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Two top Trump administration officials testified Wednesday that President Donald Trump never contacted them on Jan. 6 as rioters overran the Capitol and engaged in brutal combat with police officers.
Former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller said at a House Oversight Committee hearing that they had no interaction with Trump during the riot.
“I did not,” Rosen said under questioning by Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) “I did not require any authorities that the department didn’t already have.”
Miller echoed the same message.
“I had all the authority I needed, and I knew what had to happen,” the former defense official said, adding that Trump had given him that authority in the days before the riot.
“I think that the lack of direct communication from President Trump speaks volumes,” Maloney said.
Sparks flew between Democrats on the panel and the Trump appointees as lawmakers accused Miller of changing his account to sound more favorable to Trump and faulted Rosen for refusing to discuss his conversations with the president, as well as for dramatic events at the Justice Department in the days leading up to the riot.
While Miller said in a media interview and in his prepared statement for Wednesday’s hearing that Trump encouraged the protesters on Jan. 6, he took a different tack in his live testimony.
“I think now I would say that is not the unitary factor at all…I have reassessed,” Miller said. “It seems clear there was an organized assault element in place that was going to assault regardless of what the president said.”
Miller also went further than Rosen, seemingly defending Trump by insisting that the former president fulfilled his constitutional duties in connection with the storming of the Capitol, which took place as Congress was scheduled to certify the electoral vote.
When asked to assess whether heated political rhetoric was to blame for the riot, Miller painted in very broad strokes and didn't point a finger at Trump. “I think the entire entertainment, media, political complex is culpable in creating this environment that is just intolerable and needs to change,” the former defense chief said.
When Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) said Miller had reversed himself, Miller replied: “Absolutely not. That’s ridiculous.”
“You’re ridiculous,” Lynch shot back.
“Thank you for your thoughts,” Miller responded.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) also lambasted Miller over his claims that he is proud of “every decision” he made on Jan. 6.
“I have never been more offended on this committee by a witness statement than yours. You were more concerned about defending your own reputation and justifying your own actions than the sanctity of this Capitol and the sanctity of our democracy,” Khanna said.
When Miller began his answer by praising the service of the troops at the Capitol, Khanna cut him off: “Your pugnacious style is not going to override the democratic process. Learn to respect it.”
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) seemed angry about Miller‘s stance.
“It’s almost like the military saying, ‘Sure, we lost the battle, but we carried out our plan perfectly,’“ Quigley said. “I had colleagues saying, when does the f-ing cavalry get here? You lost and you don’t have the intestinal fortitude to own up to your part of the responsibility.“
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) suggested Miller was shifting his position to curry favor with Trump. “Maybe the wrath of Donald Trump came down upon you,” she said. “That is disgusting.“
Rosen, who has been publicly silent since Jan. 6 except for a couple of written statements and a prerecorded Justice Department video released a week after the riot, said Justice officials he did not name had instructed him not to speak about his conversations with Trump.
“I cannot tell you, consistent with my obligations today, about private conversations with the president one way or another,” Rosen said in response to a question from Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) about whether Trump had pressed him to take action on election fraud claims.
“We had an unprecedented insurrection that led to seven deaths. Five here and two suicides, and you are saying this is a privileged communication?” Connolly replied. “I think the American people are entitled to answer, Mr. Rosen.”
Rosen suggested he might relay his conversations with Trump if he had permission to do so. A Justice Department spokesperson had no immediate comment on what instructions the agency gave to Rosen, who was deputy attorney general in the last two years of the Trump administration and became acting head of the department when Attorney General Bill Barr resigned on Dec. 24, 2020.
Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) pressed Rosen on whether Black protesters would’ve been treated similarly by law enforcement as the predominantly white crowd that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6
“I think our preparation and our responses would’ve been the same,” Rosen said.
“I’m going to have to disagree with you,” declared Bush, who was a Black Lives Matter organizer before winning election to the House last year. “The contrast is stark.”
The lawmakers who led off questioning for Republicans at the hearing seemed intent on minimizing the gravity of the events at the Capitol. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) argued that the shooting of protester Ashli Babbitt as she sought to breach a lobby outside the House chamber was unwarranted.
“Who executed Ashli Babbitt?” Gosar asked. “The truth is being censored and covered up. As a result, the DOJ is harassing peaceful patriots across the country.”
Gosar argued that the massive Justice Department effort to prosecute those who breached the Capitol and fought with police amounted to overkill aimed at persecuting “Trump voters.”
“The FBI is fishing through the homes of veterans and citizens with no criminal record and restricting the liberties of individuals that have never been accused of a crime,” Gosar said. “The government even enlisted Americans to turn in their own neighbors.”
Gosar also suggested that none of the protesters who entered the Capitol had a weapon. Prosecutors have claimed that firearms were brought into the Capitol, but they have not said that guns were actually seized in the building.
Video of the riot shows some who battled with police wore trademark Trump campaign Make America Great Again caps and waved huge pro-Trump flags. However, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) disputed press reports that those who sought to breach the Capitol were backers of Trump.
“I don’t know who did the poll to say they were Trump supporters,” Norman said.
Several Democrats tried to rebut the Republican stance by citing then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s pointed rebuke of Trump in January for fueling the attack on the Capitol.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said Trump’s culpability for the assault was indisputable.
“He pointed them like a loaded pistol at the capitol. Now, we’re getting this outrageous Orwellian revisionist history,” Raskin said.
Despite the sharp criticism Miller took from Democrats, he did seem to break with Republicans seeking to minimize the events of Jan. 6. “I agree it was an act of terrorism,” he said.
Lara Seligman contributed to this report.