Donald Trump’s minute-by-minute actions, and inactions, during the January 6 Capitol riot were under a microscope in the eighth hearing of the Special Committee, which painted a picture Thursday of an uncaring President who watched the attack on TV – even as everyone around him knew he was the only one who could stop it.
The hearing focused on 187 minutes of Jan. 6: from the moment Trump concluded his 1 p.m. rally at The Ellipse, urging his followers to march on the Capitol, until 4:17 p.m., when Trump finally released a video telling them to go home. Two Trump White House staff members — former deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger and former deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews — were on hand to detail that time period.
Pottinger said he chose to resign at 2:24 p.m., the moment Trump tweeted trashing Mike Pence for not having the courage to decertify the election.
“I didn’t want to be associated with him anymore,” Pottinger said.
“The president was attacking Mike Pence for doing his duty,” Pottinger said. “The tweet looked like the opposite of what we really needed at that moment, which was de-escalation. It was adding fuel to the fire.”
Matthews said it had become “obvious that situation at the Capitol was violent and escalating.” She said the tweet about Pence was [Trump] giving the green light to these people, who she’d seen hang on his every word.
“That tweet,” she said, “was pouring gas on the fire.”
Matthews, former deputy White House press secretary, said a debate started in the press office about whether or not Trump should call for peace, recalling that a colleague said the president shouldn’t condemn the violence because he would be “handing a win to the media.”
“I didn’t agree,” Matthews said. “I said he should condemn the violence…I couldn’t believe we were arguing over this in the middle of the West Wing.”
Trump sent two other tweets, one telling the crowd to “stay peaceful,” the other saying “remain peaceful.” Neither tweet condemned the violence or asked the mob to leave the Capitol.
As the violence escalated, Don Jr. texted Mark Meadows, saying “He’s got to condemn this s— ASAP.”
Meadows responded: “I’m pushing it hard. I agree.” Don Jr. responded: “This is the one you go to the mattresses on. They will try to f— his entire legacy. “
The committee showed testimony from several witnesses, including White House lawyer Pat Cipollone, who said everyone around the President was saying the same thing: For this to stop, the word had to come from Trump himself.
“It would take less than 60 seconds to get to the press briefing room from the Oval Office dining room,” Matthews testified. “If the president wanted to make a statement and address the American people, he could have been on cameral almost instantly.
“The president needed to be out there immediately and tell these people to go home,” she added.
Congresswoman Elaine Luria (D-Virginia) guided the parts of the hearing that detailed Trump’s movements, noting that he sat for 2 and 1/2 hours in the White House dining room — with Fox News up on the TV above the fireplace — doing nothing. Call logs show no calls from the President at that time to any security officials, she said. And no photos of Trump were taken until he appeared in the Rose Garden to record his video.
“We have confirmed in numerous interviews [with security officials] that not one heard from President Trump that day,” Luria said. “He did not call to give orders. He did not call to offer assistance.”
The committee showed video of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy pleading with Trump to call off the rioters. It also played footage of Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., describing her conversation with McCarthy at the time of the violence.
Herrera said McCarthy told her that Trump brushed him off in a phone call. “The president was basically saying I’m OK with this,” Herrera said, referring to the riot.
Cipollone said he and others — including Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, White House Counsel Eric Herschmann and Ivanka Trump — were frantically urging the President to publicly pump the brakes.
“There needed to be an immediate and forceful public statement that people needed to leave the Capitol,” Cipollone said he told the President.
He finally did – two hours later.
Trump was asked to make the following statement by his staff: “I’m asking you to leave the capital region NOW and go home in a peaceful way.” But he decided to go off script, praising the mob instead.
“I know your pain and I know you’re hurt,” he said. “We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it.”
Later, Trump tweeted: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly and unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”
He also told one staffer, “Mike Pence let me down.”
Matthews said she thought that January 6, 2021 “was one of the darkest days in our nation’s history. And President Trump was treating it as a celebratory occasion with that tweet. It further cemented my decision to resign.”
Tim Murtaugh, former Trump campaign communications director, also expressed disgust with Trump’s handling of the riot. “I don’t think it’s a patriotic act to attack the capitol,” he said in taped testimony. “But I have no idea how to characterize the people other than they trespassed, destroyed property and assaulted the US Capitol. I think calling them patriots is, let’s say, a stretch to say the least.”
