The Jan. 6 select committee will take on a tall order Thursday night: Trying to prove not just that Donald Trump delayed calling off the violent Capitol mob, but that he welcomed his supporters’ conduct.
The panel plans to paint 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 plans to reveal 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.
“It wasn’t just a riot. it was an attempted coup that tried to pull every lever of government in order to overturn the election,” said Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), one of two lawmakers leading Thursday’s hearing. “And you know, that no one should be able to sleep comfortably at night, knowing that there’s people out there still pushing that lie and who want to try this again.”
Thursday night’s hearing was supposed to be an explosive finale for the select panel. Now it looks more like the end of the beginning. 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.
The hearing’s known witnesses are two former Trump White House aides, Sarah Matthews and Matthew Pottinger. But select panel members are expected to delve more deeply into the vast network of Trump allies who tried to facilitate his plans.
“It may be that we anticipated originally, at this point in time, that we would have the opportunity to shift our attention more fully, just on the report and recommendations, but because we’ve been gathering so much information, it’s like there’s two parallel paths, two tracks that we’re pursuing,” Luria said.
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 are likely to be featured in Thursday’s hearing, including former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who testified privately to the committee earlier this month.
But the most searing moments are likely to be anecdotes of the “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.
Rioters had already breached police lines when Trump pressed a crowd — which he knew included armed supporters, according to at least one witness — to descend on Congress as former then-Vice President Mike Pence oversaw the certification of Biden’s election. Evidence gathered by the committee also shows Trump fought to join his supporters at the Capitol and grew furious when he was told by Secret Service agents and aides that it was too dangerous.
Then, from the White House, Trump watched TV as the siege of the Capitol escalated. Several aides, including Cipollone, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, Trump’s executive assistant Molly Michael and national security adviser Keith Kellogg confirmed to the panel that Trump was watching news coverage of the riot as it unfolded. The select panel is also likely to screen news footage from the day of the attack during Thursday’s hearing, Luria said, in order to show what people outside Capitol Hill, including the TV-watching president, were seeing.
But rather than contact security agencies or military leaders, Trump called allies in his quest to overturn the election. He tweeted angrily at Pence — while Pence was being evacuated from the Senate chamber to a secure loading dock beneath the Capitol — inflaming the crowd at one of the most perilous moments of the attack. And he called allied lawmakers to urge them to continue to challenge the election results and delay that day’s proceedings.
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 also 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 is likely to be 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.”