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Trump opted against calling off his loyalists during Jan. 6 Capitol riot, former aides tell select panel

'Trump’s conduct on January 6th was a supreme violation of his oath of office,' Rep. Kinzinger said

Matthew Pottinger and Sarah Matthews, both former Trump White House aides, are sworn in Thursday night at the start of a House select committee hearing probing the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot.
Matthew Pottinger and Sarah Matthews, both former Trump White House aides, are sworn in Thursday night at the start of a House select committee hearing probing the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

As the Capitol was being stormed on Jan. 6, 2021, law enforcement officers were being beaten unconscious and members of Vice President Mike Pence’s Secret Service detail feared for their lives. But President Donald Trump opted against taking action, an intentional decision that the House select committee investigating the attack contended was just one of several ways Trump violated his oath of office and showed he was responsible for the insurrection.

The panel’s eighth public hearing — led by Reps. Elaine Luria, D-Va., and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill. — on Thursday night was the culmination of a series of blockbuster and dramatic summer presentations that collectively have shown how Trump sought to stop lawmakers’ counting of the state electoral votes, summoned a mob of his supporters to Washington and then chose not to mitigate the violence at the Capitol for three hours.

Trump “watched TV, tweeted, called senators to try to delay the count of electoral votes, called Rudy Giuliani and argued with his staff who were insisting that he should call off the attack,” Luria said, referring to his former personal attorney.

On Jan. 6, as rioters broke into the Capitol around 2:13 p.m., members of Pence’s Secret Service detail were scrambling to get him to safety, coming within feet of the angry mob. The agents held Pence in his office, just off the Senate floor, for 13 minutes as they worked to clear a safe path to a secure location.

The situation was so precarious that agents were “starting to fear for their own lives,” and made “calls to say goodbye to family members,” according to a White House security official who spoke to the committee with his identity masked. The Secret Service detail thought “this was about to get very ugly,” the official said. At 2:26 p.m., Pence was rushed out of his office to a secure location.

Former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, other White House staffers and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., urged Trump to do something about the violence. Cipollone told the committee his sentiments that day: “There needs to be a public announcement fast that they need to leave the Capitol.”

The committee outlined many potential steps Trump avoided, actions that aides testified they believed would have prevented further violence because the then-president’s supporters hung on and responded to his every word, Sarah Matthews, a former Trump White House press aide, told the panel Thursday night. That list of actions he declined to take included the president not seeking assistance from the Defense Department, District of Columbia National Guard, Department of Homeland Security or the U.S. Capitol Police.

“The president did not call the VP or anyone in the military, federal law enforcement or D.C. government. Not a single person,” Luria said of Trump. Recorded testimony by Cipollone showed him telling the select panel he wasn’t aware of any phone calls from Trump on Jan. 6 to the secretary of Defense, attorney general or the secretary of Homeland Security.

From 1:25 p.m. until around 4 p.m., Trump stayed in the president’s private dining room in the West Wing and for most of that time watched the violence unfold on Fox News, aides told the committee.

The committee said there is no official record of what Trump was doing in the dining room; the official presidential call log has no record of Trump receiving or placing a call between 11:06 a.m. and 6:54 p.m. Further, the presidential daily diary has no information between 1:21 p.m. and 4:03 p.m., and there were no photos of Trump taken during that time, the panel said.

Trump spoke off-the-cuff during his 4:17 p.m. video, telling the rioters to “go home” and that he “loves” them. He did not use the part written for him that read: “I am asking you to leave the Capitol Hill region NOW and go home in a peaceful way.”

Judd Deere, a former White House deputy press secretary, said in recorded testimony that the 4:17 p.m. video was the “absolute bare minimum of what could have been said, at that point, for something on camera.”

Matthews said Trump’s “refusal to act and call off the mob that day and his refusal to condemn the violence was indefensible” and led her to resign the night of Jan. 6.

On Jan. 7, when recording a speech inside the White House, Trump refused to say the election was over or admit culpability for the riot.

“I don’t want to say the election is over,” Trump said in outtakes from the Jan. 7 speech. “I just want to say Congress has certified the results without saying the election is over, okay?”

The committee put on display a detailed presentation by Luria and Kinzinger — both have military experience — on how Trump chose not to intervene, despite knowing how bad things were on Capitol Hill.

“Donald Trump’s conduct on January 6th was a supreme violation of his oath of office and a complete dereliction of his duty to our nation,” Kinzinger said. “It is a stain on our history. It is a dishonor to all those who have sacrificed and died in service of our democracy.”

The panel will convene more hearings in September, Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said.

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