Pence’s bodyguards were saying goodbye to family as Trump ‘chose not to act’ during Capitol attack, Jan 6 hearing reveals
The violence that unfolded as a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol on the day Congress certified Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory so alarmed the Secret Service agents charged with protecting then-vice president Mike Pence that some of them called their family to say goodbye, all while then-president Donald Trump did nothing, according to testimony delivered before the House January 6 select committee on Thursday.
The prime-time session, the eighth in a series of hearings the nine-member panel has used to present what it has learned about the Capitol attack over its year-long investigation, revealed that Mr Trump’s inaction during the 187 minutes between when he finished a speech at a rally on the Ellipse that day to when he took to the White House Rose Garden to film a now-infamous video in which he told his supporters to go home after calling them “very special”.
Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger, one of the two House members who led Thursday’s presentation, said Mr Trump did not merely “fail to act” during time between leaving the Ellipse and telling the mob to go home.
“He chose not to act,” Mr Kinzinger said.
The select committee made clear throughout its two-hour presentation that Mr Trump’s inaction was purposeful and deliberate: A former White House Deputy Press Secretary, Sarah Matthews, testified that Mr Trump objected to issuing a tweet calling for the rioters to be “peaceful”. Only after Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, advised him to do so did he acquiesce. Ms Matthews also said several of her colleagues feared that any attempt to condemn the violence would be delivering a “win” for the news outlets that were reporting on the pro-Trump riot. Multiple Trump administration officials, including General Keith Kellogg, Mr Pence’s national security adviser, also said Mr Trump made no attempt to contact defence or law enforcement officials, with ex-White House Counsel Pat Cipollone telling the panel that Mr Trump outright refused to take a call from the acting defence secretary.
Ms Matthews, a lifelong Republican who is a communications director for House Republicans on the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, said she considered the two tweets Mr Trump issued to be insufficient. But one of her colleagues disagreed. She said the Trump administration official “suggested that the President shouldn’t condemn the violence because they thought it would be ‘handing a win to the media’ if [he] were to condemn his supporters”.
During the hearing, the House GOP’s official Twitter account called Ms Matthews “a liar and a pawn in [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi’s witch-hunt” before deleting the tweet. Mr Trump also denied knowing knowing her.
“’15 minutes of fame’ Matthews, who I didn’t know, is clearly lying”, he said in a statement.
The committee also revealed testimony from multiple sources corroborating what ex-Trump White House official Cassidy Hutchinson had alleged in testimony several weeks ago regarding an altercation between Mr Trump and members of his Secret Service detail. Ms Hutchinson had told the select committee that she’d heard from the head of Mr Trump’s detail that he’d become violent when told he could not accompany the riotous mob of his supporters as they marched the 1.8 miles from the White House to the Capitol.
Secret Service officials, including Trump detail leader Robert Engel and former Trump Deputy White House Chief of Staff Tony Ornato — himself a Secret Service agent — have denied any such altercation took place. But a retired District of Columbia police officer who participated in the presidential motorcade that day, Sergeant Mark Robinson, told the committee that there was a “heated discussion” in Mr Trump’s limousine that caused a delay, which was something he’d never witnessed in the hundreds of motorcades he’d worked.
Multiple witnesses also testified that Mr Trump was informed that rioters had breached the Capitol’s defences within minutes of violence erupting at the site of the quadrennial joint session at which Congress was to make his defeat to Joe Biden official.
The committee revealed that Mr Trump’s first call after returning to the White House was to his then-personal attorney, ex-New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, at 1.39 pm.
Ten minutes later, Washington, DC Metropolitan Police officials declared a riot at the US Capitol. At the same time — 1.49 pm — Mr Trump tweeted out a video of the speech he’d delivered at the Ellipse just before.
At the Capitol, the situation was becoming fraught. Mr Pence, who had been presiding over the Senate, was removed from the chamber by his protective detail.
In an unprecedented move, the select committee played recordings of the encrypted radio channel used by the special agents charged with guarding Mr Pence.
The agents discussed the progress of the rioters, who had breached the Senate wing of the Capitol and were making their way to the second floor, where the vice president had just been presiding over the upper chamber.
“If we lose any time, we may lose the ability to leave…If we are going to leave we need to do it now,” one agent said, the strain evident in his voice.
A White House security official, his voice disguised to protect his identity, told the committee that the situation at the Capitol had become so alarming that the Secret Service agents began to fear for their safety.
“The members of the VP detail at this time were starting to fear for their own lives,” the official said. “There were calls to say goodbye to family members.”
At 2.24 pm, Mr Trump sent out a tweet criticising Mr Pence for refusing to help him overturn the election they had lost. The rioters were incensed by the tweet to the point that Mr Pence’s bodyguards had to move him once more.
Matt Pottinger, a US Marine Corps veteran and former Wall Street Journal reporter who served as Mr Trump’s Deputy National Security Adviser, told the select committee that the tweet about Mr Pence was what pushed him to resign his position.
“One of my aides handed me a sheet of paper that contained the tweet … I read it and was quite disturbed by it. I was disturbed and worried to see that the President was attacking [Mr] Pence for doing his constitutional duty. So the tweet looked to me like the opposite of what we really needed that moment, which was a de-escalation. And that’s why I had said … it looked like fuel being poured on the fire. So that was the moment that I decided that I was going to resign. That would be my last day at the White House. I simply didn’t want to be associated with the events that were unfolding [at] the Capitol,” he said.
Numerous aides, allies, and even members of his own family urged Mr Trump to tell the rioters to go home. But Mr Trump resisted the idea for hours until he was finally convinced to film the Rose Garden video in which he told the rioters: “We love you, you’re very special”.
But even after the mob had been cleared from the building, Mr Trump continued to insist on perpetuating the lies he tells to this day about the 2020 election.
Representative Pramila Jayapal, who was present at the hearing, told The Independent that the Department of Justice needed to take action to make sure that Mr Trump could never hold office again.
“So I think if we are to ever have accountability for this, the Justice Department needs to be prosecuted, jail, make sure Donald Trump never runs again for office and all the people who are involved, need to be appropriately have to face appropriate punishment and penalty”, she said.
In what was one of his last-ever tweets, Mr Trump wrote that the events of the day were “the things that happen” when elections are stolen, even though the election was not stolen.
His personal aide, Nick Luna, told the select committee that he told Mr Trump the tweet made it appear that he had something to do with the attack on the Capitol, but Mr Trump sent it anyway.
The next day, he continued to keep up the lies.
On the advice of his aides, Mr Trump took to the Roosevelt Room of the White House to record a video about the previous day’s events.
The committee played outtakes from the video the White House released that day. In it, Mr Trump balks at saying one of the opening lines of the speech condemning the mob violence he’d incited.
“I don’t wanna say the election is over,” he said.
Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, a member of the committee, told reporters after the hearing that Mr Trump’s refusal to declare the election over continues, given how he reportedly tried to make Wisconsin’s Republican house speaker change the 2020 election results.
“So to this day, he does not accept the outcome of the election and he is trying to make that fiction a litmus test for participation in the Republican Party”, he said. “And if not, we see that he’s really trying to operate a political party like a religious cult.”
The hearing was the last officially announced one but Ms Cheney said that the select committee would reconvene more hearings in September.
“Doors have opened, new subpoenas have been issued, and the dam has begun to break”, she said. “And now, even as we conduct our ninth hearing, we have considerably more to do. We have far more evidence to share with the American people, and more to gather.”
Mr Raskin later clarified that no additional hearings have yet been announced for the month of September.
“ I can bet you that there will be other hearings in the future but we’re not saying when and we’re not saying exactly what the subjects of them are”, he said.