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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Opinion | Thursday’s Jan. 6 hearing showed the extent of Trump’s inaction

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The real action of the prime-time hearing Thursday on the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol was the inaction: the 187 minutes that President Donald Trump spent doing next to nothing while an armed mob of his supporters stormed the seat of government in a deadly insurrection.

Thursday’s hearing was the eighth in a series that started in June, and though it sounded like the closing chapter to the case, the House select committee conducting the investigation has promised there’s more to come. For now, though, Thursday night was a fitting coda.

Reps. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), both military veterans, took viewers through a minute-by-minute account of those more than three hours during which the commander in chief sat idly by as rioters tore through the chambers of Congress. Testimony from senior aides, including former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, revealed how Mr. Trump sat in the Oval Office dining room watching the horror unfold on Fox News, refusing to walk the mere steps down the West Wing hallway to the press briefing room to give the public statement condemning the rioters that his White House counsel, his chief of staff and even his family members begged him to make.

He did not call the National Guard, or the FBI, or D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), or anyone else who could have provided aid. He did call senators, urging them to continue objecting to the certification of the vote. He did call Rudy Giuliani. Why? This was his only chance to stop an electoral count declaring him the election’s loser. As Mr. Kinzinger put it in his opening statement, “The mob was accomplishing President Trump’s purpose, so of course he didn’t intervene.”

Cartoon by Ann Telnaes: Some things Trump might have been doing during the mob attack at the Capitol

The presenters argued Thursday that not calling off the assault was a dereliction of duty. That’s certainly true. Yet it was also something worse: an effective endorsement of that day’s horrific events, delivered in the form of all-too-meaningful silence, and punctuated with tweets that made clear exactly what the lame-duck leader was trying to communicate. Most alarmingly: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what was necessary,” Mr. Trump wrote at 2:24 p.m., as his supporters on the National Mall chanted, “Hang Mike Pence!” The impact was real: The emboldened mob was threatening enough that some members of the vice president’s security detail asked colleagues to tell their loved ones goodbye.

The new details shared Thursday are damning on their own, but they’re more damning still read alongside everything else the committee has laid out these past several weeks. Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, his top campaign lawyer, his lead data analyst and even his attorney general told him he had lost the election. Instead of abating his efforts to overturn the results, he escalated them. He not only pressured officials to “find” votes for him, or to submit rogue slates of electors, but he also rendered the explosion of Jan. 6 all but inevitable by summoning his followers to Washington and directing them to the Capitol, knowing they would go to extremes for him.

That all this culminated in violence was no surprise, and no accident. Mr. Trump had the power to start what occurred on Jan. 6, and he had the power to stop it. Having exercised the former, he withheld the latter. This was indeed a violation of his oath of office — one that began the moment he realized he had lost the election, and one that continued until the disaster he invited had finally struck. Now the country must figure out what to do about it.


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