In more than one respect, Donald Trump is like a shark: He is in constant motion, tweeting at all hours and holding raucous rallies at every opportunity. But as the House Select Committee investigating January 6 established in its eighth hearing, for 187 fateful minutes that day, Trump sat still in the White House.
He wasn’t entirely idle, though. He talked to Rudy Giuliani. He talked to a few senators to try to get them to vote against confirmation of Joe Biden electors. He listened to various staff members begging him (and his chief of staff) to do something about the ongoing violence at the Capitol. And most of all, he picked up his favorite Twitter megaphone to insult his vice-president, Mike Pence, just as the mob he had incited was drawing a bead on the Hoosier and his security detail with very bad intent:
As committee member Elaine Luria noted: “He put a target on his own vice-president’s back.”
At 2:38 p.m., Trump did tweet again, instructing his mob to “stay peaceful!” in encounters with law enforcement even as they were ransacking the Capitol. Former White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews testified that Trump had to be talked into this language since he did not want to urge peaceful conduct at all. And as some rioters noted later, he did not urge them to be peaceful toward Congress or the treacherous veep.
Soon enough, those pressuring Trump to speak directly to the rioters and tell them to leave the Capitol included virtually his entire staff and family; key outside advisers like Fox News’ Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham; and key Trump supporters (including House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy) in the besieged Congress. According to one Republican member of Congress, Trump told a frightened McCarthy: “Well, Kevin, I guess they are more upset about [the stolen election] than you are.”
The 187 minutes ended with Trump’s grudging, off-the-cuff video telling the rioters to go home with his love and appreciation after he doubled down on his bizarre contention that Democrats had stolen a landslide victory. He then tweeted similar sentiments, instructing the “proud patriots” who had defended his “sacred landslide election victory” to “remember this day forever!” And the next day, after being warned there was a risk he would be removed from office under the 25th Amendment, he supported a peaceful transition to the Biden presidency, though he pointedly refused to acknowledge that the election was over. He certainly never came that close again to accepting the results.
The two live witnesses in this primetime hearing, former National Security Council staffer Matthew Pottinger and former deputy White House press secretary Sarah Matthews, both resigned in disgust after the events of January 6, and filled in a few details in testimony woven together from taped interviews. They came across as regular MAGA Republicans who were shocked at Trump’s inaction in the face of the mob. The general theme of duty betrayed by the commander-in-chief was reinforced by the committee’s two chief questioners, Virginia Democrat Elaine Luria and Illinois Adam Kinzinger, who are both military veterans of considerable distinction.
Because it was live TV, there were a few nice flourishes, most notably the juxtaposition of ultra-MAGA Senator Josh Hawley raising a fist of solidarity to the mob as he entered the Capitol on January 6, and then sprinting across a hallway in fear after the Capitol was breached. The video will probably forever be associated with the words “Josh Hawley is running.”
More soberly, the committee repeatedly reminded Republicans, most notably McCarthy and Mitch McConnell, of how they reacted to the events of January 6 at that time (with, respectively, measured and angry condemnation of Trump’s conduct). They’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to forget it. It’s telling that Adam Kinzinger was pushed into retirement by his party for refusing to do the same.
More on the January 6 Hearings
- Will the January 6 Committee End With a Bang or a Whimper?
- Lock Him Up?: 8 Big Takeaways From the January 6 Committee
- The Wildest Revelations From the January 6 Committee