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Trump was unmoved by many pleas to stop Capitol attack, former aides tell Jan. 6 committee

Former deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger (L) and former White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews are sworn in July 21, 2022 to testify before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo

July 21 (UPI) -- The House Jan. 6 committee held its eighth public hearing on Thursday night and heard testimony from multiple former White House officials who said President Donald Trump was unmoved for hours by the many pleas from aides, lawmakers, friends and family members to intervene during the Capitol attack.

The testimony painted a picture of a sitting U.S. president refusing to budge or condemn his supporters as they unleashed violence in the heart of American democracy, and at times even applauding their unlawful actions and calling them "patriots" whom he "loved."

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The prime-time hearing shed more light on Trump's decisions on the day of the attack, which could ultimately result in criminal charges for the former president who even after the deadly assault at the Capitol still refused to acknowledge that the 2020 election was over.

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At the hearing, new video footage of Trump as he rehearsed a speech on the day of the attack showed that he wanted to claim in his message that the rioters mostly acted peacefully.

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Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., who along with Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., sought at the hearing to provide a "minute-by-minute" account of Trump's actions and inaction during the 187 minutes between his fiery speech at his "Save America" rally near the White House at 1:10 p.m. and the moment he told the rioters to "go home" at 4:17 p.m.

Committee members shared a never-before-seen outtake of Trump's video message to the rioters on the day of the siege, in which he claimed the majority of his supporters acted "peacefully" on that day.

"I urge all my supporters to do exactly as 99.9% of them have already been doing -- express their passions and opinions peacefully," he said. "My supporters have a right to have their voices heard but make no mistake -- NO ONE should be using violence or threats of violence to express themselves. Especially at the U.S. Capitol. Let's respect our institutions. Let's all do better. I am asking you to leave the Capitol Hill region NOW and go home in a peaceful way."

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Luria on Thursday said Trump knew within 15 minutes of ending his remarks on the Capitol Ellipse that his supporters had stormed the U.S. Capitol building.

During that time, some witnesses have previously testified that Trump watched "gleefully" on television as the mob broke into and vandalized the Capitol. In one of his tweets that afternoon, he called the rioters "patriots" and said he loved them. It was only much later that he condemned the attack after repeated pleas from aides, friends and members of his own family.

"From 1:25 until after 4:00 the president stayed in his dining room," Luria said Thursday, adding that he watched Fox News on television throughout that entire period.

Former White House aide Sarah Matthews, who delivered live testimony Thursday, said it would have taken Trump "probably less than 60 seconds" to get from the Oval Office dining room to the White House press briefing room to address the nation.

"There's a camera that is on in there at all times and so if the president had wanted to make a statement and address the American people he could have been on camera almost instantly," Matthews said.

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She added that the White House press corps has offices that are located directly behind the briefing room.

"So if he had wanted to make an address from the Oval Office, we could have assembled the White House press corps probably in a matter of minutes to get them into the Oval for him to do an on-camera address," Matthews said.

Matthews and Matthew Pottinger, another former aide who offered live testimony Thursday, described Trump's tweets that preceded the video message as insufficient in serving to quell the riots.

Matthews said she told White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany that Trump needed to "immediately send out a tweet that condemned the violence" after Trump sent a tweet during the attack that disparaged Vice President Mike Pence as a "coward" for refusing to attempt to block the Electoral College certification.

She said McEnany then went to the Oval Office dining room to find the president and returned after he sent a tweet, which Matthews also found insufficient as it did not contain a call to action urging the rioters to leave.

"We were in a room full of people but people weren't paying attention and so she looked directly at me in a hushed tone and shared with me that the president did not want to include any mention of peace in that tweet and that it took some convincing on their part, those who were in the room," Matthews said. "And she said there was a back and forth going over different phrases to find something that he was comfortable with and it wasn't until Ivanka Trump suggested the phrase 'stay peaceful' that he agreed to include it."

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She added that a colleague disagreed that Trump should condemn the violence as they thought it would be "handing a win to the media" for Trump to condemn the rioters.

Matthews said she became "visibly frustrated" that they were arguing the "politics of a tweet" amidst the violence at the Capitol that day.

"I motioned up at the TV and I said, 'Do you think it looks like we're f-ing winning? Because I don't think it does,'" she said. "And I again reiterated that I thought that the president needed to condemn the violence because it didn't matter if it was coming from the left or the right that you should condemn violence 100% of the time."

Matthews also said she was struck by the fact that Trump chose to open his video telling the rioters to leave by "pushing the lie that there was a stolen election" and that it was disturbing that he told the rioters "We love you, you're very special," as he did not distinguish between those who engaged in the violence and those who did not.

"As a spokesperson for him, I knew I would be asked to defend that and to me his refusal to act and call off the mob that day and his refusal to condemn the violence was indefensible," she said. "I knew that I would be resigning that evening, and so I finished out the workday, went home and called my loved ones to tell them of my decision and resigned that evening."

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Pottinger who was the highest-ranked White House official to resign immediately after the attack at the Capitol, said he could be counted "among those hoping to see an unequivocal, strong statement clearing out the Capitol, telling people to stand down, leave, go home."

Matthews and Pottinger also said Trump's tweet calling Pence a "coward" was "adding fuel to the fire."

Pottinger said that an aide handed him a sheet of paper with the tweet shortly after he saw images of "the chaos that was unfolding at the Capitol" on television, saying he was "quite disturbed" after reading it.

