The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Even on Jan. 7, Trump declined to say the rioters didn’t represent him

In a draft document, he also appeared to remove a reference to the rioters ‘not represent[ing] our movement’

New testimony released by the Jan. 6 select committee on July 25 shows that President Donald Trump edited portions of his speech on Jan. 7, 2021. (Video: The Washington Post)
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In the immediate aftermath of the attack at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, there seemed to be broad consensus on at least one point: The supporters of President Donald Trump who had actually committed the acts of violence deserved criticism and punishment under the law. Discussions about Trump’s culpability and how to ensure an orderly transition of power were the focus on Jan. 7 in part because — beyond one particularly shoddy assertion — there was little interest in defending the rioters or downplaying their involvement.

In a video released Monday by Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), a member of the House select committee investigating the riot, we get a hint that this was not necessarily a universal sentiment. It includes an image of a draft of the speech that Trump recorded on that day — the one where he struck a reference to the election being over, we learned last week. The new image includes other omissions, like a strike-through of a line about prosecutions against the rioters.

And then, more tellingly, a crossed-out line in which Trump would have said that the rioters didn’t represent him or his movement.

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We don’t know with certainty that the strike-throughs shown in the document (as below) came from Trump. But there is strong evidence to suggest they did. First, the lines crossing out proposed elements of his speech were done in what appears to be black Sharpie marker — long Trump’s preferred writing instrument. What’s more, the note added to the document appears to be in Trump’s own handwriting, as confirmed by his daughter Ivanka in Luria’s video.

Then, of course, there are the changes themselves.

As drafted, the beginning of Trump’s speech would have been as follows:

“Good afternoon. I would like to begin today by addressing the heinous attack yesterday on the United States Capitol. Like all Americans, I am outraged and sickened by the violence, lawlessness and mayhem. I immediately deployed the National Guard and federal law enforcement to secure the building and expel the intruders.
“America is, and must always be, a nation of law and order.
“The demonstrators who infiltrated the Capitol have defiled the seat of American Democracy. I am directing the Department of Justice to ensure all lawbreakers are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We must send a clear message — not with mercy but with JUSTICE. Legal consequences must be swift and firm.
“To those who engaged in acts of violence and destruction, I want to be very clear: you do not represent me. You do not represent our movement. You do not represent our country. And if you broke the law, you belong in jail.
“We have just been through an intense election and emotions are high. But now, tempers must be cooled and calm restored.”

Instead, as delivered, the speech went like this:

“I would like to begin by addressing the heinous attack on the United States Capitol. Like all Americans, I am outraged by the violence, lawlessness and mayhem. I immediately deployed the National Guard and federal law enforcement to secure the building and expel the intruders.
“America is, and must always be, a nation of law and order.
“The demonstrators who infiltrated the Capitol have defiled the seat of American democracy.
“To those who engage in the acts of violence and destruction: you do not represent our country, and to those who broke the law: you will pay.
“We have just been through an intense election and emotions are high, but now tempers must be cooled and calm restored.”

No more “sickened” by the violence. No more “you do not represent me.” No more “prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” If you were trying to rewrite the original draft to demonstrate as much sympathy as possible with the rioters, this gets you most of the way there. That the changes in the final version comport with the edits in the document published by Luria, of course, reinforces the likelihood that they reflect Trump’s intent. (That he kept a false claim about the National Guard does, as well.)

It’s not clear who wrote the original draft. In the video released by Luria, though, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, mentions working on such a speech.

“I spoke to Miller,” Kushner said — presumably referring to aide Stephen Miller, who wrote many of Trump’s speeches — “about trying to put together some draft remarks for Jan. 7 that we were going to present to the president to try to say. We felt like it was important to further call for de-escalation.” Trump had no changes for calls for “tempers to be cooled and calm restored” — perhaps because, as White House staffer Cassidy Hutchinson suggests in Luria’s video, there was an unprecedented push for Trump to be removed from office.

While the changes to the draft document appear to have been made by Trump and certainly reflect what we might have expected from the president at that time, it’s worth thinking of them not as subtractive but as additive. What does Trump’s decision to make those specific changes add to our understanding of his state of mind less than 24 hours after the riot?

He didn’t want to say he was sickened, which is admittedly hard to parse given that he did admit to being “outraged.” But he also didn’t want to suggest that those who’d engaged in the violence would face retribution from law enforcement, a revision that comports with reporting that suggests Trump considered simply pardoning those involved. (In speeches given more recently, as opinion within his party toward the riot has softened, he’s said that he would offer pardons to some of those who entered the Capitol.)

Then those most significant changes: his decision not to distance himself from what the rioters represented. They were clearly there and engaged in the effort to disrupt the counting of electoral votes underway that day on his behalf. They clearly did represent at least some part of Trump’s political movement. In refusing to distance himself from them, Trump repeated the pattern he had begun the day before: treating the rioters with respect if not explicit appreciation. He knew why they were there as well as anybody and, on Jan. 7, didn’t want them to think that he was disowning them.

This comports with another theory of Trump’s response to the riot. Perhaps he wanted to keep the door open. Perhaps his efforts in the hours after the Capitol was cleared were meant to simply smooth out a political rough patch while maintaining his years-long focus in telling his base what it wanted to hear. Perhaps he thought there still might be a path to retaining office that demanded the assistance of his most fervent supporters. After all, there was no reason to think his plot on Jan. 6 would work, but he tried it anyway. Why wouldn’t he think something else might emerge?

Kushner’s point was that the moment called for de-escalation. As edited, Trump’s speech called for everyone to chill out — but he chose not to distance himself from the allies who most needed to hear that message.

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