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Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Trump Sought to Conceal Plans for March to Capitol, Panel Says

Trump Sought to Conceal Plans for March to Capitol, Panel Says

“WASHINGTON — President Donald J. Trump attempted to make the Jan. 6, 2021, march on the Capitol appear spontaneous even as he and his team intentionally assembled and galvanized a violence-prone mob to disrupt certification of his electoral defeat, the House committee investigating the attack showed on Tuesday.

“POTUS is going to have us march there/the Capitol,” Kylie Jane Kremer, an organizer of the “Save America” rally on Jan. 6, wrote in a Jan. 4 text shown by the panel on Tuesday as it detailed Mr. Trump’s efforts to gather his backers in Washington for a final, last-ditch effort to overturn his loss. Ms. Kremer added that Mr. Trump was “going to just call for it ‘unexpectedly.’”

Mr. Trump weighed announcing the move, according to documents obtained from the National Archives, which provided the investigators with a draft tweet that said: “I will be making a Big Speech at 10AM on January 6th at the Ellipse (South of the White House). Please arrive early, massive crowds expected. March to the Capitol after. Stop the Steal!!”

The tweet was never sent. But it was the latest evidence presented by the committee of how Mr. Trump undertook a public and private effort to channel angry supporters, including right-wing extremists, toward the Capitol, where Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers were gathered to confirm Joseph R. Biden Jr. as the president-elect.

The House panel presented new evidence on President Trump’s attempts to hold on to power and build momentum around events planned for Jan. 6, 2021, after legal challenges to the 2020 election results had been exhausted.Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times

For more than a year, Mr. Trump and his defenders have described the violence at the Capitol as a freewheeling peaceful protest gone awry. But the hearing on Tuesday laid out how the former president took a guiding role not only in bringing the mob fueled by his election lies to Washington that day, but also in the plan to direct it up to Capitol Hill, disregarding the advice of his closest aides.

“Donald Trump summoned a mob to Washington, D.C., and ultimately spurred that mob to wage a violent attack on our democracy,” said Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the chairman of the committee.

In its seventh hearing to lay out its findings, the committee situated Mr. Trump at the center of the quasi-legal efforts to derail the political process and also at the heart of the unprecedented chaos at the Capitol. Over nearly three hours, it introduced evidence from rally organizers, rioters and aides inside the White House who said the former president had inspired and directed what transpired that day.

While it did not draw any direct link between Mr. Trump and the domestic extremists who orchestrated and stood at the forefront of the Capitol attack, the committee set forth in meticulous detail how Mr. Trump’s words and actions united a disparate set of far-right groups and militias and spurred them to plot a violent effort to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power.

“The president got everybody riled up and told everybody to head on down,” said one of the witnesses at the hearing, Stephen Ayres, an Ohio man who pleaded guilty last month to disorderly conduct charges connected to the Capitol attack. “We basically were just following what he said.”

Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings

Even Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump’s onetime campaign manager, blamed his former boss for the deadly violence that ensued, according to evidence shown by the committee on Tuesday.

“A sitting president asking for civil war… I have lost faith,” he wrote in text messages on Jan. 6 to Katrina Pierson, Mr. Trump’s former spokeswoman, adding that Mr. Trump’s “rhetoric killed someone.”

Jason Van Tatenhove testified about his time with the Oath Keepers.
Kenny Holston for The New York Times

Even as it revealed new evidence about Mr. Trump’s bid to cling to power, the committee suggested that Mr. Trump was still trying to protect himself. Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming and the panel’s vice chairwoman, repeated her concerns that Mr. Trump has been quietly interfering with the committee’s work by discouraging witnesses from cooperating with the inquiry. After the panel’s last presentation, she said, Mr. Trump tried to call one of its witnesses and the witness, through a lawyer, alerted the committee.

“We will take any effort to influence witness testimony very seriously,” Ms. Cheney said, adding that the panel had notified the Justice Department about the matter.

In a statement on Twitter, Taylor Budowich, a spokesman for Mr. Trump, accused Ms. Cheney of spreading “innuendos and lies,” but did not address whether the former president had tried to contact a witness.

