Jan. 6 hearing to focus on Trump’s frantic 187 minutes

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(The Hill) – The House panel probing last year’s attack on the U.S. Capitol is promising a “minute-by-minute” account of Donald Trump’s actions throughout the rampage, turning its focus Thursday on those crucial hours at the White House to boost the case that the former president had supported — if not instigated — the violence of Jan. 6. 

In a prime-time hearing designed to maximize viewership, the select committee will examine the frantic 187 minutes between the start of the melee and Trump’s unhurried effort to defuse it with the release of a short video urging the rioters to “go home.” 

Investigators will press their case that Trump’s refusal to intervene more quickly is further evidence that the former president was squarely on the side of the protestors, even as their demonstration against Trump’s defeat escalated into a violent mob attack on Congress — one that threatened the lives of lawmakers and his own vice president.   

“The story we’re going to tell tomorrow is that in that time, President Trump refused to act to defend the Capitol as a violent mob stormed the Capitol with the aim of stopping the counting of electoral votes and blocking the transfer of power,” a select committee aide said on a preview call with reporters. 

“One of the main points that we’re going to make here is that President Trump had the power to call off the mob – he was the sole person who could call off the mob – and he chose not to.” 

The hearing — the eighth in a series — is expected to wind down the narrative laid out by the committee over the course of the last two months, when it examined the events leading up to Jan. 6 and the major players involved in Trump’s effort to remain in power. 

With their focus on Jan. 6 itself, investigators are aiming to dissect the chaos at the White House as anxious staff sought Trump’s intervention to end the violence, only to be dismissed by an angry president. The 187 minutes under scrutiny will feature his actions at the White House in the time when he returned from his speech at the Ellipse, at 1:10 p.m., to when he sent out a video asking his supporters to stand down, at 4:17 p.m. 

The committee is expected to hear from two members of Trump’s staff who resigned to protest how he handled Jan. 6: Matthew Pottinger, former deputy director for the National Security Council, and Sarah Matthews, then deputy press secretary. 

The panel is also expected to show ample footage of its July 8 deposition with former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who was one of the few figures to confront Trump in the White House during the riot.  

The committee has previously described Pottinger as “in the vicinity of the Oval Office at various points throughout” Jan. 6. And snippets of testimony from both Pottinger and Matthews show they were critical of Trump’s actions that day, including his decision to fire off a tweet criticizing his vice president, Mike Pence, who quickly became a target of the mob. 

“One of my staff brought me a printout of a tweet by the President and the tweet said something to the effect that Mike Pence, the vice president, didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done. I read that tweet and made a decision at that moment to resign,” Pottinger told the committee behind closed doors. 

“That’s where I knew that I was leaving that day, once I read that tweet.” 

Matthews also described the Pence tweet as a pivotal moment in the day’s long unfolding.

“It was clear that it was escalating and escalating quickly. So then when that tweet, the Mike Pence tweet was sent out, I remember us saying that that was the last thing that needed to be tweeted at that moment. The situation was already bad. And so it felt like he was pouring gasoline on the fire by tweeting that,” she said in an earlier deposition aired by the committee.

The other major players in the White House that day — figures likely to be featured on Thursday — include Mark Meadows, Trump’s former chief of staff; Cassidy Hutchinson, a top Meadows aide; and Ivanka Trump, Trump’s eldest daughter.  

“We’re going to demonstrate who was talking to him and what they were urging him to do in that time period. We’re going to talk about when he was made aware of what was going on in the Capitol. We’re going to hear testimony from individuals who spoke to the president. We’re going to hear testimony from individuals who were in the West Wing, what the president was doing, what his aides were doing, what his family and his allies were doing,” the aide said.

The makeup of the committee will look slightly different for Thursday’s prime-time hearing, after Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) tested positive this week for COVID-19. Thompson is isolating, but will lead the panel virtually. 

Reps. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) will play an elevated role in walking through the evidence of the hearing.

“It’s pretty simple: He was doing nothing to actually stop the riot,” Luria said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.  

Although Thursday’s hearing will cap the topics the committee had outlined at the outset, lawmakers have said it’s unlikely to be its last. The panel also plans additional hearings to introduce an interim report in the fall, and may also hold additional hearings prior to that release.

While Thursday’s hearing is expected to focus on the events of Jan. 6, the committee is also interested in Trump’s actions in the two weeks after that day, leading up to the inauguration of President Biden. It’s unclear if the panel will explore the aftermath this week, but members are making clear that it’s on their radar. 

“We have a broad investigation and that is something of concern,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).

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