The House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol began making their case for Donald Trump’s culpability for the deadly riot Thursday night, using testimony from members of his own administration to prove that the former President was behind a coordinated conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election and block the transfer of power to Joe Biden.
Within minutes of the start of the primetime hearing, which several major broadcast networks aired live, Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the committee’s chairman, aired the first footage from a former Trump White House official explaining under oath that they had informed the president that his claims of widespread voter fraud were false.
“I made it clear I did not agree with the idea of saying the election was stolen and putting out this stuff, which I told the president was bullshit,” former Attorney General William Barr recalled committee investigators in taped testimony, referring to a December 2020 meeting with Trump. “And I didn’t want to be a part of it.”
The committee later aired footage from a deposition with the president’s own daughter and special adviser, Ivanka Trump, who was present for that meeting and told the committee she took Barr’s comments seriously. “It affected my perspective,” she said. “I respect Attorney General Barr, so I accepted what he was saying.”
The revelations were among the most explosive and significant of the evening. Legal experts and former prosecutors have said that any evidence that Trump was informed that he was spreading a lie and prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s election victory could implicate him on charges of intent to defraud. “It’s really important if you can prove he knew he lost, that helps bolster claims of corrupt intent and fraudulent intent,” Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney and now a professor at the University of Michigan, told INM in April.
Other testimony from former administration officials demonstrated how Trump and his closest confidants were actively looking for ways to subvert the election outcome. Alex Cannon, Trump’s top campaign lawyer, recalled a December 2020 conversation with the president’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, who asked what they had dug up to challenge the election results of decisive swing states in court. “We weren’t finding anything that was sufficient to change the results in key states,” Cannon told the panel. “So there’s no there there?” Meadows replied, according to Cannon.
The committee also sought to provide evidence that Trump did not take action to stop the Capitol attack as it was unfolding, even expressing approval as some of the mayhem unfolded. The crowd in the hearing room in the Cannon House Office Building collectively gasped when Rep. Liz Cheney, Republican from Wyoming and the panel’s vice chair, shared evidence provided to the committee of remarks Trump made to his staff after the mob started chants to hang Vice President Mike Pence. “Maybe our supporters have the right idea,” Trump reportedly said. “Mike Pence deserves it.”
The committee also telegraphed threads of a conspiracy they intend to tease out over subsequent hearings, showing how members of two far-right groups in particular, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, were working well in advance to prepare for the Capitol invasion, with much of those efforts spurred by Trump’s statements.
One of the most evocative portions of the first primetime hearing was when the committee showed harrowing documentary footage of the Jan. 6 attack interspersed with clips of Trump’s speech at a rally near the White House and screenshots of his tweets throughout the day.
“All Americans should keep in mind this fact,” Cheney said. “On the morning of Jan. 6, Donald Trump’s intention was to remain President of the United States despite the lawful outcome of the election.”