Trump watched January 6 riots for two hours on Fox News, committee hears

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Donald Trump sat for two and a half hours in his presidential dining room on the afternoon of January 6 2021, watching live coverage on Fox News as a mob of his supporters stormed the US Capitol, a congressional committee has heard.

The panel investigating the violence said on Thursday night it had evidence from multiple White House witnesses that the former president ignored the pleas of those closest to him — including his own family — to make a statement calling on his supporters to stand down.

Instead, the committee heard Trump watched the events on television, tweeted out his rally speech from earlier in the day, and made calls to senators who were supposed to be certifying the results of the 2020 election.

At the same time, Trump’s officials received messages from the Capitol that the safety of his vice-president Mike Pence was in such danger that members of his security detail were fearing for their lives.

In the primetime hearing, members heard from two White House aides who were present on the day: Matt Pottinger, who worked as deputy national security adviser, and Sarah Matthews, a former press aide.

They played video evidence from several people who worked in the building on the day, all of whom said they had neither seen nor heard the former president call for law enforcement to be strengthened as the mob stormed Congress.

Mark Milley, the head of the US military, told the committee of his alarm at the lack of action. In recorded testimony he said: “You’re the commander-in-chief and there is an attack on the US Capitol. And there’s nothing? No call? Zero?”

The committee also played evidence from multiple witnesses recounting a confrontation between Trump and Secret Service officers as he tried to join his supporters at the Capitol — despite knowing some of them were armed.

After he accepted he had to return to the White House, Trump went back to his office where he watched the violence play out live on television.

The committee heard that Trump expressed sympathy for his supporters, even as they chanted, “Hang Mike Pence”.

Cassidy Hutchinson, a White House aide at the time, recounted a conversation between Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, and Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel.

“Mark responded something to the effect of, ‘You heard, Pat, he thinks Mike deserves it, he doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.’”

Several witnesses expressed their alarm at a tweet Trump sent at 2.24pm, even while White House officials believed Pence’s life was in danger: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.”

Hutchinson said she was “disgusted” by the tweet, while Pottinger said he decided at that moment to resign.

Bennie Thompson, the Democratic committee chair, opened the hearing remotely due to a recent diagnosis of Covid-19. He told the session: “[Trump] ignored and disregarded the desperate pleas of his own family — including Ivanka Trump and Don Jr [his daughter and son] — even though he was the only one who could call off the mob.”

Thompson added: “He could not be moved to rise from his dining room table and walk the few steps down to the White House briefing room where cameras were waiting and anxious to carry his message to the savage mob.”

The committee has held seven hearings intended to refocus voters’ attention on the violence that broke out after the last election — and Trump’s role in stoking it. Thursday’s session is the last in this series, although Thompson said the committee would reconvene in September, when it will continue to lay out its findings and present new evidence.

The hearings have shown how Trump was told by many of his closest advisers that he had lost the election but continued to put pressure on the justice department and individual states to halt the processing of results. When he failed, he encouraged his supporters to protest in Washington, DC on January 6 — the date Congress officially certified the outcome.

In showing how close Trump came to overturning the results of the election, the hearings have damaged the former president’s approval ratings and boosted the prospects of those who might challenge him for the Republican nomination in 2024.

There are gaps in the committee’s evidence pertaining to what happened in the White House on January 6, due to missing text messages sent by Secret Service officers.

The service deleted those messages just weeks after the riot due to what it said was a “system migration process”. Only one text has been retrieved and shared with the committee, aides said.

Thompson and Liz Cheney, vice-chair of the committee, released a joint statement on Wednesday urging the Secret Service to recover the lost data and warning that laws may have been broken.

“The procedure for preserving content prior to this purge appears to have been contrary to federal records retention requirements and may represent a possible violation of the Federal Records Act,” they said.

Elaine Luria, a Democratic member of the committee, said they expected members of the Secret Service to testify in the coming weeks.

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