Newly released text messages that were sent on Jan. 6 to Mark Meadows, a former chief of staff in the Trump White House, have put a renewed focus on President Donald Trump’s failure to act quickly to stop the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol as it was unfolding, despite real-time pleas from lawmakers, journalists and even his eldest son.
At least half a dozen people reached out during the riot to Meadows to ask — in some cases, beg — Trump to intervene, according to text messages detailed this week by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the vice chair of the House select committee investigating the attack. The bipartisan panel is investigating the storming of the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob that tried to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral college win, a siege that resulted in five deaths and left some 140 members of law enforcement injured.
On Tuesday, Cheney read aloud texts that Republican members of Congress had sent Meadows on Jan. 6 after rioters breached the Capitol. The disclosures came as the House voted 222 to 208 to hold Meadows in criminal contempt of Congress for defying the committee’s subpoena, with just two Republicans joining Democrats in voting “yes.”
“It is really bad up here,” one said, according to Cheney. Others texted, “The president needs to stop this ASAP” and “Fix this now.”
The text messages were among thousands of documents related to Jan. 6, including other text messages and emails, that Meadows turned over to the committee before he abruptly stopped fully cooperating with the panel last week.
After the House vote, it will now be up to the Justice Department to decide whether to pursue charges against the former White House chief of staff as it did former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon for not cooperating with the panel. Contempt of Congress is a misdemeanor criminal offense that can result in up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
Meadows is a key figure in the panel’s investigation because he remained in close proximity to Trump during the time between the election and the attack, as the president tried to overturn the results and spread false claims of voter fraud.
During floor debate on the contempt resolution Tuesday, members of the Jan. 6 committee sought to portray Meadows as involved in or aware of all the plotting Trump and his allies were doing to keep him in power.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) read one message to Meadows from an unidentified sender regarding the possibility that Jeffrey Clark — the former acting head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, who appeared open to pursuing Trump’s attempts to overturn the election results — would replace Jeffrey Rosen, then the acting attorney general.
“I heard Jeff Clark is getting put in on Monday. That’s amazing. It will make a lot of patriots happy. And I’m personally so proud that you are at the tip of the spear and I could call you a friend,” Schiff said the Jan. 3 text read.
Most of the focus this week, however, has been on the fact that Meadows is one of a few people who may be able to provide insight into why Trump stayed silent for hours while the Capitol was ransacked by his supporters rather than call off the mob and then released a video hours later that praised the rioters even as he asked them to stop their offensive on Congress.
During a committee meeting Monday night, Cheney revealed several other texts to Meadows from Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham, Brian Kilmeade and Sean Hannity, all of whom have since downplayed the severity of the insurrection in their coverage. On Jan. 6, however, the urgency in their entreaties to Meadows was clear.
“Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home. This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy,” Ingraham wrote.
“Please get him on TV,” Kilmeade wrote, adding that the attack was “destroying everything you have accomplished.”
Hannity similarly asked Meadows if Trump could “make a statement” and “ask people to leave the Capitol.”
“As we saw last night, dozens of texts — including from Trump administration officials, from members of the press, from Donald Trump Jr. — urged immediate action by the president,” Cheney said Tuesday. “But we know hours passed with no action by the president to defend the Congress of the United States from an assault while we were trying to count electoral votes.”
Timestamps for the newly released text messages to Meadows are not yet publicly known, but from the moment the Capitol was breached at 2:11 p.m. on Jan. 6, Trump resisted calls to intervene for 187 minutes — more than three hours — while watching the riot play out on television. In the first two hours alone, the mob broke into both the House speaker’s office and the Senate chamber. Three rioters died in that time frame, and scores of police officers were assaulted, some with their own weapons, while dozens of lawmakers feared for their lives in hiding.
Through it all was a lack of action from Trump. In the first message Trump posted to Twitter after the Capitol was breached, he continued to blame Vice President Mike Pence for not blocking the certification of the 2020 election results. At the time, some in the mob outside the Capitol were chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” and Pence himself was being evacuated with his family to a secured location.
“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!” Trump tweeted at 2:24 p.m. that day.
At 2:38 p.m., Trump tweeted, “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!”
At some point after the 2:38 p.m. tweet, Trump Jr. texted Meadows with a frantic request for his father, according to messages read aloud Monday by Cheney.
“He’s got to condemn this s — t ASAP,” Trump Jr. wrote, according to Cheney. “The Capitol Police tweet is not enough.”
“I’m pushing it hard,” Meadows responded. “I agree.”
“We need an Oval Office address. He has to lead now,” Trump Jr. continued. “It has gone too far and gotten out of hand.”
At 2:45 p.m., Punchbowl News founder Jake Sherman also sent Meadows a series of text messages: “Do something for us … We are under siege in the cpaitol [sic] … There’s an armed standoff at the house chamber door … We’re all helpless …” Sherman said he never received a response, but the timing of his texts would indicate Meadows had been made further aware of the severity of the situation from someone inside the Capitol even after Trump’s second tweet.
At 3:13 p.m., Trump tweeted: “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!”
It would be more than an hour before Trump addressed the nation again, and it wouldn’t be until the worst of the attack had subsided. At 4:17 p.m., he posted a video to his Twitter account, telling rioters, “Go home. We love you, you’re very special.”
“I know your pain, I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us,” Trump said in the video, continuing to push his baseless claims that the 2020 election had been rigged against him. “But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order. We have to respect our great people in law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt. It’s a very tough period of time … So go home. We love you, you’re very special.”
A representative for Trump did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The Washington Post has previously reported that several other high-profile Republicans attempted to contact Trump or his closest aides during the insurrection to get him to call off the mob. Some of those included Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, former senior counselor Kellyanne Conway and former communications director Alyssa Farah, who told Meadows, “If someone doesn’t say something, people will die.” Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) also called Meadows to request help from the National Guard.
On Monday, Cheney said the newly revealed texts were “further evidence of President Trump’s supreme dereliction of duty during those 187 minutes.”
“Did Donald Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress’s official proceedings to count electoral votes?” Cheney said the committee was seeking to determine.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who initially said Trump “bears responsibility” for the Capitol attack, has since defended Trump’s response and downplayed the significance of a phone call he had with Trump during the siege.
Immediately after the insurrection, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) said McCarthy had relayed details of his call with Trump, noting Trump had “initially repeated the falsehood that it was antifa that had breached the Capitol.”
According to Herrera Beutler, after McCarthy told Trump it was his supporters storming the Capitol, Trump responded: “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.” Three months later, McCarthy claimed that Trump had been unaware of the attack until McCarthy called him to urge his supporters to go home.
On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters he was not personally in contact with Meadows or other White House officials on Jan. 6 to try to get Trump to call off the riot.
“But I do think we’re all watching, as you are, what’s unfolding on the House side, and it will be interesting to reveal all the participants that were involved,” said McConnell, who had worked to block the formation of an independent Jan. 6 commission in May.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday said it was not surprising some of Trump’s public boosters had been revealed to be among those who had privately begged him to tamp down the riot.
“Well, it’s disappointing and unfortunately not surprising that some of the very same individuals who are willing to warn, condemn and express horror over what happened on January 6 in private … were totally silent in public or even worse, were spreading lies and conspiracy theories and continue to, since that time,” Psaki said.