After giving his fiery speech to armed supporters at a park and telling them to march on Congress to keep him in power on Jan. 6, 2021, former President Donald Trump returned to the White House, sat in his private dining room, and watched Fox News for hours—repeatedly refusing to intervene.
Instead, Trump continued to push forward his plan to use lawsuits and legislative delays to buy time in an obsessive attempt to overturn the 2020 election, calling his lawyer and pressuring senators to remain loyal to him.
The Jan. 6 committee kicked off its long-awaited, prime-time hearing Thursday by laying out how Trump fully intended to lead a mob to the Capitol, how he angrily confronted U.S. Secret Service agents who stood in his way, and how he refused to do anything to stop the siege on the Capitol for more than three hours.
“For 187 minutes on January 6th, this man of unbridled destructive energy could not be moved—not by his aides, not by his allies… or the desperate pleas of those facing down the rioters,” Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said. “He ignored and disregarded the desperate pleas of his own family, including Ivanka and Don Jr., even though he was the only person in the world who could call off the mob. He could not be moved to rise from the dining room table… and carry his message to the violent mob.”
The committee played audio recording of General Mark A. Milley, the top military official as the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, who said, “You’ve got an assault on the Capitol of the United States of America… and there’s nothing? No call? Nothing? Zero?”
Piecing together a timeline of events that the world has never seen before, the committee presented a detailed account of the former president’s every move that afternoon.
At 1:10 p.m., Trump ended his speech at the Ellipse, a park just south of the White House. When Secret Service agents refused to drive him to the Capitol building—ending his plan to lead the MAGA-loyal insurrectionists—he arrived at the presidential mansion minutes later. He kept the motorcade on standby, according to videotaped testimony of a District of Columbia Metropolitan Police sergeant familiar with the events that day from interactions with the cops on that detail.
By 1:24 p.m., Trump was comfortably in the White House dining room just next door to the Oval Office. The committee revealed that Trump simply sat at the head of a wooden table at the White House dining room watching Fox News. White House records showed no phone calls, no activity, and an official White House photographer was explicitly told to take no photos.
Instead, congressional investigators were forced to rely on witnesses and phone records obtained through subpoenas to peek into the window of time between 1:25 p.m., when Trump entered the dining room, until he came out at roughly 4 p.m.
Meanwhile, the committee also revealed new details about then-Vice President Mike Pence’s timeline on Jan. 6. After Pence evacuated the Senate chamber shortly after 2 p.m., he and his Secret Service detail stood by in his office near the floor for 13 chaotic minutes.
As Pence and Secret Service agents held in the office, rioters began encircling the Senate chamber. Secret Service agents were so disturbed by the situation that, according to an anonymous national security official who was monitoring the radio traffic, agents began saying goodbyes to family members.
“I don’t like talking about it,” the anonymous official, whose voice was obscured to protect their identity, told the Jan. 6 committee in a taped deposition.
During the time that senators were fleeing the chamber, instead of directing the military on how to intervene, Trump was placing phone calls to senators encouraging them to delay the certification of the 2020 election, according to Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA). The committee played a snippet of video testimony from Kayleigh McEnany, then the Trump White House press secretary, who remembered leaving the president with a list of senators he wanted to reach.
“He wanted a list of senators and I left him at that point,” McEnany previously told the committee.
In a deposition transcript, Trump White House lawyer Eric Herschmann recalled telling fellow attorney Pat Cipollone that “the president didn’t want anything done.”
Piecing together the clues, the committee determined that Trump, who was watching the insurrection violence unfold on Fox News, his attention was squarely on his plan to overturn the 2020 election through legal maneuvers. Trump called Rudy Giuliani, the lawyer leading that effort, at 1:39 p.m. and had a call that lasted four minutes, according to Giuliani’s phone records that were obtained by the committee.
Trump and Giuliani had another phone chat half an hour later. Two minutes after the call ended at 2:13 p.m., enraged rioters who had beaten police officers and gassed them with caustic chemicals made their way to the Capitol building’s doors and broke windows to get inside. Trump continued to watch the violence unfold on TV.
The committee asked Sarah Matthews, a former Trump official who is intimately familiar with the White House’s public communications capabilities, how long it would have taken Trump to make a national address to stop the rioters.
