WASHINGTON, July 12 (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday accused Donald Trump of inciting a crowd of supporters to attack the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, in a last-ditch bid to stay in power fueled by a chaotic meeting with some of his staunchest supporters.
The House of Representatives committee also produced evidence that aides and outside agitators knew before the riot that Trump would urge thousands of his supporters to march on Capitol Hill that day.
The seven Democrats and two Republicans on the panel used the hearings to build a case that Trump’s efforts to reverse his 2020 election defeat amount to unlawful conduct, far beyond normal politics.
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At the end of the three-hour hearing, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney said Trump tried to phone a potential committee witness, raising the possibility that he illegally tried to influence a witness’ testimony. Read more
In video testimony shown during the hearing, witnesses described a noisy six-hour late-night meeting on December 18, 2020, during which Trump ignored White House staffers who urged him to to concede the November 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden.
Instead, Trump sided with outside advisers who urged him to keep pushing his baseless allegations of voter fraud.
Committee members said Trump was ultimately responsible for the ensuing chaos.
“President Trump is a 76-year-old man. He’s not an impressionable kid. … He’s responsible for his own actions and his own choices,” said Cheney, vice chairman of the committee.
Committee members said Trump incited the riot with his refusal to admit he had lost the election and with comments like his Dec. 19, 2020, Twitter post shortly after the meeting to have supporters flock in Washington for a “big demonstration”, saying: “Be there, will be wild.”
Trump, a Republican who has hinted he will seek the White House again in 2024, denies wrongdoing and falsely claims he only lost because of widespread fraud that benefited Biden, a democrat.
“NOT HARD ENOUGH”
The committee released taped testimony from White House aides describing the angry Dec. 18 meeting in which a handful of Trump’s outside advisers, including his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, attorney Sidney Powell and Patrick Byrne, former CEO of Overstock.com, encouraged him to fight. the outcome of the elections.
“I don’t think any of these people gave the president good advice. I didn’t understand how they got in,” Pat Cipollone, Trump’s former White House attorney, said in video testimony.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democratic committee member, posted a text from White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who gave explosive testimony last month, saying of the meeting: ‘The West Wing is out of balance’ .
Giuliani, who was escorted off the grounds of the White House, said in video testimony that his argument was: “You’re not tough enough. Or maybe I put it another way: you’re a bunch of pussies, excuse the expression. I’m pretty sure the word was used.”
The attack on the Capitol, following a speech by Trump at a rally outside the White House, delayed certification of Biden’s election by several hours, injured more than 140 police officers and left several dead .
“A MOB WAS ORGANIZED”
The committee presented evidence it said showed that Trump’s call for his supporters to march on Capitol Hill was not spontaneous but had been planned in advance.
The sign showed an unsent Twitter message about the rally, with a stamp showing that Trump had seen it: “Please arrive early, massive crowds expected. March to Capitol after. Stop robbery!”
The committee also released audio testimony from a former Twitter employee describing his fear after Trump’s December tweet and his deep concern on Jan. 5 about the possibility of violence on Jan. 6.
“It was like a mob was organized and they were gathering their weapons, their logic and their reasoning behind why they were willing to fight,” the Twitter employee said, his voice disguised.
About 800 people have been charged with participating in the Capitol Riot, with about 250 guilty pleas to date.
The hearing also examined links between right-wing activist groups, including the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and the QAnon internet conspiracy movement, with Trump and his allies. Many Oath Keepers and Proud Boys took part in the January 6 attack.
Two witnesses testified in the courtroom – Stephen Ayres, who pleaded guilty to a federal charge for participating in the attack on the Capitol, and Jason Van Tatenhove, a former spokesman for the Oath Keepers.
Ayres said he joined the march because he believed Trump and had since lost his job, sold his house and no longer believed Trump’s “big lie” that the election was stolen. “It changed my life, you know, definitely not for the good.”
Trump and his supporters — including many Republicans in Congress — dismiss the Jan. 6 panel as a political witch hunt, but the panel’s supporters say it is a necessary investigation into a violent threat to democracy.
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Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan, additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, Doina Chiacu and Rose Horowitch; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Howard Goller
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