WASHINGTON (AP) — It would have been something never seen before in the United States: a defeated president, Donald Trump, standing on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021, with a mob of supporters, some armed, contesting the election results.
Trump intended to go there that day. His allies had been planning for now, imagine the president making a speech outside the building or even entering the House chamber amid objections to Congress certifying the 2020 election results for Democrat Joe Biden.
“It’s going to look powerful,” reflected Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to a young White House aide four days before.
But White House lawyers thought it was a “terrible” idea. Lawyer Pat Cipollone warned that Trump could be charged with “every crime imaginable” if he joined the mob on Capitol Hill trying to interfere with the certification.
In the end, Trump never made it to Capitol Hill on January 6. His security refused to take him when rioters, some with guns, besieged the building.
Furious and trapped in the White House, Trump watched the insurrection on television.
The January 6 hearings provide a dramatic new perspective on Trump’s intentions, as he told loyalists he would join them in a march down Pennsylvania Avenue to “fight like hell” for his presidency. This account is drawn largely from the testimony of former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson. His memories of his proximity to the president and his inner circle suggest that Trump’s demands were not the brazen wishes of a hot-headed commander-in-chief, but part of his latest plan to stop Trump’s victory. Biden.
Trump and his allies quickly disputed Hutchinson’s account, and the former president conducted his own interview days later, disparaging her with derisive comments and name-calling.
Next week, the committee will focus on Trump’s own actions and those of extremist Oath Keepers and Proud Boys in allegedly leading the attack on Capitol Hill.
A look at what is known about Trump’s plans to join the mob on January 6:
It was a Saturday night. Giuliani had been meeting at the White House with Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and others.
The White House and Meadows had made about 18 calls that day to brad raffenspergerthe Georgia secretary of state, before Trump finally got on the phone with the election official.
Trump had been questioning the results of the election in Georgia, which he narrowly lost. He was demanding that Raffensperger “find 11,780 votes,” exactly enough to tip the scales of Biden’s victory. The engineer turned civil servant declined.
When Giuliani left the White House that night, he dated Meadows’ young aide Hutchinson, a senior adviser.
“Cass, are you excited for the sixth?” Giuliani asked, as Hutchinson recalled in his Jan. 6 committee testimony. “It’s going to be a great day.”
Hutchinson had heard discussions about Jan. 6 and the rally being planned outside the White House as Congress was set to certify the election results. He had also heard, when Giuliani was around, mentions of the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, two extremist groups.
He looked at Giuliani and asked him to explain.
“Let’s go to the Capitol,” Giuliani told him. “He’s going to be great. The president is going to be there. He’s going to look powerful.”
On Sunday, Cipollone privately raised concerns with Hutchinson about the president’s planned trip to Capitol Hill.
Cipollone told him there were “serious legal concerns” if Trump went ahead while Congress certified the election. He urged her to take her concerns to her boss, Meadows.
“We need to make sure this doesn’t happen,” Cipollone said, according to Hutchinson’s testimony. “This would be a legally terrible idea for us. We are… we have serious legal problems if we go up to the Capitol that day.”
That Sunday was a busy day at the White House.
Leaders of Trump’s Justice Department threatened to resign if the president replaced acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen with a lower-ranking civil division chief, Jeffrey Clark, to continue the electoral challenge.
And that same day, the US Capitol Police issued a special assessment of the event, noting that the Proud Boys and other groups planned to be in Washington on January 6.
The police assessment indicated that “unlike previous post-election protests, the targets of Trump supporters are not necessarily the counter-protesters… but rather Congress itself is the target on day 6.”
On Tuesday, the eve of January 6, according to Hutchinson, Trump asked Meadows to get in touch with two of the President’s associates: Roger Stone and Michael Flynn.
Stone attended Trump rallies in Washington and was photographed with several Oath Keepers members who were allegedly serving as his security detail, according to the committee. Both Stone and Flynn invoked their Fifth Amendment rights in lieu of testifying before the committee.
The big “Stop the Steal” rally was planned for the morning of January 6 near the White House. Meadows spoke with Stone and Flynn that night, Hutchinson said. Stone has disputed his account.
Meadows also sought to join Giuliani and others who had set up a “war room” at the Willard Hotel near the White House, he testified.
