While rioters smashed through police lines at the Capitol, Donald Trump asked aides for a list of senators to call as he continued to pursue paths to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election.
“He wanted a list of senators,” former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in recorded testimony, aired by the Jan. 6 select committee at a public hearing Thursday night.
McEnany didn’t identify which senators Trump called, but one of them was Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), who has previously described receiving a call from the then-president just as he and Pence were being evacuated, as the mob encroached on the Senate chamber.
The new evidence underscored Trump’s fixation on seizing a second term and disrupting the transfer of power, even as his vice president and Congress were fleeing from violent rioters. The committee aired audio from Pence’s Secret Service detail making rapid-fire decisions about the proper route through the Capitol to avoid confronting the mob.
“We may lose the ability to leave,” one agent warned moments before Pence was ushered to an underground loading dock, where he remained for the remainder of the riot.
The evidence was the centerpiece of the committee’s case that Trump didn’t just sit on his hands during the riot, he welcomed the chaos and sought to use it to further his goal to cling to power and prevent Joe Biden from taking office.
“President Trump did not fail to act … he chose not to act,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), at Thursday’s hearing, the eighth in the committee’s recent series.
The panel added new details to the timeline of Trump’s actions, painting a picture of a president who sat idly in the Oval Office, watching on TV as pro-Trump rioters battered their way through police lines and into the Capitol. While Trump’s public silence during much of the violence is already well-known, the panel argues that the new evidence it is revealing about what happened inside the West Wing will show he purposely didn’t intervene in the chaos until it was clear the mob had failed to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election.
“Donald Trump ignored and disregarded the desperate pleas of his own family, including Ivanka and Don Jr.” said Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), referring to the former president’s children. “He could not be moved.”
The hearing focused intensely on the now-famous “187 minutes” — the period of time between when Trump urged his supporters to march on the Capitol, 1:10 p.m., and when Trump haltingly told them to depart, at 4:17 p.m.
The committee showed new testimony from Trump White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, including his recollection of discussions with colleagues about the mob’s chants of “hang Mike Pence.” Though Cipollone relied on executive privilege to decline to discuss whether he raised concerns about this directly with Trump, White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson said she overheard Cipollone discussing the matter with then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. She recalled overhearing Meadows say Trump thought Pence deserved it.
One of the committee’s live witnesses, former press aide Sarah Matthews, described how easily the press team could have arranged for Trump to make an address to the White House press corps quickly: “He could have been on camera almost instantly.” But the order never came, she said.
The hearing also emphasized the role of Trump’s 2:24 p.m. tweet, in which he angrily attacked Mike Pence for his refusal to attempt to block the transfer of power. The committee showed testimony from Trump White House aides uniformly expressing disappointment and frustration at Trump’s broadside against Pence, which also rippled through the mob itself, with rioters amplifying it and using it to urge others to enter the Capitol.
“My reaction is that it’s a terrible tweet,” Cipollone told the select committee. “I disagreed with the sentiment.”
“The scenes at the U.S. Capitol were only getting worse at that point,” said former White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere. “This was not going to help that.”
Thursday night’s hearing is closing the latest chapter of the select panel’s investigation, but investigators vowed to keep going. Its probe has opened up extraordinary new avenues of inquiry — from Secret Service agents’ deletion of text messages in the days surrounding Jan. 6 to the legal concerns about Trump’s plans that day from his own White House counsel’s office.
“We anticipate further testimony” from the Secret Service, said Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), one of two lawmakers leading Thursday’s hearing.
Thompson said the committee would reconvene in September to continue presenting evidence to the American people about a “coordinated, multi-step effort to overturn an election overseen and directed by Donald Trump.”
“There needs to be accountability, accountability under the law, accountability to the American people,” Thompson said. “If there’s no accountability for January 6, for every part of this scheme, I fear we will not overcome the growing threat to our democracy.”
The hearing’s two witnesses are former Trump White House aides, Sarah Matthews and Matthew Pottinger. But select panel members also featured extensive video clips from witnesses interviews, highlighting the vast network of Trump allies who tried to facilitate his plans.
By all accounts, witnesses are coming forward at a steady clip, offering new insights about the multiple facets of Trump’s plan, which grew increasingly desperate as Jan. 6 approached. Some of them were featured in Thursday’s hearing, including Cipollone, who testified privately to the committee earlier this month.
The committee emphasized that while Trump was continuing to lean on senators and allies to aid his quest to remain in power, he never called security agencies to send aid to the Capitol.
He also fielded pleas for help from House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, who has told allies he rejected Trump’s contention that the violent mob was a left-wing assault masquerading as Trump supporters. Trump then replied the mob must have cared more about the election than McCarthy did, according to Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), who has publicly recounted a conversation she had with McCarthy where he described the phone call.
The panel is likely to turn the lens on the post-Jan. 6 period in the White House, when a still defiant Trump continued to consider ways to overturn the election. That aspect of the investigation has been largely overlooked, but the committee has eyed Trump’s actions in those closing days as he fended off talk about removing him from office, both through impeachment and the 25th amendment. Trump still huddled with fringe advisers, like MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who was seen in late January carrying papers that referenced invoking the Insurrection Act, part of a plan that Trump considered to seize voting machines from various states.
The committee has also shown that Trump’s outside lawyers continued to strategize about potential legal actions that might undo the results of the election, and Fox News host Sean Hannity texted with then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) about trying to usher Trump out of office without further resistance.
Meadows’ role was a focus Thursday as well. Aides have testified about his communications with Trump during the riot. A top Meadows adviser, Cassidy Hutchinson, told the committee that Meadows emerged from a conversation with Trump on Jan. 6 and indicated that Trump had expressed support for an ominous sentiment chanted by rioters at the Capitol: “Hang Mike Pence.”