When a mob of his supporters attacked the Capitol, former President Donald J. Trump sat in his dining room next to the Oval Office, watched the violence on television and decided to do nothing for hours to stop it, a number of former administration officials testified of House Committee is investigating Jan. 6 attack in accounts presented Thursday.
In a final public hearing of the summer and one of the most dramatic of the probe, the panel delivered a full account of how Mr. Trump could not be persuaded to act until it was clear the riot had not disrupted the session of Congress to end his election defeat to confirm.
Even then, the committee showed never-before-seen footage from the White House, Mr. Trump refused to admit privately — “I don’t want to say the election is over!” he angrily told aides as he recorded a video message that appeared on the day written for him after the attack—or to condemn the attack on the Capitol as a crime.
The committee called out a number of witnesses assembled to make it difficult for viewers to dismiss them as tools of a partisan witch hunt — senior Trump aides, veterans and military leaders, loyal Republicans, and even members of Mr. Trump’s own family — and noted that the President wantonly rebuffed her efforts to persuade him to mobilize a response to the deadliest attack on the Capitol in two centuries.
“You are the supreme commander. They have an attack underway on the US Capitol and there’s nothing there?” General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s most senior military officer, told the panel. “No call? Nothing? Zero?”
It was sort of a closing argument in the case the panel built against Mr Trump, one whose central contention is that the former president failed in his duty because he didn’t do everything he could for 187 minutes – or did nothing at all – to call off the attack carried out in his name.
Thursday’s session, chaired by two military veterans with testimony from one another, was also an appeal to patriotism, as the panel claimed Mr Trump’s inaction during the unrest was a final, flagrant breach of his oath of office that ended a multi-pronged and unsuccessful attempt to reverse his 2020 election loss.
In perhaps one of the most jarring revelations, the committee presented evidence that a call from a Pentagon official to coordinate a response to the attack on the Capitol while it was underway initially went unanswered because, according to a White House attorney, ” the President did it I want nothing done.”
And the panel played Secret Service radio transmissions and testimonies that showed in startling detail how close Vice President Mike Pence came to danger during the riot, including a report on members of his Secret Service detail who were so shaken by the developments that they contacted the family members to say goodbye.
Both testimonies came from a former White House official, whom the committee did not identify by name – and whose voice was altered to protect his identity – who was described as “responsible for national security.”
The witness described an exchange between Eric Herschmann, an attorney working at the White House, and White House Attorney Pat A. Cipollone about the call from the Pentagon.
“Mr. Herschmann turned to Mr. Cipollone and said, ‘The President didn’t want to do anything,'” testified the witness. “Mr. Cipollone had to answer the call himself.”
Key revelations from the January 6 hearings
The committee also played dramatic radio footage over a 10-minute period, from 2:14 p.m evacuation held at his office near the Senate chambers as the mob approached.
“Hard this door,” said an agent. “If we move, we have to move now,” said another. And elsewhere: “If we lose any more time, we may lose the ability to walk.”
And in a frightening moment over the radio, an agent warned, “There’s smoke. Unknown what type of smoke it is.”
Mr Cipollone described to the committee how most other White House staffers believed Mr Trump needed to do more to quell the violence, but when asked for the President’s view on whether the riot should end, he declined and reprimanded to executive privileges.
“I felt that more had to be done,” testified Mr. Cipollone.
White House officials told how the President refused to take the few steps down the hall to the White House briefing room to fend off the mob, instead tweeting an attack on Mr Pence as he fled for his life.
“I think that moment when he tweeted the news about Mike Pence, he was pouring gas on the fire and making it a lot worse,” said Sarah Matthews, a former White House press secretary who resigned on Jan. 6 and was one of two witnesses who testified in person on Thursday.
The other was Matthew Pottinger, a Marine Corps veteran who was deputy national security adviser and the senior White House official, who resigned on Jan. 6.
“That was the moment I decided I was going to step down, that this was going to be my last day in the White House,” Mr Pottinger said, referring to Mr Trump’s Twitter condemnation of the vice president. “I just didn’t want to be associated with the events that were taking place on the Capitol.”
