Editor’s note: This article has been updated.
A defeated Donald Trump orchestrated a multipart plan to overturn the 2020 presidential election in a “staggering betrayal of his oath” resulting in the 2021 attack at the Capitol, the Jan. 6 committee declared Thursday.
Statements from Chairman Bennie Thompson and Vice Chair Liz Cheney at the panel’s final public session of the year were laden with language frequently seen in criminal indictments. Both lawmakers described Trump as “substantially” involved in the events of Jan. 6. Cheney said Trump had acted in a “premeditated” way.
To illustrate what it said were “purposeful lies,” the committee juxtaposed repeated instances in which top administration officials recounted telling Trump the actual facts with clips of him repeating the exact opposite at his pre-riot rally at the Ellipse on Jan. 6.
The panel warned that the insurrection at the Capitol was not an isolated incident but a warning of the fragility of the nation’s democracy in the post-Trump era.
“None of this is normal or acceptable or lawful in a republic,” Republican Rep. Cheney said.
“There is no defense that Donald Trump was duped or irrational. No president can defy the rule of law and act this way in a constitutional republic, period.”
The 10th public session, just weeks before the congressional midterm elections, was delving into Trump’s “state of mind,” said Democratic Chairman Thompson.
The committee is starting to sum up its findings that Republican Trump, after losing the 2020 presidential election, launched an unprecedented attempt to stop Congress from certifying Democrat Joe Biden’s victory. The result was the mob storming of the Capitol.
The committee may well make a decision on whether to make a criminal referral to the Justice Department. The panel also announced it would take a public vote on other outstanding issues.
Thursday’s hearing opened at a mostly empty Capitol complex, with most lawmakers at home campaigning for reelection. Several people who were among the thousands around the Capitol on Jan. 6 are now running for congressional office, some with Trump’s backing. Police officers who fought the mob filled the hearing room’s front row.
To describe the president’s mindset, the committee divulged new and previously seen material, including interviews with Trump’s top Cabinet officials, aides and associates in which some described the president acknowledging privately that he had lost.
In one, according to ex-White House official Alyssa Farah Griffin, Trump looked up at the television and said, “Can you believe I lost to this (expletive) guy?”
The committee is also drawing on the trove of 1.5 million documents it received from the U.S. Secret Service, including an email from Dec. 11, 2020, the day the Supreme Court rejected one of the main lawsuits Trump’s team had brought against the election results.
“Just fyi. POTUS is pissed,” the Secret Service wrote, according to documents obtained by the committee.
White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, a top aide to then-chief of staff Mark Meadows, recalled Trump as being “livid” and “fired up” about the court’s ruling.
Trump told Meadows “something to the effect of: ‘I don’t want people to know we lost, Mark. This is embarrassing. Figure it out,'” Hutchinson told the panel in a recorded interview.
Cabinet members including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General William Barr and Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia also said in interviews shown at the hearing that they believed that once the legal avenues had been exhausted, that should have been the end of Trump’s efforts to remain in power.
“In my view, that was the end of the matter,” Barr said of the Dec. 14 Electoral College vote.
But rather than the end of Trump’s efforts to stay in power, the committee signaled it was only the beginning — as the president summoned the crowd to Washington for a rally to fight the election on Jan. 6.
The session was serving as a closing argument for the panel’s two Republican lawmakers, Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who have essentially been shunned by Trump and their party and will not be returning in the new Congress. Cheney lost her primary election, and Kinzinger decided not to run.
Another committee member, Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., a retired Naval commander, is in a tough reelection bid against state Sen. Jen Kiggans, a former Navy helicopter pilot.
“President Trump knew the truth. He heard what all his experts and senior staff was (sic) telling him,” Kinzinger said. “His intent was plain: Ignore the rule of law and stay in power.”
The panel was expected to share information from its recent interviews — including testimony from Ginni Thomas, the conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. She was in contact with the White House during the run-up to Jan. 6.
The committee, having conducted more than 1,500 interviews and obtained countless documents, has produced a sweeping probe of Trump’s activities from his defeat in the November election to the Capitol attack.
“He has used this big lie to destabilize our democracy,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-N.Y., who was a young House staff member during the Richard Nixon impeachment inquiry in 1974. “When did that idea occur to him and what did he know while he was doing that?”
This week’s hearing is to be the final presentation from lawmakers before the midterm elections. But staff members say the investigation continues.
The Jan. 6 committee has been meeting for more than a year, set up by the House after Republican senators blocked the formation of an outside panel similar to the 9/11 commission set up after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Even after the launch of its high-profile public hearings last summer, the Jan. 6 committee continued to gather evidence and interviews.
Under committee rules, the Jan. 6 panel is to produce a report of its findings, likely in December. The committee will dissolve 30 days after publication of that report, and with the new Congress in January.
House Republicans are expected to drop the Jan. 6 probe and turn to other investigations if they win control after midterm elections, primarily focusing on Biden, his family and his administration.
At least five people died in the Jan. 6 attack and its aftermath, including a Trump supporter shot and killed by Capitol Police.
Police engaged in often bloody, hand-to-hand combat, as Trump’s supporters pushed past barricades, stormed the Capitol and roamed the halls, sending lawmakers fleeing for safety and temporarily disrupting the joint session of Congress certifying Biden’s election.
More than 850 people have been charged by the Justice Department in the Capitol attack, some receiving lengthy prison sentences for their roles. Several leaders and associates of the extremist Oath Keepers and Proud Boys have been charged with sedition.
Trump faces various state and federal investigations over his actions in the election and its aftermath.