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The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

☕ The Early 202: ‘I don’t want to say the election’s over.’ Jan. 6 committee wraps up hearings, for now.

The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

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Good morning, Early Birds. This weekend will be brutal 🥵 – cool readers send tips: earlytips@washpost.com. Thanks for waking up with us.

In today’s edition Mike Pence seeks distance from Donald Trump as he considers 2024 presidential run … What President Biden's catching covid says about his approach to the pandemic … The Bannon trial could wrap up today … but first …

On the Hill

'I don't want to say the election is over.'

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol sought to piece together the three-hour-and-seven minute gap during which President Donald Trump was nowhere to be seen or heard publicly while the Capitol was being overrun by his supporters seeking to disrupt the counting of the electoral votes.

The committee offered new details about that day but didn’t fully answer questions about the president's actions during the 187 minutes from when Trump called on his followers to march on the Capitol to the release of a video in the late afternoon telling them to go home. But the committee did make the case “he chose not to act.”

Live testimony from two former aides, Sarah Matthews and Matt Pottinger, both of whom resigned on Jan. 6, painted a picture of a president unwilling to call off the rioters and frustration among staff at his resistance. 

For much of the time, the president was holed up in the White House’s Executive Dining Room, watching Fox News and calling an unspecified number of senators, according to the committee.

Trump “was calling senators to encourage them to delay or object to the certification,” Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) said. But former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told investigators in a recorded interview that she didn’t know which senators Trump called.

It was already known that Trump mistakenly called Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) when trying to reach Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) as the Senate was evacuating the Senate chamber. The committee played a clip of a TV interview Tuberville gave more than a year ago describing the call.

The most illuminating part of the nearly three-hour hearing was more never-before-seen footage of scenes from the Capitol that day, as well as outtakes of Trump reluctantly taping a message at 4 p.m. on Jan. 6 and his recorded preparations for remarks on Jan. 7 in which he resisted saying the election was over. 

Committee Chair Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) announced Thursday night’s hearing — its eighth in recent weeks and only the second broadcast in prime time — won’t be the last. More hearings are planned for September.

Trump blasted the hearing and witnesses during the event on his social network, Truth Social, and his spokesman called the investigation a “distraction” from Democrats’ “failures” in a statement Thursday night.

The committee’s investigation and hearings are inching closer to the midterm elections and could coincide with Trump announcing another run for president, which The Post has reported could come as early as September. The hearings and a potential 2024 announcement could put Trump front of mind of voters at a time when Republicans had hoped to keep the spotlight on President Biden. 

Here are some of the highlights from Thursday night's hearing

  • New audio of Pence’s Secret Service detail: Never-before-heard radio communications showed just how dire the situation was for Vice President Mike Pence as rioters entered the Capitol. “We need to move now,” an agent said. “If we lose any more time, we may lose the ability to do so.”
  • New video of McConnell and Schumer: Never-before-seen video showed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell inside a secure location on the phone with acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller asking when the building could be secured so they could finish counting the electoral votes.
  • Trump calling it a day: After Trump reluctantly recorded a video shortly after 4 p.m. on Jan. 6 repeating the falsehood that the election was stolen and eventually telling his supporters to go home, the committee showed testimony of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner saying he “was basically retiring for the day” and Trump senior adviser Eric Herschmann saying the day was over because everyone was “emotionally drained.” Law enforcement, meanwhile, were still fighting off rioters and the Capitol was not cleared for at least another hour. Trump went to the dining room and at 6:27 p.m. he went to the residence where he told a staffer, “Mike Pence let me down,” according to committee member Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.)
  • Trump can’t say the election is over: The committee showed outtakes of an address to the nation on Jan. 7 where Trump was supposed to say the election is over and Congress has certified the election. But Trump, in conversation with those around him, said “I don’t want to say the election is over.”
  • Trump wouldn’t mention “peace” in tweet: “The president did not want to include any sort of mention of peace in that tweet,” Matthews said she was told by McEnany on the afternoon of Jan. 6, our colleague Josh Dawsey noted. He only agreed after Ivanka Trump intervened, Matthews said she was told. Trump ultimately sent the tweet, which urged “everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful” but did not ask his supporters to leave.
  • Hawley running: Luria showed the famous photo of Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) raising his fist as he walked past Trump supporters outside the Capitol on the morning of Jan. 6. Then she showed never-before-seen footage of Hawley running through the Capitol after rioters breached the building. Josh reported that laughter rippled through the audience in the hearing room as the video played.
  • McCarthy furious: The committee went into great detail about the actions of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Jan. 6 and the days after. It showed news reports of him calling on Trump to call off his supporters, played video of Kushner saying McCarthy called him to ask for help and that he got the sense McCarthy and others were “scared,” and played a recording of House Republican leaders, first reported by the New York Times, where McCarthy contemplates asking Trump to resign. The clear intent was to highlight that the concern expressed by McCarthy in the immediate aftermath of the attack stands in contrast to his actions since. He visited with Trump in Mar-a-Lago just three weeks after Jan. 6 and has since attempted to maintain a close relationship with the former president.
  • Attempt to corroborate Secret Service incident: The committee also sought to bolster the testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows who testified at a hearing last month that Trump was furious his Secret Service detail would not allow him to go to the Capitol following his speech on the ellipse. The committee offered new evidence about Trump's anger from two witnesses: an anonymous former White House employee with national security responsibilities and Mark Robinson, a retired D.C. police officer who was in Trump’s motorcade on Jan. 6. In a recorded interview, Robinson said that Trump “was upset and was adamant about going to the Capitol and there was a heated discussion about that.” But neither corroborated more dramatic details provided by Hutchinson, who said she was told by Anthony Ornato, Trump’s deputy chief of staff, that Trump lunged at a Secret Service officer and tried to grab the wheel of the presidential SUV when he was told the driver wouldn’t take him to the Capitol.

