The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Timeline: How Trump picked the rioters over his vice president

On the third day of former president Donald Trump’s impeachment trial on Feb. 11, Democrats made clear their intent to prevent future violence. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

This article has been updated.

Donald Trump’s last, desperate hope for clinging to the presidency on Jan. 6 was in the lawyers telling him that Mike Pence could simply reject the electoral votes submitted by the states were correct and that Pence, his ceaselessly loyal vice president for the previous four years, would do just that. As with so many other elements of Trump’s post-election plans, things got murky quickly after that, but, like a guy trying to cross a rickety bridge, the president was taking things one step at a time.

Trump’s two-part plan had two flaws: Trump’s attorneys were obviously wrong about Pence’s power, and Pence wasn’t inclined to violate his constitutional duty on the off chance that history wouldn’t regard him as a central figure in the collapse of democracy. So Pence announced that he would do what he had to: preside over the counting of electoral votes and, in so doing, finalize his ouster.

Before he could do that, though, a mob of rioters overran the Capitol, many of them enraged that Pence wouldn’t do what Trump had insisted he could. Pence was a central point of tension for those attempting to reverse the 2020 election by force, and Trump was the reason for that tension.

As Trump is tried by the Senate on a charge of inciting the violence that erupted that day, we’ve learned more about the interplay of Trump and Pence on Jan. 6. As the violent mob roamed the Capitol, where Pence was hiding, Trump goaded them on. The following timeline reveals that the most charitable assessment of Trump’s behavior that day was that he had complete disinterest in the safety of the man he’d twice chosen as his running mate.

The day began, as so many others did, with a tweet.

8:17 a.m. Trump tweets his insistence that Pence could simply stand in the way of the final count of the results of the presidential election.

“States want to correct their votes, which they now know were based on irregularities and fraud, plus corrupt process never received legislative approval. All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”

This wasn’t true, but it was neither the first untrue claim Trump had made about the election nor the first time he’d falsely suggested that Pence could single-handedly derail the election loss. It was a reminder, though, that all of Trump’s eggs were now in a basket being carried by the vice president.

Around 11:30 a.m. Trump and Pence speak by phone. Trump was about to give a speech from the Ellipse south of the White House to a large crowd of supporters. Pence was about to head to the Capitol to oversee the counting of electoral votes. It was Trump’s last attempt to cajole Pence into somehow obstructing that process.

You have a choice, Trump reportedly told Pence: “You can either go down in history as a patriot, or you can go down in history as a p----.”

The two wouldn’t talk again for days.

12 p.m. Trump begins speaking at the rally. He exhorts those in attendance to fight in his defense, twice encouraging them to march to the Capitol, something that wasn’t part of the planned activities for the day.

He mentions Pence multiple times.

12:05 p.m. During his speech, Trump mentions John Eastman, one of the lawyers who’d insisted that Pence could reject the electoral votes.

“John is one of the most brilliant lawyers in the country, and he looked at this and he said, ‘What an absolute disgrace that this can be happening to our Constitution,’ ” Trump said. “And he looked at Mike Pence, and I hope Mike is going to do the right thing, I hope so, I hope so. Because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election.”

All Pence had to do, Trump said, citing Eastman, was “send it back to the states to recertify and we become president and you are the happiest people.”

He mentions having spoken with Pence.

“I just spoke to Mike. I said, ‘Mike, that doesn’t take courage. What takes courage is to do nothing, that takes courage,’ ” Trump said. “And then we’re stuck with a president who lost the election by a lot and we have to live with that for four more years. We’re just not going to let that happen.”

12:15 p.m. Trump again claims that Pence can block his election loss.

“We’re going to have to fight much harder,” Trump said. “And Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us, and if he doesn’t, that will be a — a sad day for our country because you’re sworn to uphold our Constitution.”

About 12:30 p.m. Pence heads to the Capitol. Protesters have begun to gather outside.

12:37 p.m. Trump is still railing against Pence from the Ellipse.

States “want to recertify their votes,” he insists. “They want to recertify. But the only way that can happen is if Mike Pence agrees to send it back. Mike Pence has to agree to send it back.”

12:49 p.m. Trump’s speech nears its conclusion.

“The radical left knows exactly what they’re doing,” he says. “They’re ruthless, and it’s time that somebody did something about it. And Mike Pence, I hope you’re going to stand up for the good of our Constitution and for the good of our country. And if you’re not, I’m going to be very disappointed in you.”

The speech ends about 20 minutes later, with Trump again encouraging people to march to the Capitol.

1:02 p.m. Pence makes clear that he won’t obstruct the counting of electoral votes.

“Some believe that as Vice President, I should be able to accept or reject electoral votes unilaterally,” he writes in a letter posted on Twitter. “Others believe that electoral votes should never be challenged in a Joint Session of Congress. After a careful study of our Constitution, our laws, and our history, I believe neither view is correct.”

After Pence’s letter: At some point following the revelation that Pence wouldn’t block the electoral-vote count, members of the crowd learn about his decision.

