WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Jan. 6 committee voted unanimously Thursday to subpoena Donald Trump, demanding the former president’s personal testimony as it unveiled startling new video from his closest aides describing his multi-part plan to overturn his 2020 election loss that resulted in the assault on the U.S. Capitol.
“We must seek the testimony under oath of January Sixth’s central player,” said Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the committee’s vice chair.
Trump is almost certain to fight the subpoena and decline to testify. On his social media outlet he blasted members for not asking him to testify earlier — though he didn’t say he would have —and called the panel “a total BUST.”
In the committee’s 10th public session, just weeks before the congressional midterm elections, the panel summed up Trump’s “staggering betrayal” of his oath of office. That was how Democratic Chairman Bennie Thompson put it, describing Trump’s unprecedented attempt to stop Congress from certifying Democrat Joe Biden’s victory.
With vivid new details and evidence, including from the former president’s Cabinet secretaries and U.S. Secret Service, the panel showed Trump was told repeatedly by those around him that the election was over, yet he still orchestrated the far-reaching effort to stop Biden from taking office. Several former aides testified that Trump had said privately that he knew he had lost to Biden.
In other striking new video, the panel showed previously unseen footage of congressional leaders phoning officials for help during Capitol siege.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer can be seen talking to governors in neighboring Virginia and Maryland. Later it shows Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and other GOP leaders as the group asks Trump’s acting attorney general for help.
“They’re breaking the law in many different ways — quite frankly at the instigation of the president of the United States,” Pelosi is heard saying at one point. “Do you believe this?” she exclaims.
The video comes from a documentary being produced by Pelosi’s daughter, according to two people familiar with the matter and granted anonymity to discuss it.
Earlier, in never-before-seen Secret Service messages, the panel produced evidence that extremist groups provided the muscle in the fight for Trump’s presidency, planning weeks before the attack to send a violent force to Washington.
The Secret Service warned in a Dec. 26, 2020, email of a tip that members of the right-wing Proud Boys planned to outnumber the police in a march in Washington on Jan. 6.
“It felt like the calm before the storm,” one Secret Service agent wrote in a group chat.
The House panel warned that the insurrection at the Capitol was not an isolated incident but a warning of the fragility of the nation’s democracy in the post-Trump era.
“None of this is normal or acceptable or lawful in a republic,” Cheney declared.
“There is no defense that Donald Trump was duped or irrational. No president can defy the rule of law and act this way in a constitutional republic, period.”
Statements from Thompson and Cheney were laden with language frequently seen in criminal indictments. Both lawmakers described Trump as “substantially” involved in the events of Jan. 6. Cheney said Trump had acted in a “premeditated” way.
To illustrate what it said were “purposeful lies,” the committee juxtaposed repeated instances in which top administration officials recounted telling Trump the actual facts with clips of him repeating the exact opposite at his pre-riot rally at the Ellipse on Jan. 6.
The committee may well make a decision on whether to make a criminal referral to the Justice Department.
Thursday’s hearing opened at a mostly empty Capitol complex, with most lawmakers at home campaigning for reelection. Several people who were among the thousands around the Capitol on Jan. 6 are now running for congressional office, some with Trump’s backing. Police officers who fought the mob filled the hearing room’s front row.
In one recorded interview, former White House official Alyssa Farah Griffin said that Trump looked up at a television and said, “Can you believe I lost to this (expletive) guy?”
The committee is also drawing on the trove of 1.5 million documents it received from the Secret Service, including an email from Dec. 11, 2020, the day the Supreme Court rejected one of the main lawsuits Trump’s team had brought against the election results.
“Just fyi. POTUS is pissed,” the Secret Service wrote, according to documents obtained by the committee.
White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, a top aide to then-chief of staff Mark Meadows, recalled Trump as being “livid” and “fired up” about the court’s ruling.
Trump told Meadows “something to the effect of: ‘I don’t want people to know we lost, Mark. This is embarrassing. Figure it out,.”
Cabinet members including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General William Barr and Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia also said in interviews shown at the hearing that they believed that once the legal avenues had been exhausted, that should have been the end of Trump’s efforts to remain in power.
“In my view, that was the end of the matter,” Barr said of the Dec. 14 Electoral College vote.
But rather than the end of Trump’s efforts to stay in power, the committee signaled it was only the beginning — as the president summoned the crowd to Washington for a rally to fight the election on Jan. 6.
Thursday’s session was serving as a closing argument for the panel’s two Republican lawmakers, Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who have essentially been shunned by Trump and their party and will not be returning in the new Congress. Cheney lost her primary election, and Kinzinger decided not to run.
The committee, having conducted more than 1,500 interviews and obtained countless documents, has produced a sweeping probe of Trump’s activities from his defeat in the November election to the Capitol attack.
“He has used this big lie to destabilize our democracy,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-N.Y., who was a young House staff member during the Richard Nixon impeachment inquiry in 1974. “When did that idea occur to him and what did he know while he was doing that?”
This week’s hearing was to be the final presentation from lawmakers before the midterm elections. But staff members say the investigation continues.
The Jan. 6 committee has been meeting for more than a year, set up by the House after Republican senators blocked the formation of an outside panel similar to the 9/11 commission set up after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Even after the launch of its high-profile public hearings last summer, the Jan. 6 committee continued to gather evidence and interviews.
Under committee rules, the Jan. 6 panel is to produce a report of its findings, likely in December. The committee will dissolve 30 days after publication of that report, and with the new Congress in January.
House Republicans are expected to drop the Jan. 6 probe and turn to other investigations if they win control after midterm elections, primarily focusing on Biden, his family and his administration.
At least five people died in the Jan. 6 attack and its aftermath, including a Trump supporter shot and killed by Capitol Police.
Police engaged in often bloody, hand-to-hand combat, as Trump’s supporters pushed past barricades, stormed the Capitol and roamed the halls, sending lawmakers fleeing for safety and temporarily disrupting the joint session of Congress certifying Biden’s election.
More than 850 people have been charged by the Justice Department in the Capitol attack, some receiving lengthy prison sentences for their roles. Several leaders and associates of the extremist Oath Keepers and Proud Boys have been charged with sedition.
Trump faces various state and federal investigations over his actions in the election and its aftermath.