On Sunday, ABC News reported on alleged statements from Donald Trump staffers forced to testify to special counsel Jack Smith about events on Jan. 6, 2021. Included was former deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino, who continues to work for Trump as a paid adviser to his election campaign. Those statements shred any idea that Trump did anything other than support the insurgency.
The result of testimony by Scavino and others who were present in the White House as the Trumpist mob stormed the Capitol doesn’t just confirm what was already known—that Trump sat and watched images of the insurrection without taking action—it undercuts a critical item that supporters have been using in an effort to distance Trump from assaults on police and threats against members of Congress.
A tweet including the phrase “stay peaceful,” which appeared on Trump’s Twitter account almost half an hour after the pro-Trump forces smashed through the windows of the Capitol, was not written by Trump. Instead, it was both written and posted by Scavino while Trump sat cheering on the attack.
The “stay peaceful” part of the tweet was always a lie. The message appeared over an hour after police on the scene first reported injuries and called for backup as the Trump mob forced them to retreat to the Capitol steps and broke through line after line. It was far too late for Trump’s supporters to stay peaceful.
The brief tweet seems to be urging Trump supporters to at least halt their assaults on the police, though it notably doesn’t call for them to withdraw from the Capitol.
But even this small gesture turns out to be a lie. According to the testimony reported by ABC, the tweet came as Trump was sitting in the White House dining room “with his arms folded and his eyes locked on the TV,” angrily cheering on the insurgents. After 20 minutes of trying to get Trump to send some kind of message to calm the situation, Scavino and other aides stepped out of the room.
When they did, Trump pulled out his phone and posted to Twitter.
This tweet spurring the insurgents on was authentically written and posted by Trump.
After seeing this message, Scavino and others returned to the dining room and told Trump this wasn’t what was needed to resolve the situation. “But it’s true,” said Trump. When he was told that Pence had to be rushed to a secure location, Trump responded, "So what?"
It was only after this, with pro-Trump insurgents already inside the Capitol and assaults on police continuing, that Scavino—who also had access to Trump’s Twitter account—wrote and published the “stay peaceful” tweet. Scavino reportedly showed the tweet to Trump before it was posted and was given permission to send it.
During the afternoon, at least six of Trump’s closest assistants urged him to say something to end the situation. Trump either ignored them or outright refused. He did the same when Ivanka reportedly appeared to beg him to end the insurrection.
Instead, Trump just kept watching Fox News coverage. When he did speak, it was to justify the assault or to continue false claims that he had won the election. As images of the rampage inside the Capitol were shown, Trump reportedly said only, “This is what happens when they try to steal an election.”
Finally, almost two hours after the Scavino tweet, Jared Kushner talked Trump into sending a video that eventually helped to end the event. But even then, that brief video informed the insurgents that they were “very special,” declared that Trump loved them, and insisted that “this was a fraudulent election.” It wasn’t a warning to the insurgents. It was a pat on the head.
The new elements of this story show that Smith’s investigation has only clarified and reinforced the worst of what was already known about Trump’s actions—and inactions—on Jan. 6. Trump wasn’t ignorant of what was happening at the Capitol, he was fixated on those events, watching every minute unfold. He didn’t just fail to act, he refused to act in the face of repeated requests from his closest advisers, members of Congress, and his daughter. Scavino only agreed to provide this testimony to Smith’s office after losing a battle over a federal subpoena.
The single action of the afternoon that was seen by some as exculpatory wasn’t written or posted by Trump. Instead, Trump was directly responsible only for the tweet that encouraged his followers to take out their wrath on Pence.
Trump had better hope his pressure tactics against his Supreme Court appointees are effective. That could be his only chance.