The Jan. 6 committee presented further evidence on Tuesday refuting the notion that the deadly attack on the Capitol was a spontaneous riot that got out of hand, with Donald Trump and many of his allies not only aware that his supporters intended to march to the Capitol, but encouraged it, despite concerns that it could turn violent.
In a draft tweet that the former President allegedly approved but that ultimately was never sent out, Trump urged his supporters to come to Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, to attend a rally near the White House and then head toward Congress where lawmakers were set to certify Joe Biden’s election victory.
“I will be making a Big Speech at 10 a.m. on January 6th at the Ellipse (South of the White House),” read the draft tweet, which was preserved by the National Archives. “Please arrive early, massive crowds expected. March to the Capitol after. Stop the steal!”
Even some of Trump’s congressional allies were worried about the possibility of violence. The committee aired audio of Rep. Debbie Lesko, Republican of Arizona, from before Jan. 6 asking for increased security at Capitol Hill on that day. She said she “asked leadership to come up with a safety plan” for members of Congress.
“I’m actually very concerned about this because we have who knows how many hundreds of thousands of people coming here,” she said. “We have Antifa. We also have, quite honestly, Trump supporters who actually believe that we are going to overturn the election. And when that doesn’t happen, most likely will not happen, they are going to go nuts.” (Lesko ultimately joined 146 fellow Republicans in voting to overturn the election.)
In her opening statement, Rep. Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming and vice chair of the committee, said that Trump could not “escape responsibility by being willfully blind”—invoking a legal form of knowledge that federal prosecutors cite on fraud and other charges in which intent is a key factor.
“President Trump is a 76-year-old man,” Cheney said. “He is not an impressionable child. Just like everyone else in our country, he is responsible for his own actions and his own choices.”
Much of the hearing focused on an unruly and unplanned meeting at the White House on Dec. 18, 2021, between Trump and several election denialists such as Gen. Mike Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser; Rudy Guiliani, Trump’s personal lawyer; Trump campaign lawyer Sydney Powell; and Patick Byrne, the CEO of Overstock.com. Several of them were allowed onto White House grounds by an unnamed “junior staffer,” according to the committee.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat who helped lead Tuesday’s hearing, described it as “the craziest meeting of the Trump presidency.” According to taped interviews with former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, former White House adviser Eric Herschmann, and Powell, those at the meeting came up with a draft executive order directing the Secretary of Defense to “seize, collect, retain and analyze” voting machines.
Several of the White House aides who were present for the more than six-hour meeting—or who were nearby during it—described the gathering as farcical and outrageous. Hershmann said they were pushing “ludicrous conspiracy theories” on the President, including that Venezuela meddled in the election. Cipollone told committee investigators that the group demonstrated a “general disregard for the importance of actually backing up what you say.”
Trump, multiple witnesses said, was livid at his White House advisers who tried to tell him the ideas being pitched to him were out of touch with reality, and that they were neither workable nor legally sound. “I would categorically describe it as: ‘You guys aren’t tough enough,’” Guiliani said in a taped deposition. He then recounted the more colorful language Trump used: “You guys are a bunch of pussies.”
The committee highlighted a text that night send by Cassidy Hutchinson, the former White House aide who offered explosive testimony at the committee’s last hearing, to Deputy White House Chief of Staff Tony Ornato. She told Ornato that the West Wing was “UNHINGED.”
Shortly after the meeting concluded, Trump posted his now-infamous tweet urging his supporters to come to Washington. “Be there,” he said. “Will be wild!” The panel showed how the tweet unleashed a clarion call to radical right-wing militia groups.
“It ‘will be wild’ means we need volunteers for the firing squad,” one user on a far-right forum posted, according to evidence presented by the panel. “Is the 6th D-Day? Is that why Trump wants everyone there?” another user wrote. “Trump just told us all to come armed. F—-g A, this is happening,” read a third message displayed on the screen.
Trump’s tweets “electrified and galvanized” his supporters, including the Oath Keepers, an anti-government militia, the far-right Proud Boys, and a host of other extremist groups “spoiling for a fight against the government,” Raskin said.
Jason Van Tatenhove, a former spokesman for the Oath Keepers who left the group in 2017 was one of two witnesses to testify during Tuesday’s hearing. He told the panel that the militia’s involvement on Jan. 6 meant that the riot could have been far worse. “I think we need to quit mincing words…what it was going to be was an armed revolution,” he said.
In a court filing last week, prosecutors revealed that one of the Oath Keepers had come to Washington on Jan. 6 with a “death list” and explosives. “I think we got exceedingly lucky that the bloodshed…and loss of life wasn’t more,” Van Tatenhove said on Tuesday. “The potential was so much more.”
To further emphasize that point, the panel also played testimony from an unidentified former employee of Twitter’s moderation team, who said he had raised concerns about Trump’s exhortations to potentially dangerous supporters—including telling the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” during a presidential debate.
“My concern was that the former President, for seemingly the first time, was speaking directly to extremist organizations and giving them directives,” the employee said in a voice-altered recording. “We had not seen that sort of direct communication before, and that concerned me.”
The former employee said Twitter “relished” being Trump’s favorite platform, did not intervene in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6 despite evidence that the President’s tweets were galvanizing extremist groups.
“For months, I had been begging and anticipating and attempting to raise the reality that, if we made no intervention into what I saw occurring, people were going to die,” they said.
The hearing was the committee’s seventh so far. Earlier hearings have revealed how Trump continued to spread claims of widespread voter fraud even after multiple White House advisers told him they were not true, and how Trump pressured Pence to reject the congressional certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory. Another focused on Trump’s attempts to pressure state election officials to decertify Biden’s victories, and another on his attempts to corrupt the Justice Department to help overturn the election.
Tuesday’s hearing came at a pivotal moment for the panel; it was the first since the abruptly scheduled session two weeks ago, in which Hutchinson provided the most damning testimony against the former President to date. She told the panel that the Secret Service told Trump that many of his supporters were heavily armed on Jan. 6, but he told them to go to the Capitol anyway, a revelation that some former prosecutors argue opens him up to criminal liability. He also wanted to march with them to the Capitol, despite Cipollone saying Trump would be “charged with every crime imaginable” if he did, Hutchinson testified.
In her closing statement, Cheney said that Trump had recently tried to call a potential witness, who has not yet testified. It was just the latest hint of alleged witness tampering by the former president and his associates.
Toward the end of the hearing, the committee heard testimony from Stephen Ayres, who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 and has since been charged with disruptive and disorderly conduct in a restricted building. He is scheduled for sentencing in September.
Ayres told the panel that Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud—which multiple White House aides told him were categorically false—was what drew him to Washington for the insurrection. “That’s basically what got me to come down here,” he said.
Asked whether he might have acted differently had he known Trump’s claims of a rigged election weren’t true, Ayres responded, “Oh yeah, definitely. Who knows? I might not have come down here.”
After the hearing ended, Ayres approached Capitol police officers sitting in attendance, whose lines he breached that day, to shake their hands.