The House Jan. 6 select committee on Thursday held what is expected to be its final hearing focused on new evidence gleaned from its investigation.
We’ve known that the likes of Roger Stone and Stephen K. Bannon were talking about this well before Election Day. And news outlets had reported at the time that Trump might do it. But on Thursday, the committee added to the publicly available evidence.
In taped testimony, a top aide to Vice President Mike Pence, Greg Jacob, acknowledged that the possibility had felt imminent enough that Pence’s aides discussed how to deal with it.
Jacob said fellow aide Marc Short “was trying to figure out a way of avoiding the vice president being thrust into needing to opine on that.”
The committee also shared an email from Tom Fitton, head of the conservative group Judicial Watch, to White House aides Dan Scavino and Molly Michael. The email was dated Oct. 31 — days before Election Day — and featured the words “We had an election today — and I won.” It suggested that Trump should claim that the ballots “counted by the Election Day deadline” showed he had won.
In a follow-up email, from Nov. 3, Fitton indicated he had spoken with Trump about the matter: “Just talked to him about the draft below.”
The idea was ridiculous. There is no Election Day deadline for ballots to be counted. In fact, the ballot-counting process regularly takes much longer. But pretty much everyone knew that Trump’s strength on in-person voting — vs. President Biden’s strength on later-counted mail-in votes — would create a “red mirage” of Trump holding a lead on election night.
In other words, claiming the deadline existed was a great way to mislead people and foment outrage.
Committee member Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) summarized: “It was a plan concocted in advance to convince his supporters that he won."
2. Hutchinson adds to evidence Trump knew he lost
Previous hearings had focused on all the witnesses testifying that Trump was told his voter-fraud claims were false.
On Thursday, the committee made an additional argument: Trump occasionally, privately admitted that he lost the election — and still pressed forward with publicly claiming it had been stolen.
The committee played a never-before-seen clip from one of its star witnesses, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson. She said that after the Supreme Court declined to overturn the election in December 2020, she witnessed a conversation in which Trump asked chief of staff Mark Meadows to do something.
According to Hutchinson, Trump said something to the effect of: “I don’t want people to know we lost, Mark. This is embarrassing. Figure it out. We need to figure it out. I don’t want people to know that we lost.”
Hutchinson noted that this wasn’t a verbatim quote, but she said twice that Trump had spoken in terms that indicated that he knew he’d lost.
She added that, at another point, Meadows told her of Trump: “He knows it’s over. He knows he lost. But we’re going to keep trying. There’s some good options out there.”
Former Trump White House aide Alyssa Farah Griffin also testified to this effect.
The committee also revealed that Trump had signed an order Nov. 11, 2020, requesting the immediate removal of troops from Somalia and Afghanistan — and that the withdrawal be completed by Jan. 15, 2021, before Biden’s inauguration. This was an acknowledgment, they said, that he knew the truth about his loss and was trying to conclude any unfinished business.
Committee member Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said at the outset of the hearing that nobody should accept that Trump was deluded and sincerely thought he won.
“Claims that President Trump actually thought the election was stolen are not supported by fact and are not a defense,” Cheney said. “There is no defense that Donald Trump was duped or irrational.”
3. More evidence Trump might’ve approved of rioters
Somewhat relatedly, the committee played new evidence corroborating the idea that Trump might have approved of what the rioters were doing — or at least that he sought to use it as leverage.
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) has previously said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told people that, as he pleaded for Trump to call off the rioters, the president responded, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”
McCarthy has been tight-lipped about that conversation. But former Trump White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney testified to the committee that, shortly after Jan. 6, McCarthy personally recounted to him much the same exchange. “I had a conversation at some point in the day or week after the riot with Kevin McCarthy,” Mulvaney said. “It was very similar to what Jamie had, the conversation she had retold.”
The committee has presented other evidence that Trump might have liked the scenes at the Capitol, including former White House counsel Pat Cipollone awkwardly responding to questions about whether Trump actually wanted the rioters to go home. (The committee played that clip for the second time Thursday.)
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said publicly that Trump was “walking around the White House confused about why other people on his team weren’t as excited as he was.”
4. The committee leans in on the Secret Service
Toward the end of the hearing, the committee focused on a trove of new information from the Secret Service that it had received since its last hearing.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) pointed to multiple documents showing that agents expressed concerns about the Jan. 6 rally more than a week before. In records of internal Secret Service chatter, there were discussions of social media posts in which rallygoers said they planned to bring weapons.
He said that this not only reinforces that Trump would’ve been informed of such threats and directed people to march to the Capitol anyway — which Hutchinson testified to — but that this called into question previous testimony from Secret Service and White House witnesses, who said that they hadn’t received information suggesting that the officials under their protection were in danger.
“Evidence strongly suggests that this testimony is not credible,” Schiff said.
Schiff didn’t name names, but it seems possible the comments were aimed at then-Secret Service agent and Trump White House official Anthony M. Ornato. Sources close to Ornato had previously disputed testimony from former White House aide Hutchinson about what Ornato had told her about that day.
The committee also played video of Trump praising the Secret Service during his Jan. 6 speech on the Ellipse. The implication seemed to be that perhaps certain members of the Secret Service might have been too close to Trump. That’s something Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) has also gestured in the direction of — particularly with regard to Pence’s refusal to get into a Secret Service vehicle that day.
Later, Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) emphasized that the committee would continue to investigate matters related to the Secret Service documents it obtained.
5. The vote to subpoena Trump
At the start of the proceedings, Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) noted this would not technically be a hearing, but rather committee business. This committee intended to vote on taking further investigative action.
That action turned out to be a subpoena of Trump himself, which was approved unanimously by the committee.
The significance of that isn’t clear. Some incumbent and former presidents have testified to Congress, but Trump will likely resist testifying, which would force the committee into a lengthy process of trying to compel his testimony. That kind of timeline wouldn’t really comport with its intent to release a report before the end of the year. (That timeline is important, given that Republicans could retake the House after the midterm elections and shut down the committee.)
It seems more likely that this is more a matter of course. It’s the committee saying, “We gave the former president the chance to defend himself” ahead of its final report, and emphasizing that he declined to do so.