Trump 'chose not to act' as mob attacked U.S. Capitol, Jan. 6 panel hears
Video shows Donald Trump refusing to acknowledge election was over day after attack
Despite desperate pleas from aides, allies, Republican congressional leaders and even his family, Donald Trump refused to call off the Jan. 6 mob attack on the U.S. Capitol, instead "pouring gasoline on the fire" by aggressively tweeting his false claims of a stolen election and telling the crowd of supporters in a video address from the Rose Garden how special they were.
The next day, he declared anew, "I don't want to say the election is over." That was in a previously unaired outtake of a speech he was to give, shown at Thursday night's prime-time hearing of the House investigating committee.
The committee documented how for some 187 minutes, from the time Trump left a rally stage sending his supporters to the Capitol to the time he ultimately appeared in the Rose Garden video, nothing could move the defeated president, who watched the violence unfold on TV.
Even a statement prepared for Trump to deliver — which said, "I am asking you to leave the Capitol Hill region NOW and go home in a peaceful way" — could not be delivered as written, without Trump editing it to repeat his baseless claims of voter fraud that sparked the deadly assault. "So go home," he did say, adding, "We love you. You're very special.... I know how you feel."
He also had wanted to include language about pardoning the rioters in that speech, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified previously.
"President Trump didn't fail to act," said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a fellow Republican but frequent Trump critic who flew fighter jets in Iraq and Afghanistan. "He chose not to act."
Plunging into its second prime-time hearing on the Capitol attack, the committee aimed to show a "minute by minute" accounting of Trump's actions that fateful day, how he summoned the crowd to Washington with his false claims of a stolen election and then dispatched them to fight for his presidency.
With the Capitol siege raging, Trump poured "gasoline on the fire" by tweeting condemnation of Mike Pence's refusal to go along with his plan to stop the certification of Joe Biden's victory, former aides told the committee.
Two Trump aides resigned on the spot.
"I thought that Jan. 6 2021, was one of the darkest days in our nation's history," said former White House aide Sarah Matthews testifying before the panel. "And President Trump was treating it as a celebratory occasion. So it just further cemented my decision to resign."
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The committee played audio of Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reacting with surprise to the former president's reaction to the attack.
"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? No call? Nothing zero?" he said.
Matt Pottinger, a former national security aide testifying Thursday, said that when he saw Trump's tweet he immediately decided to resign, as did former White House aide Matthews, who said she was a lifelong Republican but could not go along with what was happening. She was the witness who called the tweet "pouring gasoline on the fire."
Earlier, an irate Trump demanded to be taken to the Capitol after his supporters had stormed the building, well aware of the deadly attack, but then returned to the White House and did nothing to call off the violence, despite appeals from family and close advisers, witnesses testified.
At the Capitol, the mob was chanting "Hang Mike Pence," testified Pottinger as Trump tweeted his condemnation of his vice-president.
WATCH | Matthews says Jan. 6, 2020, was 'one of the darkest days in our nation's history':
Meanwhile, recordings of Secret Service radio transmissions revealed agents asking for messages to be relayed telling their families goodbye.
The hearing aimed to show a "minute by minute" accounting of Trump's actions that day and how, rather than stop the violence, he watched it all unfold on television at the White House.
Trump had dispatched the crowd to Capitol Hill in heated rally remarks at the Ellipse behind the White House, and "within 15 minutes of leaving the stage … knew that the Capitol was besieged and under attack," said Rep. Elaine Luria, a committee member and Democrat from Virginia.
She said the panel had received testimony confirming the powerful previous account of Hutchinson of an altercation involving Trump as he insisted the Secret Service drive him to the Capitol.
WATCH | Trump refuses to say 'election is over':
Among the witnesses testifying Thursday in a recorded video was retired District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department sergeant Mark Robinson, who told the committee that Trump was well aware of the number of weapons in the crowd of his supporters but wanted to go regardless.
