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Trump watched Jan 6 US Capitol riot unfold on TV, ignored pleas to call for peace

The House of Representatives Select Committee has detailed what members say is Trump's failure to act for the 187 minutes between the end of his inflammatory speech at a rally, and the release of a video telling them to go home.

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Former US president Donald Trump. Photo: AFP
Former US president Donald Trump. Photo: AFP

Donald Trump sat for hours watching the attack on the US Capitol unfold on live TV on Jan 6, 2021, ignoring pleas by his children and other close advisers to urge his supporters to stop the violence, witnesses told a congressional hearing on Thursday.

The House of Representatives Select Committee used its eighth hearing this summer to detail what members said was Trump's failure to act for the 187 minutes between the end of his inflammatory speech at a rally urging supporters to march on the Capitol, and the release of a video telling them to go home.

"President Trump sat at his dining table and watched the attack on television while his senior-most staff, closest advisors and family members begged him to do what is expected of any American president," said Representative Elaine Luria, a Democratic committee member.

The panel played videotaped testimony from White House aides and security staff discussing the events of the day.

Former White House counsel Pat Cipollone was asked question after question in the recorded testimony about whether Trump took this action or that action - did he call the secretary of defense? Did he call the US attorney general? Did he call the head of Homeland Security? Cipollone answered "no" to each query.

Panel members said Trump's daughter Ivanka and son Don Jr were among those who pleaded with him to act.

The hearing, expected to be the last until September, detailed both the violence that played out as Trump supporters fought their way into the Capitol and Trump's actions in the hours after his speech in which he urged the crowd to "fight like hell" and the release of the video telling the rioters to go home.

The onslaught on the Capitol, as Vice President Mike Pence met with lawmakers, injured more than 140 police officers and delayed certification of Democratic President Joe Biden's victory in the November 2020 election.

"Over the last month and a half, the select committee has told a story of a president who did everything in his power to overturn an election. He lied, he bullied, he betrayed his oath," the committee's Democratic chairperson, Representative Bennie Thompson, said via a remote video feed after being diagnosed with Covid. "He tried to destroy our democratic institutions. He summoned a mob to Washington."

Representative Adam Kinzinger, a Republican committee member, said Trump had no interest in calling off the rioters.

"The mob was accomplishing President Trump's purpose, so of course he didn't intervene," Kinzinger said.

Trump remains highly popular among Republican voters and continues to flirt with the possibility of running for president again in 2024. But a Reuters/Ipsos poll concluded on Thursday found his standing among Republicans has weakened slightly since the hearings began early last month. Some 40% of Republicans now say he is at least partially to blame for the riot, up from 33% in a poll conducted six weeks ago, just as the congressional hearings were getting underway.

Trump denies wrongdoing and continues to claim falsely that he lost because of widespread fraud. "These hearings are as fake and illegitimate as Joe Biden — they can't do anything without a teleprompter," Trump spokesman Liz Harrington said in a post on his Truth Social social media site as the hearing began.

More hearings in September

Scheduled during the evening to reach a broad television audience, the public hearing was the eighth in six weeks by the House of Representatives Select Committee. Another round of hearings will begin in September, said the panel's Republican vice chairperson, Representative Liz Cheney.

The witnesses in the room were Matthew Pottinger, a deputy national security adviser under Trump, and Sarah Matthews, a deputy press secretary in his White House. Both resigned in the hours following the riot.

"If the president had wanted to make a statement and address the American people, he could have been on camera almost immediately," Matthews testified. "If he had wanted to make an address from the Oval Office, we could have assembled the White House press corps within minutes."

The panel of seven Democratic and two Republican House members has been investigating the attack for the past year, interviewing more than 1,000 witnesses and amassing tens of thousands of documents.

It has used the hearings to build a case that Trump's efforts to overturn his defeat by Biden in 2020 constitute illegal conduct, far beyond normal politics.

Previous hearings have focused on the run-up to the riot, Trump's pressure on Pence to deny Biden's victory, militant groups whose members participated in the Capitol attack, and Trump's interactions with close advisers questioning his false allegations of massive voter fraud.

Committee members said Trump incited the riot by refusing to admit he lost the election and through comments including a Twitter post in December calling supporters to Washington for a "big protest" on Jan 6, saying, "Be there, will be wild."

The attack on the Capitol led to several deaths. More than 850 people have been charged with taking part in the riot, with more than 325 guilty pleas so far.