Donald Trump speaks to followers outside the White House, January 6 (Tasos Katopodis/Getty)
Donald Trump planned to lead the march on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, blocking Congressional certification of President-elect Joe Biden.
The evidence of Trump’s planning was presented on Tuesday in the seventh public hearings of the House select committee on the Capitol Attack.
The committee featured texts, e-mails, and testimony about the run-up to the invasion of the Capitol, with Trump’s supporters threatening the execution of Vice President Mike Pence — who had refused to carry out Trump’s demand to prevent Biden’s certification — and legislators.
“POTUS is going to have us march there/the Capitol,” texted Kylie Jane Kremer, an organizer of the “Save America” rally, on January 4. She wrote that Trump was “going to just call for it ‘unexpectedly’”.
Ali Alexader, the organizer of the “Stop the Steal” rally, texted on January 5 that he believed Mr. Trump was going to “order” him and his associates to march to the Capitol.
Trump drafted a tweet: “I will be making a Big Speech at 10AM on January 6th at the Ellipse (South of the White House). Please arrive early, massive crowds expected. March to the Capitol after. Stop the Steal!!”
In his speech on the day, Trump said:
Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us, and if he doesn’t, that will be a, a sad day for our country because you’re sworn to uphold our Constitution.
Now, it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy. And after this, we’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you, we’re going to walk down, we’re going to walk down.
Anyone you want, but I think right here, we’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them.
Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong. We have come to demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated, lawfully slated.
In her testimony at the committee’s sixth hearing, White House staffer Cassady Hutchinson detailed how Trump intended to go to the Capitol after the speech. When a Secret Service agent told Trump that this was not possible because of security concerns, Trump tried to take the steering wheel of his Presidential limousine and to grab the agent by his collarbone.
Testifying on Tuesday, Stephen Ayres, who pled guilty in June to disorderly conduct charges, said, “The President got everybody riled up and told everybody to head on down. We basically were just following what he said.”
Brad Parscale, Trump’s former campaign manager, texted after the attack, “A sitting president asking for civil war… I have lost faith.” He noted that Trump’s “rhetoric killed someone” in the assault.
Trump’s “Team Crazy” Plotting
The committee vividly confirmed reports of how far Trump and some advisors were willing to go to overturn the election.
On December 14, the Electoral College confirmed Biden’s victory. Four days later, Trump conferred in the White House with lawyer Sidney Powell, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, and Patrick Byrne, the former chief executive of Overstock.com.
Powell had already featured in Trump’s unsuccessful legal challenges, losing more than 60 cases, to the electoral outcome. She pushed a conspiracy theory that votes had been switched from Trump to Biden. The supposed plot included Biden, leaders of 10 Democratic cities, the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, the financier and philanthropist George Soros, “Antifa”, Cuba, and China.
At the December 18 meeting, Trump and the advisors considered the seizure of voting machines, allowing them to “prove” their falsehoods; Flynn’s proposal that martial law should be declared; and the appointment of Powell — who had formally been dismissed by the Trump team — as a special counsel.
Other advisors, notably White House counsel Pat Cipollone, intervened to block the plan. The discussion turned into a “shouting match” that lasted more than six hours, until after midnight.
I don’t think any of these people were providing the President with good advice.
There is a way to contest elections that happens all the time, but the idea that the federal government could come in and seize election machines? No — I don’t understand why I even have to tell you why that’s a bad idea. It’s a terrible idea.
“It got to the point where the screaming was completely, completely out there,” said White House lawyer Eric Herschmann. “I mean, you got people walking in — it was late at night, it had been a long day. And what they were proposing, I thought was nuts.”
He described the conspiracy theories being pushed by “Team Crazy”:
I was asking, like, are you claiming the Democrats were working with Hugo Chavez, Venezuelans and whomever else? And at one point, General Flynn took out a diagram that supposedly showed IP addresses all over the world and who was communicating with whom via the machines. And some comment about, like, Nest thermostats being hooked up to the internet.
Confronted with the loss of all but one lawsuit over the election, Powell said, “Well, the judges are corrupt.”
Herschmann recalled, “I’m like, everyone? Every single case that you’ve done in the country that you guys lost? Every one of them is corrupt? Even the ones we appointed?”
Flynn screamed at me that I was a quitter and everything, kept on standing up and standing around and screaming at me. At a certain point, I had it with him, so I yelled back, “Either come over or sit your fucking ass back down.”
Towards The Insurrection
Although the immediate plot of “Team Crazy” — the label given to them by White House opponents — had been stymied, Trump issued a Twitter call to arms after the meeting: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”
Trumpists and conspiracy theorists immediately seized on the message and amplified. “Why don’t we just kill them?” one person wrote on the 4chan discussion board. “Every last democrat, down to the last man, woman, and child?”
Women for America First, which had planned to hold a rally in Washington after Biden’s inauguration on January 20, moving the event up to January 6. Ali Alexander, the organizer of the parallel rally Stop the Steal, registered the website WildProtest.com to provide information on times, places, speakers, and on transportation.
On December 21, Trumpist members of Congress met with Trump at the White House to discuss pressure on Vice President Pence — proposed in a memorandum by Trump’s lawyer John Eastman — to keep Trump in power. The group included Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Louie Gohmert of Texas, and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania.
After the Trump camp failed in its efforts to have State legislatures and then the Justice Department overturn the election, it turned to Eastman’s scheme. But when that was blocked by Pence’s refusal, the plan was ready for participants in the rallies to march upon the Capitol.
Trump’s Attempted Witness Tampering
In a notable postscript at the hearings, the committee vice-chair, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, said Trump had tried to prevent witnesses from cooperating with the inquiry.
Cheney said Trump attempted to call one witness, who alerted the committee through a lawyer.
At its previous hearing, the committee presented copies of messages to witnesses which sought to dissuade them from testifying or to give the “right” version of events. Subsequent reports indicated that one of the witnesses was Hutchinson, the aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
“We will take any effort to influence witness testimony very seriously,” Cheney said. She announced that the committee had notified the Justice Department.