"The only description that I received was that the president was upset, and that he was adamant about going to the Capitol and that there was a heated discussion about that," Robinson said. The panel heard Trump was "irate."
Luria said Trump "did not call to issue orders. He did not call to offer assistance."
'He betrayed his oath'
Chairman Bennie Thompson opened Thursday's hearing saying Trump as president did "everything in his power to overturn the election" he lost to Joe Biden, including before and during the deadly Capitol attack.
"He lied, he bullied, he betrayed his oath," said Thompson, who appeared remotely after testing positive for COVID-19.
The panel is arguing that Trump's lies about a stolen election and attempts to overturn Biden's victory fuelled the attack and have left the United States facing enduring questions about the resiliency of its democracy.
Watched mob attack from dining room
It marks a "profound moment of reckoning for America," said committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland.
With live testimony from two former White House aides, and excerpts from the trove of more than 1,000 interviews, Thursday night's session added a closing chapter to the past six weeks of hearings that at times have captivated the nation and provided a record for history.
Ahead of the hearing, the committee released a video of four former White House aides — press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, security aide Gen. Keith Kellogg, White House counsel Pat Cipollone and executive assistant to the president Molly Michael — testifying that Trump was in the White House's private dining room with the TV on as the violence unfolded.
"You will hear that Donald Trump never picked up the phone that day to order his administration to help," the panel's vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming, said.
"He did not call the military. His secretary of defence received no order. He did not call his attorney general. He did not talk to the Department of Homeland Security," she said. "[Vice-president] Mike Pence did all of those things; Donald Trump did not."
Aides pleaded with Trump
The hearing also showed never-before-seen outtakes of a video that White House aides pleaded for Trump to make as a message of national healing for the country.
"I don't want to say the election is over," Trump said in footage recorded as he rehearsed a Jan. 7, 2021, speech that White House staff wrote in the hope of encouraging calm after.
"I just want to say Congress has certified the results without saying the election's over, OK?" Trump said. Unseen off-camera, his oldest daughter, Ivanka, could be heard helping revise the speech text.
In the version of the address that was aired at the time, Trump simply said: "Now Congress has certified the results. A new administration will be inaugurated on Jan. 20."
Hutchinson had testified that Trump wanted to include language about pardoning the rioters in the speech, but White House lawyers advised against it. Trump reluctantly condemned the riot in a three-minute speech that night.
Trump has dismissed the hearings on social media and regarded much of the testimony as fake.
This hearing came a day after a bipartisan group of senators agreed on proposed changes to the Electoral Count Act, the post-Civil War-era law for certifying presidential elections that came under intense scrutiny after the attack on the Capitol and Trump's effort to overturn the election.
'No person is above the law'
While the committee cannot indict individuals based on what it's uncovered, there were more signs this week that criminal matters are being considered outside its purview.
Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday said the department was committed to holding to account "every person who is criminally responsible for trying to overturn the presidential election," characterizing the events leading up to and on Jan. 6 as the most important investigation the department has ever undertaken.
"No person is above the law in this country, I can't say it any more clearly than that," Garland said, after a reporter asked if his statement applied even to a former president.
This was probably the last hearing of the summer, but the panel said they will resume in September as more witnesses and information emerges.
No former president has ever been federally prosecuted by the Justice Department. President Gerald Ford in 1974 pardoned his predecessor Richard Nixon before that possibility could be seriously considered, just a month after Nixon resigned over the Watergate crimes.
With respect to the violence and trespassing seen at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, more than 840 people have been charged with federal crimes. More than 330 of them have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanours. Of the more than 200 defendants to be sentenced, approximately 100 have received prison terms.
No credible claims of widespread 2020 election fraud were brought forth in dozens of cases that went before the courts and were subsequently rejected. The Trump administration's own Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency characterized the election in a statement as "the most secure in American history," and former attorney general William Barr, chosen by Trump, has panned many of the assertions of fraud by the former president and his most loyal advocates.
With files from CBC News and Thomson Reuters