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4 takeaways from the Jan. 6 hearing on Trump’s actions — and inaction

On July 21 the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack outlined a detailed account of President Trump’s defiant inaction during the riot. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post, Photo: Tom Brenner/The Washington Post)

The Jan. 6 hearings on Thursday night finally dealt with one of the most central but least-understood aspects of that day: what President Donald Trump was up to while his supporters waged an attack on the U.S. Capitol in his name, seeking to return him to office by force.

The hearing featured live testimony from former White House aides Matthew Pottinger and Sarah Matthews, along with further details of former White House counsel Pat Cipollone’s videotaped testimony.

Below, some takeaways.

1. Cipollone’s significant timeline

Former White House counsel Pat Cipollone testified to the Jan. 6 select committee that President Donald Trump waited hours to call off rioters on Jan. 6. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

We received the long-awaited, more detailed testimony from Cipollone, and it didn’t disappoint.

Cipollone offered a timeline of events that day that, at the least, reinforces just how derelict Trump was.

Because the White House itself has been something of a black box, there have been questions about just how quickly Trump appreciated the gravity of the situation on Jan. 6 — particularly how much he knew about the violence when he tweeted attacking Vice President Mike Pence at 2:24 p.m., while rioters were in the Capitol.

Cipollone said he personally learned the gravity of the situation before rioters had entered the Capitol — something that transpired around 2:15 p.m. Crucially, he said his and other staffers’ push for a strong statement to quell the violence began as early as around 2 p.m.

He declined to comment on conversations with Trump, citing executive privilege, but said he repeatedly and forcefully pushed for this inside the White House.

“I think I was pretty clear there needed to be an immediate and forceful response — statement, public statement — that people need to leave the Capitol,” Cipollone said.

His timeline would mean that two or more hours passed before Trump’s 4:17 p.m. video telling people to go home. And it places the consternation before many of the text messages we’ve seen from White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows’s phone.

And Cipollone repeatedly sought to emphasize he wasn’t the only one making the case in the intervening two hours.

“Just to be clear, many people suggested it — not just me,” he said. “Many people felt the same way.”

He confirmed they included Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, White House lawyer Eric Herschmann and Meadows.

The committee also cited an unnamed witness who said Trump knew about the violence even earlier — 11 minutes after his speech on the Ellipse. But Cipollone might be the best evidence yet that people were calling for action extremely early in the insurrection.

2. Cipollone’s striking, strained no comment

Former White House counsel Pat Cipollone said he couldn't reveal privileged communications when asked if President Donald Trump wanted Jan. 6 rioters to leave. (Video: The Washington Post)

While that Cipollone testimony was perhaps more explicitly damaging, another portion of his testimony arguably spoke louder — with his struggling silence.

At one point, Cipollone was asked if anyone on White House staff didn’t want the rioters to go home. “On the staff?” he responded. Committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said she wanted to know about anybody “in the White House.” Cipollone said he couldn’t “think of anybody” who didn’t want that. Then the committee members asked him about one other person: Trump himself.

Then came the awkwardness.

Cipollone said he understood the question to be about White House staff, which it initially was, but Cheney indeed clarified it was about anybody in the White House. He was then asked directly about Trump. Cipollone hemmed and hawed, unsure of answering the question. He talked about whether it might be privileged, conferring with his lawyer. He seemed to want to give his view — but struggled with whether to do it. “I can’t reveal communications,” he said, “but obviously I think in my …” he paused, looking toward his counsel again. Not appearing to get any verbal guidance, he concluded, “Yeah.”

It would seem relatively straightforward for Cipollone to give his perception of Trump’s feelings, leaving any personal conversations aside. And he seemed to genuinely want to. He also could have said his perception was that Trump didn’t like the riot.

But he wouldn’t — or couldn’t — say it.

3. Trump wouldn’t give in, even on Jan. 7

Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson said Ivanka Trump tried to convince President Donald Trump to condemn the rioters. (Video: The Washington Post)

The committee played new evidence — previewed by The Washington Post this week — that even the day after the riot, Trump pointedly declined to admit his loss.

In new outtakes of a video Trump recorded on Jan. 7, he read a script that said “this election is now over.” But he said he preferred to merely say the election had been certified by Congress.

I don’t want to say the election’s over,” Trump said. “I just want to say Congress has certified the results, without saying the election’s over, okay?”

Ivanka Trump cut in to suggest that Congress certifying the results meant it was indeed over.

Trump’s actions in the 4:17 p.m. video released on Jan. 6 — and even that night — made clear he wasn’t going to completely let go of his stolen-election talk. He tweeted about 6 p.m. saying, “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.”

But this footage shows him just a day after the carnage on Jan. 6, when the dust had settled, balking at explicitly admitting the election had ended.

Similarly, Matthews testified that White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told her Trump “did not want to include any sort of mention of peace” in a tweet Trump was being urged to send the afternoon of Jan. 6. She said Ivanka Trump prevailed upon him to include “Stay peaceful.”

Certainly, it all underscores that Trump simply didn’t view what happened that day in the way that virtually everyone else did.

4. Driving it home with McCarthy and McConnell

The witnesses Thursday night were Pottinger and Matthews. But throughout the hearing, two other Republicans unwittingly played prominent roles. And they happened to be the GOP leaders of the House and Senate.

Cheney began the hearing by noting — correctly — that in the days after Jan. 6, virtually no Republicans actually defended Trump. In fact, even many who voted against impeachment sharply criticized Trump.

And videos of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) were played to drive that home. Both faulted Trump for failing to quell the violence when it began. McCarthy said, “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters” because he didn’t act “immediately.” McConnell said, “It was obvious that only President Trump could end this” because people were acting on Trump’s behalf. (McConnell also faulted Trump for inflaming supporters with false voter-fraud claims.)

Cheney summarized that “McConnell reached those conclusions based on what he knew then, without any of the much more detailed evidence you will see today.” She added of McCarthy, perhaps needling the guy who helped push her out of GOP leadership for criticizing Trump over Jan. 6: “Their own Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, was scared.”

The committee would repeatedly return to the words of both Republican leaders, who roundly criticized Trump on the floors of their respective chambers.

This whole sequence reinforced how Republicans turned on a dime. It can be easy to forget just how strongly the GOP lawmakers (if not the party base) criticized Trump. As the committee got around to describing Trump’s actions that day, it sought to emphasize that GOP leaders saw the matter as pretty cut-and-dried a year and a half ago — when we knew considerably less.

The Jan. 6 insurrection

Congressional hearings: The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol held a series of high-profile hearings to share its findings with the U.S. public. What was likely to be the panel’s final public hearing has been postponed because of Hurricane Ian. Here’s a guide to the biggest hearing moments so far.

Will there be charges? The committee could make criminal referrals of former president Donald Trump over his role in the attack, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said in an interview.

What we know about what Trump did on Jan. 6: New details emerged when Hutchinson testified before the committee and shared what she saw and heard on Jan. 6.

The riot: On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. Five people died on that day or in the immediate aftermath, and 140 police officers were assaulted.

Inside the siege: During the rampage, rioters came perilously close to penetrating the inner sanctums of the building while lawmakers were still there, including former vice president Mike Pence. The Washington Post examined text messages, photos and videos to create a video timeline of what happened on Jan. 6.