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Trump 'gleefully watched' while riots unfolded

July 22, 2022

The congressional committee investigating the mob attack on the US Capitol has said in its latest hearing that the former president refused to take action to stop his supporters, despite pleas from aides.

A video of former President Donald Trump played during the committee meeting.
The hearing provided a time frame of Trump's actions for over two hours as the riots unfolded Image: Al Drago/Pool via AP/picture alliance

The congressional committee investigating the January 6 riots on Thursday presented more evidence accusing former US President Donald Trump of deliberately choosing not to act as his supporters ransacked the US Capitol and threatened lawmakers with violence. 

In what is likely the final hearing until September, the committee documented the time frame from when Trump sent his supporters to the Capitol after a "stop the steal" rally, to when the president appeared in a video in front of the White House telling the mob to disperse, while praising them as "very special," some 187 minutes later. 

For two months, a bipartisan panel has held several televised hearings including live testimony by key witnesses and pre-recorded depositions as well as documents and footage presenting evidence of Trump's role in the assault on the US Capitol. 

The riot took place as lawmakers were certifying Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential election, which Trump to this day has refused to concede.

Trump 'chose not to act'

During Thursday's hearing, which was shown on prime-time television in the US, committee Chairman Bennie Thompson said Trump did "everything in his power to overturn the election" that he lost to Biden, including before and during the deadly Capitol attack.

"He lied, he bullied, he betrayed his oath," said Thompson.

Is Trump now likely to face legal consequences?

Representative Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the House's select committee said the mob "was accomplishing President Trump's purpose, so of course he didn't intervene."

"President Trump did not fail to act during the 187 minutes between leaving the Ellipse [rally] and telling the mob to go home — he chose not to act," he added. 

"The president didn't do very much but gleefully watch television during this time frame," Kinzinger said. 

Video footage shown at the proceedings showed how former Vice President Mike Pence hid in his ceremonial office on the second floor of the Senate as rioters pushed through the halls of the Capitol building. 

A previously unseen video was shown from the day after the riot, in which Trump appeared to resist saying the election was over.

"I don't want to say the election is over," he said. 

Former aides said Trump poured "gasoline on the fire" by condemning on Twitter about Pence's refusal to go along with his plan to stop the certification of Biden's victory. 

Trump has denied the accusations and dismissed the testimony provided by witnesses.

Where does the investigation go from here?

The panel has said it will provide additional evidence about Trump's confrontation with Secret Service agents who refused to drive him to the Capitol.

The panel said Trump did nothing to stop the deadly riot, despite pleas from aides, allies and his family.

High-ranking officials, including then-White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, testified on pre-recorded videotape that Trump watched television for hours during the Capitol riot in the White House dining room.

The witnesses said they did not see Trump making phone calls to cabinet heads, who could have aided in stopping the violence.

The panel is expected to resume hearings in September with more witnesses and information.

The committee cannot make criminal charges, although the US Justice Department is monitoring its work. As of now, it is unclear whether Trump or his top aides will face serious charges.

Select Committee: 'It's certainly not a kangaroo court' 

The Select Committee's widely televised hearings have presented evidence outlining what it contends was an intentional effort by Donald Trump and his closest allies to overturn the results of the 2020 US presidential election and halt the peaceful transfer of power

There is much speculation as to whether the US Department of Justice (DOJ) will in fact bring criminal charges. 

William Banks, a Professor of Constitutional Law at Syracuse University in New York, says two things will determine whether Attorney General Merrick Garland press charges — whether he finds it prudent given the current political climate, and whether he thinks the DOJ can prove Trump's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

"The attorney general is going to have to make a judgement call," Banks told DW. "I think the most likely charge, the one that's most straightforward and perhaps one that's easiest to prove, is that he [Trump] obstructed a congressional proceeding … That's a federal crime."

Banks says the DOJ must nevertheless prove, "the former president intended to break the law, that he wasn't merely exercising his his First Amendment rights … that he knew there was a law about obstructing Congress and he intended to break it." 

Constitutional scholar Banks also dismissed Trump and his GOP allies' attempts to delegitimize the Committee by deriding it as one-sided: "It's a bipartisan committee. There are seven Democrats and two Republicans. Republicans were invited to contribute an equal number of representatives or delegates to the Committee, and the leadership chose not to. There are two Republicans. It's certainly not a kangaroo court. The two Republicans have been very vocal in their participation."

Speaking to the significance of the hearings, Banks told DW: "These hearings have created a narrative … video, documentary evidence … from witnesses that will stand as a historical record of how close the nation came to a democratic crisis on that day."

Outtake: Trump refuses to say election is over

js,tg/wmr  (AP, Reuters)