Five takeaways from likely last Jan. 6 hearing
The House committee investigating the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, held what may be its final public hearing on Thursday, seeking to put a fine point on its argument that the violence that day was fueled by former President Trump’s words and actions.
The hearing featured no live witnesses, but did include a plethora of new evidence from recent depositions, video footage and material turned over by the Secret Service. It culminated in the committee voting to subpoena Trump, a move that the former president will assuredly resist.
Here are five takeaways.
Panel takes big step with subpoena
The committee took the remarkable step of issuing a subpoena for testimony from Trump, making the decision after months of wavering on whether to compel cooperation from the bombastic former president.
Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said the subpoena was a matter of getting a thorough accounting of the events around Jan. 6, but also a matter of ensuring Trump is held accountable for his conduct.
“He is the one person at the center of the story of what happened on January 6. So we want to hear from him. The committee needs to do everything in our power to tell the most complete story possible,” Thompson said, shortly before the panel cast a unanimous 9-0 vote in favor of issuing the subpoena.
“We also recognize that a subpoena to a former president is a serious and extraordinary action. That’s why we want to take this step in full view of the American people, especially because the subject matter at issue is so important to the American people and the stakes are so high for our future and our democracy.”
The move marks a major escalation in the effort to hold Trump to account for the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — a riot the committee contends was orchestrated by the former president.
The subpoena is not likely to yield fruit, however, at least not in the near term, as Trump has remained defiant throughout the 16-month investigation and is expected to challenge the subpoena in the courts.
Within an hour of the panel gaveling out, Trump shot back on social media.
“Why didn’t the Unselect Committee ask me to testify months ago? 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?” he wrote.
If he fails to comply, the committee and then the full House could vote to hold Trump in contempt of Congress, sending a criminal referral to the Justice Department.
The motion to subpoena Trump was introduced by Vice Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who lost her recent reelection bid after becoming a critic of the former president and the GOP for their response to Jan. 6.
New video shows drama from leadership hideout
While much of Thursday’s hearing served as a synthesis of the committee’s work in demonstrating Trump’s role before and during the attack on the Capitol, one of the most striking pieces of new evidence came in the form of video footage of congressional leaders huddling in secure locations after the mob had breached the complex.
The footage showed Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on the phone with then-Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), then-Vice President Mike Pence, former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller and former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen as they tried to restore order and gather information.
“Oh my gosh,” Pelosi told Northam as she watched footage of the riot. “They’re just breaking windows, they’re doing all, all, kinds of, I mean it’s really, that somebody, they said somebody was shot.”
“It’s just, it’s just horrendous. And all at the instigation of the president of the United States,” she added.
In another clip, Pelosi is shown talking to House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) as someone informs her that members on the floor are putting on gas masks.
“Do you believe this?” she asks.
In a clip filmed at 3 p.m., Schumer tells Pelosi “I’m gonna call up the effing secretary of [Defense].”
The footage, which had not previously been made public, provided a glimpse at the frantic situation behind the scenes as lawmakers grappled with the violence on Jan. 6.
The panel has repeatedly sought to emphasize comments from the likes of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and others who, in the immediate aftermath of the riot, said Trump bore some of the blame for the day’s events.
Trump’s plan to declare victory was months in the making
The committee presented new evidence to bolster its case that Trump’s plan to declare victory, regardless of ongoing vote counting in various states, was premeditated for months before Election Day 2020.
The committee displayed a memo sent from Tom Fitton, a conservative activist, to two White House officials dated Oct. 31, 2020. The document outlined what Trump should say on Election Day, when experts predicted Trump would take an early lead over now-President Biden before mail-in and absentee ballots were counted and some states began tilting toward the Democrat.
“We had an election today—and I won,” Fitton wrote in the memo.
“The ballots counted by the election day deadline show the American people have bestowed on me the great honor of reelection as president of the United States,” Fitton wrote.
Brad Parscale, a former top Trump campaign official, told the committee that Trump had planned as early as July 2020 that he would say he won the election, even if he lost.
Parscale served as campaign manager until July 2020, when he was demoted and replaced by Bill Stepien.
Steve Bannon, another former Trump adviser, said in an Oct. 31 recording played Thursday that Trump would “just declare victory,” adding that if Biden was winning, Trump would do “some crazy shit.”
“This big lie, President Trump’s effort to convince Americans that he had won the 2020 election, began before the election results even came in,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said. “It was intentional, it was premeditated, it was not based on election results or any evidence of actual fraud affecting the results or any actual problems with voting machines.”
Messages show Secret Service knew of risks of violence
The committee publicized freshly obtained communications from the Secret Service showing agents were aware of concerns about violence leading up to that day and knew some in the crowd were armed.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said the committee obtained “nearly one million emails, recordings and other electronic records from the Secret Service.”
“The documents we obtained from the Secret Service make clear that the crowd outside the magnetometers was armed, and the agents knew it,” Schiff said.
Schiff read off several messages in chats among Secret Service agents and emails exchanged among the agency. He displayed one intelligence summary from late December 2020 that included online chatter about occupying federal buildings and “intimidating Congress and invading the Capitol building.”
A Dec. 26, 2020, email from the Secret Service showed the agency had a tip that the Proud Boys, a far-right group, planned to march on the Capitol and felt it had a large enough group to overwhelm law enforcement.
A Jan. 5 email from a deputy Secret Service chief instructed agents to add certain objects to a list of items that supporters could not bring into a rally on the Ellipse near the White House planned for Jan. 6, including ballistic vests, tactical vests and ballistic helmets.
Messages from agents displayed Thursday also showed they were aware of online chatter making threats against then-Vice President Mike Pence.
One message showed Secret Service agents reacting in real time after Trump tweeted criticism of his vice president, with one noting it was probably “not going to be good for Pence” and another expressing alarm that the tweet had gotten over 20,000 likes in just minutes.
The committee issued the Secret Service a subpoena in July after the panel and agency became involved in controversy, partially due to reports that some text messages sent by Secret Service agents on Jan. 6 had been missing.
Panel faces dwindling time to take action
The midterm elections are less than a month away, and with Republicans expected to regain the majority, the panel is likely to be disbanded. As a result, the pressure is on for the committee to make the most of the time it has left.
Committee members signaled during Thursday’s hearing that they still have some remaining business to pursue during the remainder of this congressional session.
Cheney said the committee “may ultimately decide to make a series of criminal referrals to the Department of Justice,” though she noted decisions about prosecution rest with them. She also said the committee may make a “range of legislative proposals to guard against another Jan. 6.”
Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) said Thursday the committee is reviewing testimony for the possibility of obstruction involving the Secret Service, including the potential that some in the agency were advised not to tell the panel about Trump’s alleged outburst in the presidential SUV after being told he would not be taken to the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“After concluding its review of the voluminous additional Secret Service communications from Jan. 5 and Jan. 6, the committee will be recalling witnesses and conducting further investigative depositions based on that material. Following that activity, we will provide ever greater detail in our final report,” Aguilar said.
Much of the attention will likely shift in the coming weeks to the Department of Justice and how they handle any recommendations from the panel. The department is already conducting its own investigation into the events of Jan. 6.
Thursday’s hearing also likely marked something of a swan song for multiple members. Cheney lost a primary to a Trump-backed challenger but has not ruled out a 2024 presidential bid. Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) are retiring from Congress in January, and members like Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) are facing tough reelection bids.
Mychael Schnell contributed