Former President Donald Trump speaks at a Macomb County rally, Oct. 1, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins
The U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol voted unanimously Thursday to subpoena Donald Trump, saying the former president must be held accountable as the “central cause” of a violent attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
The panel’s seven Democrats and two Republicans voted to authorize a subpoena of Trump for documents and sworn testimony “in connection with the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol.”
Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson said there is precedent for former presidents to be compelled to provide testimony to Congress—even if it is a “serious and extraordinary action.” During the McCarthy era of the 1950s, Congress tried and failed to make President Harry S. Truman, who was by then out of office, testify.
The committee in what is expected to be its last hearing also showed a chilling new video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional leaders throughout the afternoon of Jan. 6, intercut with images of rioters. “It’s just horrendous,” Pelosi said on a call with former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, pleading for National Guard help in defending the Capitol. “And all at the instigation of the president of the United States.”
The committee’s members were clear Thursday, as they have been throughout the other hearings they’ve held this year, that they viewed Trump as the primary force behind the attack on Jan. 6, as Congress met to officially certify electoral votes.
Despite knowing he lost the election to Joe Biden, Trump claimed victory, accused opponents of election fraud and urged supporters to descend on Washington for what he termed a “wild” attempt to stop Congress from certifying the results. Militant right wing groups, including the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, brought armed groups to Washington in response.
“The vast weight of evidence presented so far has shown us the central cause of Jan. 6 was one man, Donald Trump, who many others follow,” committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, said.
While committee leaders believe they have shown Trump was responsible for the attack and attempt to overturn the election, they said they still needed to hear directly from the former president.
“We have left no doubt—none—that Donald Trump led an effort to upend American democracy that directly resulted in the violence of Jan. 6,” Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said in introducing the subpoena vote.
“He tried to take away the voice of the American people in choosing their president, and replace the will of the voters with his will to remain in power,” Thompson continued. “He is the one person at the center of the story of what happened on Jan. 6.”
Trump posted several messages on his social networking site, Truth Social, lashing out at the committee over the course of the two-and-a-half-hour hearing.
A few addressed the proceedings, attacking Pelosi, Cheney and Hutchinson and again claimed “massive voter fraud.” Despite Trump’s longtime insistence that voter fraud was the cause of his election loss, there has been no evidence to support the claim.
“Why didn’t the Unselect Committee ask me to testify months ago?” one post said. “Why did they wait until the very end, the final moments of their last meeting? Because the Committee is a total ‘BUST’ that has only served to further divide our Country which, by the way, is doing very badly – A laughing stock all over the World?”
Citing the Fifth
Several witnesses the committee has interviewed declined to answer questions about their dealings with Trump, citing their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, Cheney said.
The panel played videos of Trump advisers Roger Stone, Michael Flynn and John Eastman and former acting Assistant Attorney General Jeff Clark asserting their Fifth Amendment right in response to questions about Trump.
“At some point, the Department of Justice may well unearth facts that these and other witnesses are currently concealing,” Cheney said. “But our duty today is to our country and our children and our Constitution. We are obligated to seek answers directly from the man who set this all in motion. And every American is entitled to those answers, so we can act now to protect our republic.”
The committee needed to hear from Trump to complete its investigation, Thompson said. But Trump should also be made to answer in the interest of being accountable for his actions, he said.
Talking to reporters after Thursday’s commission meeting, Thompson didn’t answer directly when asked if he expected Trump to comply with the subpoena. Trump has resisted efforts under different circumstances to compel testimony and records.
The committee will not subpoena former Vice President Mike Pence, Thompson said.
The panel would consider criminal referrals for “multiple individuals” and would recommend a range of legislative proposals to guard against a similar attack in the future, Cheney said.
The committee is expected to produce a report of its findings before the end of the year.
The panel revealed new footage of Roger Stone Thursday, taken from a documentary recorded before the election. In the video, Stone tells supporters Trump should claim victory no matter what the actual results turned out to be and encouraged violence to keep him in power.
The footage bolstered the committee’s claim that Trump’s plans to challenge the results of the election—and to use violence if needed—preceded the voting itself.
“I suspect it’ll still be up in the air,” Stone said in one clip, referring to the likelihood a winner would not be declared on election night. “When that happens, the key thing to do is to claim victory. Possession is nine-tenths of the law.”
“F— the voting, let’s get right to the violence,” he says in another clip.
Startling new video
The new footage of Pelosi and other leaders gave a startling picture of the potential danger members of Congress faced.
“We’re coming in if you don’t bring her out,” one rioter said on camera, presumably referring to Pelosi.
The video showed Pelosi and then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer phoning federal and state officials, including Northam, to ask for National Guard deployments. Schumer also urged acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen to convince Trump to tell the mob to leave.
Pelosi was resolute on the video that Congress finish its work and certify the election results, and was clear that she held Trump responsible.
“We have got … to finish the proceedings,” she said in one clip. “Or else they will have a complete victory.”
Pelosi’s Republican counterpart, Kevin McCarthy of California, was not seen on the video, but seemed to share the view that Trump was responsible, saying in a floor speech days later that Trump “bears responsibility for his words and actions.”
McCarthy has since downplayed the importance of the attack and criticized Democrats’ continued focus on it.
In the video shown Thursday, Pelosi and Schumer communicated the fears of their members in a speakerphone call with Rosen, as the attack unfolded.
“They’re breaking windows and going in, obviously ransacking our offices and all of that,” Pelosi said. “The concern we have about personal harm”—Schumer then interjected with “Safety!” before Pelosi continued— “personal safety just transcends everything.”
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, was seen in the background of several shots in the video.
Apparently the only non-leadership member in the room, Omar said on Twitter that Capitol Police kept her in secure locations with leadership because of several death threats in the months leading up to the 2020 election.
Trump failed to stop violence
In perhaps the committee’s final meeting, its members summarized their case that Trump sought to remain in power even after losing the election, and that the Jan. 6 attack was the culmination of that effort.
“Trump did nothing to stop the deadly violence for obvious reasons,” Maryland Democrat Jamie Raskin said. “He thought it was all justified. He incited it and he supported it.”
A former White House employee with national security responsibilities told the committee in a taped interview that White House staffers sensed a shift on the day of the attack.
“We all knew what that indicated and what that meant— that this was no longer a rally, that this was going to move to something else if he physically walked to the Capitol,” the employee said.
“I don’t know if you want to use the word insurrection, coup, whatever. We all knew that this would move from a normal, democratic public event into something else.”
The committee did not identify the employee and used a voice modulator when broadcasting their testimony.
Secret Service messages
New evidence from Secret Service agents that the committee obtained after a July subpoena to the agency, further clarified the potential violence of the day.
The messages included an email sent to intelligence officials with attachments of communications among rally goers that explicitly called for violence in Trump’s name.
“Trump has given us marching orders,” one message read.
“ADVANCE ON THE CAPITOL,” said another.
“Don’t f— around,” another said, before adding a list of gear and ammunition the mob could use for equipment.
Trump was aware of the danger and should have stopped both his morning speech on the White House Ellipse and the march to the Capitol, California Democratic Rep. Pete Aguilar said.
Instead of reeling in his supporters, Trump urged them on, objecting only to the manometers to screen for guns.
Gun-carrying rally goers were “not here to hurt me,” Trump said, according to former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson. The president requested the magnetometers be removed.
“On the morning of Jan. 6, President Trump knew that the crowd was angry,” Aguilar said. “He knew they were armed and dangerous and he knew they were going to the Capitol. It’s important to understand the lengths the president was willing to go to physically be at the Capitol because it was part of his strategy to disrupt Congress and to stay in power.”
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