Through visceral video footage of the attack, text messages, White House call logs, and other records obtained by the committee, the moment-by-moment of Jan. 6 was unraveled deftly by Reps. Elaine Luria and Adam Kinzinger.
That evidence depicted how Trump never reached out to any law enforcement or national security agencies during the assault and instead spent that afternoon in the White House dining room watching the melee play out on Fox News.
But he was not totally inactive.
He used the time to tweet and make phone calls—largely not on the official White House phones—to Republican senators he believed would help him stop the certification of votes during the joint session. He also called his attorney and the leader of his bunk elector bid, Rudy Giuliani, twice.
Trump had already spent Jan. 6 tweeting furiously about so-called election fraud from 1 AM to roughly 11 AM. Then he went to the Ellipse and against all better advice and guidance provided to him for weeks by his attorneys, members of the nation’s intelligence apparatus, and the Department of Justice about the 2020 election results, he persisted in spreading the lie that the results were rigged.
Then he urged the thousands-strong crowd to “march” to the Capitol and vowed to join them.
Investigators showed how the thousands who gathered in D.C. on Trump’s earlier invitation to this “big protest,” as he called it, hung on his every word. When he maligned then-Vice President Mike Pence in his speech from the Ellipse, they rallied, cheered, and called for Pence to be hanged.
The breach had already begun while Trump was speaking and would only grow worse for the next several hours.
Earlier testimony to the committee from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson alleging the 45th president was irate when informed by his security detail that he would not be taken to the Capitol after his speech was corroborated by Metropolitan Police Department Sergeant Mark Robinson.
Robinson, who was assigned to Trump’s motorcade on Jan. 6 and led operations for it that day, testified: “The only description 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.”
Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson summarized the former president succinctly when he delivered his opening statement at the hearing.
Trump, he said, was a “man of unbridled destructive energy [that] could not be moved, not by his aides, not by his allies, not by the violent chants of rioters or the desperate pleas of those facing down the rioters.”
When Trump finally sent a tweet at 2:24 PM on Jan. 6 attacking Pence for lacking “courage” to stop the count, a riot had already been declared by police in Washington, records have now shown. In fact, Trump had tweeted just moments after the riot was declared.
The message? A retweet of his inciting, disinformation-laden speech from the Ellipse.
Trump watched the siege in real time, Kinzinger said.
Testimony from former White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany and several others, including Trump’s executive assistant Molly Michaels and his attorney Pat Cipollone, confirmed this.
The horror of Trump’s dereliction on Jan. 6 was also highlighted in testimony from White House security officials protecting Pence, who described a frantic period mid-siege when they feared getting the vice president out of the Capitol would be impossible. Smoke was filling the halls, rioters were on both floors inside.
In radio traffic from the Secret Service aired for the first time Thursday night, agents could be heard anxiously planning their maneuvers.
“If we lose any more time, we may have—we may lose the ability to leave. So if we’re going to leave, we need to do it now,” one agent said.
The desperation of Pence’s Secret Service detail was palpable. The National Security Council was tracking the riot in real time. In one entry from the council’s log that day, it was noted: “[Secret] Service at the Capitol does not sound good right now.”
Things weren’t “good” because the situation was devolving, and fast.
“It was disturbing, I don’t like talking about it. But, there were calls to say goodbye to family members and so forth,” an unidentified White House security official testified in recorded closed door deposition.
“There were discussions of reinforcements coming, but it was just chaos,” the witness added.
The person’s identity was not revealed for their protection.
‘if they are running out of options and they are getting nervous, it sounds like we came very close to either Service having to use lethal options or worse. At that point, I don’t know. is the VP compromised? Is the detail compromised? We didn’t—I don’t know. But if they’re screaming and saying things like, ‘say goodbye to the family,’ then the floor needs to know this is going to a whole ‘nother level soon.” the agent said.
Live witnesses who testified Thursday included Trump’s former Deputy National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger and former Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Matthews. Both resigned on Jan. 6. Pottinger said it was Trump’s tweet attacking Pence that sparked his resignation. Matthews told the committee she understood as a member of Trump’s press team, there would very likely come a time when she would be forced to defend the president’s words and actions. She couldn’t, so she resigned, she said.
There was much shock and dismay over Trump’s failure to quell the riot. Perhaps most pointed was disbelief from Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In recorded audio, Milley reflected on Trump: “You’re the commander in chief — you’ve got an assault going on the Capitol of the United States of America and there’s nothing? No call? Nothing? Zero?”
There was just a 60-second walk between the White House dining room and the White House press room, Matthews testified.
The president could have delivered a national address at any time of his choosing. But he chose not to.
The hearing on Thursday was technically the select committee’s ninth public presentation. The very first hearing was convened in July 2021 when members of the Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police department shared their experience with the nation for the first time.
Significant ground has been covered by the probe since then but the work is far from over. Chairman Thompson said the committee would convene another hearing in September and members are expected to review the details of the committee’s interim report.
A final report will follow and is expected before November.
That report, Kinzinger said, would recommend legislative changes to safeguard the country from another January 6.
Trump’s response to the hearing went poorly. He lashed out on his social media platform, Truth Social, by attacking committee members character, the probe’s findings, and, ever still, the results of the 2020 election.
Even Trump’s foot soldiers in the House GOP got in on the action by attacking Matthews while she was testifying.
“Just another liar and pawn in Pelosi’s witch-hunt,” a tweet from the House Republicans conference account said.
Matthews currently serves the communications director for the Republican members of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. A spokesperson for the House GOP issued a statement later pinning blame for the tweet on a “staff level” employee. The tweet was not authorized nor was it the “position of the conference,” the spokesperson said.
While much of what was actually said during the hearing was unsettling enough, interestingly, it was something that went unsaid that spoke volumes.
In his recorded deposition before the committee, Trump attorney Pat Cipollone fielded questions about whether any members of the White House staff wanted the rioters to go home on Jan. 6.
“Who would you put in that category?” Cheney asked.
Cipollone rattled off a list from memory that included Trump’s attorney Pat Philbin, White House counsel Eric Herschmann. Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows ‘overall” wanted it, he added.
The list, which may be missing some names, he acknowledged, also included Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump, her husband and Trump’s adviser Jared Kushner, national security adviser Keith Kellogg, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and Trump’s director of social media Dan Scavino.
And who on the staff did not want people to leave the Capitol? Cheney asked again.
“On the staff?” Cipollone repeated.
In the White House, Cheney said.
“I can’t think of anybody on that day who didn’t want people to get out of the Capitol, you know, particularly once the violence started. I mean...” he said, shaking his head before trailing off.
“What about the president?” committee member and Rep. Adam Schiff asked.
“She said ‘the staff ‘ so I answered,” Cipollone replied.
Cheney reiterated that she was asking if anyone in the White House wanted the rioters to go home.
Cipollone apologized and said he thought she meant “who else on the staff.”
His hands resting atop each other and his lips drawn tight, Cipollone turned to his attorney who was seated next to him for the private deposition.
“I can’t reveal communications,” Cipollone said, referring to executive privilege between himself and Trump.
”But obviously I think, you know...“ he said without ending the sentence.
Instead, he turned to his counsel and the men searched each other’s faces silently. There was no advice coming. Cipollone would not answer the question. So, he turned back to Cheney and ended his testimony.