Despite desperate pleas from aides, allies, Republican congressional leaders and even his family, Donald Trump refused to call off the mob attack on the US Capitol building on 6 January 2021.
Instead, Trump was “pouring gasoline on the fire” by aggressively tweeting his false claims of a stolen election and celebrating his crowd of supporters as “very special,” the committee investigating events of that day have heard.
Chilling testimony also came from a former White House security official, whose voice was disguised to protect their identity.
The former official described the tense situation as events unfolded, especially with concerns about the safety of former Vice President Mike Pence.
“The members of the VP detail at this time were starting to fear for their own lives. There was a lot of yelling. There were a lot of very personal calls over the radio, so it was disturbing. I don’t like talking about it,” the official told the inquiry.
“There were calls to say goodbye to family members, so on and so forth … for whatever reason it was on the ground, the VP detail thought this was about to get very ugly,” they said.
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 with new testimony and never-before-seen video footage.
In a gripping moment, the panel showed Trump refusing to deliver a speech the next day declaring the election was over, his daughter, Ivanka Trump, heard off camera, encouraging him to read the script.
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 compel the defeated president to act. Instead, he watched the violence unfold on TV.
“President Trump didn’t fail to act,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a fellow Republican but frequent Trump critic who flew combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. “He chose not to act.”
After months of work and weeks of hearings, the prime-time hearing started the way the committee began — laying blame for the deadly attack on Trump himself for summoning the mob to Washington and sending them to Capitol Hill.
The defeated president turned his supporters’ “love of country into a weapon,” said the panel’s Republican vice chair Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming.
Far from finishing its work after Thursday’s hearing, probably the last of the summer, the panel will start up again in September as more witnesses and information emerge. Cheney said “the dam has begun to break” on revealing what happened that fateful day, at the White House as well as in the violence at the Capitol.
Trump, who is considering another White House run, has dismissed the committee and called its findings “fake.”
Hundreds charged so far with crimes
The hearing room was packed, including with several police officers who fought off the mob that day, and the family of one officer who died the day after the attack.
While the committee cannot make criminal charges, the Justice Department is monitoring its work.
So far, more than 840 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riot. Over 330 of them have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors. Of the more than 200 defendants to be sentenced, approximately 100 received terms of imprisonment.
No former president has ever been federally prosecuted by the Justice Department.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said Wednesday that Jan. 6 is “the most wide-ranging investigation and the most important investigation that the Justice Department has ever entered into.”
Five people died that day as Trump supporters battled the police in gory hand-to-hand combat to storm the Capitol. One officer has testified that she was “slipping in other people’s blood” as they tried to hold back the mob. One Trump supporter was shot and killed by police.
The panel showed previously unseen testimony from the president’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., with a text message to his father’s chief of staff Mark Meadows urging his father to call off the mob.
Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner also testified in previously recorded video of a “scared” GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy calling him for help.
“President’s words matter,” said Representative Elaine Luria, a Democrat from Virginia, who is also a former Naval officer. “We know that many of the rioters were listening to President Trump.”
Luria said the panel had received testimony the confirming the powerful previous account of former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson of an altercation involving Trump as he insisted the Secret Service drive him to the Capitol.
Among the witnesses testifying Thursday in a recorded video was retired District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department Sgt. 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.
Chairman Bennie Thompson, appearing virtually as he self-isolates with COVID-19, 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,” charged Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi.
“Our investigation goes forward,” said Thompson. “There needs to be accountability.”