“It would take less than 60 seconds from the dining room to the briefing room,” she testified. “There is a camera that is on in there at all times. If the president had wanted to make a statement and address the American people, he could have been there almost instantly.”
After Trump had discussions with his daughter Ivanka, he was finally convinced to put out a tweet that would serve as a perfunctory attempt to intervene. The tweet sent out at 2:38 p.m. said, “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!”
But Matthews testified that Press Secretary McEnany told her the president had initially resisted using the word “peaceful.” At that very moment, Fox News was reporting that members of Congress had been instructed to put on emergency hoods stashed throughout the Capitol to hide their identities.
At 3:58 p.m., the president continued to watch Fox News as the cable network reported that the FBI and D.C. National Guard had been deployed to the Capitol building.
When White House staff finally convinced him to put out a video directing the insurrectionists to halt their attack, Trump refused to read a script asking rioters to leave the Capitol immediately and go home “in a peaceful way.”
Instead, he went off-the-cuff and delivered the infamous speech that ended with him telling the enraged, seething attackers, “Go home. We love you, you’re very special.”
Herschmann, the White House lawyer, told committee investigators that, at that point, they called it a day, because “people were emotionally drained by the time that videotape was done.”
Meanwhile, rioters were still besieging the Capitol and roaming the congressional halls.
As Trump officially ended his day and left the Oval Office, a White House employee told congressional investigators that Trump muttered, “Mike Pence let me down.”
But later that evening, Giuliani was still trying to convince senators to delay counting the electoral college results, according to records obtained by the committee.
At 7:02 p.m., Giuliani called Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) and left him a voicemail pressuring him to prolong the certification.
“Senator Tuberville... this is Rudy Giuliani,” he began. “We need you, our Republican friends, to try to just slow it down so we can get these legislatures to get more information to you.”
The following day, as Republicans across the country lambasted Trump’s role in inciting the insurrection and the nation reeled from the attempted coup, the president remained defiant about what happened. As he prepared to make a national address on camera, never-before-seen video outtakes acquired by the committee showed how Trump still refused to acknowledge that the fight to stay in power was over.
“This election is now over. Congress has certified,” Trump read from a script, then stopping to speak to his daughter Ivanka behind the camera. “I don’t want to say the election is over. I just want to say congress has certified the results. I don’t want to say the election is over, OK?”
The committee received live testimony from two former Trump administration officials who quit in protest in the immediate aftermath of the violence on that day: deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger and deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews.
Both have serious credentials and commanded respect in Trump World—while they were there.
Pottinger, a Reuters journalist who became a U.S. Marine, was brought into the Trump administration because of his national security expertise on Asia. Matthews used her comms role at the White House to aggressively defend Trump, rising to his defense when his niece, Mary Trump, wrote a tell-all book that she called a money grab.
After witnessing the MAGA-loyal crowd attack the Capitol building, Matthews put out a statement saying, “As someone who worked in the halls of Congress I was deeply disturbed by what I saw today.”
On the attack’s one-year anniversary, she tweeted, “Make no mistake, the events on the 6th were a coup attempt, a term we'd use had they happened in any other country, and former President Trump failed to meet the moment.”
At the start of the hearing, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) began laying the groundwork to show how the twice-impeached former president didn’t rise to the challenge of that day—a day of violence he created and exacerbated.
“He refused to defend our nation and our constitution. He refused to do what every American president must. In the days after January 6th, no one from either political party would defend his conduct. And no one should do so today,” she said.
Perhaps for the many Republicans who have shrugged off the impact of the violent attack in the past year and a half—hand-to-hand combat that left several Capitol police officers dead from physical or psychological trauma—Cheney pointed to what the top Senate Republican said the month after the battle.
The committee played a video of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on the Senate floor placing much of the blame for Jan. 6 on Trump. “These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flag, and screaming their loyalty to him. It was obvious. It was obvious that only President Trump could end this,” McConnell said.
Cheney also referenced the flood of new evidence—and witnesses—who have started coming forward since the congressional committee began holding public hearings in June.
“The dam has begun to break,” she said, noting that the committee will spend August collecting evidence and will resume additional hearings in September.