Months after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, Donald Trump began publicly insisting he would’ve joined the rioters himself if it hadn’t been for those pesky Secret Service agents. “I said I was going to go down with the crowd. But they wouldn’t let me go,” he told journalist David Drucker in May 2021. “I think if I did go down there, I would have stopped the people from doing anything bad.”
While this initially sounded like an empty boast to assure his most ardent supporters he sure would’ve liked to have been by their side as they assaulted Congress on his behalf, it now seems at least partially true. In this summer’s most explosive House January 6 committee hearing testimony, Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top White House aide, said she was told Trump tussled with a Secret Service agent in the presidential SUV, trying to grab the steering wheel himself when he was told it wasn’t safe to head to the Capitol with his supporters.
And it sounds more and more as though this wasn’t just a split-second decision as violence was breaking out but an agreement among multiple Secret Service officials to ignore Trump’s orders take him to the Capitol. In a preview of Thursday’s hearing, which is expected to be the committee’s last, the Washington Post reports that, once Trump was taken back to the White House, a top Secret Service official emailed Bobby Engel, the leader of the president’s detail, to make sure no one was listening to his demands:
One of the committee’s newly obtained documents shows that sometime between 1:30 and 2 p.m., a senior Secret Service supervisor for protective operations emailed Engel with an urgent update and seeking to know if Trump’s plan to go to the Capitol was successfully quashed. It came after a tumultuous hour for the Secret Service detail, which had effectively ignored a command from the president.
Even with Trump back at the White House, Secret Service headquarters wanted to be sure the president was staying put. The supervisor, Ronald L. Rowe, warned Engel that the situation was rapidly devolving at the Capitol and sought Engel’s confirmation he was not considering taking Trump there, according to a senior law enforcement official familiar with the records turned over to the committee. Rowe urged Engel to call him.
Rowe declined to comment, but Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Rowe’s email reflected the larger agency’s position: Trump’s idea of going to the Capitol was a nonstarter.
The Post reports that, in other internal emails, agents said Trump was angry about agents keeping him from the Capitol, suggesting that he didn’t accept their rationale for returning to the White House once it became clear the protest had turned into a riot.
The new revelations come from more than a million pages of records the Secret Service turned over to the House committee after drawing heavy criticism for deleting agents’ text messages from January 6, 2021. They will likely revive the debate over whether the agency has the authority to override the president’s decision to put his life at risk — though, in this case, “the agents were wrong for all the right reasons,” as Jonathan Turley put it in an opinion piece for The Hill. Trump may have been telling the truth about his desire to join his supporters at the Capitol, but it’s still hard to see how his presence there on January 6 would have “stopped the people from doing anything bad.”
More on the January 6 hearings
- Ivanka Trump Gave the January 6 Panel What It Needed
- The January 6 Hearings Exposed Trump’s Criminality. Will It Matter?
- Will the January 6 Committee End With a Bang or a Whimper?