Jan. 6 committee subpoenas Donald Trump to testify about Capitol Hill attack
Secret Service had tips ahead of riot including that the plan was 'to kill people,' committee told
The U.S. House Jan. 6 committee voted unanimously Thursday to subpoena Donald Trump, demanding his personal testimony as it unveiled startling new video of close aides describing his multi-part plan to overturn his 2020 election loss that led to his supporters' fierce assault on the U.S. Capitol.
"We must seek the testimony under oath of January 6th's central player," said Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, the committee's vice chair.
"We are obligated to seek answers directly from the man who set this all in motion," she added. "And every American is entitled to those answers."
With alarming messages from the U.S. Secret Service warning of violence and vivid new video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional leaders pleading for help, the panel showed the raw desperation at the Capitol during its latest public hearing. Using language frequently seen in criminal indictments, the panel said that Trump had acted in a "premeditated" way ahead of Jan. 6, 2021, despite countless aides and officials telling him he had lost.
Trump is almost certain to fight the subpoena and decline to testify. On his social media outlet he blasted members for not asking him to testify earlier — though he didn't say he would have — and called the panel "a total BUST."
In one of its most riveting exhibits, the committee showed previously unseen footage of congressional leaders phoning officials for help during the assault.
Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer can be seen talking to governors in neighbouring Virginia and Maryland. Later the footage shows Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican leaders as the group asks the acting attorney general for help.
"They're breaking the law in many different ways — quite frankly at the instigation of the president of the United States," Pelosi is heard saying at one point.
The footage also shows Vice-President Mike Pence stepping in to help calm the violence, speaking directly with Capitol Police, as Congress planned to resume its session that night to certify Biden's election. The video was shot by Pelosi's daughter, a documentary filmmaker.
'Their plan is literally to kill people'
In never-before-seen Secret Service messages, the panel produced evidence of the way extremist groups provided the muscle in the fight for Trump's presidency, planning weeks before the attack to send a violent force to Washington.
"Their plan is literally to kill people," read a tip that was sent to Secret Service more than a week before the violence on Jan. 6.
The Secret Service warned in a Dec. 26, 2020 email of a tip that members of the right-wing Proud Boys planned to march in Washington on Jan. 6 with a group large enough to outnumber the police.
"It felt like the calm before the storm," one Secret Service agent wrote in a group chat.
Delving into Trump's state of mind
The committee's 10th public session, just weeks before the congressional midterm elections, was delving into Trump's "state of mind," said committee Chair Bennie Thompson.
To describe the president's mindset, the committee divulged new material, including interviews with Trump's top aides and cabinet officials — including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General William Barr and Labour Secretary Eugene Scalia — in which some described the president acknowledging that he had lost.
In one, according to ex-White House official Alyssa Farah Griffin, Trump looked up at the television and said, "Can you believe I lost to this [expletive] guy?"
Cabinet members also said in interviews shown at the hearing that they believed that once legal avenues had been exhausted, that should have been the end of Trump's efforts to remain in power.
"In my view, that was the end of the matter," Barr said of the Dec. 14 vote of the Electoral College.
But rather than the end of Trump's efforts, it was only the beginning — as the president summoned the crowd to Washington on Jan. 6.
The panel showed clips of Trump at his rally near the White House that day saying the opposite of what he had been told. He then tells supporters he will march with them to the Capitol. That never happened.
"There is no defence that Donald Trump was duped or irrational," said Cheney. "No president can defy the rule of law and act this way in our constitutional republic, period."
The committee may well make a decision on whether to make a criminal referral to the Justice Department.
Thursday's hearing opened at a mostly empty U.S. Capitol complex, with most lawmakers at home campaigning for re-election. Several people who were among the thousands around the Capitol on Jan. 6 are now running for congressional office, some with Trump's backing. Police officers who fought the mob filled the hearing room's front row.
'Just fyi. POTUS is pissed'
Along with interviews, the committee is drawing on the trove of 1.5 million documents it received from the U.S. Secret Service, including an email from Dec. 11, 2020, the day the Supreme Court rejected one of the main lawsuits Trump's team had brought against the election results.
"Just fyi. POTUS is pissed," the Secret Service wrote, according to documents obtained by the committee.
White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, a top aide to Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, recalled Trump as being "livid" and "fired up" about the court's ruling.
Trump told Meadows "something to the effect of: 'I don't want people to know we lost, Mark. This is embarrassing. Figure it out,'" Hutchinson told the panel in a recorded interview.
The Jan. 6 committee has been meeting for more than a year and is expected to produce a report of its findings. It was set up by the House after Republican senators blocked the formation of an outside panel similar to the 9/11 commission panel that examined the 2001 terror attacks.
House Republicans are expected to drop the Jan. 6 probe if they win control of the chamber after the midterms.
- Trump ally Steve Bannon guilty of contempt for refusing to appear before committee probing U.S. Capitol attack
The seven Democrats and two Republicans on the panel have argued their work isn't just a summation of the past, but a dire warning about ongoing threats to the democratic process.
Millions of Americans still incorrectly believe Trump won in 2020, according to polls, while a Washington Post analysis published last week indicated that half of Republicans running in races next month for key U.S. Congress and state offices have denied or questioned the 2020 outcome, including gubernatorial candidates Doug Mastriano of Pennsylvania and Kari Lake of Arizona.
Trump associate Peter Navarro is set to face a trial next month for refusing to co-operate with a subpoena from the House committee, while Steve Bannon is set to be sentenced next week after being found guilty of similar contempt charges.
Outside of the committee's work, more than 850 people have been charged criminally by the Justice Department in the Capitol attack, some receiving lengthy prison sentences for their roles. Several leaders and associates of the extremist Oath Keepers and Proud Boys have been hit with rare sedition charges. Trump faces various state and federal investigations over his actions in the election and its aftermath.
With files from CBC News