Ms. Matthews also told the committee that White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany confided in her that Mr. Trump did not want to mention the word “peace” in any tweet, and reluctantly agreed to his daughter Ivanka Trump’s suggestion to ask people , “to remain peaceful”.
Ms. McEnany “looked straight at me and informed me in a hushed tone that the President did not want to include any mention of peace in that tweet,” Ms. Matthews testified.
While Mr. Pence was on the phone trying to dispatch the National Guard to protect himself and his family after the evacuation to the Capitol after the evacuation, Mr. Trump did not call a single government official to try to stop the violence, witnesses said. The call Mr. Trump made was Rudolph W. Giuliani, his personal attorney, who supported his efforts to overturn the election results, including calling Republican senators on Jan. 6 to get them to delay the congressional election count disturb.
A day after the attack, two of Mr. Trump’s communications aides lamented Mr. Trump’s response to the violence and the toll it took on law enforcement after 150 officers were injured and one, Brian D. Sicknick of Capitol Police, died.
“If he admitted to the dead cop, he would be implicitly blaming the mafia. And he’s not going to do that because they’re his people,” said one, Tim Murtaugh, a former Trump campaign communications director. “And he would also be close to admitting that what he lit at the rally is out of control. In no way does he acknowledge anything that could ultimately be called his fault. No way.”
The hearing barely marked the end of the committee’s work. The panel now plans to enter a second phase of investigation, produce a preliminary report and hold further hearings in September.
“The investigation is still ongoing, if not accelerated,” said Rep. Elaine Luria, a Virginia Democrat and a member of the committee. “We’re gaining so much new information.”
Lawmakers said they would use August, when Congress is taking an extended break, to prepare a preliminary report on their findings, expected to be released in September. However, a final report — complete with exhibits and transcripts — could wait until December, just before the committee will disband at the start of a new Congress on January 3, 2023.
For Thursday’s session, the panel turned to two military veterans — Ms. Luria, a Navy veteran, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican and Air National Guard lieutenant colonel — to conduct the questioning.
“President Trump missed nothing in the 187 minutes between exiting the ellipse and telling the mob to go home,” Kinzinger said. “He chose not to act.”
At each of its hearings in June and July, the panel has presented evidence lawmakers believe could be used to support a criminal case against Mr Trump. The committee presented evidence of a conspiracy to defraud the American people and Mr. Trump’s own donors; plans to submit false voter lists which could lead to charges of filing false documents with the government; and evidence of conspiracy to disrupt the vote count on Capitol Hill, suggesting he could be prosecuted for obstructing an official congressional process.
The allegation that Mr Trump neglected his duty may not be grounds for a criminal complaint, Ms Luria said, but it raises ethical, moral and legal issues. At least one judge has cited Mr Trump’s inaction as grounds for civil lawsuits against Mr Trump.
The committee has spent nearly two months laying out its narrative of a president who, after failing in a series of efforts to reverse his defeat, ordered a mob of his supporters to march to the Capitol after delivering a speech , in which he angered Mr. Pence for his non-interference in the official count of congressional ballots to confirm Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s election to the presidency.
On Thursday, it revealed testimony underscoring how even Republican congressmen begged Trump to call off the mob, turning to his children when the president refused.
Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, testified that Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader, called him in the midst of the violence and asked for help.
“I heard my phone ring, turned off the shower and saw that it was Leader McCarthy who I had a good relationship with,” Mr. Kushner testified. “He told me it was getting really ugly over at the Capitol and said, ‘Please, you know, anything you could do to help, I’d appreciate it.’ ”
“I don’t remember a specific question, just everything you could do,” Mr. Kushner added. “Again, I felt like they were scared.”
Mr McCarthy was just one of many Republicans who called on Mr Trump that day to end the violence, some of whom sent texts to Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff.
Most of these Republicans returned to the House of Representatives after police drove the mob out of the Capitol and, even after the violence, voted for Mr. Trump’s efforts to reverse his defeat and supported his lies about a stolen election.