Skip to main content

January 6 committee hearing reveals what Donald Trump was doing — and not doing — during the Capitol riot

By Joanna Robin in Washington DC and Rebecca Armitage
Posted 
Donald Trump in a suit and red tie listens to his daughter Ivanka speak, while Don Jr stands in the background
The committee claims that Donald Trump spent much of the Capitol riot watching events unfold on TV from his dining room. (AP: Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The first round of January 6 hearings may have ended, but the committee investigating the Capitol riot seems to be just getting started. 

Over seven hearings, the panel has weaved its shocking findings with surprise witness testimony, building towards the series finale, dubbed the "187 Minutes Hearing" by committee aides.

The prime-time hearing gave the most detailed account yet of what former president Donald Trump did — and didn't do — for more than three hours while his supporters tried to violently stop the transfer of power. 

"He lied, he bullied, he betrayed his oath. He tried to destroy our democratic institutions," said committee chair Bennie Thompson, who recently tested positive for COVID-19, via video. 

"And then he stopped for 187 minutes on January 6. 

A crowded room with a big chandelier and grand white columns, with "January 6th" written on a screen in the centre
The final hearing, scheduled for a prime-time broadcast slot, was packed with reporters and onlookers. (ABC News: Cameron Schwarz )

At 1.10pm, Mr Trump finished his speech at the White House Ellipse, while his then-vice-president was already performing his constitutional duty to certify the results of the 2020 election.

The first wave of rioters had already breached the barriers surrounding the Capitol.

Despite pleas "from nearly everyone", including White House staff, his family and members of US Congress, he refused to act until 4.17pm when he tweeted a video, calling on them to leave.

Here's what we learned.

Trump wanted to go to the Capitol and got frustrated when he was refused 

The hearing painted a picture of a desperate president who, after entertaining outlandish conspiracy theories of election fraud, and pursuing several spurious legal avenues to stay in power, knew he was out of options. 

On the morning of January 6, he delivered a speech at a park near the White House, urging his supporters to walk to the Capitol building where the electoral votes were being counted. 

"We're going to walk down — and I'll be there with you," he said. 

But after asking his supporters to "fight like hell", Mr Trump found himself in a fight with own Secret Service agents. 

Donald Trump with his arms outstretched while standing on an outdoor stage in the front of the White House
Witnesses told the hearing that Donald Trump became "irate" when his Secret Service officials refused to let him go to the Capitol. (AP: Jacquelyn Martin)

A security professional, who chose to remain anonymous, testified by video that the White House was aware of reports members of the crowd were armed.

Mr Trump's agents, who were concerned his presence would further rile up the crowd, refused to let him go. 

"I don't know if you want to use the word insurrection, coup, whatever," the unnamed security official said. 

"We all knew that this would move from a normal democratic public event into something else." 

The official corroborated previous reports of a "heated argument" inside the president's car.

White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson memorably testified she was told Mr Trump lunged at a member of his security detail.

He has vigorously denied physically attacking anyone on January 6.

Loading

Mark Robinson, a DC metro police sergeant assigned to the president's motorcade that day, backed Ms Hutchinson up, recalling the same verbal confrontation. 

"The president was upset and was adamant about going to the Capitol and there was a heated discussion about that," he said. 

The motorcade waited for more than 45 minutes before being released, according to the committee. 

Mr Trump was taken back to the White House. 

Trump watched Fox News from his dining room as the riot unfolded 

A White House employee informed Mr Trump of the unfolding situation within 15 minutes of his speech winding up, the committee said. 

In a photo shared during the hearing, the former president, still dressed in his overcoat, looked slightly stunned as he stood in the Oval Office. 

It was the last photo taken for hours, as he told his official photographer to stand down. 

Around 1.25pm Mr Trump went to the dining room, which is just down the hall, according to multiple witnesses. 

There, he reportedly sat in his usual spot at the head of the table, watching Fox News on a TV hanging on the wall. 

It's unclear what happened next, in part because the presidential call log is empty between 11.06am and 6.54pm. 

The president's diary, usually rigorously updated, was also blank from 1.21pm and 4.03pm. 

Three men climb up a marble wall as a crowd gathers below
The hearing heard that Donald Trump refused to tell his supporters to "peacefully" leave the Capitol, and would not condemn the violence. (Reuters: Stephanie Keith)

Despite the lack of official records, witnesses said the president called multiple senators to continue pressuring them to delay the certification of the election. 

He also called Rudy Giuliani, his lead election attorney, for four minutes at 1.39pm. 

Fox News footage at that moment showed tens of thousands of fired-up Trump supporters swarming around the Capitol. 

Within 10 minutes, the DC Police declared "a riot". 

