WASHINGTON — While President Donald Trump was refusing to call off the mob of his supporters attacking the Capitol, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and other congressional leaders leaped into action to try to retake control of the sprawling complex.
They called the secretary of defense and the acting attorney general and urged them to send help. They called the governors of neighboring Virginia and Maryland to send National Guard troops and other police. And they got on the phone with Vice President Mike Pence to figure out how they could return to the Capitol that same night and finish certifying Joe Biden’s election victory.
“Oh, my gosh, they’re just breaking windows, they’re doing all kinds of … they said somebody was shot. It’s just horrendous, and all at the instigation of the president of the United States,” a distraught but composed Pelosi, D-Calif., says on a call to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam in a video clip played at the House Jan. 6 committee’s hearing Thursday.
“I’m gonna call up the effin’ secretary of DOD,” Schumer, D-N.Y., says in another video clip.
The jarring video was among the highlights of Thursday’s hearing — the last for the Jan. 6 committee before the midterm elections — which featured a deep dive into Trump’s mindset as the events unfolded and ended with the panel voting unanimously to subpoena the former president for documents and testimony.
Here are some of the key takeaways:
Congressional leaders scramble for safety
Behind-the-scenes footage of those frantic moments — taken by Pelosi’s daughter Alexandra Pelosi, a documentary filmmaker — provided some of the most riveting and powerful images produced during the Jan. 6 committee’s nine hearings this year.
The never-before-seen footage showed, in real time, congressional leaders of both parties — including Pelosi, Schumer, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Senate GOP Whip John Thune of South Dakota and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. — as they were quickly evacuated to a secure location during the siege and furiously worked the phones to call up reinforcements.
“Yeah, why don’t you get the president to tell them to leave the Capitol, Mr. Attorney General?” an exasperated Schumer tells acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen in one of the clips. “In your law enforcement responsibility. A public statement they should all leave.”
In another scene, Pelosi tells other leaders in the room that they will need to clean up the “poo poo … literally and figuratively in the Capitol” because of reports that rioters had defecated in the building. The speaker then tells Pence that she has been informed that it could take “days” to retake the Capitol, but the vice president calls back later and tells the leaders that they will be able to return in one hour and resume counting and certifying the electoral ballots.
“Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President,” Pelosi says on the call. “Good news.”
Trump privately knew he had lost
Publicly, Trump insisted he was being robbed of an election he had won. Privately, he was conceding that he had lost, people close to him told the committee.
After the Supreme Court turned down his election case, Trump was “livid,” according to a Secret Service email obtained by the committee, an observation former Trump aides echoed in testimony.
Alyssa Farah Griffin, then the head of White House strategic communications, told the Jan. 6 committee that she popped into the Oval Office “maybe a week after the election was called” to check on Trump.
“He was looking at the TV, and he said, ‘Can you believe I lost to this effing guy?'” Farah Griffin said.
Another former White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson, gave a similar account. The president told chief of staff Mark Meadows “something to the effect of ‘I don’t want people to know we lost, Mark. This is embarrassing. Figure it out,’” Hutchinson recalled. “‘I don’t want people to know that we lost.’”
Hutchinson further remembered Meadows telling her: “No, Cass, he knows it’s over. He knows he lost. But we’re going to keep trying. There are some good options out there still.”
The testimony was presented to bolster a case the committee has sought to make: that Trump was acting in bad faith to keep power and deliberately deceiving his followers with false claims about the election to stir them up into what became the violent mob at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“Claims that President Trump actually thought the election was stolen are not supported by fact and not a defense,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the panel’s vice chair. “There is no defense that Donald Trump was duped or irrational.”
Specific threats of violence
Days before the Jan. 6 attack, the Secret Service was informed of specific threats of violence at the Capitol.
The committee said Trump was told about the threats and chose to move forward with his plan to overturn the election anyway.
In a tip received by the FBI and shared with the Secret Service on Dec. 26, 2020, someone warned that the Proud Boys — an extremist group with ties to white nationalism — were planning to march into Washington and violently overrun Capitol Police.
“Their plan is to literally kill people. Please please take this tip seriously and investigate further,” the tipster wrote.
Then, a day before the insurrection, the FBI briefed the Secret Service that right-wing groups were establishing armed “QRFs,” or quick reaction forces. Groups like the Oath Keepers were “standing by at the ready should POTUS request assistance” on Jan. 6 and had stashed weapons in Virginia for more violence that night.
The threats were discovered in some of the more than 1 million electronic communications the Secret Service turned over to the Jan. 6 committee in response to a subpoena.
“The president knew the crowd was angry, because he had stoked that anger. He knew that they believed the election had been rigged and stolen, because he told them, falsely, that it had been rigged and stolen,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. “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.”
‘Further legislative recommendations’
One of the biggest lingering questions for the committee is whether Congress will act on its findings and tighten up the law to prevent future candidates from stealing elections.
Cheney said the panel will propose more changes.
“A key element of this committee’s responsibility is to propose reforms to prevent January 6 from ever happening again. We have already proposed, and the House has now passed, a bill to amend the Electoral Count Act to help ensure that no other future plots to overturn an election can succeed,” Cheney said. “And we will make further specific recommendations in our final report, based in part on the evidence you will hear today.”
The House passed the Presidential Election Reform Act last month to clarify an 1887 law to make it harder to subvert elections. A similar bill headed for a Senate vote in the lame-duck session has enough Republican support to break a filibuster if Democrats unify behind it.