On Thursday night, the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack showcased former President Donald Trump's inaction during the riot. Two witnesses testified in person — Sarah Matthews, Trump's deputy White House press secretary, and Matthew Pottinger, a former National Security Council official — and outtakes were shown of Trump recording a video message the day after the attack, where he said he didn't want to say the election was over. Here's everything you need to know:
Who led this hearing?
The hearing was led by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), with Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) delivering his opening statement on video; the chair of the panel, Thompson tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week and was in isolation. Thompson said there "can be no doubt there was a coordinated multi-step effort to overturn an election, overseen and directed by Donald Trump. There can be no doubt that he commanded a mob, a mob he knew was heavily armed, violent, and angry, to march on the Capitol to try to stop the peaceful transfer of power, and he made targets out of his own vice president and the lawmakers gathered to do the peoples' work. These facts have gone undisputed, and so there needs to be accountability."
What are some of the major takeaways from the hearing?
The committee played a recording of an unnamed White House official, who was described as being someone with national security responsibilities (their voice was altered, to prevent possible retribution). This person told the panel that when former Vice President Mike Pence was removed from the Senate floor after the pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, "members of the VP detail at this time were starting to fear for their own lives. There was a lot of yelling, a lot of very personal calls over the radio, so it was disturbing. I don't like talking about it, but there were calls to say goodbye to family members, so on and so forth. It was getting — for whatever the reason was on the ground, the VP detail thought this was about to get very ugly."
The panel also said several witnesses testified that they begged Trump to do something to stop the violence on Jan. 6 during the early stages of the attack, but he ignored them, and pushed back at the recommendation that he send a tweet with the word "peace" in it. Multiple witnesses also said Trump did not call the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, or Department of Justice during the attack, with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley testifying that it was Pence who ordered the military go to the Capitol to end the violence. Kinzinger said the "mob was accomplishing President Trump's purpose, so of course he didn't intervene. President Trump did not fail to act ... he chose not to act."
Did the committee show any new video during the hearing?
Yes. The committee showed never-before-seen video of Congressional leaders during the attack, raw footage of Trump recording a message in the Rose Garden on Jan. 6, and outtakes of a video message he recorded on Jan. 7. "I don't want to say the election is over," Trump said. "I just want to say Congress has certified the results, without saying the election's over, okay?" Luria noted that "one day after he incited an insurrection based on a lie, President Trump still could not say that the election was over."
The committee also played a video showing Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) fleeing after rioters breached the Capitol. Prior to the attack, Hawley — the first senator who said he would object to certifying the election — raised his fist in solidarity with the pro-Trump crowd that was gathering near the building.
What did Matthews and Pottinger say during their testimony?
Matthews testified that she believed Trump needed to send a tweet explicitly condemning the violence, and shared this with then-White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. McEnany responded that Trump didn't "want to include any sort of mention of peace in that tweet," Matthews said, and it wasn't until Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump "suggested the phrase 'stay peaceful' that he finally agreed to include it." Matthews also said another Trump aide said if the president spoke out against violence, it "would be 'handing a win to the media.' I couldn't believe that we're arguing over this and in the middle of the West Wing."
Both Matthews and Pottinger resigned on the night of Jan. 6, with Pottinger testifying that he decided to step down after he saw a printout of a tweet Trump wrote calling Pence a coward for not going along with the plan to overturn the election results. "I was disturbed and worried to see that the president was attacking Vice President Pence for doing his constitutional duty," Pottinger said. "So the tweet looked to me like the opposite of what we really needed at that moment, which was a de-escalation, and that's why I said earlier that it looked like fuel being poured on the fire."
Matthews agreed, saying she knew from her time with Trump that his supporters "truly latch on to every word and every tweet that he says. And so I think in that moment, for him to tweet out the message about Mike Pence, it was him pouring gasoline on the fire and making it much worse."
At the conclusion of Thursday night's hearing, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) praised witnesses like Matthews and Pottinger. "The case against Donald Trump in these hearings is not made by witnesses who were his political enemies," she said. "It is instead a series of confessions by Donald Trump's own appointees, his own friends, his own campaign officials, people who worked for him for years, and his own family. They have come forward and they have told the American people the truth."
How did Republicans respond to the hearing?
The House GOP Twitter account posted two messages about the hearing that it later deleted. In one tweet, Matthews was called "a liar and pawn" in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) "witch-hunt." Matthews, who described herself as a "lifelong Republican" during her testimony, is still working for the GOP as communications director for Republicans on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. A spokesperson for the House GOP told Insider the tweet was "sent at the staff level and was not authorized or the position of the conference and therefore was deleted."
The account also tweeted, "This is all heresy," which was later deleted and replaced with the message, "All hearsay." In the comments, several people poked fun at the House GOP for the mix-up, with one replying, "Just take the L and move on."
What's next for the committee?
Thompson and Cheney said that since the committee's public hearings started last month, more people have been coming forward with new details, and the panel will spend August reviewing this information and pursuing leads. The committee will then reconvene in September for further hearings. During his closing remarks, Thompson said the facts that have been presented so far are "clear and unambiguous," and he thanked "the American people for their attention over the past several weeks."
The Department of Justice will ultimately decide whether the committee's findings are enough to prosecute Trump, and after Thursday's hearing, Kinzinger told CNN's Manu Raju that Trump "certainly has criminal exposure. ... I certainly think if you look at what we presented tonight, and in all these hearings, that cannot be acceptable for the president of the United States. Like the worst thing we can do is put out something that says, 'a president is above the law and can do this again,' because I guarantee you it will happen again if we say that."