“I had made it clear to Mr. Meadows that I didn’t think it was a good idea for him to go to the Willard Hotel that night,” he said.
JAN. 6: THE RALLY
On the morning of the rally on Wednesday, January 6, Cipollone once again pleaded with Hutchinson to make sure Trump did not address the Capitol.
“Please,” he said, “make sure we don’t go up to the Capitol, Cassidy,” he remembered. “We will be charged with every crime imaginable if we make that move happen.”
Hutchinson’s White House desk was down the hall from the Oval Office, which was in one corner, and his boss Meadows’s office in the other. But that day she was with the president backstage as he surveyed the crowd of supporters outside the White House.
Trump was furious.
The crowd was not as packed as Trump wanted. Supporters stood outside the security checkpoint, reluctant to have their weapons confiscated by the Secret Service to join the main rally area.
Trump ordered his security to get rid of metal detectors, known as magnetometers, and insisted that armed supporters were no threat to him.
Police radios crackled with information; a man in the trees with a rifle or another with a gun on his waist; three men with an AR-15 walking on 14th Street and Independence Avenue.
Trump has disputed Hutchinson’s account. “I didn’t want guns,” he said in a Newsmax interview that aired two days after the hearing.
But Hutchinson had told the committee what he heard.
“You’re not here to hurt me,” Trump told his staff, Hutchinson recalled. “Let them in. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol after the rally is over. …. Take off the damn magazines. Then they can march to the Capitol.”
JAN. 6: THE SPEECH
The president took the stage at the “Stop the Steal” rally complaining about the election result and the need to prevent Biden from becoming president.
“Let’s walk down, and I’ll be there with you,” trump said to the thousands of supporters on the grassy Ellipse.
“We are going to walk to the Capitol,” Trump said. “You will never recover our country with weakness; you have to show strength.”
Many people had already started to take off toward the Capitol, and Trump encouraged the crowd to go.
“I know that everyone here will soon be marching to the Capitol building to make their voices heard in a peaceful and patriotic way,” he said. Let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.
A White House security log, released by the committee on January 6, shows the fight that was underway to get Trump to go to Capitol Hill as well.
“MilAide has confirmed that he wants to walk,” said an entry in the National Security Council chat.
“They are begging you to reconsider,” says another.
The next entry was a discussion of the “current route” for Trump’s motorcade to take 15th Street, F Street, 6th Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, and the Capitol.
“So this is happening,” reads another entry.
Hutchinson was still in the tent behind the rally stage when he received a phone call from House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.
McCarthy sounded rushed, frustrated and angry, he said. “You told me all this week that you wouldn’t come here. Why would you lie to me? he asked Hutchinson, a former House aide.
“I’m not lying. I wasn’t lying to you, sir,” she replied. And McCarthy said, “Well, he just said it onstage, Cassidy. Find out. Don’t come here.
The crowd was breaking through the security fence around the Capitol.
“Capitol Police are reporting multiple violations,” the security log reads. “The Capitol is now calling everyone available to respond.”
JAN. 6: AT THE WHEEL
Trump got into the presidential SUV determined to be taken to Capitol Hill, Hutchinson recalled.
The Secret Service now disputes his account, as does Trump. But Hutchinson testified under oath that Anthony Ornato, the White House deputy chief of staff for operations, told her later that Trump was furious.
“The president was like, ‘I’m the fucking president, take me to the Capitol now,'” she recalled.
When the driver, Bobby Engel, responded, “Sir, we need to get back to the West Wing,” Trump grabbed the steering wheel and lunged at the driver’s “collarbones,” he said.
Trump never made it to Capitol Hill. His motorcade headed back to the White House.
In the Newsmax interview, Trump dismissed the idea that he tried to “command” the car to Capitol Hill as “totally untrue.” He marveled at the “incredible size” of the crowd, one of the largest, he said, that he had ever drawn, but did not question his desire to go to the Capitol that day.
“I really wanted to go,” he said during an April interview with the Washington Post.
At the hearing, the security record made clear just how close Trump came to creating that invisible image: a defeated president standing with the mob as an armed insurrection besieged Capitol Hill.
“Looks like he’s going home for now,” the security log said.