WASHINGTON — U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday accused Donald Trump of inciting a mob of followers to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in a last-ditch bid to remain in power as Congress was formally certifying the then-president’s election loss.
In video testimony shown by the House of Representatives committee investigating the riot, witnesses described a loud late-night six-hour meeting on Dec. 18, 2020, where Trump disregarded White House staffers who urged him to concede the November 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden.
Instead, Trump sided with outside advisers who urged him to keep pressing his baseless claims of election fraud. Committee members said Trump ultimately was responsible for the chaos that followed.
“President Trump is a 76-year-old man. He is not an impressionable child. … He is responsible for his own actions and his own choices,” said Republican Representative Liz Cheney, the panel’s vice chairperson.
Committee members said Trump incited the riot through his refusal to admit he lost the election and through comments like his Dec. 19, 2020, Twitter post, shortly after the six-hour meeting, for supporters to flock to Washington for a “big protest,” saying, “Be there, will be wild.”
The panel’s seven Democrats and two Republicans have used the hearings to build a case that Trump’s efforts to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election constitute illegal conduct, far beyond normal politics.
As the three-hour hearing ended, Cheney said that Trump had tried to call a witness who had yet to appear, suggesting a possible instance of witness tampering that she said had been referred to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Trump, a Republican who has hinted he will seek the White House again in 2024, denies wrongdoing and has falsely asserted that he lost only because of widespread fraud that benefited Biden, a Democrat.
‘Not tough enough’
The committee played recorded testimony from Trump administration figures describing the angry meeting on Dec. 18 where a handful of Trump’s outside advisers, including his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, attorney Sidney Powell and Patrick Byrne, chief executive of Overstock.com, encouraged him to fight the election result.
“I don’t think any of these people were providing the president with good advice. I didn’t understand how they had gotten in,” said Pat Cipollone, the former White House counsel.
Representative Jamie Raskin, a Democratic committee member, displayed a text from White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who gave explosive testimony last month, saying of the meeting, “The West Wing is unhinged.”
The meeting lasted more than six hours, ending after midnight.
Giuliani, who was escorted out of the White House grounds, said in video testimony his argument had been: “You guys are not tough enough. Or maybe I put it another way: You’re a bunch of pussies, excuse the expression. I’m almost certain the word was used.”
The attack on the Capitol, following a speech Trump gave at a rally outside the White House, delayed certification of Joe Biden’s election for hours, injured more than 140 police officers and led to several deaths.
‘A mob was being organized’
The committee presented evidence that it said showed Trump’s call for his supporters to march on the Capitol was not spontaneous but had been planned in advance.
The panel showed an unsent Twitter message about the rally, with a stamp showing Trump had seen it: “Please arrive early, massive crowds expected. March to the Capitol after. Stop the Steal!”
The committee also played audio testimony from a former employee of Twitter describing his fear after Trump’s December tweet and deep concern on Jan. 5 about the possibility of violence on Jan. 6.
“It felt as if a mob was being organized and they were gathering together their weaponry and their logic and their reasoning behind why they were prepared to fight,” the Twitter employee said, his voice disguised.
Panel members also showed how White House aides became increasingly concerned about the Jan. 6 plans.
“Things have gotten crazy and I desperately need some direction,” White House aide Katrina Pierson wrote to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on Jan. 2.
About 800 people, including members of both right-leaning groups, have been charged with taking part in the Capitol riot, with about 250 guilty pleas so far.
The hearing also looked at links between right-wing militant groups, including the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and the QAnon internet conspiracy movement, with Trump and his allies. Many Oath Keepers and Proud Boys participated in the Jan. 6 attack.
Two witnesses testified in the hearing room – Stephen Ayres, who has pleaded guilty to a federal charge after participating in the attack on the Capitol, and Jason Van Tatenhove, a former spokesperson for the Oath Keepers.
“In my opinion, the Oath Keepers are a very dangerous organization,” Van Tatenhove said.
Trump and his supporters – including many Republicans in Congress – dismiss the Jan. 6 panel as a political witch hunt, but the panel’s backers say it is a necessary probe into a violent threat against democracy.
—Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan, additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, Doina Chiacu and Rose Horowitch; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Howard Goller