“The dam has begun to break,” Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., asserted early in the eighth hearing held by the House panel investigating the Capitol riot 18 months ago.
The hearing’s focus Thursday night was on what Donald Trump did and didn’t do at the White House for about three hours as rioters breached the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and the danger to House and Senate lawmakers appeared to grow.
Cheney, the select committee’s vice chairwoman, presided over the nationally televised hearing while its chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., out with COVID-19, made his introductory and closing remarks remotely.
“For 187 minutes on Jan. 6, this man of unbridled, destructive energy could not be moved,” Thompson said of Trump.
Thompson said the committee will work through August, with the next hearing in September.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., the only other Republican on the nine-member panel, said that when the committee releases a final report, it would recommend “changes to laws and policies to guard against another Jan. 6.”
Here are some major takeaways from Thursday night’s hearing by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.
1. ‘Don’t Want to Say the Election Is Over’
Some of the freshest details aired at the hearing came not from the events of Jan. 6, 2021, but the next day, Jan. 7.
The committee played some outtakes of Trump as he recorded a short speech on video at the White House in which he condemned the “heinous” violence of the Capitol riot.
After saying early on that rioters “will pay,” the president declines to repeat a similar line later about “breaking the law.”
“I’m not going to say that. I already said ‘you will pay,’” Trump tells aides after he stops reading the script.
Later, the video shows Trump reading: “But this election is now over. Congress has certified the results.”
He then says to aides: “I don’t want to say the election is over. I just want to say, I just want to say Congress has certified the results.”
Trump goes on to say twice: “My only intention was to ensure the integrity of the vote.” He then pounds the lectern as if angry about reading the line wrong.
2. ‘That Doesn’t Mean He’s the Winner’
The Jan. 6 committee also revealed am audio recording of former top White House aide Steve Bannon speaking before the 2020 election.
The comments by Bannon were spliced by committee staff, but complete sentences played during the hearing suggested that he said Trump planned to claim victory regardless of the election outcome.
“He’s going to declare victory, but that doesn’t mean he’s the winner,” Bannon, also a key adviser in Trump’s 2016 campaign, says in the audio recording that the committee said was made four days before the 2020 election.
“That’s the strategy. He’s going to declare himself the winner,” Bannon said. “So when you wake up Wednesday morning [Nov. 4], it’s going to be a firestorm.”
On election night, Trump appeared to have a lead over Biden as ballots cast in person were counted. But by the weekend, it seemed clear that Biden had won after mail-in ballots were counted.
Days before the election, according to the committee, Bannon said that Trump would raise a fuss if he appeared to be losing on election night.
“Also, if Trump is losing by 10 or 11 o’clock at night, it’s going to be even crazier because he’s going to sit right there and say they stole it,” Bannon says in the recording presented by the committee. “If Biden is winning, Trump is going to do some crazy s–t.”
After this audio was played, Cheney said: “Donald Trump’s plan to falsely claim victory, no matter what the facts actually were, was premeditated.”
3. Worried Security Officials
Rioters breached the Capitol as a joint session of Congress met to certify the Electoral College results that would confirm Joe Biden’s election victory over Trump on Nov. 3.
Then-Vice President Mike Pence, who had a largely ceremonial role in accepting each state’s electoral votes, also was in the building.
The committee hearing included recorded testimony from officials whose identities were obscured to shield them from potential retaliation.
One security official explained why the president’s protectors were concerned about Trump’s stated intent to walk to the Capitol with those who attended his rally on the Ellipse south of the White House.
“We were all in a state of shock,” the official said in the video recording. “We all knew what that implicated and what that meant, that this was no longer a rally, that this was going to move to something else if he physically walked to the Capitol.”
Another official, who was on Pence’s security detail, talked in a distorted audio recording about the detail’s growing concern that afternoon inside the Capitol.
“There were calls to say goodbye to family members and so on and so forth,” the official said. “For whatever reason on the ground, the VP detail thought this was about to get very ugly.”
