WASHINGTON — A predawn tweet dispatched by then-President Donald Trump urging backers to attend a “wild” protest on Jan. 6, 2021, served as a “call to action” that ultimately ignited “explosive” violence at the U.S. Capitol, according to members of the special House panel investigating the origins of the attack.
In its seventh public hearing Tuesday, the bipartisan committee sought to make the case that Trump was made aware by several top administration officials that assertions of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election were unfounded.
But Trump sided with outside advisers who cited unsubstantiated allegations of ballot box tampering to encourage him to contest the election.
Committee members pointed to emails, texts and video interviews with witnesses in arguing that Trump’s push for supporters to march to the Capitol where Congress was meeting to certify 2020 election results was not a spontaneous call made during his Jan. 6 speech outside the White House.
Instead, the plan that had been in the works for weeks, panel members said.
“The evidence confirms this was not a spontaneous call to action but rather was a deliberate strategy decided upon in advance by the president,” said committee member Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.).
Here are takeaways from the seventh hearing:
Competing factions fought for Trump’s attention
Throughout the hearing panel members detailed how opposing camps advised Trump after the election — with tensions coming to a boil during a six-hour meeting at the White House described by one aide as “unhinged.”
“It got to the point where the screaming was completely, completely out there,” White House lawyer Eric Herschmann recalled of the Dec. 18, 2020, meeting.
Outside adviser Sidney Powell, an attorney, presented Trump with unfounded assertions of foreign tampering with election machines, and Trump was urged to name Powell as a special counsel authorized to prosecute election fraud.
“What they were proposing, I thought was nuts,” said Herschmann.
Pat Cipollone, Trump's White House counsel, told the committee he kept asking Powell and others in the cadre of outside advisers in attendance about the allegations of widespread fraud: “Where is the evidence?”
Multiple aides advised Trump to concede
After states had certified election results on Dec. 14, several top White House aides advised Trump to concede, according to video testimony played at Tuesday's hearing.
“I conveyed to him that I thought that it was time for him to acknowledge that President Biden had prevailed in the election,” former U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia told the panel.
Other members of Trump’s leadership team who urged him to concede included Cipollone, Attorney General William Barr, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump.
Newfound witness cooperation
Committee co-chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said the public hearings have prompted once uncooperative Trump allies to agree to testify.
“We have also seen a change in how witnesses and lawyers in the Trump orbit approach this committee,” Cheney said. “Initially, their strategy in some cases appears to be to deny and delay. Today, there appears to be a general recognition that the committee has established key facts.”
Cipollone testified before the panel for eight hours last Friday, after previously resisting calls to be deposed.
On Saturday, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon notified the panel he was willing to testify after months of defying a congressional subpoena.
Cheney said some witnesses whom she did not name have begun to shift blame for Trump's actions solely onto Powell and Eastman, asserting the pair influenced Trump’s decision-making.
Cheney pushed back against that line of defense, saying Trump “is a 76-year-old man. He is not an impressionable child, and just like everyone else in our country, he is responsible for his own actions and his own choices.”
Cheney also said Trump recently attempted to call a witness who has not yet appeared before the committee, but the witness did not answer and instead notified their attorney. The committee has referred the call to the U.S. Department of Justice.