Jan. 6 panel seeks accountability for Trump as ringleader of Capitol attack

The special committee investigating last year’s attack on the U.S. Capitol returned to the public square on Thursday after a long hiatus, unveiling damaging new evidence — including fresh testimony and never-before-seen video footage — linking former President Trump directly to the violence of Jan. 6, 2021.

In its ninth, and likely last, exploratory hearing before the investigation dissolves, the committee released new details about Trump’s plans to claim victory regardless of the election outcome; his refusal to accept defeat in the face of overwhelming evidence; and his failed effort to join thousands of his supporters on the march to the Capitol to block his election defeat.

The panel also took the extraordinary, 11th-hour step of voting to subpoena Trump, who has been defiant throughout the investigation by continuing to praise the rioters who stormed the Capitol and to push false claims of a “stolen” 2020 election — the same fabrication that led to the Jan. 6 rampage.

The subpoena is unlikely to prompt Trump’s cooperation, given both his defiance and the short window remaining before the select committee dissolves at the end of the current Congress. But leaders of the panel said they had no choice but to seek his testimony, since the central conclusion of their investigation has been to accuse Trump of being the ringleader of an effort to disenfranchise tens-of-millions of voters by overturning the election results.

“We are obligated to seek answers directly from the man who set this all in motion,” said Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the vice chair of the committee. “And every American is entitled to those answers.”

To make its case, the committee leaned heavily on Trump administration officials and other allies of the former president who had appeared throughout the previous eight hearings, in June and July. Those figures presented a vivid picture of a president who had planned, even months before the election, to claim victory regardless of the results; ignored his aides and family members when they told him he’d lost; went on a public campaign to promote false claims that rampant fraud had cost him the White House; and sent an armed mob to the Capitol on Jan. 6 to block Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory.

“There’s no scenario where that action is benign,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.).

The cast of characters was familiar to anyone who had followed the previous hearings, featuring Cassidy Hutchinson, a former West Wing aide; William Barr, Trump’s former attorney general; Bill Stepien, Trump’s former campaign manager; and Jason Miller, a former Trump spokesman. That trend was no accident.

“The most striking fact is that all this evidence comes almost entirely from Republicans,” Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said.

The damning portrait, coming less than a month before the midterm elections, adds fuel to the Democrats’ ominous warnings that Trump and his Republican allies — who continue to push false claims of rampant fraud — pose an ongoing threat to America’s democratic institutions.

With the volatile economy top of mind for many Americans heading into November, however, it’s unclear if that message will sway voters in any significant manner. Some Democratic strategists are already warning that a focus on Jan. 6 will backfire, and Trump’s allies are doubling down on their defense of the former president, particularly after Thursday’s subpoena.

“The January 6th Committee is OUT OF CONTROL!” tweeted Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas), who had refused a request from the committee to testify in the investigation. “They want to DESTROY Trump and EVERY one of his supporters!”

Amid the political uproar, the committee has sought to allow the events of Jan. 6 to speak for themselves. And on Thursday, investigators presented a host of new evidence, testimony and video footage, much of it obtained since the panel’s last hearing on July 21.

The new disclosures included significant new details from some 1 million electronic communications the panel received from the Secret Service in response to a subpoena. The vast trove of information — exceeding what the committee asked for — is still being reviewed by the panel but offers new details about agents’ fears that Trump would still push to go to the Capitol after being told by his security detail he could not join his supporters there and their concerns for Vice President Mike Pence.

The panel showed intelligence reports, which corroborated earlier testimony from Hutchinson, showing that the Secret Service was well aware that Trump supporters gathered near the Ellipse prior to the attack on the Capitol were heavily armed, preventing them from entering the secure area where Trump was speaking.

They also showed segments of an interview with an unnamed former White House employee who said there was “[water] cooler talk” of “how angry the president was when they were, you know, in the limo” and that he was “irate” on the drive back to the White House, but stopped short of repeating Hutchinson’s second-hand account that Trump “lunged” at his driver.

Other messages showed that even once Trump was back at the White House following his speech, he was insistent on joining the mob at the Capitol. A Secret Service memo noted he would be “holding” at the Capitol for two hours before heading to meet his supporters. It wasn’t until shortly before 2 p.m. that the agency shut down such plans.

Minutes later Trump would fire off a tweet criticizing Pence, alarming one agent who noted it was probably “not going to be good for Pence,” and another who expressed alarm that the tweet had gotten over 20,000 likes in just minutes.

The panel also aired new evidence of Trump’s plan to retain power even if he lost. That effort was laid out in a new draft memo floated days before the election by Tom Fitton, a conservative legal activist and informal Trump advisor. The memo, which the committee says it obtained from the National Archives, promoted the idea that Trump would claim victory immediately and refuse to honor votes counted after Election Day — an illegal and unprecedented scheme that would have invalidated hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots around the country.

Brad Parscale, President Trump’s former campaign manager, testified that Trump’s plans to claim victory prematurely stretched back much further, to July of 2020, the committee said.

“It was a premeditated plan by the president to declare victory no matter what the actual result was,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).

The committee also offered new evidence showing that Trump admitted to staffers that he had lost the election, even as he was challenging his loss in court and fanning the flames with faulty claims of widespread fraud.

“Can you believe I lost to this effing guy?” Trump said to Alyssa Farah Griffin, the former White House director of strategic communications, she said in a clip played by the committee.

The Thursday hearing comes after the committee promised to delve into Trump’s “state of mind.” The panel has no powers to bring criminal charges — “Our role is not to make decisions regarding prosecution,” Cheney emphasized — but at times the committee seemed to be whispering to the Justice Department, with members on the panel repeatedly referencing Trump’s state of mind, motivation and intent.

Offering those details could be key for an eventual Justice Department prosecution of Trump, as some of the crimes they could charge him with require more than just demonstrating illegal activity occurred, forcing them to demonstrate that Trump acted with corrupt intent.

The Jan. 6 investigators think they’ve done that already.

“Yes, the president knew the crowd was angry because he had stoked that anger. He knew that they believed that the election had been rigged and stolen because he had told them falsely that it had been rigged and stolen. And by the time he incited that angry mob to march on the Capitol, he knew they were armed and dangerous, all the better to stop the peaceful transfer of power,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said.

As the investigation winds down, panel members must decide if they’ll make criminal referrals to the Justice Department — a process they haven’t ruled out.

“We have sufficient information to consider criminal referrals for multiple individuals and to recommend a range of legislative proposals to guard against another Jan. 6,” said Cheney, without offering details.

Meantime, the focus has shifted to the extraordinary legal battle likely to unfold over Trump’s testimony.

“The violence and lawlessness of January 6th was unjustifiable, but our nation cannot only punish the foot soldiers who stormed our Capitol,” Cheney said. “Those who planned to overturn our election and brought us to the point of violence must also be accountable.”

Via The Hill

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