WASHINGTON, July 21 ― Donald Trump's response, or lack of it, during the three-hour-long assault on the US Capitol by his supporters on January 6, 2021, will be in focus as the congressional probe of the attack holds a prime time hearing yesterday.
The hearing will detail both the violence that played out as Trump supporters fought their way into the Capitol and Trump's actions in the 187 minutes between his speech urging the crowd to “fight like hell” and the final release of a video urging rioters to go home.
Ahead of the hearing, Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger released a video on Twitter in which former White House aides and officials described Trump watching television footage of the crowds that stormed the Capitol in a private dining room at the White House.
“To the best of my recollection, he was always in the dining room,” said former press secretary Kayleigh McEnany in the clip, which also showed former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone saying footage of the riot was visible on the screen.
Trump remains highly popular among Republican voters and continues to flirt with the possibility of running for president again in 2024. But a Reuters/Ipsos poll concluded yesterday found his standing among Republicans has weakened slightly since the hearings began early last month. Some 40 per cent of Republicans now say he is at least partially to blame for the riot, up from 33 per cent in a poll conducted six weeks ago, just as the congressional hearings were getting underway.
Scheduled at 8pm EDT (0000 GMT Friday) to reach a broad television audience, the public hearing is expected to be the last of eight summer hearings by the House of Representatives Select Committee.
“The focus of this hearing is what was going on here on Capitol Hill as that mob breached barriers and stormed the Capitol and caused a delay in certification of the Electoral College vote,” a committee aide told journalists, speaking on condition of anonymity to preview the hearing.
“We are going to remind people that there was this inaction at the White House,” the aide said, noting Trump did not release his video telling his followers to go home until after 4pm.
The panel of seven Democratic and two Republican House members has been investigating the attack for the past year, interviewing more than 1,000 witnesses and amassing tens of thousands of documents.
It has used the hearings to build a case that Trump's efforts to overturn his defeat by Democrat Joe Biden in the November 2020 presidential election constitute illegal conduct, far beyond normal politics.
The Washington Post reported that the committee could show outtakes from Trump's effort to record another video the day after the riot. The newspaper said Trump resisted holding the rioters to account, tried to call them patriots, and refused to say the election was over.
Spokespeople for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Pence, militias and fraud allegations
Questioning of witnesses will be led by Kinzinger and Democratic Representative Elaine Luria. Committee aides declined to name witnesses, citing security concerns, but according to media reports they will include Matthew Pottinger, a deputy national security adviser under Trump, and Sarah Matthews, a deputy press secretary in his White House. Both resigned following the riot.
Previous hearings have focused on the run-up to the riot, Trump's pressure on Vice President Mike Pence to deny Biden victory, militant groups whose members participated in the Capitol attack, and Trump's interactions with close advisers questioning his false allegations of massive voter fraud.
Committee members said Trump incited the riot by refusing to admit he lost the election and through comments including a Twitter post in December calling supporters to Washington for a “big protest” on January 6, saying, “Be there, will be wild.” Trump denies wrongdoing and continues to claim falsely that he lost because of widespread fraud.
Trump and his supporters ― including many Republicans in Congress ― dismiss the January 6 panel as a political witch hunt, but the panel's backers say it is a vital probe into a violent threat against democracy.
The attack on the Capitol injured more than 140 police officers and led to several deaths. More than 850 people have been charged with taking part in the riot, with more than 325 guilty pleas so far.
The panel left the door open for additional hearings in the coming months. The panel has said it had collected far more information than it could present in one series of hearings.
“There is no reason to think that this is going to be the Select Committee's final hearing,” the aide said. The committee is also expected to have some sort of event to mark the release later this year of a report on its findings. ― Reuters