House Republicans, attempting to push back against the committee, were forced to delete two tweets Thursday night. One was an attack against Matthews, who started her career on Capitol Hill as an intern for House Speaker John A. Boehner, calling her “liar and pawn” of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Republicans and friends defended Matthews on Twitter.

The campaign

Pence seeks distance from Trump as he considers 2024 presidential run

‘His own man’: “Hours after House Republicans applauded him in Washington for having refused Trump’s undemocratic demands, former vice president Mike Pence took the stage at a South Carolina church Wednesday night to tell the faithful about his next political battle,” our colleagues Michael Scherer, Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey report.

  • “We find ourselves at a turning point in American history,” Pence preached to about 1,500 parishioners at the Florence Baptist Temple. “The Bible tells us, without a vision, the people perish.”
  • “The vision Pence offered, suffused with scripture and calls to political action, sounded like the stump speech of a presidential candidate seeking evangelical votes in the South’s first primary state. He spoke about the next steps in the fight against abortion — now that the Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade — reforming the tax code and the alleged immoderation of Democrats. When he mentioned his time in the White House, he made no direct mention of the former president.”
  • “A six-term congressman and former governor of Indiana, Pence spent nearly five years as Trump’s obsequious sidekick — a quiet badge of conservative credibility next to the volatile political newcomer, always ready with a display of fealty or a look of solemn assent. But in the 18 months since the two men split, Pence has flipped a switch, returning to the path he was on before he began praising Trump in their private chats on the golf course. Pence wants everyone to know that he is once again his own man — and his team is looking to reintroduce him ahead of a possible 2024 presidential bid.”

At the White House

Biden and covid: Return-to-normal, interrupted

“The Biden administration’s refrain that Americans fully vaccinated and boosted against the coronavirus could safely resume their lives is now being tested on the First Patient, the 79-year-old leader of the free world, who made a point Thursday of publicly working through his illness,” our colleague Dan Diamond writes.

  • “If Biden emerges quickly from his bout with covid-19, it will be a high-profile demonstration of his broader vow: A return to normalcy is possible thanks to vaccines and treatments, despite surging cases and the ongoing pandemic.”
  • “But if the president should be sick for an extended period or, worse, fall gravely ill, he’ll join many other Americans who have struggled to remain healthy in a world with scant mask-wearing and social distancing, and fuel further criticism that his virus strategy falls short, especially for the most vulnerable.”

What we're watching

Pence and Trump are both expected to travel to Arizona today to stump for rival gubernatorial candidates – former developer and Republican lobbyist Karrin Taylor Robson and former TV anchor Kari Lake, respectively. 

Closing arguments are scheduled today in the contempt of Congress trial of former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon. After that, the case is expected to go to the 12-member jury who could also deliver a verdict today.

  • U.S. District Judge Carl J. Nichols “has said he will wait until jurors return a verdict or are discharged before ruling on a defense motion challenging two issues: whether prosecutors have met their burden of proof, and the judge’s rejection of a defense request to call as a witness Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), the chairman of the House Jan. 6 committee,” per our colleagues Devlin Barrett and Spencer Hsu.

The Media

Weekend reeeads

Viral

How it started/How it went

Thanks for reading. You can also follow us on Twitter: @LACaldwellDC and @theodoricmeyer.

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