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5 key takeaways from the eighth January 6 committee hearing

What was Donald Trump doing while the riot was unfolding at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021?

That is the question that US legislators investigating the deadly events of that day sought to answer during their latest public hearing, which was broadcast to the country in primetime on Thursday evening.

Over the past several weeks, the House panel has sought to place the former Republican president at the centre of a sustained effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which culminated in the Capitol riot.

On Thursday, the committee members repeatedly referenced the time that elapsed between when Trump’s speech to supporters near the White House ended and when he put out a video urging them to go home – 187 minutes – to stress that he did not act swiftly enough to stop them.

Virtually everyone told President Trump to condemn the violence in clear and unmistakable terms… But the former President chose not to do what all of these people begged. He refused to tell the mob to leave until 4:17. pic.twitter.com/sYDQ6DodM6

— January 6th Committee (@January6thCmte) July 22, 2022

Here is a look at five key takeaways from the eighth public hearing:

Trump ‘refused to act’ despite multiple pleas

During the 187-minute period, “Trump sat in his dining room and watched the attack on television while his senior-most staff, closest advisers and family members begged him to do what is expected of any American president”, Congresswoman Elaine Luria said during the hearing.

“President Trump refused to act because of his selfish desire to stay in power,” she said.

Luria also said that Trump knew “within 15 minutes” of ending his speech to supporters that day that “the Capitol was besieged and under attack”. But she said that “from 1:25 until after 4:00, the president stayed in his dining room.”

The panel’s Republican vice-chair, Liz Cheney, also stressed that Trump ignored calls by aides and family members to act to end the attack.

As an example, the committee displayed text messages from the former president’s son Donald Trump Jr to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on January 6, urging action to end the violence.

“This is one you go to the mattresses on,” Trump Jr wrote, according to the committee. “They will try to f**k his entire legacy on this if it gets worse.”

Trump Jr later explained to the panel that “go to the mattresses” means acting urgently.

Members of Pence’s security team feared for their lives: Witness

A White House security official, whose testimony was presented anonymously, has said that members of Mike Pence’s security team feared for their lives as rioters turned their anger against the then-vice president for refusing to push to overturn the 2020 election.

“Members of the VP’s detail at this time were starting to fear for their own lives,” the official said.

“I don’t like talking about it, but there were calls to say goodbye to family members, so on and so forth. Whatever the reason was on the ground, the VP detail thought that this was about to get very ugly.”

The US vice president presides over the counting of electoral college votes in a largely ceremonial role. But Trump allies had pushed Pence to use that position to overturn the 2020 election, which President Joe Biden won.

Ex-adviser says Trump tweet attacking Pence pushed him to resign

Matthew Pottinger, Trump’s former deputy national security adviser and one of two witnesses who testified before the committee on Thursday, said a Trump tweet in the afternoon of January 6 pushed him to resign.

That tweet at 2:24pm local time that day denounced Pence for not stopping the election certification in Congress.

Pottinger said he was “disturbed and worried to see that the president was attacking Vice President Pence for doing his constitutional duty”.

“So the tweet looked to me like the opposite of what we really needed at that moment, which was a de-escalation,” he told the panel. “So that was the moment that I decided that I was going to resign … I simply didn’t want to be associated with the events that were unfolding at the Capitol.”

witnesses at jan 6 hearing
Matthew Pottinger (left) and former deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews testified during the hearing [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

Trump did not call senior leaders, government officials during riot

The panel members said they confirmed through interviews that Trump did not call senior law enforcement or military leaders, Vice President Pence’s staff or Washington government officials to issue orders or offer assistance during the riot.

Instead, the former president “was calling senators to encourage them to delay or object to the certification” of the 2020 election, the committee said.

Trump also called his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. “According to the phone records, the call lasted approximately four minutes,” the panel said.

The committee also played an audio recording from top US General Mark Milley in which he expressed bewilderment about Trump’s refusal to act during the riot – and failure to contact top government leaders.

“You’re the commander in chief. You’ve got an assault going on on the Capitol of the United States of America, and there’s nothing? No call? Nothing? Zero?” Milley said.

Trump giving a speech in front of the White House.
Trump delivered an incendiary speech near the White House before the riot [File: Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo]

Trump violated oath of office by failing to rein in rioters: Panel

Congressman Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the panel, said Trump’s conduct on January 6, 2021, was a violation of his oath of office.

“It was only once the vice president and the members of Congress were in secure locations, and the officers defending the Capitol began to turn the tide that then President Trump engaged in the political theatre of telling the mob to go home,” Kinzinger said during the hearing.

“And even then, he told them all they were special and that he loved them.”

Kinzinger had earlier pointed to a tweet from Trump on the evening of January 6 that read: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”

Luria and Cheney, the other panel members, also said Trump’s response to the riot demonstrated a failure to live up to his oath of office.

“Donald Trump made a purposeful choice to violate his oath of office, to ignore the ongoing violence against law enforcement, to threaten our constitutional order. There is no way to excuse that behaviour. It was indefensible,” Cheney said.

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