Trump, briefed on violence on January 6, tried to incite it

The likely final public hearing of the House of Representatives Committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol is expected to highlight newly obtained information from the Secret Service showing how President Donald Trump was repeatedly warned about brewing violence that day and still tried to inflame the conflict, according to three people briefed on the records.

At Thursday’s hearing, the committee plans to share new video footage and internal Secret Service emails that appear to corroborate parts of the most sensational internal accounts of the day, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters. internal records. Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified in June that Trump was briefed on January 6 that some of his followers were armed for battle, demanded that they enter his assembly, and insisted that he would lead them on their march to the Capitol.

Surveillance footage that the committee plans to share was taken near the Ellipse the morning before Trump’s speech and shows throngs of his supporters gathered just outside the fenced-off area for his “Stop the Steal” rally. Secret Service officers screened those entering who sought to get closer to the scene. Law enforcement officials monitoring video that morning saw Trump supporters wearing plastic shields, bulletproof vests and other paramilitary gear, and some in the Secret Service concluded they were staying outside the rally area to avoid having their weapons confiscated, according to people who is familiar with the new. records.

Other internal emails, likely to be revealed at the hearing, further support accounts of staff members who warned Trump of the risk and then the reality of the violence that day as he continued to press nervous Secret Service agents to take him to the Capitol to join his supporters marching there, the three people said. After being warned that violence was breaking out at the Capitol when he returned to the White House, Trump tweeted criticism of Vice President Mike Pence for not blocking the certification of the election and whipping up supporters who had already trampled over security barricades and fought with the police to break into the halls of Congress.

The newly obtained Secret Service records are just one part of a larger hearing in which the committee hopes to summarize and remind the American public of all the ways in which Trump is said to have played a central role in fomenting a violent uprising at the Capitol, one of the most brutal attacks on democracy in American history, according to several people briefed on the evidence and the committee’s plan. While the committee’s previous hearings took center stage over several weeks this summer, the committee is trying to revive itself interest in its investigation and deliver what it has privately called its “closing arguments” about earlier and ongoing threats to democracy as voters prepare to vote next month in the midterm elections.

The hearing aims to highlight new evidence gathered by investigators that confirms the committee’s key findings about Trump and the Jan. 6 uprising, according to the people briefed on the matter: that he tried to incite his supporters to help block the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory ; used his bully pulpit to incite a fiery showdown at the Capitol; and then refused to budge to help save thousands of lawmakers, staffers and police officers on Capitol Hill who were either fleeing or fighting for their lives that afternoon.

It is unclear, however, whether the new material will shed any light on a particularly dramatic part of Hutchinson’s testimony, in which she recounted a senior Secret Service official telling her that Trump had burst into anger and lashed out at the leading security agent in his motorcade then told him he could not go to the Capitol.

Email raises questions about Trump’s plans

An email obtained by the committee highlights the level of alarm at Secret Service headquarters on Jan. 6 about the possibility that Trump would get his wish to go to the Capitol — and join an ongoing melee.

At 1:00 PM Eastern time that day, according to police testimony, hand-to-hand fighting broke out between protesters and officers on the steps and platforms immediately outside the Capitol. The Secret Service had just then offered to send reinforcements to help an overwhelmed US Capitol police force, according to texts and testimony from then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund.

The new correspondence obtained by the committee shows that while Trump was still speaking to supporters and announcing that he was going to the Capitol, Secret Service personnel in charge of transportation and field operations were scrambling to try to secure a safe motorcade for the president and his. follow, said two people briefed on the records. The Secret Service agents sought the help of the DC police to block the intersection. But with tens of thousands of protesters in downtown Washington, and DC police being sent to assist Capitol Police with protesters breaking through barricades, DC police denied the Secret Service’s request.

At about 1:10 p.m., Trump had left the Ellipse in his motorcade after finishing his speech and demanding to go to the Capitol. Trump’s chief of staff, Bobby Engel, who was riding with Trump in his sports car, told a furious Trump that they were on their way back to the White House and that it was not safe to take him to the Capitol, The Washington Post previously reported.