He added: “If they are running out of options and getting nervous, it sounds like we came very close to either [Secret] Service having to use lethal options or worse. At that point, I don’t know.”
4. ‘What About the President?’
The committee again showed clips from its deposition of Trump’s White House counsel, Pat Cipillone, with questioning by Cheney.
Cipillone named several White House staffers that day who wanted the rioters to leave the Capitol.
Cheney asked: “Who on the staff did not want people to leave the Capitol?”
“On the staff?” the former White House counsel asked.
“In the White House,” Cheney elaborated.
“I don’t know. I can’t think of anyone who didn’t want them out of the Capitol, particularly once the violence started,” Cipillone said.
At that point in the deposition, committee member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., asked, “What about the president?”
Cipillone: “She said the staff. So I answered.”
Cheney: “No, I said in the White House.”
Cipillone, who consistently has been careful not to share privileged conversations with the president, declined to answer after exchanging glances and words with his lawyer.
“I can’t reveal communications conversations, but obviously, I think–yeah, ” he said.
5. ‘Complete Dud’
Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., whom House Speaker Nancy Pelosi nixed as a member of the select committee, called the panel “a complete dud.”
Pelosi, D-Calif., made the unusual move of blocking Republican appointees to the select committee investigating the Capitol riot.
In response, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., withdrew his other GOP appointees.
Pelosi also blocked McCarthy’s appointment of Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.
In an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News Channel during the hearing, Banks was dismissive of the select committee’s most recent hearing.
“The verdict is in. The Jan. 6 committee is a complete dud,” Baks told Hannity. “Remember this was all about blocking Republicans from winning back the House majority and keeping Donald Trump’s name off the ballot when he runs again in 2024.”
Banks also said about the committee:
They are going to end up spending over $10 million. They’ve interviewed over 1,000 people. They have 100,000 documents in their possession, most of which they are not willing to make public. And this is the best they can do?
This hearing tonight, the capstone event, the prime-time hearing? This is the best they can do? They haven’t proven anything. If anything, they have exonerated President Trump and Republicans who supported him.
Earlier Thursday, McCarthy noted that Thompson had made pursuing information about Pelosi “off limits.”
Trump has said he authorized 10,000 National Guard troops to be deployed to the Capitol grounds before his Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse challenging the election results. The assault on the Capitol began while Trump was still speaking.
Critics of Pelosi have said the House speaker refused the presence of troops.
6. ‘Pouring Gasoline on the Fire’
After Pence announced earlier Jan. 6 that he would not stop the certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory, Trump tweeted at 2:24 p.m. that his vice president lacked the courage to challenge results from some states.
Former deputy White House press secretary Sarah Matthews, who testified live before the committee, recalled Trump’s tweet about Pence.
“I remember thinking this was going to be bad for him to tweet this because it was essentially him giving the green light to these people, telling them that what they were doing at the steps of the Capitol and entering the Capitol, that they were justified in their anger,” Matthews said. “He shouldn’t have been doing that. He should have been telling them to go home and to leave.”
Matthews, who testified that she decided to quit that night as deputy press secretary, added of Trump:
I’ve seen the impact his words have on his supporters. They truly latch on to every tweet and every word he says. So I think at that moment to tweet out that message about Mike Pence was him pouring gasoline on the fire.
Former deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger, the other live witness Thursday night, said he also decided to resign after seeing Trump’s tweet about Pence. Pottinger had been part of the Trump administration from the beginning, Cheney noted.
Some rioters chanted “Hang Mike Pence” as word spread outside the Capitol of Trump’s anger with his vice president.
Kinzinger, the only other Republican on the committee assembled by Pelosi, noted a disturbing moment that occurred after Trump’s video message at 4:17 p.m. telling the rioters to go home “in peace.”
As he walked toward the residence, Kinzinger said the evidence showed, Trump told a White House employee: “Mike Pence let me down.”
Ken McIntyre contributed to this report.
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