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Trump’s inaction on Jan. 6 was dereliction of duty, Jan. 6 committee argues

Lawmakers held their finale summer hearing in prime time, documenting the 187 minutes in which rioters stormed the Capitol and then-President Trump bided his time.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Donald Trump both spurred the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and was derelict in his duty as president that day, the House committee investigating last year's insurrection asserted Thursday, using the last of its summer hearings to focus its closing argument on Trump's refusal to act for more than three hours while rioters took over the halls of Congress in a bid to overturn the peaceful transfer of power.

After a month of blockbuster hearings detailing the president’s role in the attack, Thursday's testimony added new chilling details to the narrative of the insurrection, including testimony that the vice president’s security staff feared for their lives in the Capitol as countless White House staff urged the president to call off the mob.

Never-before-seen footage from Jan. 7, with the carnage of the violent attack on the Capitol steps still fresh, also laid bare Trump’s refusal to declare the election was over.

The video shows Trump rehearsing a message on Jan. 7 but pushing back against the words written by his staff. 

“This election is now over, Congress has certified the results,” he says in the video, reading from the teleprompter.

“I don’t want to say the election is over," Trump then notes, off-script.

Separate from the newly revealed footage from Jan. 7, the panel focused Thursday on a minute-by-minute account of the president’s inaction on Jan. 6, starting with the mob that formed at the Ellipse where then-President Trump was holding a Stop the Steal rally to push the lie that his reelection to a second term was stolen.

For the 187 minutes following that speech, Trump supporters marched to the Capitol building, threatened the lives of members of Congress and then-Vice President Mike Pence, and breached the Capitol, temporarily halting the certification of the 2020 presidential election results and trading blows with police officers.

Trump meanwhile remained quiet. Despite having been told within 15 minutes of leaving the rally stage that the Capitol was under attack, according to the panel, it took 187 minutes for Trump to respond publicly.

"He could not be moved to rise from his dining room table and walk the few steps down the White House hallways into the press briefing room, where cameras were anxiously and desperately waiting to carry his message,” Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson said Thursday, appearing at the hearing remotely due to a Covid-19 diagnosis.

Stationed in the White House dining room with the TV tuned in to Fox News, the president looked on as the insurrection raged.

His pressure campaign to get Pence to subvert the election results had failed. His efforts to influence officials in the Justice Department to investigate baseless claims of fraud were fruitless. His urging that state officials question the results of the 2020 presidential election that Biden had legitimately won gained no traction.

“Only one thing was achieving President Trump’s goal,” said Representative Liz Cheney, one of two Republicans on the panel, referencing the mob of Trump supporters who laid siege to the Capitol.

The then-president did not call the vice president, the secretary of defense, the attorney general, the secretary of Homeland Security or request a law enforcement response as the rally turned into a violent mob on the Capitol building that resulted in multiple deaths, according to testimony from former White House counsel Pat Cipollone.

In fact, it was Pence who called for the national guard to get to the Capitol.

In this image from video, a security video shows Vice President Mike Pence being evacuated from near the Senate chamber as rioters breach the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Senate Television via AP)

Representative Adam Kinzinger, the other Republican on the committee, minced no words in his condemnation of Trump.

"Whatever your politics, whatever you think about the election, we all must agree on this: Donald Trump's actions on Jan. 6 [were] a supreme violation of his oath of office and a complete dereliction of duty to our nation. It is a stain on our history,” Kinzinger said.

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At 2:24 p.m., after rioters had already broken into the Capitol, Trump sent out a tweet claiming that Pence did not have the “courage” to overturn the election results.

Two minutes later, the mob got within 40 feet of Pence as he was relocated within the Capitol a second time.

As the attack on the Capitol raged, members of Pence’s own security detail began to fear for their lives and their ability to leave the Capitol, according to testimony from an anonymous White House security official and radio communications from the vice president’s security team.

“There were calls to say goodbye to family members,” the security official testified in recorded audio.

An anonymous White House official told the panel that they heard of a conversation between former Trump adviser Eric Herschmann and Cipollone about a call from the Pentagon, which was seeking White House coordination to respond to the attack.

Cipollone took the call, according to the witness, because Trump reportedly did not want to take action.

Cipollone testified he urged the president to make a public statement, and Herschmann, chief of staff Mark Meadows, as well as the president’s eldest daughter Ivanka Trump also pushed for Trump to call for an end to the riot.