In the hearing room on Tuesday, Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland and a member of the select committee, sought to draw a road map of Mr. Trump’s multilayered effort to overturn his defeat, unfolding in three concentric rings.

On the inside ring, Mr. Raskin said, was Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign against Mr. Pence to persuade him to unilaterally throw out electoral votes for Mr. Biden as he presided over a joint session of Congress to make the official count.

Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland, took a leading role in the hearing.
Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times

In the middle ring, Mr. Raskin said, far-right extremist groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers — unleashed by a Dec. 19 tweet from Mr. Trump that promised a “wild” rally in Washington on Jan. 6 — took the lead in invading and occupying the Capitol. And in the outer ring, he added, a large and angry crowd, encouraged by Mr. Trump’s lies about election fraud, became a “political force” that sought to keep the former president in power.

The story the committee told on Tuesday took place over three chaotic weeks at the end of 2020, starting on Dec. 14, when the Electoral College met and declared Mr. Biden the winner of the election. Within a day, leading Republicans, like Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, acknowledged Mr. Biden’s victory, and several aides to Mr. Trump, including Pat A. Cipollone, the top lawyer in the White House, advised the president to concede.

Instead, the committee documented how Mr. Trump ignored top administration officials and turned his hopes and attention to a group of outside advisers who were recommending a dangerous and unprecedented plan to use the country’s national security assets to seize control of voting machines and essentially rerun the election.

Through videotaped testimony, the panel brought to life a heated and often profane meeting in the Oval Office on Dec. 18, 2020, in which the advisers — among them, the lawyer Sidney Powell and Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser — fought with Mr. Cipollone and other White House advisers about the plan to seize the machines and to appoint a special counsel to investigate election fraud.

Early the next morning, once the meeting ended, Mr. Trump posted the message on Twitter urging his supporters to come to Washington on Jan. 6, writing, “Be there, will be wild!”

The response to the message was immediate and electric.

It was quickly amplified by prominent Trump supporters with influential followings, like Alex Jones, the impresario of the conspiracy-laden media outlet Infowars, and the right-wing podcaster Tim Pool.

In the darkest corners of the internet, Trump supporters on websites such as soon began discussing bringing handcuffs, body armor, shields, bats and pepper spray to Washington. Others talked about committing violence.

“Why don’t we just kill them?” one person wrote on the chat board 4chan.  “Every last democrat, down to the last man, woman, and child?”

Mr. Trump’s tweet also had significant effects in the real world.

Within days of it being posted, a pro-Trump organizing group called Women for America First changed its plans to hold a rally in Washington after Mr. Biden’s inauguration, moving the event up to Jan. 6. Around the same time, the committee showed, the prominent Stop the Steal organizer Ali Alexander registered the website, which provided information about numerous protests in Washington on Jan. 6 with event times, places, speakers and details on transportation.

Mr. Alexander sent a text to an associate on Jan. 5, 2021, saying that he believed Mr. Trump was going to “order” him and his associates to march to the Capitol, the committee showed.

On Dec. 21, 2020 — two days after Mr. Trump’s tweet about Jan. 6 was posted — a group of far-right members of Congress met with the president at the White House to discuss the conservative lawyer John Eastman’s theories about pressuring Mr. Pence to disrupt the normal workings of the Electoral College and keep Mr. Trump in power. The members of Congress at the meeting included Representatives Andy Biggs of Arizona, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Louie Gohmert of Texas and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, the committee said.

The committee heard on Tuesday from another witness, Jason Van Tatenhove, a former spokesman for the Oath Keepers, who described the group as a threat to democracy. The leader of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, is one of several members of the group who has been charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the Capitol attack.

And for the first time, the committee heard testimony from a criminal defendant who was at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and is now facing charges. The defendant, Mr. Ayres, told the panel that he had gone to Washington at Mr. Trump’s direction and marched to the Capitol when the president told him to, and would never have gone in the first place had he known that Mr. Trump’s election fraud claims were false. He said that his participation in the riot had ruined his life, and that he felt duped and betrayed by Mr. Trump.

“I felt like I had, you know, like horse blinders on — I was locked in the whole time,” Mr. Ayres said. “The biggest thing for me is, take the blinders off, make sure you step back and see what’s going on before it’s too late.”

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