WASHINGTON (AP) — A presidential tweet that some saw as a “call to arms.” An “unhinged” meeting in the White House. Violent extremists planning to storm the Capitol as President Donald Trump pushed lies about election fraud.
At its seventh hearing, the that Trump was told, repeatedly, that his claims of fraud were false — but that he continued to push them anyway. And at the same time, he turned to the widest possible audience on Twitter, calling his supporters, some of them violent, to Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, to not only protest but “be wild” as Congress certified President Joe Biden’s victory.
‘A CALL TO ACTION … A CALL TO ARMS’
A major focus of the hearing was Trump’s Dec. 19 tweet about a “big protest” at the coming joint session of Congress: “Be there, will be wild!”
Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy said the tweet “served as a call to action and in some cases as a call to arms.” She said the president “called for backup” as he argued that Vice President Mike Pence and other Republicans didn’t have enough courage to try to block President Joe Biden’s win at the Jan. 6 joint session.
The tweet “electrified and galvanized” Trump’s supporters, said Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, especially “the dangerous extremists in the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys and other far-right racist and white nationalist groups spoiling for a fight.”
Raskin said Trump emboldened the groups around a common goal.
“Never before in American history had a president called for a crowd to come contest the counting of electoral votes by Congress,” he said.
AN ‘UNHINGED’ MEETING
The committee spliced together video clips from interviews to describe a meeting from Dec. 18, in the hours before Trump’s tweet, in almost minute-to-minute fashion.
Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who , called the meeting between White House aides and informal advisers pushing the fraud claims “unhinged” in a text that evening to another Trump aide. Other aides described “screaming” in the meeting as the advisers floated wild theories of election fraud with no evidence to back them up, and as White House lawyers aggressively pushed back.
The video clips included testimony from lawyer Sidney Powell, who had , including of breached voting machines and hacked thermostats that she somehow tied to the false claims of fraud.
White House lawyer Eric Herschmann, one of the aides who pushed back, said the theories were “nuts” and “it got to the point where the screaming was completely, completely out there.”
The aides described a chaotic six hours of back and forth, starting with Trump talking to a group of the informal advisers with no White House aides present. Both Cipollone and Powell said in interviews that Cipollone, the White House counsel, rushed in to disrupt the gathering. Powell said sarcastically that she thought Cipollone set a new “ground speed record” getting there.
Cipollone, who sat with the committee for a private interview last week after a subpoena, said he didn’t think the group was giving Trump good advice and said he and the other White House lawyers just kept asking them, “where is the evidence?” But they did not receive any good answers, he said.
Hours later, at 1:42 a.m., Trump sent the tweet urging supporters to .
A RIOTER, AND A FORMER OATH KEEPER
Two witnesses were in the hearing room for testimony — a rioter who has pleaded guilty to entering the Capitol and a former Oath Keeper who described his experiences with the group.
Stephen Ayres, who pleaded guilty last month to a misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct and is scheduled to be sentenced in September, said he was in Washington on Jan. 6 at the behest of Trump, and that he left the Capitol when Trump — after several hours — told them in a tweet to leave. “Basically we were just following what the president said,” Ayres said.
He said his arrest less than a month later “changed my life, not for the better” and it makes him angry that he hung on Trump’s every word, and that some people are still doing that. Asked by Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney if he still believes the election was stolen, Ayres said, “Not so much now.”
Jason Van Tatenhove, a former ally of Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes who left the group years before the insurrection, said the group is a “violent militia.”
“I think we need to quit mincing words and just talk about truths and what it was going to be was an armed revolution,” he said. “I mean, people died that day … This could have been the spark that started a new civil war.”
Rhodes and other members of the Oath Keepers, along with another far-right group, the Proud Boys, have been charged with seditious conspiracy in the most serious cases the Justice Department has brought so far in the Jan. 6 attack.
INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE
The committee also touched on what was happening in the White House as the attack unfolded and afterward.
In one text exchange revealed by the panel, former Trump campaign aide Brad Parscale wrote to aide Katrina Pierson: “This week I feel guilty for helping him win,” and “If I was Trump and knew my rhetoric killed someone.”
“It wasn’t the rhetoric,” Pierson responded.
“Katrina,” wrote Parscale, who still participates in a weekly strategy call with Trump aides. “Yes it was.”
The panel showed a draft tweet, undated, that showed that Trump had plans well in advance to tell his supporters to march to the Capitol on Jan. 6. The tweet, which was never sent, said “Please arrive early, massive crowds expected. March to the Capitol after. Stop the Steal!”
The committee also examined Trump’s speech at the rally that morning and some of his ad-libs about Vice President Mike Pence that came later. In the end, he would mention the vice president eight times, telling the crowd that he hoped Pence would “do the right thing” and try and block Biden’s certification at the joint session of Congress.
ADVICE NOT FOLLOWED
As they have done several times before, the committee showed video testimony from White House aides who said they did not believe there was widespread fraud in the election and had told the president that. Many said they were firmly convinced Biden’s victory was a done deal after the states certified the electors on Dec. 14 and after dozens of Trump’s campaign lawsuits failed in court.
Ivanka Trump, the former president’s daughter, said it was her sentiment that the election was over after Dec. 14 and “probably prior as well.” Former White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said she planned for life after the White House at that point. Eugene Scalia, the labor secretary at the time, said he told the president in a call that it was time to say that Biden had won.
At the end of the hearing, Cheney revealed some new information: Trump had tried to call a future witness, and the committee had alerted the Justice Department about the call.
The witness did not take the call, according to Cheney. She did not identify the witness but said it was someone the public has not yet heard from.
The committee has previously said that people in Trump’s orbit have contacted witnesses in ways that could reflect or at least create the appearance of inappropriate influence.
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