The committee played outtakes from Trump’s videotaped address from Jan. 7, showing bizarre footage of a president stumbling over simple words written by White House staff, who wanted him to calm the nation and save his legacy.
“I would like to begin by addressing the heinous attack yesterday,” Trump started, but then stopped several times when mentioning the election and certification. He struggled to admit that he had lost and that he wanted a peaceful transfer of power.
Trump Campaign Director of Communications Tim Murtaugh texted his disgust on Jan. 9 to his deputy director, Matthew Wolking. “Also s—y not to have even acknowledged the death of a Capitol Police officer,” Murtaugh’s text read.
Wolking responded, “That is enraging to me. Everything he said about supporting law enforcement was a lie.”
Murtaugh responded, “You know what that is, of course. If he acknowledged the dead cop, he’d be implicitly faulting the mob. And he won’t do that, because they’re his people. 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.”
Republican committee member Adam Kinzinger minced no words about Trump in his closing statement.
“Donald Trump’s conduct on Jan. 6 was a supreme violation of his oath of office and a complete dereliction of his duty to our nation. It is a stain on our history. It is a dishonor to all those who have sacrificed and died in service of our democracy,” Kinzinger said.
“We will recommend changes and policies to guard against another January 6. The reason that’s imperative is the forces that Donald Trump ignited that day have not gone away. The weird fantasies and disinformation, they’re all still out there,” he said. “Oaths matter more than party tribalism.”
Rep. Benny Thompson, the committee’s co-chair, had to appear via videoconference because of a positive COVID test. In opening Thursday’s hearing, he said the “facts are not in dispute” that Trump orchestrated a concerted effort to overturn the election, including “commanding a violent mob” to attack the Capitol.
“There must be stiff consequences for those responsible,” said the Democrat, signaling the committee’s desire for the Justice Department to act on its findings.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming) confirmed early in the hearing that because new evidence keeps coming in, more hearings would be scheduled for September.
“Doors have opened, more subpoenas have been issued and the dam has begun to break,” Cheney said.
Highlights from previous hearings :
Day 7 multiple witnesses testified on July 12 that a “heated and profane” fight at the White House raged for six hours on December 19 between Donald Trump’s competing factions of advisers. The result, the committee said, was Trump’s now-infamous “Be there, will be wild!” tweet the next day. The hearing also included videotaped testimony from a Twitter employee whose voice was obscured. The employee said he unsuccessfully implored his company to censor the president’s incendiary tweets, telling his superiors: “When people are shooting each other tomorrow, I will try and rest in the knowledge that we tried.” Read more about Day 7 here.
Day 6 on June 28 included the testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top White House aide, described for the committee a “furious” Donald Trump who threw dishes against the wall, ordered that rallygoers with weapons be allowed into his speech and physically tussled with his own security who refused to drive him to the Capitol building as the riot was getting underway. Read about Day 6 highlights here.
Day 5 on June 23 included testimony showing that Trump pressured on his own attorney general’s office to overturn the 2020 election – an effort one dissenting Justice Department official called a “murder-suicide pact.” The committee was expected to hear from a documentary filmmaker Alex Holder, who chronicled the final six weeks of the Donald Trump presidency, but Holder’s appearance was delayed. Read about Day 5 highlights here.
Day 4 on June 21 included Republican state officials from around the country telling the committee how Trump tried to pressure them to overturn election results, including sending supporters to officials’ homes, waving weapons and shouting insults and threats of violence. Read about Day 4 highlights here.
Day 3 kicked off June 16 with testimony focusing on the intense pressure President Trump put on Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the election. John Charles Eastman, an attorney and campaign advisor to Donald Trump and his election team, emerged as a key architect of the plan. Read about Day 3 highlights here.
Day 2 testimony on June 13 included new allegations of Trump campaign-donor fraud, former Attorney General Bill Barr saying Trump’s claims of a stolen election were “complete nonsense,” and tales of a drunken Rudy Giuliani offering election night advice, giving rise to “Team Rudy” and “Team Normal.” Read about Day 2 highlights here.
Day 1 on June 7 showed how Trump “summoned a violent mob” to pressure lawmakers to overturn the election results. The day included testimony from documentary maker Nick Quested, who filmed the Proud Boys storming the Capitol. Capitol police officer Caroline Edwards testified about how she tried to fight off violent protestors on Jan. 6. Read Day 1 highlights here.