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January 6: Trump rejected aides pleas to blow off Capitol crowd

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite desperate pleas from aides, allies, a Republican congressional leader and even his family, Donald Trump refused to call off the Jan. 6 crowd attack on the Capitol, instead “pouring gasoline on the fire” by aggressively tweeting his false claims about a stolen election and celebrating his crowd of supporters as “very special,” the House Investigative Committee showed Thursday night.

The next day he again stated: “I don’t want to say that the elections are over.” That was in a previously unaired outtake of a speech to the nation he would give, revealed during the commission’s prime-time hearing.

The panel documented how for about 187 minutes, from the time Trump left a rally stage and sent his supporters to the Capitol to when he finally appeared in the Rose Garden video that day, nothing could compel the defeated president into action. Instead, he watched the violence unfold on TV.

“President Trump has not failed to act,” said Representative Adam Kinzinger, a fellow Republican but frequent Trump critic who flew combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. “He chose not to perform.”

After months of work and weeks of hearings, the prime-time session began as the commission began: Blaming the deadly attack on Trump himself for summoning the mob to Washington and sending it to Capitol Hill.

The defeated president turned his supporters’ ‘love for the country’ into a weapon,” said Republican vice chairman of the panel, Rep. Liz Cheney from Wyoming.

The panel is far from done with its work after Thursday’s hearing, likely the last of the summer, but will resume in September as more witnesses and information emerge. Cheney said “the dam has begun to break” when he revealed what happened that fateful day, both at the White House and during the Capitol violence.

“Donald Trump made a deliberate choice to violate his oath of office,” Cheney said.

“Every American should consider this: Can a president who is willing to make the choices Donald Trump made during the January 6 violence ever be trusted in a position of authority in our great nation?” she asked.

Trump, who is considering returning to the White House, dismissed the commission as a “kangaroo court” and called the panel and witnesses “many lies and misrepresentations.”

The committee plunged into its second prime-time hearing on the Capitol attack and set out to provide a “minute-by-minute” account of Trump’s actions with fresh testimony, including from two White House aides, never-before-heard security radio broadcasts of Secret Service agents fearing for their lives and behind-the-scenes discussions at the White House.

As the Capitol siege raged, Trump gave “the green light” to his supporters by tweeting condemnation of Vice President Mike Pence’s refusal to agree to his plan to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory, a former White House aide told the committee.

Two assistants resigned on the spot.

“I thought January 6, 2021 was one of the darkest days in our country’s history,” Sarah Matthews told the panel. “And President Trump treated it as a celebratory occasion. So it has only further cemented my decision to step down.”

The committee played audio from General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who reacted with surprise at the president’s inaction during the attack.

“You’re the Commander-in-Chief. There is an attack on the Capitol of the United States of America. And there is nothing? No call? Nothing, Zero?” he said.

On January 6, an enraged Trump demanded to be taken to the Capitol after his supporters stormed the building, well aware of the deadly attack, but his security team refused.

“Within 15 minutes of leaving the podium, President Trump knew the Capitol was under siege and under attack,” said D-Va Representative Elaine Luria.

Inside the Capitol, the crowd chanted “Hang Mike Pence,” former deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger testified, as Trump tweeted his condemnation of his vice president.

Pottinger, who testified on Thursday, said that when he saw Trump’s tweet, he immediately decided to resign, as did Matthews, who said she was a lifelong Republican but couldn’t agree with what was going on. She was the witness who called the tweet “a green light” and “threw gasoline on the fire”.

Meanwhile, recordings of Secret Service radio broadcasts revealed that Capitol agents were trying to get Pence to safety amid the chaos, asking for messages to be forwarded saying goodbye to their own families.

The panel previously showed unseen testimony from the president’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., in a text message to Mark Meadows, his father’s chief of staff, urging the president to blow off the crowd.

Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner also testified in a recorded video of a “scared” GOP leader Kevin McCarthy calling him for help.

And in a poignant moment, the panel showed that Trump refused to give a speech the next day declaring the election over, despite his daughter, Ivanka Trump, hearing it off camera and encouraging him to read the script.

“The president’s words are important,” said Luria, D-Va., a former naval officer on the panel. “We know that many of the rioters listened to President Trump.”

Luria said the panel had received testimony confirming former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s powerful earlier account of an altercation involving Trump when he insisted that the Secret Service take him to the Capitol.

Among the witnesses testifying in a recorded video on Thursday was retired District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department Sgt. Mark Robinson who told the committee that Trump was well aware of the number of guns in the crowd of his supporters, but wanted to go anyway.

“The only description I got was that the president was upset and he was adamant about going to the Capitol and there was a heated discussion about that,” Robinson said.

Chairman Bennie Thompson, who appears virtually as he self-isolates with COVID-19, opened Thursday’s hearing by saying that as president Trump “did everything in his power to undo the election,” he lost to Joe Biden, including before and during the deadly attack on the Capitol.

“He lied, he bullied, he betrayed his oath,” Thompson accused D-Miss.

“Our investigation continues,” Thompson said. “There must be accountability.”

The auditorium was packed, including several police officers fighting the crowd that day and the family of one officer who died the day after the attack.

While the commission cannot file criminal charges, the Department of Justice oversees its work.

So far, more than 840 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riots. More than 330 of them have pleaded guilty, mainly to felonies. Of the more than 200 suspects who were convicted, about 100 received prison terms.

No former president has ever been federally prosecuted by the Justice Department.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said Jan. 6 is “the most comprehensive investigation and the most important investigation the Justice Department has ever conducted.”

Five people died that day as Trump supporters fought police in bloody hand-to-hand fighting to storm the Capitol. An officer has testified that she “slid into other people’s blood” as they tried to hold back the crowd. A Trump supporter was shot dead by police.

____

Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick, Kevin Freking, Mike Balsamo, Chris Megerian in Washington and Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.

Follow AP’s coverage of the Jan. 6 committee hearings at https://apnews.com/hub/capitol-siege.

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