Donald Trump Jr. texted Meadows, warning that “they will try to fuck his entire legacy on this if it gets worse.”

Former deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews testified Thursday that if Trump had wanted to give a speech to the American public from the press briefing room, where cameras are constantly set up, “he could have been on camera almost instantly.”

As the White House press team debated whether it would be a “win” for Trump to call off the mob, Matthews testified she pointed to the violence unfolding on TV.

“I said, 'Do you think it looks like we’re effing winning? Because I don’t think that it does,'” she said.

Matthews handed in her resignation on Jan. 6.

After hours of silence, Trump finally took to the Rose Garden after 4 p.m. on Jan. 6, calling for his supporters to “go home,” adding “we love you.”

In those remarks, Trump refused to use the scripted speech written by his staff, instead speaking off the cuff.

Trump’s video speech came after police officers had begun to gain control of the situation at the Capitol.

“The writing was already on the wall, the rioters would not succeed,” Representative Elaine Luria of Virginia said of the moment Trump decided to finally call for an end to the attack. “It’s no coincidence, then, that Trump finally gave in.

As the panel played video of Trump’s Jan. 6 speech, a group of House Democrats at the hearing shook their heads in recollection of the then-president’s speech. On Jan. 6, they had been trapped in the House gallery as rioters stormed the Capitol.

The panel also provided further detail on Trump’s desire to go to the Capitol alongside his supporters on Jan. 6, despite aides urging him not to do so. 

An anonymous White House security official testified in an audio recording that security advisers were concerned about Trump's desire to go to the Capitol.

"We all knew what that implicated and what that meant, that this was no longer a rally," they said of what would happen if Trump went to the Capitol on Jan. 6.

"I don’t know if you want to use the word insurrection or coup,” they added.

Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified during a previous hearing that both House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Cipollone warned her that Trump should stay away from the Capitol building, with Cipollone concerned it could bring about legal repercussions.

Hutchinson also testified that Anthony Ornato, the head of Trump’s security detail, told her that when Trump discovered his car was headed to the White House, not the Capitol, on Jan. 6, he lunged for the steering wheel and then at the throat of Secret Service agent Bobby Engel.

Hutchinson recalled that Ornato told her of the altercation in front of Engel, who did not dispute the story. 

A image of former President Donald Trump talking to his Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is seen as Cassidy Hutchinson, former aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, testifies on June 28, 2022, before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. (Sean Thew/Pool via AP)

Some news organizations have since cited anonymous Secret Service sources who dispute Hutchinson’s story.

Retired D.C. officer Mark Robinson, a member of the president’s motorcade on Jan. 6, backed up portions of Hutchinson’s narrative, testifying in recorded video that he heard of a “heated” altercation in the president’s car, and that the motorcade was at a standstill for 45 minutes to an hour on the way to the White House.

An anonymous security official also told the committee that Ornato told them Trump was “irate” over not going to the Capitol. 

Last week, the committee subpoenaed the Secret Service to turn over deleted text messages from the time surrounding Jan. 6.

But the Secret Service has said the texts were deleted due to a preplanned system migration program in late January 2021 that resulted in deleted cellphone data.

Committee aides said the Secret Service turned over one text message to the panel but did not say what the content of the text was.

Thompson and Representative Liz Cheney, vice chair of the committee, raised concerns this week about the deleted messages.

“The procedure for preserving content prior to this purge appears to have been contrary to federal records retention requirements and may represent a possible violation of the Federal Records Act. The Select Committee is seeking additional Secret Service records as well. Every effort must be made to retrieve the lost data as well,” they said in a statement.

While Thursday's hearing was initially the last public presentation of evidence on the calendar, a recent barrage of new information led the panel to announce another series of three public hearings slated for September.

“Doors have opened, new subpoenas have been issued, and the dam has begun to break,” Cheney said. “We have far more evidence to share with the American people and evidence to gather.”

The committee has still not made a determination on requesting testimony from Trump himself, and the ongoing trial of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who is facing contempt of Congress charges for snubbing a committee subpoena, could result in additional information in the coming months.

In addition to future hearings, the panel is expected to release a report on the results of its monthslong investigation and more than 1,000 witness interviews in the fall.

Whether Trump or any members of his administration will face criminal charges as a result of the investigation is up to the Justice Department. No former president has ever faced criminal prosecution.

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