“Once we found out Pence turned on us and that they had stolen the election, like officially, the crowd went crazy. I mean, it became a mob. We crossed the gate,” one of those later charged with breaching the Capitol later allegedly told the FBI. He added: “We just wanted to get inside the building. I wanted to get inside the building so I could plead the blood of Jesus over it. That was my goal.”

2:12 p.m. After breaking a window on the floor below the Senate chamber, rioters enter the Capitol.

As was Trump’s habit, he was reportedly watching coverage of the events on cable news, though the networks hadn’t yet reported that the building was breached. Interviews with those near the president in the White House suggest that Trump’s initial reaction was approval: The electoral vote counting was being impeded after all.

2:13 p.m. Pence, who had been overseeing the process of counting the electoral votes in the chamber, is removed by security agents.

About 2:15 p.m. Video shown during the impeachment trial on Wednesday included footage of the crowd outside the Capitol at about this time chanting, “Hang Mike Pence!”

2:15 p.m. Pence was evacuated from the Senate chamber to a small office across a short hallway from the chamber. Seconds later, a group of rioters reached the top of a staircase at the end of that hallway. Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman managed to draw the rioters away from the hallway — and, therefore, from Pence and the Senate chamber — and toward a group of police officers nearby.

Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman faced the mob that breached the U.S. Capitol on his own on Jan. 6. (Video: Igor Bobic/HuffPost via Storyful)

2:20 p.m. A reporter on Fox News Channel gives an on-air update from Constitution Avenue, between the White House and the Capitol.

“One of the big surprises, and all of the people I’ve talked to out here — of course, they got fired up listening to the president, but they’re getting the reaction now because many of them are just learning that Vice President Pence is not going to certify — to stop the certification,” Fox’s Griff Jenkins reports.

He stops one of the Trump supporters walking toward the Capitol.

“What’s your name, sir?” Jenkins asks.

“Matt, from Tampa, Florida,” the supporter replies.

“From Tampa. First, why did you come here?” Jenkins asks.

“Because President Trump told us we had something big to look forward to,” the supporter replies. “And I believed Vice President Pence was going to certify the electoral votes — or not certify them, but I guess that’s just changed, correct?”

Jenkins indicates that it has.

“It’s a very big disappointment,” the supporter continues. “I think there’s several hundred thousand people here that are very disappointed, but I still believe President Trump has something else left.”

2:24 p.m. Trump tweets about Pence.

“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”

At the same time, Fox News reports that rioters have breached the Capitol.

2:25 p.m. Pence and his family are evacuated further into the Capitol complex, according to video footage shown at the impeachment trial on Wednesday.

House impeachment managers played a previously unseen clip of security footage at the impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump on Feb. 10. (Video: House Impeachment Managers)

About the same time, a rioter outside the Capitol reads Trump’s tweet over a bullhorn.

2:26 p.m. Trump accidentally calls Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) while trying to reach newly elected Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.). After Lee passes his phone to Tuberville, Trump and Tuberville speak for several minutes, according to an interview Lee later gave the Deseret News. (He remained nearby, given that Tuberville was using his phone.)

Around 2:30 p.m. Tuberville ends his conversation with Trump.

“I said, ‘Mr. President, they just took the vice president out, I’ve got to go,” Tuberville told reporters Wednesday.

This appears to be the first moment at which Trump should have known about the danger posed to Pence. In his interview with the Deseret News, though, Lee said that “when he later asked Tuberville about the conversation, he got the impression that Trump didn’t know about the chaos going on in the Senate chamber.”

Another call that was intended for Tuberville (but that again was directed to Lee’s phone) by Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani focused on trying to further delay the counting of the electoral votes.

2:30 p.m. Senators are evacuated from the chamber.

(Video: TWP)

2:35 p.m. Fox News reporter Chad Pergram at the Capitol notes that Pence’s location is unknown.

“What we don’t know is where is Mike Pence, the vice president, right now?” Pergram reports. “He ostensibly is still in the building, was presiding over the joint session, which has been suspended for the time being. He is ostensibly somewhere in the building.”

2:47 p.m. Rioters reach the Senate chamber.

3:13 p.m. For the first time, Trump urges his supporters to avoid violence.

“I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order — respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!”

5:40 p.m. Police begin to clear the Capitol.

6:01 p.m. Trump tweets his tacit support for the day’s actions.

“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”

8:06 p.m. Congress reconvenes to complete the counting of electoral votes. The session begins with Pence offering his thoughts on the day’s violence.

“Today was a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol,” he says. “But thanks to the swift efforts of U.S. Capitol Police, federal, state and local law enforcement, the violence was quelled. The Capitol is secured, and the people’s work continues.

“We condemn the violence that took place here in the strongest possible terms,” he continued. He later went on to condemn those who’d engaged in the violence: “To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win. Violence never wins. Freedom wins. And this is still the people’s house. And as we reconvene in this chamber, the world will again witness the resilience and strength of our democracy, for even in the wake of unprecedented violence and vandalism at this Capitol, the elected representatives of the people of the United States have assembled again on the very same day to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

“Let’s get back to work,” he concluded.

A few hours later, Pence formally announced the results: He and Trump had lost their reelection bid.

The article was updated with more precise timing for the Tuberville call provided by a spokesman for Lee. Rosalind Helderman contributed to this report.