"I was disturbed and worried to see that the president was attacking Vice President Pence for doing his constitutional duty," Pottinger said. "So the tweet looked to me like the opposite of what we really needed at that moment, which was a de-escalation and that's why I said earlier that it looked like fuel being poured on the fire."

Pottinger said that was the moment that he decided to resign.

"I simply didn't want to be associated with the events that were unfolding on the Capitol," he said.

Matthews said that it was "obvious that the situation at the Capitol was violent and escalating quickly," adding that the tweet about Pence was "the last thing that was needed in that moment."

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"I remember thinking that this was going to be bad for him to tweet this because it was essentially him giving the green light to these people, telling them that what they were doing at the steps of the Capitol and entering the Capitol was OK, that they were justified in their anger," she said. "And he shouldn't have been doing that, he should have been telling these people to go home and to leave and to condemn the violence that we are seeing."

Matthews noted she worked on Trump's campaign and had "seen the impact his words have on his supporters" in countless rallies throughout the nation.

"They truly latch onto every word and every tweet that he says, and so I think that in that moment for him to tweet out the message about Mike Pence, it was him pouring gasoline on the fire and making it much worse," she said.

The committee on Thursday also shared evidence that members of Trump's family and his allies urged him to quell the riots and distance himself from the participants.

Committee members played video of Donald Trump Jr., Trump's eldest son, saying in a private deposition that Trump needed to condemn the riots "ASAP" and "go to the mattresses" to avoid his legacy becoming ruined by the insurrection. Trump Jr. later clarified that "going to the mattresses" is "just a reference for going all in -- I think it's a Godfather reference."

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Former White House counsel Pat Cipollone also told the committee in private testimony that Trump was alone in refusing to take further action to send the rioters home.

"I can't think of anybody on that day who didn't want people to get out of the Capitol ... particularly once the violence started," Cipollone said.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was also among those who urged Trump to stop his supporters, telling him to condemn the riots personally by phone before reaching out to his family after the then-president refused.

Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, said he got the sense that McCarthy and those in the Capitol "were scared" of the violence occurring around them.

"He told me it was getting really ugly over at the Capitol and said, 'Please, anything you could do to help I would appreciate it,'" Kushner said.

The committee also shared testimony reiterating that Trump sought to join rioters besieging the Capitol on Jan. 6 even though he knew they were armed.

Luria presented testimony from a "security professional working in the White House complex on Jan. 6" who said that security officials were in a "state of shock" in response to Trump's actions.

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"The president wanted to lead tens of thousands of people to the Capitol. I think that was enough grounds for us to be alarmed," said the official, whose identity was hidden due to concerns of "retribution."

The official added that Trump's willingness to encourage and even join the march toward the Capitol represented a shift toward a more serious tone than that of the rally that included Trump's speech on the Ellipse earlier in the day.

"We all knew what that implicated and what that meant, that this was no longer a rally, that this was going to move to something else if he physically walked to the Capitol," the security professional said. "I don't know if you want to use the word -- insurrection, coup, whatever -- we all knew that this would move from a normal democratic, you know, public event into something else."

In previous testimony, Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, said Trump had been fully aware that rioters had weapons but ordered metal-detecting equipment to be removed and for security personnel stop searching his supporters. At another point, she said, Trump tried to physically grab the steering wheel of his limo when he was told they weren't going to the Capitol.

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Sgt. Mark Robinson of the Washington, D.C., police department, offered similar testimony, saying he was told by the Secret Service agent responsible for Trump's motorcade that Trump had a "heated" discussion with the security detail about wanting to go to the Capitol.

Robinson added that he had been in motorcades with Trump more than 100 times and had not heard anything about that type of exchange before that day.

The committee released live video of Trump recording a video condemning the riots nearly 24 hours later on Jan. 7, 2021, after his advisers warned that he could be removed from office under the 25th Amendment.

In the video, Trump can be seen refusing to say "if you broke the law" and later saying he would not declare that "the election is over" despite noting that Congress had certified the results.

"I don't want to say the election's over, I just want to say 'Congress has certified the results' without saying the election's over, OK?" Trump said in the recording.

Thursday was the eighth and final public hearing of the Jan. 6 committee until September.

Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said the members would reconvene then to continue laying out its findings to the American people. He noted, however, that "a number of facts are clear" about the case in the meantime.

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"There can be no doubt that there was a coordinated multi-step effort to overturn an election -- overseen and directed by Donald Trump. There can be no doubt that he commanded a mob. A mob that was heavily armed, violent and angry to march on the Capitol to try to stop the peaceful transfer of power," said Thompson, who led Thursday's hearing remotely after testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this week.

He also asserted that those responsible for the riots must be held accountable.

"If there is no accountability for Jan. 6, for every part of this scheme, I fear that we will not overcome the ongoing threat to our democracy," he said. "There must be stiff consequences for those responsible."

Committee Vice Chairwoman Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said the committee has "far more evidence to share with the American people" and will spend August "pursuing emerging information on multiple fronts."

"In the course of these hearings, we have received new evidence and new witnesses have bravely stepped forward. Efforts to litigate and overcome immunity and executive privilege claims have been successful and those continue. Doors have opened, new subpoenas have been issued, and the dam has begun to break," she said.

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Members of the committee have said they expected to receive a collection of text messages from the Secret Service from Jan. 6. A government watchdog said last week that the agency had deleted text messages from both Jan. 6 and Jan. 5.

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