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Trump incited Capitol rioters, says House panel

July 13, 2022

US lawmakers accused Donald Trump of inciting a mob to attack the US Capitol in a last-ditch effort to remain in power. The January 6 committee said Trump aides knew he would call for a march on the Capitol.

The face of then-President Donald Trump appears on large screens
Trump supporters and staffers knew the president would urge them to march to the Capitol on January 6Image: John Minchillo/AP/picture alliance

Former US President Donald Trump tried to incite his followers to storm the US Capitol in a last-ditch bid to cling to power, the House of Representatives January 6 committee said on Tuesday.

The committee also presented evidence that Trump aides knew before the riot that Trump would urge thousands of his supporters to march on the Capitol that day as lawmakers certified Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential election.

The committee hearings have painstakingly built a case to show that Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election results constitute illegal conduct. The committee heard that Trump engaged in discussions that would have called for the military to seize states' voting machines. That idea was eventually discarded, the panel disclosed in its seventh session.

At the end of the hearing, Republican Representative Liz Cheney said Trump had tried to contact a person who was talking to the committee about potential testimony. Cheney said the Justice Department was informed about Trump's possible attempt to influence witness testimony. 

'Unhinged' meeting with aides

The House committee heard on Tuesday that late on December 18, 2020, Trump's private lawyers suggested bringing in the US military to seize state voting machines. This came amidst Trump's unsubstantianted claims of voter fraud. 

In a video testimony, Trump's White House counsel at the time, Pat Cipollone, recalled the meeting with Trump's legal team, which included attorneys Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, retired national security aide Michael Flynn, and Patrick Byrne, former head of the online retail company Overstock. Cipollone said he called the draft executive order to order the seizure of the voting machines a "terrible idea."

Another former White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson, called the meeting "unhinged" in a separate video testimony.

White House officials, including Cipollone, scrambled to intervene. The meeting erupted in shouting, another aide testified.

The next morning Trump tweeted to his supporters to come to Washington on January 6, when Congress would certify the Electoral College results.

"Be there. Will be wild," his tweet said.

The committee provided evidence that this tweet galvanized militant groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, as other supporters advised people to bring body armor, shields and pepper spray to the Capitol on January 6.

Second rally was planned

The committee revealed that Trump supporters and staffers knew beforehand that the president would urge them to march to the Capitol on January 6.

"Trump is supposed toorder us to the Capitol at the end of his speech," wrote Ali Alexander, an organizer of the rally outside the White House, in a text message on January 5.

A draft Twitter message from the then-president that never was sent referred to the upcoming speech. "Please arrive early, massive crowds expected. March to the Capitol after. Stop the Steal!" It was stamped "President has seen."

On January 5, 2021, Trump talked twice with former top adviser Steve Bannon, said the committee. A video showed him saying, "All hell is going to break loose tomorrow," as he referred to a "point of attack" that would be "quite extraordinarily different."

Meanwhile, Trump aides also secretly planned for a second rally stage there on the day of the attack outside the Capitol complex across from the Supreme Court.

Previously, on January 4, rally organizer Kylie Kremer texted Trump ally Mike Lindell, MyPillow CEO: "This stays only between us, we are having a second stage at the Supreme Court again after the Ellipse. POTUS is going to have us march there/the Capitol."

Kremer warned that if the information got out, others would try to sabotage the plans and the organizer "will be in trouble" with the National Park Service and other federal agencies.

'As if a mob was being organized'

The committee also played audio testimony from a former employee of Twitter talking about Trump's December tweet who said, "It felt as if a mob was being organized and they were gathering together their weaponry and their logic and their reasoning behind why they were prepared to fight."

Stephen Ayres, a participant in the riot, testified that Trump's speech prompted him to head to the Capitol. He also apologized to Capitol police officers after telling lawmakers that he regrets being duped by the former president's false claims of election fraud.

"Basically, the president got everybody riled up, told everybody to come on down. So, we basically would just follow what he said," Ayres said. Ayres added that he left the scene after Trump tweeted asking his supporters to stop the riot.

About 800 people have been charged with taking part in the Capitol riot, with about 250 guilty pleas so far. 

ss/sms (AP, AFP, Reuters)