As a violent mob of his supporters smashed windows to enter the US Capitol building on January 6, 2021, then-President Donald Trump did nothing.
While members of Congress and his Vice President, Mike Pence, were forced to flee for their safety, Trump did nothing.
While members of Pence’s security department radioed their colleagues to tell their families they love them, Trump did nothing.
In the House Select Committee’s final summer hearing investigating the Jan. 6 attack, the focus was on Trump’s inaction for more than three hours during the violence on Capitol Hill. After eight hearings detailing everything Trump had done leading up to the attack and calling it potentially criminal, the committee spent this latest hearing focusing on what the former president failed to do — and the presented as a moral failure.
It’s no secret that the Jan. 6 committee used the hearings, in part, to lay out an argument that Trump could be held liable for criminal charges. In a court filing in March, the committee suggested it had enough evidence to conclude that “the president and his campaign members engaged in a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States.” Members of the committee, including the vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney, said the Justice Department should not hesitate to prosecute Trump if a lawsuit is warranted. And the hearings have sparked endless speculation about what crimes, if any, the former president may be charged with. While it’s ultimately up to the Justice Department (which is conducting its own Jan. 6 investigation) to decide whether charges are warranted, the committee has been making its case over the past few months.
But it is difficult to prove that inaction constitutes a crime. And so on Thursday, the committee tried to present a different case. The committee focused on evidence showing that everyone around Trump that day — his aides, lawyers, and even his children — had urged him to speak out, condemn the violence, and tell the rioters to go home. The committee shared an assortment of text messages sent to Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, by Republican members of Congress, Fox News hosts and Trump’s son, Don Jr., all urging him to persuade the president to condemn violence. Trump eventually did, issuing a public statement asking the rioters to return home peacefully, though he also added, “We love you. You are very special.
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There were repeated references to oaths throughout the hearing — Trump’s oath of office, the oath taken by members of his cabinet, the oaths taken by members of law enforcement and Congress. – and the dereliction of duty that results from the breach of these oaths. The committee juxtaposed Trump’s inaction with other leaders who, as Rep. Elaine Luria said, “honoured their oath” that day. Pence worked to try to mobilize the military and law enforcement on Capitol Hill. Senate Leaders Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, as revealed in never-before-seen video, worked together on a call with Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller to determine how quickly they could resume the joint session and complete the vote count .
But in case the target of the panel’s criticism was not obvious, panel members didn’t mince words as the hearing drew to a close. Representative Adam Kinzinger called Trump’s inaction on Jan. 6 a “dereliction of duty,” pointing out why they were closing the summer hearings by focusing on this small chapter in the Jan. 6 saga.
“Oaths matter,” he said. “Character matters. The truth matters.
CORRECTION (July 22, 2022, 11:40 a.m.): This article has been updated to correct Rep. Liz Cheney’s role on the House Select Committee. She is the vice-chair, not the co-chair, of the committee.