Jan. 6 panel says Trump chose not to act during Capitol attack
Updated July 21, 2022 at 11:20 PM ET
The Jan. 6 committee held a prime-time hearing on Thursday — the last of its planned summertime hearings.
It focused on the more than 3 hours between when former President Donald Trump's Ellipse speech on Jan. 6 ended and when his prerecorded video asking protesters to go home posted to Twitter later that afternoon.
- To recap the top key moments of the hearing series so far, click here.
- To read more about a poll that finds that majority thinks Trump is to blame for Jan. 6 but won't face charges click here.
- To read about Trump political adviser Steve Bannon's Jan. 6-related trial, click here.
This story was updated throughout Thursday's hearing.
Update 11:12 p.m. ET
Cheney closes: The Wyoming Republican closed the hearing by focusing on Trump's actions despite the absence of evidence of fraud or conspiracy in the 2020 election.
"There was no evidence of fraud or irregularities sufficient to change the election outcome. Our courts had ruled. It was over," she said, adding that it didn't matter because Trump was looking for a way to stay in office.
The committee played audio from a meeting former Trump political adviser Steve Bannon held with associates four days before the election, surfaced last week in a Mother Jones report, which included comments about Trump claiming victory and that the election was stolen if he saw that he was losing.
"What the new Steve Bannon audio demonstrates is Donald Trump's plan to falsely claim victory in 2020, no matter what the facts were, was premeditated," she said. "Perhaps worse, he believed he could convince his voters to buy it, whether he had any actual evidence of fraud or not."
Cheney turned back to the oath of office – emphasizing the argument that he broke the oath when he did not act during the violence to proactively call off the mob.
"Let me assure every one of you this: Our committee understands the gravity of this moment and the consequences for our nation. We have much work yet to do and we will see you all in September," she said right before adjourning.
Update 10:37 p.m. ET
Trump officials say they stayed in office to right the ship: Some Trump administration officials felt that choosing not to resign was a better way forward. Former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and Eugene Scalia, then the labor secretary, both called to convene a Cabinet meeting.
In a memo addressed to Trump, Scalia advised that the president no longer publicly question the election results, adding that, after Jan. 6, "no one can deny this is harmful," wrote Scalia.
Update 10:34 p.m. ET
McCarthy blamed Trump, Republicans for violence: In a recording of calls with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, he is heard discussing a House resolution that called on Pence and the Trump Cabinet to remove the president from power.
"I've had it with this guy, what he did was unacceptable. Nobody can defend that and nobody should defend it," McCarthy said. In a separate call he said he asked Trump if he holds responsibility for what happened on Jan. 6, to which, McCarthy said, Trump said he had some responsibility.
Luria said that private call between Trump and McCarthy is the only time Trump has allegedly claimed any responsibility for the insurrection and violence.
Update 9:46 p.m. ET
Pottinger and Matthews resigned after Trump tweet: Shortly before witness former Deputy National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger returned to the White House from another unrelated meeting, he said an aide handed him a printed sheet of paper showing the 2:24 p.m. Trump tweet condemning Vice President Pence for lacking the "courage" to prevent the Electoral College votes certifying Joe Biden's victory.
"I was disturbed and worried to see that the president was attacking Vice President Pence for doing his constitutional duty," he said, describing Trump's tweet as the opposite of a "de-escalation" that he said was needed at the moment.
"That's why I'd said earlier that it looked like fuel being poured on the fire," he said.
That was the moment, he told the committee, that he decided that would be his last day at the White House. "I simply didn't want to be associated with the events that were unfolding on the Capitol."
Former Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Matthews, who resigned hours after the insurrection, told the panel she remembered thinking that the tweet "was essentially him giving the green light" to the Trump supporters storming the Capitol and that it inappropriately justified their anger.
She added that Trump's words have a strong influence over his supporters, something she said she's noted having worked as a spokesperson on his reelection campaign before becoming a deputy press secretary in his administration. "They truly latch onto every word and every tweet that he says," she said.
She called Trump's refusal to call off the mob "indefensible."
Update 9:21 p.m. ET
Pence's Secret Service detail members feared for their lives: National Security Council staff were listening in real time to Secret Service radio traffic on Jan. 6 as agents were making active decisions of where to move Vice President Mike Pence and as they made calculations about the level of danger. Some even began making calls to family, fearing for their lives, said a security professional, whose identity was protected and who was working out of the White House that day.
NSC chat logs from just after 2 p.m. show live updates on the breach of the Capitol: "Service at the Capitol does not sound good right now," one reads at 2:24 p.m.
"The members of the VP detail at this time were starting to fear for their own lives," the security professional said in a recorded interview. "There was a lot of yelling, a lot of very personal calls over the radio, so it was very disturbing...there were calls to say goodbye to family members."
