“I don’t mean the election is over,” Trump said as he recorded the statement Jan. 7. “I just want to say that Congress certified the results without saying the election is over.”
Excerpts from the tape released Thursday night by the House committee investigating the Capitol attack revealed the former president’s frustration and annoyance at having fought for his script. He clenched his jaw. He slammed his right palm on the desk. His daughter Ivanka Trump coached him from the sidelines.
The release of the footage marked a rare and unprecedented window into Trump’s actions in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack.
The Capitol had been besieged for the first time since the British burned down Washington in 1814, and the President of the United States was dealing with something else: He really, really didn’t want to speak ill of the people who had done it. .
Not the afternoon before, when rioters armed with batons, flag poles and bear bombs were still pounding government halls, chasing his own vice president. And not that day either, as the guards cleaned up the trash and blood left in the cleaned Capitol.
THE ATTACK: The siege of the United States Capitol on January 6 was neither a spontaneous act nor an isolated event.
Under pressure from aides, Trump told rioters to “go home in peace” in a video the White House tweeted at 4:17 p.m. on January 6. In the final version of the video released on January 7, he also said that the mob had “defiled the seat of American democracy” and that violators would “pay.”
But in its eighth public hearing Thursday night, the House committee revealed new behind-the-scenes details about how a president who had made feeding the passions of his staunchest supporters his top priority in power stubbornly resisted them. rebuke, even when they have engaged in violence in his name. Even his mild criticism of the crowd was reluctant and only came after hours of resistance.
Even before Jan. 6, Trump had refused pleas from staff to condemn the Proud Boys, a far-right group with a history of violence whose members ultimately played a central role in the attack on the Capitol. “He wouldn’t report the Proud Boys because they were fighting for him. If someone fought for him, no matter how heinous people were, he wouldn’t report them,” Trump’s former press secretary Stephanie Grisham told The Washington Post in an interview.
The committee showed on Thursday that Trump was told moments after returning from a speech on the Ellipse that his supporters were breaking barriers and trying to enter the building, but remained silent for hours, despite calls to publicly condemn violence from his employees, Republicans in Congress and even his own family.
Instead of calling out the crowd, at 2:24 p.m. Trump put a new target on his vice president’s back, tweeting that Mike Pence “didn’t have the guts to do what should have been done to protect our country. “, adding” The United States demands the truth!
At 2:38 p.m., Trump tweeted, “Please support our Capitol Police and law enforcement. They are really on the side of our country. Stay calm !
But that tweet, too, did not condemn the violence, and its exhortation to “stay peaceful” was a lie – the rioters were at the time engaged in hand-to-hand combat with police.
Even so, publicist Sarah Matthews testified that her boss, publicist Kayleigh McEnany, told her Trump didn’t want to include the word “peaceful” at all.
“She looked at me directly and in a hushed tone, told me that the president didn’t want to include any kind of mention of peace in this tweet and it took a bit of convincing on their part,” said Matthews.
It wasn’t until Ivanka Trump suggested the phrase “stay peaceful” that Matthews said he was told Trump was okay with it.
Trump eventually recorded a video that included a line urging rioters to go home at 4:03 p.m. The committee first revealed on Thursday that its staff had also prepared remarks for it for the video.
“I call on you to leave the capital region NOW and return home peacefully,” read the remarks, a document the committee showed was stamped, “THE PRESIDENT SAW”.
But when Trump stood in front of the camera in the White House Rose Garden, he ignored prepared remarks and spoke “off the cuff”, aide Nicholas Luna testified.
Trump’s off-the-cuff remarks instead underscored the lie that the election was stolen. “I know your pain. I know you are hurt,” Trump said, telling the rioters, “We love you. You are very special.
According to committee members, Trump’s staff wanted him to make another statement early in the morning of Jan. 7. of his allies that members of his cabinet might attempt to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution and remove him from office.
Clips played by the committee show Trump repeatedly tripping over his words, editing the remarks in real time and complaining about his language. ” Alright I’ll do it. I will do it. Let’s go,” he said at one point, exasperated.
The video experience was familiar to John Kelly, who served as Trump’s chief of staff from 2017 to 2019. In an interview, Kelly recalled aides often trying to get Trump to tape a video when delivering a statement. that they knew he was hesitating. to give.
“We would try to get it to stay on the teleprompter or, better, record it. He hated it,” he said. With the video, he said, “we could then cut and paste it.”
Similarly, Grisham said Trump had some revelations when he was coerced into making a statement he objected to.
“He would stop, wave his hands, ask why we were doing it. He would like to withdraw something. He was asking who wrote it,” she said. “He would be exasperated.”
In the lowest moments of the presidency, Trump has often resisted saying the words his aides thought could make a politically treacherous moment a little less gruesome. His resistance was always firmer when advisers pressured him to say anything that might suggest he or his followers – whom he saw as an extension of himself – had done something wrong.
In 2017, when a woman was killed while demonstrating against neo-Nazis and white supremacists as they rallied against the removal of Confederate statues in Charlottesville, Trump resisted calls to criticize unwarranted marchers . At a press conference, he said he condemned the violence – but undermined sentiment by blaming the violence “from many sides”.
A coterie of White House aides then penned a new speech for Trump, declaring that “racism is wrong” and promising that anyone who broke the law in Charlottesville would be held accountable. After initially agreeing to give the speech, Trump got angry, walked off stage and watched TV coverage from the office of White House physician Ronny Jackson, according to a person who witnessed the incident. “He wasn’t reluctant to give the speech, but he wasn’t completely convinced and scribbled on the paper until the last few minutes. You could tell. He was reluctant,” said a former aide with direct knowledge of the case, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe the private scene.
Trump’s anger grew when he saw that Fox News had covered up the reaction as an apology and a course correction, even though he was praised by many aides, including Treasury Secretary Gary Cohn and adviser Hope. Hicks.
“He was absolutely pissed after doing the second on Charlottesville because he believed he had shown weakness,” Kelly said. “In his mind, he’s a badass.”
Later that night, he barged in on aides who had been involved in writing the speech. “It was one of the worst speeches I’ve ever given,” he said, according to a person who witnessed the eruption. “It was a terrible decision. I looked weak! I looked weak!
The next day, he returned to Trump Tower and doubled down on his opening speech, delivering the memorable remark: “You had some really bad people in that group, but you also had people who were really good people, on both sides.
Similarly, after the “Access Hollywood” tape leaked during the 2016 campaign, featuring Trump obscenely portraying women being assaulted, he was reluctant to offer a full apology. Shortly after posting a video in which he said, “I was wrong and I apologize,” Trump began telling his aides that maybe the tape was somehow fabricated. another and it wasn’t even him on the tape, former aides said.
“He never wanted to look weak or be blamed for anything. In his mind, anything that made him look weak, he would ignore it, deny it or lie,” Grisham said.
On Jan. 9, two Trump campaign aides exchanged text messages over their anger that Trump had in no way recognized a Capitol police officer who died of a stroke after battling rioters. In a message posted by the committee, communications director Tim Murtaugh explained Trump’s actions.
“You know how it is, of course,” Murtaugh wrote. “If he recognized the dead cop, he would implicitly blame the mob. And he won’t because they are his people. … No way he’s acknowledging something that could ultimately be called his fault. Certainly not.”