Mr Trump then tweeted out a link to his speech, with no mention of "the lawlessness and the violence", according to Democratic committee member Elaine Luria.

As Pence guards feared for their lives, Trump picked up his phone  

The hearing was told the situation at the Capitol was then spiralling quickly. 

By 2pm, two pipe bombs had been discovered and the joint session of congress was evacuated. 

The windows of the building were smashed as insurrectionists streamed inside. 

Donald Trump in a red cap pumps his first while Mike Pence looks on smiling. A deep orange sunset blooms behind them
The committee says that Donald Trump did nothing to help Mike Pence, who was sheltering in the Capitol as the building was breached.(Reuters: Carlos Barria)

Then-vice-president Mike Pence was taken by members of the Secret Service to his office, where he sheltered from the mob for 13 minutes.

His agents started to fear for their own lives, according to the anonymous White House security official.

"A lot of yelling, a lot of very personal phone calls over the radio," the official said.

At 2.24pm, Donald Trump picked up his phone and tweeted again, this time attacking his deputy directly.

Loading

"Mike Pence didn't have the courage to do what should have been done," he wrote.

Key witnesses Matthew Pottinger and Sarah Matthews told the committee that tweet sent shock waves through the White House.

Mr Pottinger, a former deputy national security adviser to the president, told the hearing he immediately resigned.

Ms Matthews, a White House press aide who had attended several Trump rallies and knew the president's call-and-response relationship with his supporters, said it was akin to "pouring gasoline on the fire".

"As an American, I was disgusted," she said.

"It was unpatriotic. It was un-American. We are watching the Capitol building get defaced over a lie."

A young woman with wavy blonde hair, dressed in a white dress, sits in front of a microphone in a crowded room
Donald Trump's former deputy press secretary, Sarah Matthews, says she believes he "poured gasoline" on the fire by criticising Mike Pence on Twitter. (ABC News: Cameron Schwarz)

Ms Matthews said she also knew her career in the Trump administration was over at that moment.

After hours of pleas to turn down the temperature from multiple advisers, including his children Donald Jr and Ivanka Trump, the president finally relented.

But he would only call off the mob on his own terms.

Two videos featuring a reluctant Trump 

At around 4pm, Donald Trump and a video crew went to the Rose Garden to record a scripted message to his supporters. 

A White House aide drafted words for Mr Trump including the plea: "I'm asking you to leave the Capitol now and go home in a peaceful way". 

Instead, he spoke off the cuff, repeating the lie at the heart of his push to overturn the election. 

"I know your pain. I know your hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election," the president said in the video uploaded to Twitter. 

"We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You're very special." 

Loading

After recording the video, Mr Trump returned to the dining room to gather his things, before retiring to the residence, according to the committee. 

As he left the room, he had one last thing to say. 

"Mike Pence let me down," he allegedly told a White House employee. 

Even now, Mr Trump seems to hold that sentiment. 

As the hearings were broadcast, he released a statement in which he claimed America "would have been a different place" if Mr Pence had done as he asked. 

The committee also aired a second video, from January 7. 

It showed the former president struggling to disavow his supporters, stumbling over his words and slamming his fist down as he tried to record a video condemning the previous day's attack. 

"I don't want to say the election's over," Mr Trump was recorded telling an aide as he read the speech. 

As Congresswoman Luria put it: "President Trump did not then and does not now have the character or courage to say to the American people what his own people know to be true: He is responsible for the attack on the Capitol on January 6."

So what's next? 

While this hearing was billed as the grand finale, committee vice-chairwoman Liz Cheney said it will need to schedule more.

Two women dressed in Trump merchandise hold up signs of the former president's face while at a rally on January 6
US media is reporting that Donald Trump is planning to announce another tilt at the presidency later this year. (Reuters: Jim Bourg)

"In the course of these hearings we have heard new evidence, and new witnesses have bravely stepped forward," she said.

Until then, all eyes are on the US Department of Justice and the question that has hung over all the hearings remains.

Will there be enough evidence to convince Attorney-General Merrick Garland to file criminal charges against Mr Trump for his alleged role on January 6?

Mr Garland has previously pledged to hold "all January 6 perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law".

But charges so far have mostly been levelled at Trump officials who refused to cooperate with the committee's investigation.

Mr Trump reportedly has a plan to attempt to evade — or at least distract from — any possible charges.

The Washington Post reports he is in discussions with his staff to announce his 2024 presidential bid in September.

Loading

This, coincidentally, is when the January 6 committee plans to resume its hearings. 

"As we made clear throughout these hearings, our investigation goes forward. We continue to receive new information every day," Congresswoman Cheney said.

"We continue to hear from witnesses. We will reconvene in September to continue laying out our findings to the American people."

Posted