president’s view on whether the riot should end, citing executive privilege.
“I believed more needed to be done,” Mr. Cipollone testified.
White House officials recounted how the president declined to take the few steps down the hallway to the White House briefing room to call off the mob, instead tweeting an attack on Mr. Pence as he was fleeing for his life.
“I think that in that moment, for him to tweet out the message about Mike Pence, it was him pouring gasoline on the fire and making it much worse,” said Sarah Matthews, a former White House press aide who resigned on Jan. 6 and was one of two witnesses who testified in person on Thursday.
The other was Matthew Pottinger, a Marine Corps veteran who was the deputy national security adviser and the highest-ranking White House official to resign on Jan. 6.
“That was the moment that I decided that I was going to resign, that that would be my last day at the White House,” Mr. Pottinger said, referring to Mr. Trump’s Twitter condemnation of the vice president. “I simply didn’t want to be associated with the events that were unfolding on the Capitol.”
Ms. Matthews also told the committee that Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, confided to her that Mr. Trump had not wanted to mention the word “peace” in any tweets, and only grudgingly relented to his daughter Ivanka Trump’s suggestion that he ask people to “stay peaceful.”
Ms. McEnany “looked directly at me and in a hushed tone shared with me that the president did not want to include any sort of mention of peace in that tweet,” Ms. Matthews testified.
While Mr. Pence was making phone calls trying to deploy the National Guard to the Capitol after evacuating to protect himself and his family, Mr. Trump did not make a single call to a government official to try to stop the violence, witnesses said. The call Mr. Trump did make was to Rudolph W. Giuliani, his personal lawyer who was helping his efforts to overturn the election results, including calling Republican senators on Jan. 6 to get them to disrupt Congress’s electoral count.
A day after the attack, two of Mr. Trump’s communications aides lamented Mr. Trump’s response to the violence and the toll on law enforcement, after 150 officers were injured and one, Brian D. Sicknick of the Capitol Police, had died.
“If he acknowledged the dead cop, he’d be implicitly faulting the mob. And he won’t do that, because they’re his people,” said one, Tim Murtaugh, a former Trump campaign communications director. “And he would also be close to acknowledging that what he lit at the rally got out of control. No way he acknowledges something that could ultimately be called his fault. No way.”
The hearing hardly marked the end of the committee’s work. The panel now plans to enter a second investigative stage, prepare a preliminary report and hold additional hearings in September.
“The investigation is still ongoing, if not maybe accelerating,” said Representative Elaine Luria, Democrat of Virginia and a member of the committee. “We’re gaining so much new information.”
Lawmakers said they would use August, when Congress takes a lengthy recess, to prepare a preliminary report of their findings, tentatively scheduled to be released in September. But a final report — complete with exhibits and transcripts — could wait until December, just before the committee is set to dissolve at the start of a new Congress on Jan. 3, 2023.
For Thursday’s session, the panel turned to two military veterans — Ms. Luria, a Navy veteran, and Representative Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois and a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard — to lead the questioning.
“President Trump did not fail to act during the 187 minutes between leaving the Ellipse and telling the mob to go home,” Mr. Kinzinger said. “He chose not to act.”
At each of its hearings throughout June and July, the panel has presented evidence that lawmakers believe could be used to bolster a criminal case against Mr. Trump. The committee laid out evidence of a conspiracy to defraud the American people and Mr. Trump’s own donors; plans to submit false slates of electors that could lead to charges of filing false documents to the government; and evidence of a plot to disrupt the electoral count on Capitol Hill that suggest he could be prosecuted for obstructing an official proceeding of Congress.
The assertion that Mr. Trump was derelict in duty might not be the basis for a criminal charge, Ms. Luria said, but it raised ethical, moral and legal questions. At least one judge has cited Mr. Trump’s inaction as grounds for civil lawsuits against Mr. Trump moving forward.
The committee has spent almost two months laying out its narrative of a president who, having failed in a series of efforts to overturn his defeat, directed a mob of his supporters to march to the Capitol after delivering a speech excoriating Mr. Pence for not interfering in Congress’s official count of electoral ballots to confirm Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s election as president.
On Thursday, it revealed testimony that underscored how even Republican members of Congress were beseeching Mr. Trump to call off the mob, turning to his children when the president refused to do so.
Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, testified that Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader, had called him in the middle of the violence asking for help.
“I heard my phone ringing, turned the shower off, saw it was Leader McCarthy, who I had a good relationship with,” Mr. Kushner testified. “He told me it was getting really ugly over at the Capitol and said, ‘Please, you know, anything you could do to help, I would appreciate it.’ ”
“I don’t recall a specific ask, just anything you could do,” Mr. Kushner added. “Again, I got the sense that they were scared.”
Mr. McCarthy was just one of many Republicans who called on Mr. Trump to end the violence that day, some of them sending texts to Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff.
Most of those same Republicans would return to the House chamber after police cleared the mob from the Capitol and, even after the violence, vote to side with Mr. Trump’s effort to overturn his defeat, backing his lies about a stolen election."