Witness: Donald Trump watched the attack on the Capitol from the White House
Jan. 6 Committee vice-chair Liz Cheney publicly disclosed Sunday that a witness cooperating with the insurrection probe has privately testified that during the assault on the Capitol, former President Donald Trump sat by and watched it unfold on television as police were viciously beaten and his supporters overran the building.
This bit of information is something that has been widely suspected by those who have followed the committee’s investigation closely—and even by some who have not. Trump’s silence and inaction for 187 minutes on Jan. 6 were palpable as the riot exploded. But precisely what he was doing, who he spoke to, or what he said in that window remains, for now, a subject of some mystery.
The implications are unprecedented.
Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, divulged the firsthand witness testimony on Face the Nation this past weekend as she fielded questions from host Margaret Brennan about the criminal culpability of Trump’s abject failure to act that day.
Cheney said on Sunday:
“The committee is obviously going to follow the facts wherever they lead. We’ve made tremendous progress. If you think about, for example, what we know now about what the former president was doing on the 6th while the attack was underway. The committee has firsthand testimony that President Trump was sitting in the dining room next to the Oval Office, watching on television as the Capitol was assaulted as the violence occurred. We know that that is clearly a supreme dereliction of duty. One of the things that the committee is looking at from the perspective of our legislative purpose is whether we need enhanced penalties for that kind of dereliction of duty. But we’ve certainly never seen anything like that as a nation before.”
The @January6thCmte has first-hand testimony that former President Trump sat and watched the assault on the Capitol on live TV, rather than taking immediate action to tell his supporters to stand down and leave the Capitol.pic.twitter.com/rAxBUq4Dry— Rep. Liz Cheney (@Rep. Liz Cheney) 1641147129
During a separate appearance on Sunday with ABC News, Cheney further illuminated the committee’s findings. Cheney said a firsthand witness testified that Ivanka Trump, the former president’s daughter and then senior adviser, pleaded with Trump at least twice to do something to quell the violence.
Ivanka’s pleas have been reported elsewhere before. In Peril, a book on the Trump administration by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, the Washington Post reporters said that Ivanka tried to get Trump to step in no less than three times on Jan. 6.
“Let this thing go. Let it go,” Ivanka reportedly said.
“We know, as he was sitting there in the dining room next to the Oval Office, members of his staff were pleading with him to go on television, to tell people to stop,” Cheney said on ABC. “We know [House GOP] Leader [Kevin] McCarthy was pleading with him to do that.”
McCarthy has admitted openly to calling Trump on Jan. 6. During the former president’s second impeachment—this time for incitement of insurrection— Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington shared McCarthy’s accounting of his tense phone call with Trump. McCarthy pleaded with the president to issue a statement that could calm the mob, and Trump effectively refused, insisting it wasn’t his supporters responsible for the melee but antifa.
McCarthy has been asked to voluntarily comply with the committee’s requests for his records and testimony. A threat of a formal subpoena looms. So far, just two other lawmakers have been hit with a voluntary compliance request, including Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania. Neither Jordan nor Perry have said they will comply, queuing up a likely bitter legal showdown between Trump crony legislators and the probe. Committee chair Bennie Thompson has indicated uncertainty over the panel’s power to subpoena fellow legislators.
Representatives for Jordan and Perry have not returned multiple requests for comment.
Appearing on Meet the Press Sunday, Thompson also reiterated the committee’s findings—and concerns—about the 187 minutes that Trump went silent.
Just before Christmas, the Mississippi Democrat told The Washington Post that the select committee believes, based on the records, evidence, and testimony it has obtained thus far, that Trump may have recorded several videos on Jan. 6 addressing his supporters before finally releasing a bizarre one-minute clip.
He repeated lies about the election results in the video and told the rioters, “Go home. We love you. You’re very special.”
Thompson has said that Trump’s many reshoots of that clip, or one like it, were necessary because he “wouldn’t say the right thing.”
Thompson told Meet the Press this Sunday that the committee has already asked the National Archives to provide investigators with any related videos it might have that have yet to be remitted.
The anniversary of the attack falls this week, and with it, plans are underway on Capitol Hill to hold a solemn ceremony marking the day, including a moment of silence for lives lost. Trump has announced plans to hold a press conference at Mar-a-Lago.
“He’s doing this press conference on the sixth,” Cheney said on Sunday. “If he makes those same claims [of election fraud], he’s doing it with the complete understanding of what those claims have caused in the past.”
The committee’s work meanwhile continues unabated, with public hearings imminent. More than 300 witnesses have already testified, and the committee has obtained reams of documents from cooperative probe targets.
Appearing on CNN on Sunday, Thompson said the committee would determine “whether or not what occurred on Jan. 6 was a comedy of errors or a planned effort on the part of certain individuals.”
Adding to the bevy of witnesses already called, the committee also plans to haul in state and local election officials for testimony. They also will take statements from members of the National Guard. Much confusion and uncertainty still reign over why assistance to the Capitol was so long delayed.
Democracy came perilously close to being lost on Jan. 6, Thompson told CNN.
“Before we just run out with a story we can’t defend, we will get to what we believe is the truth, and that’s the charge that we have as a committee,” he added.
Thompson also urged that if, in the course of its probe, committee members unearth evidence that they think “warrants review or recommendation” to the Justice Department, then they will do just that.
“We’re not looking for it, but if we find it, we’ll absolutely make the referral,” Thompson said.
In an appeal to the Supreme Court, Trump has balked at the committee’s position to disclose evidence of criminal wrongdoing to the Justice Department if necessary. The former president alleges the committee is acting outside the scope of its authority by weighing such referrals and thus has no constitutionally protected purpose.
Lower courts, however, have said the “mere prospect that misconduct might be exposed” in the course of an investigation does not alter the committee’s authority.
Whether the committee issues a criminal referral for Trump or not, Cheney emphasized a profound need for legislative review, at the least.
“I think that there are a number, as the chairman said, of potential criminal statutes at issue here. But I think there’s absolutely no question that it was a dereliction of duty. I think one of the things the committee needs to look at as we’re looking at legislative purpose is whether we need enhanced penalties for that dereliction of duty,” she said.
Even though Trump is out of office, his influence in Washington and elsewhere in the U.S. is still being felt and has shown no sign of slowing down. His messaging about voter fraud, for example, has buoyed the Republican argument against the expansion of voting rights in the U.S.
In a letter to Senate colleagues on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer highlighted this dynamic as the anniversary of the attempted overthrow approaches.
“It was attacked in a naked attempt to derail our Republic’s most sacred tradition: the peaceful transfer of power,” Schumer said.
Considering this and in reflection of a year that found Republicans rebuffing every bid by Democrats to expand voting rights legislatively, Schumer announced that the Senate would debate and later vote on changes to its own filibuster rules by Jan. 17 if Republicans don’t get out of the way.
“The Senate must advance systemic democracy reforms to repair our republic, or else the events of that day will not be an aberration— they will be the new norm. We as Senate Democrats must urge the public in a variety of different ways to impress upon their Senators the importance of acting and reforming the Senate rules if that becomes a prerequisite for action to save our democracy,” Schumer wrote.
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