Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., delivers an opening statement as the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds a public hearing to discuss its findings of a yearlong investigation, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Photo by Jemal Countess/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 13 (UPI) -- The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, riots at the U.S. Capitol voted unanimously to subpoena former President Donald Trump on Thursday, seeking to hear from him directly about the riot.
"A subpoena to a former president is a serious and extraordinary action," Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said. "That's why we want to take this step in full view of the American people, especially because the subject matter at issue is so important to the American people and the stakes are so high for our future and our democracy."
Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of only two Republicans on the panel and its vice chair, said that it was vital to hear from the "person at the center of efforts to overturn the election."
"We are obligated to seek answers directly from the man who set this all in motion and every American is entitled to those answers so we can act now to protect our republic," Cheney said.
She said the committee has sufficient information to consider criminal referrals to multiple individuals and to recommend a range of legislative proposals to guard against a similar attack.
Cheney said seeking Trump's testimony is a key task before the committee, noting that more than 30 witnesses invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Thompson said that the facts were clear that Trump orchestrated a multi-part plan to overturn the results of the 2020 Presidential election.
The committee presented new evidence and synthesized previous evidence to show Trump had a "premeditated" plan to overturn the election.
"The vast weight of evidence presented so far has shown us that the central cause of Jan. 6 was one man: Donald Trump, who many others followed," Cheney said. "None of this would have happened without him, he was personally and substantially involved in all of it."
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., introduced previously unreleased footage of officials being taken to a secure location and responding to stop the violence.
"As the president watched the bloody attack unfold on Fox News from his dining room, members of Congress and other government officials stepped into the gigantic leadership void created by the president's chilling and steady passivity that day," Raskin said.
Clips included footage of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and asking for help deploying National Guard troops during the attack and Sen. Chuck Schumer asking acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller for "massive personnel," including the Maryland National Guard. Schumer also asked acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen to get the president to tell the rioters to leave in a public statement.
New evidence also included texts showing the Secret Service was aware of potential threats on and before Jan. 6 and that several arrests were made of Trump supporters carrying weapons.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said that Trump had planned to use voter fraud as an excuse to say the election was stolen well before it occurred.
"The evidence shows that his false victory speech was planned well in advance," Lofgren said.
Lofgren also said that conservative activist Tom Fitton had drafted a memo on Oct. 31, 2020, saying that Trump won the election.
"We had an election today -- and I won," Fitton's memo read, and indicates a plan that only the votes "counted by the Election Day deadline" would matter.
The committee played clips from a documentary by Danish filmmaker Christoffer Guldbrandsen, which shows Trump adviser Roger Stone advocating for declaring victor and preparing for violence ahead of the election.
After the election, many officials told Trump that there was no evidence of voter fraud, yet he kept pushing them to search for it, according to the committee.
The committee played video from former top officials, including Attorney General Bill Barr and deputy AG Richard Donoghue saying they had informed Trump that some of his specific claims about Dominion voting machines and vote counting were wrong.
Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., said that the committee would recall new witnesses and begin "conducting further investigative depositions" in light of its review of additional Secret Service communications from Jan. 5 and 6. Emails shown by the committee reveal that the Secret Service was concerned about Trump's plans to go the Capitol.
Aguilar added the committee is reviewing testimony regarding "potential obstruction," including testimony about "advice given not to tell the committee about this specific topic."
"We will address this matter in our report," Aguilar said.
Thursday's hearing was originally scheduled for Sept. 28, but was rescheduled because of Hurricane Ian.
The committee did not hear in-person testimony from witnesses, but instead showed text messages from those involved, and also released new video footage from the attack.
The committee has also interviewed former members of Trump's cabinet, including Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, since the last hearing in July. Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, was also expected to provide information during Thursday's hearing.
"There remains a clear and present danger to our electoral system and to democratic institutions. So, that is something that will come through in our final hearing," Raskin told CNN.
"The single most urgent question is OK, what is the continuing clear and present danger we face from the forces that Donald Trump unleashed," Raskin added.
The committee held eight public hearings during the summer, with the most recent in July.
At the seventh public hearing on July 12, a former spokesman for the extremist Oath Keepers group expressed fears about the next election cycle, including November's midterms.
"I do fear for this next election cycle, because who knows what that might bring," Jason Van Tatenhove said, referring to the possibility that Trump could run again in 2024. "He will try to whip up a civil war amongst his followers using lies and deceit."
During the committee's last public hearing on July 21, witnesses testified that Trump refused to budge or condemn his supporters as they unleashed violence, while calling them "patriots" whom he "loved."
Committee members also shared a never-before-seen outtake of Trump's video message to the rioters on the day of the attack, in which he claimed the majority of his supporters acted "peacefully" 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," Trump 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."
At an earlier hearing in June, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified that Trump was briefed on Jan. 6 that some of his supporters were armed with plastic shields, bulletproof vests and other military gear as they tried to enter his "Stop the Steal" rally in Washington, D.C. Hutchinson said the supporters insisted Trump wanted to lead them on their march to the Capitol.
The committee placed last year's U.S. Capitol attack into a future context, and argued the "danger to our democracy did not end that day," according to Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
"I think that what you've seen consistently and increasingly is Donald Trump continuing to suggest and say the same things that we know caused the violence on Jan. 6," Cheney told CNN.
Between this summer's public hearings and Thursday's final arguments about the attack, Trump has faced a different battle surrounding thousands of documents seized in an unrelated search by the FBI at his Mar-a-Lago estate in August. He is also being investigated by the Manhattan District Attorney and the state of New York for allegations of fraud related to his business and asset valuations.
As far as the criminal probe into Trump's alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election, the select committee is expected to wrap up its investigation by the end of the year. Any criminal referral related to Trump's conduct in the final report is still up in the air.
"It's become clear that the Department of Justice is going to be following all of these crimes and that nobody gets a special exception because they're a former president of the United States," Raskin told NBC. "A former president in America is just a citizen."
"It will be, certainly, I think, my recommendation, my feeling, that we should make referrals, but we will get to a decision as a committee, and we will all abide by that decision," Schiff told CNN. "And I will join our committee members if they feel differently."