WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump was heavily engaged in every aspect of the effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election, members of the House Jan. 6 committee said Thursday before they voted to subpoena him in their investigation of the attack on the U.S. Capitol last year.
"The need for this committee to hear from Donald Trump goes beyond fact-finding," Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said before the panel voted 9-0 at the conclusion of a public hearing. "He must be accountable."
Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who offered the subpoena resolution, said no one else is more responsible for the violent effort to subvert the 2020 election.
"The vast weight of evidence presented so far has shown us that the central cause of January 6th was one man, Donald Trump, who many others followed," Cheney said at the start of the panel's ninth public hearing. "None of this would have happened without him. He was personally and substantially involved in all of it."
Before the vote on a subpoena, the committee tried to give the public a closer look at Trump’s thinking and actions as he tried to cling to power after his defeat in the 2020 election — and to begin to close its case that he led an insurrection.
In never-before-seen video of lawmakers hiding from the rioters and frantically calling administration officials for help, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., spoke with Vice President Mike Pence about the need to certify electors that day.
"The overriding wish is to do it at the Capitol," Pelosi told Pence, speaking for herself and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., even explaining a plan to consolidate objections to the election into one vote. "What we are being told very directly is it’s going to take days for the Capitol to be OK again."
Noting that she had heard reports of defecation in the House chamber, she told Pence, "I don't think that's hard to clean up," but it didn't address whether the Capitol would be physically secure.
Ultimately, the lawmakers were able to return to their chambers, and the election was certified that day.
Lawmakers connected each moment back to their contention that Trump was deeply involved at every point from Election Day through the riot — except when he chose, despite appeals from administration officials and members of Congress, not to call off the mob for hours.
The committee also produced a trove of documents from the Secret Service's files that suggested the agency responsible for protecting the president and the vice president was well aware of extremists' plans to engage in physical violence in Washington and at the Capitol.
The day after Christmas, said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the Secret Service got a tip passed on by the FBI.
"Proud Boys plan to march armed into D.C. They think they will have enough group to march into D.C. armed and will outnumber the police so they can’t be stopped," the tip said. "Their plan is to literally kill people."
National security officials discussed the possibility of a direct attack on the Capitol in the days leading up to the riot, with Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist assessing that it would be "the greatest threat," according to recorded testimony from Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
On the morning of Jan. 6, agents discussed escalating threats online, including one flagged in an agency chat that was excerpted by the committee: “...alert at 1022 regarding the VP being a dead man walking if he doesn’t do the right thing."
On the day of the riot, Secret Service agents made plans for Trump to go to the Capitol before they stood down amid the violence, according to email messages shown by the panel.
The committee asserted that Trump created the lie that he won the election, fomented anger among his base supporters, directed that fury at the Capitol and at Pence — who refused Trump's entreaties to stop the certification of electors — and stood by and watched the violence. He did all of that, committee members said, with the full knowledge that he had, in fact, been defeated in a fair election.
Cassidy Hutchison, a White House aide at the time, testified behind closed doors that Trump privately acknowledged that he had been defeated when the Supreme Court rejected one of his lawsuits on Dec. 11, 2020.
"I don't want people to know that we lost," she quoted Trump telling his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, at the White House that day. She described Trump as "raging" as he spoke to Meadows.
Video clips of close Trump allies Roger Stone and Steve Bannon showed what Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said was clear evidence that they knew violence was in the offing before Jan. 6. In one clip, Stone, who has asserted his Fifth Amendment right to avoid testifying about what he knew ahead of time, told people that he expected the outcome would be undecided on Election Day and that Trump would declare victory because "possession is nine-tenths of the law."
In another clip subpoenaed from Danish filmmakers, Stone said, "F--- the voting, let's get right to the violence."
Thompson, the committee chair, described the evidence the committee had gathered as answering a series of questions: "What did President Trump know? What was he told? What was his personal and substantial role in the multi-part plan to overturn the election?"
The committee also produced additional evidence that White House officials and outside Trump allies, including Tom Fitton, the head of the conservative group Judicial Watch, discussed declaring victory early and calling for ballot-counting to end.
In addition, the committee presented evidence from Pence's aides that they were aware of such plans and concerned about preventing Pence from echoing a false declaration that Trump had won.
"The ballots counted by the Election Day deadline show the American people have bestowed on me the great honor of reelection to President of the United States—the deadline by which voters in states across the country must choose a president,” Fitton wrote in a draft statement shared with top Trump aides on Oct. 31, 2020, and produced by the committee Thursday. "We had an election today — and I won.”
Lofgren said "everyone knew" ballots would not be fully counted by Election Day.
The hearing, possibly the committee's last public one, comes after a nearly two-month hiatus during which the criminal trials of Jan. 6 rioters — including a set charged with seditious conspiracy — continued in federal court, the FBI seized a raft of documents from Trump’s home in Florida and Cheney lost her re-election primary.
In that time, the panel has interviewed witnesses behind closed doors, including conservative activist Virginia "Ginni" Thomas, the deeply connected wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Ginni Thomas, who advocated for Trump to remain in power, embraces the lie that the 2020 election was stolen.
“What’s really kind of interesting is that we keep getting additional information, and I think this hearing allows us to go a little deeper into what people knew, when they knew it and what decisions they made based on that information,” Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., a member of the committee, said on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" hours before the hearing.
The panel is working under a time crunch as it gathers and publicizes evidence before it issues a final report. If Republicans win control of the House in November’s elections, as most prognosticators predict, the committee will be disbanded in January. That means panel members must be ready to wrap up their work by the end of this year.
As it had done at previous hearings, the panel showed testimony from recorded interviews Thursday. But no live witnesses testified in the hearing room.
Thompson said that in interviews of many Trump White House and administration officials, a group that includes members of the former president's family, GOP sources proved most crucial to the probe.
"When you look back at what has come out through this committee’s work, the most striking fact is that all this evidence comes almost entirely from Republicans," Thompson said.