A guide to the biggest moments of the January 6 hearings so far

“We don’t have the assets,” Engel told Trump about the inability to secure safe passage for his motorcade, according to a Secret Service official briefed on Engel’s account. Around 1:20 p.m., Trump was back in the White House.

This is shown by one of the committee’s newly obtained documents sometime between At 1:30 and 2 p.m., a senior Secret Service supervisor for protective operations emailed Engel with an urgent update, seeking to know whether Trump’s plan to go to the Capitol was canceled. It came after a tumultuous hour for the Secret Service detail, which had effectively ignored a command from the president.

Even with Trump back in the White House, Secret Service headquarters wanted to be sure the president stayed put. The comptroller, Ron Rowe, warned Engel that the situation was rapidly evolving at the Capitol and sought Engel’s confirmation that he was not considering taking Trump there, according to a senior law enforcement official familiar with the records turned over to the committee . Rowe encouraged Engel to call him.

Rowe declined to comment, but Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Rowe’s email reflected the larger agency’s position: Trump’s idea of ​​going to the Capitol was a non-starter.

In other internal emails, agents relayed reports that Trump was angry to be told he could not go to the Capitol.

Some of the information, the people briefed said, calls into question the earlier testimony of Engel and Anthony Ornato, then a Secret Service executive who served in an unprecedented political role as White House deputy chief of staff. Both men told the committee behind closed doors that they could not recall certain events relayed by other witnesses, including Trump’s demand that the Secret Service let armed people into his rally.

After Hutchinson testified that Ornato told her Trump had lashed out at Engel inside the sports car they were traveling in, anonymous Secret Service sources said Engel and Ornato disputed any altercation and were prepared to say so under oath . The committee has yet to re-interview the two men as lawmakers sift through the additional volume of Secret Service records. Ornato and Engel, through a Secret Service spokesman, declined to comment.

How the committee got the documents

The large trove of records turned over to the committee on Jan. 6 is the result of an ironic twist of events, according to the people briefed on the documents. The same Secret Service that permanently deleted agents’ texts from January 6 and the surrounding days amid congressional requests last year has now provided the committee with this large volume of internal communications from the same time period. The agency has voluntarily released all records it kept of logistical planning, security concerns and private discussions related to the planned protests and the president’s movements.

This extensive sharing of records — more than 1 million pages worth and many not specifically requested by the committee — followed a period when the Secret Service came under fire for conducting an agency-wide destruction of all texts exchanged from agents’ phones in the key period. Federal rules mandate the preservation of government records, and the Secret Service’s deletion of those records prompted a federal investigation into whether it failed to do so. The texts were deleted from agents’ phones as part of a Secret Service-wide update of employees’ phones that began in January 2021. Secret Service officials have said the mass deletion of reams of potential evidence was accidental, and the agency’s phone provider has concluded , that texts are now impossible to restore.

Secret Service unable to recover January 6th related texts

The committee had considered sharing part of its videotaped interview with Ornato on a Earlier hearing, and it’s unclear whether lawmakers will do so Thursday. In part of his interview, Ornato described the briefing by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on the afternoon of January 6, according to two people briefed on his account. on detailed reports of violence breaking out at the Capitol, as well as police officers being transported to a hospital. The committee learned from other witnesses that Meadows then briefed Trump.

The hearing could build evidence that Trump took steps to escalate the conflict at the Capitol, despite being warned of escalating violence. Lawmakers on the committee have grown particularly suspicious of the agency’s transparency with congressional investigators as they have struggled to get some information they requested more than a year ago.

The committee’s hearing Thursday, likely the last before the release of the report, will also shed light on how aides to Trump — including chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon and Roger Stone, a longtime friend and former adviser — planned to declare victory regardless of the outcome of the 2020 presidential election , The Post previously reported. The House committee intends to show video footage of Stone shot by Danish filmmakers in the weeks before the Jan. 6 violence.

Another part of this week’s hearing is expected to focus on the continued threat of domestic extremism and political violence spawned by efforts to overturn the 2020 election, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The committee has continued to interview witnesses in the run-up to the final hearing, and it interviewed Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, the conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, last month. It is unclear whether the committee will use any of Thomas’ interview, which was only transcribed and not videotaped or recorded, said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) recently in an interview on MSNBC.

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