The panel then turned to recorded interviews of Jan. 6 protestors recalling anger towards Pence and disappointment in his decision to move forward with certifying the election.
Update 9:13 p.m. ET
'In a state of shock' about Trump's plan to go to Capitol: Retired D.C. police Sgt. Mark Robinson, who was in the presidential motorcade on Jan. 6, testified that he and other law enforcement officials waited roughly between 45 minutes to an hour before the Secret Service gave word about whether or not Trump would go to the Capitol. Robinson said Trump was "upset" about not going to the Capitol and that there was a "heated conversation," though he did not corroborate details about a physical altercation between the former president and his lead Secret Service agent Bobby Engel, as was relayed second-hand in testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson.
An unidentified White House aide testified that Deputy Chief of Staff Tony Ornato said that Trump was "irate" when Engel refused to take him to the Capitol, and Engel did not refute that.
Another unidentified former White House security official said in a recording that "we were all in a state of shock" over Trump's plan to go to the Capitol.
"We all knew what that implicated and what that meant, that this was no longer a rally. That this was going to move to something else if he physically walked to the Capitol. I don't know if you want to use the word 'insurrection,' 'coup,' whatever – we all knew that this would move from a normal, democratic, you know, public event, into something else."
The official said that this was before the Capitol was breached but that Trump's intent to lead tens of thousands of people to the Capitol "was grounds to be alarmed."
Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., discussed committee efforts to obtain information from the Secret Service, which deleted many text messages from Jan. 5 and 6. Some Secret Service witnesses have retained private counsel, according to Luria.
Update 8:42 p.m. ET
Opening statements: Rep. Elaine Luria opened her presentation with a recap of the past few hearings, detailing the events of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, including the two pipe bombs that were found in Washington, D.C., and the breaching of the Capitol barriers.
Luria said the "ways Trump tried to stop the peaceful transfer of power" was a betrayal of his oath of office to swear to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
The hearing, she said, will focus on what the former president was doing in the meantime, following his speech on the Ellipse.
"Virtually everyone told president Trump to condemn the violence in clear and unmistakable terms," said Luria in opening statements, adding that the former president did not do so until 4:17 p.m.
"President Trump refused to act because of his selfish desire to stay in power."
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the panel and like Luria a military veteran, opened his statements by making the argument that the mob was "accomplishing president Trump's purpose" by delaying the count of the ballot certification.
"He chose not to act," Kinzinger said.
Update 8:20 p.m. ET
More hearings in the fall: The House Jan. 6 committee will reconvene in September for additional hearings, according to Chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.
"As we've made clear throughout these hearings, our investigation goes forward," Thompson said at the start of Thursday's hearing.
Cheney said, "In the course of these hearings, we have received new evidence and new witnesses have bravely stepped forward. Efforts to litigate and overcome immunity and executive privilege claims have been successful and those continue. Doors have opened, new subpoenas have been issued, and the dam has begun to break."
Original story is below:
The Jan. 6 committee is expected to piece together what the former president was doing while he was out of the public eye on Jan. 6 and will zero in on the argument that "he was the sole person that could have called off the mob but chose not to," according to committee aides.
During those 187 minutes, pressure mounted for him to call off the mob and tell rioters to stop. For the committee, which has argued that Trump welcomed the violence, what he said to aides and what he was thinking is key.
Plenty of timelines have sketched out how most of the day unfolded, but for more than 3 hours, Trump went dark as a mob attacked the U.S. Capitol. The committee has had to work to put together an account of what he was doing then because public records have been hard to come by.
Two former White House officials who served under Trump will testify at Thursday's hearing — former National Security Council member Matthew Pottinger and one-time Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Matthews — three sources familiar with the committee's work told NPR. Both resigned shortly after Jan. 6.
Reps. Elaine Luria, a Democrat, and Adam Kinzinger, one of two panel Republicans, are expected to take a lead at the hearing, and Rep. Bennie Thompson will chair the hearing remotely due to his COVID-19 diagnosis.
Over the last seven hearings, the Democrat-led committee has laid out its case that the former president was at the center of an election fraud conspiracy that ultimately led to the deadly insurrection at the Capitol. Witnesses, including former Trump and White House officials and staff, have appeared in person and in previously taped interviews to provide details on how the then-president knew he lost but pursued efforts to pressure state officials, lawmakers and the Justice Department to overturn the election in his favor.
Although this is the last scheduled hearing, the panel has left the door open for more. The panel had originally envisioned six hearings throughout June but extended them into July as it collected more information. The committee is planning to issue a first report this fall followed by a final report later in the year. Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.