The seventh public hearing of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot focused on how Donald J. Trump and his allies turned their efforts to summoning a crowd of his supporters to Washington to protest the certification of the election after exhausting all legal avenues. . Drawing on testimony from Trump aides, right-wing media commentators and militia members, the committee demonstrated how Mr. Trump’s public statements led his supporters to believe that the election had in fact stolen and stormed the Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification.
A tweet from Trump mobilized the crowd for January 6
In the early morning hours of December 19, 2020, Mr. Trump posted a tweet calling on his supporters to come to Washington on January 6.
“Big protest in DC Jan 6th,” Trump tweeted. “Be there, will be wild!”
The committee demonstrated how the tweet served as a rallying cry for Mr. Trump’s supporters, including extremist organizations and right-wing media commentators.
They immediately begin to garner support, both from far-right groups like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys and from ordinary citizens who have believed Mr. Trump’s lies about the election. And in many cases, the online commentary that followed what Mr. Trump’s supporters heard as a call to arms was steeped in rhetoric of violence.
“We will only be saved by millions of Americans moving to Washington, occupying the entire area, if necessary, storming into the Capitol,” Matt Bracken, a right-wing commentator, said in a video clip released shortly. after Mr. Trump’s tweet and played Tuesday by the committee. “We know the rules of engagement. If you have enough people, you can knock down any type of fence or wall.
Once the mob arrived in Washington, according to testimony on Tuesday, Trump supporters continued to take inspiration from him.
“I was hanging on to every word he said,” said supporter Stephen Ayres, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly and disruptive conduct for his role in the attack on the Capitol.
Mr. Ayers said he hadn’t planned to rush to the Capitol but decided to after hearing Mr. Trump address the crowd on the Ellipse near the White House.
“Well, basically, you know, the president, you know, he pissed everyone off, told everyone to head down, so we just followed what he said,” said said Mr. Ayers.
Mr Ayers said he was angry because he was convinced the election had been stolen and something had to be done to right that wrong. He said the crowd believed Mr. Trump was going to meet them at the Capitol.
“I think everyone thought he was going to go down,” Mr Ayers said. “You know, he said in his speech, you know, kind of like he was going to be there with us. So I mean, I believed it.
New evidence showed plans to go to the Capitol
The committee presented new evidence showing that Mr. Trump and his allies had more extensive plans than previously known for him and his supporters to go to the Capitol on January 6.
Documents obtained by the committee showed a tweet was written for Mr Trump – whom he saw – calling on his supporters to march to the Capitol after his speech.
“Making a big speech at 10:00 a.m. Jan. 6 south of the White House,” the draft tweet read. “Please arrive early. Massive crowds expected. March to Capitol after. Stop theft!!
The tweet was never sent, but the committee suggested it was just evidence that in the days leading up to January 6, Mr Trump and his allies discussed his intention to get to the area around the Capitol after the rally on the Ellipse.
The committee showed a text message that a Trump ally, Michael J. Lindell, the head of the My Pillow company, received from a rally organizer on Jan. 4 in which the organizer said a second stage was going be installed in the Supreme Court, across from the Capitol’s east front.
Rally organizer Kylie Kremer wrote: “He can’t get out of stage two because people will try to set up another one and sabotage it. He also can’t get out of the way because I’ll be in trouble with the National Park Service and all the agencies, but POTUS will just call him “unexpectedly.”
Other text messages sent around this time showed that right-wing activists also believed Mr. Trump would join them as they massed on Capitol Hill.
“Trump is supposed to order us to go to the Capitol at the end of his speech but we’ll see,” said Ali Alexander, who led the “Stop the Steal” campaign.
The committee also cited testimony from White House photographer Shealah Craighead, who was present at an Oval Office rally on the evening of Jan. 5, when Mr. Trump and some of his aides were able to hear a crowd of his supporters who were gathered. nearby. Ms. Craighead testified that Mr. Trump said, “We should go up to the Capitol. What is the best route to the Capitol? »
An epic showdown in the Oval Office
Four days after the states voted in the Electoral College, essentially ending all legal challenges to Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory, a group of outside advisers to Mr. Trump were rushed to the West Wing to meet Mr. Trump in the Oval Office. . The advisers — including attorney Sidney Powell and Michael T. Flynn, the retired general who had briefly served as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser — came armed with draft executive orders they wanted Mr. Trump signs and allegedly used the Department of Defense to seize voting machines in an attempt to prove baseless allegations of voter fraud.
Shortly after the meeting began, White House lawyer Pat A. Cipollone – who did not believe the election had been stolen and had pressured Mr. Trump into conceding – learned of it and sneered. rushed into the Oval Office so fast that Ms. Powell said he had set “a new land speed record.”
“I opened the door and I walked in and I saw General Flynn, I saw Sidney Powell sitting there – I wasn’t happy to see the people who were in the Oval Office,” said Mr. Cipollone in videotaped testimony he provided to the committee last Friday, excerpts of which were played during Tuesday’s hearing.
Mr. Cipollone testified that he turned to one of the advisers he did not know and asked his identity. It turned out to be Overstock.com founder Patrick Byrne. “I don’t think any of these people are providing good advice to the president,” Mr Cipollone said.
“There is a way to challenge elections that happens all the time, but the idea that the federal government can step in and seize the election machinery? No — I don’t understand why I even have to tell you why it’s a bad idea,” Mr. Cipollone testified. “That’s a terrible idea.”
In the hours that followed, a meeting ensued that is considered one of the most contentious of Mr. Trump’s presidency, as Mr. Cipollone and other White House lawyers, including Eric Herschmann, faced Ms. Powell, Mr. Flynn and Mr. Byrne.
“Sometimes there were people yelling at each other, throwing insults at each other. It wasn’t just people sitting on a couch chatting,” said Derek Lyons, who was then White House staff secretary.
Ms Powell testified that she believed Mr Trump had appointed her as a special adviser to investigate allegations of voter fraud. But testimony played by the committee revealed that Mr. Cipollone strongly opposed such a decision and essentially killed him by refusing to make the necessary paperwork for such an appointment.
After all the fighting between outside advisers and White House lawyers, Mr. Trump refused to go along with the plan to use the military or other federal agencies to seize the voting machines.
House later would take to Twitter to post his call for his supporters to come to Washington on Jan. 6.
More warnings against witness tampering
As she did at the end of the previous hearing two weeks ago, Rep. Liz Cheney, vice chair of the committee, warned against witness tampering in her closing statement — and this time, her message was aimed directly at Mr. Trump.
Ms Cheney said a witness – whom she declined to identify other than to say the person’s testimony had not been made public until now – had received a call in the last two weeks of Mr. Trump. The witness, Ms. Cheney said, received the call after the final hearing, in which Cassidy Hutchinson, a former West Wing aide, provided damning testimony about Mr. Trump.
Ms Cheney said the witness refused to take or answer Mr Trump’s call. But the witness spoke about it to his lawyer, who alerted the commission. The committee then forwarded the information to the Justice Department, which declined to comment on Tuesday.
“Let me say once again, we will take any effort to influence the testimony of witnesses very seriously,” Ms Cheney said.
After Ms. Hutchinson’s public testimony on June 28, the committee revealed efforts by Trump allies to reach a witness, who turned out to be Ms. Hutchinson.
On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Mr. Trump said on Twitter that Ms. Cheney was dealing in “insinuations and lies”, but did not directly say whether Mr. Trump had tried to contact a witness.
Zach Montaguecontributed report.