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Trump was glued to Fox News as January 6 riot unfolded, committee hears

Donald Trump ignored repeated pleas from his family and closest advisers to bring a stop to the January 6 riots and instead spent hours watching the violence unfold on Fox News, a congressional committee has heard.

In the final session of a summer of hearings, the panel investigating the insurrection used a primetime broadcast on Thursday night to detail how the former president refused to make a statement calling on a mob of his supporters to stand down.

Liz Cheney, the Republican vice-chair of the committee, sent a clear signal to US voters that Trump’s actions during the siege should disqualify him from running for president again in 2024.

Donald Trump made a purposeful choice to violate his oath of office, to ignore the ongoing violence against law enforcement, to threaten our constitutional order,” she said.

Describing the former president’s actions as “indefensible”, Cheney added: “Every American must consider this: can [he] . . . ever be trusted with any position of authority in our great nation again?”

The panel detailed how the former president refused to make a statement calling on the mob to stand down. Instead, Trump watched the events on television and made calls to senators who were supposed to be certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Meanwhile, Trump’s officials received messages from the Capitol warning that Mike Pence was in such danger that members of the former vice-president’s security detail feared for their lives, the committee heard.

The packed congressional meeting room heard live testimony from two White House aides present on the day: Matt Pottinger, who worked as deputy national security adviser, and Sarah Matthews, a former press aide.

The panel also played video evidence from several people working in the White House on January 6, all of whom said the president did not call for law enforcement to be strengthened as the mob stormed Congress.

Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told the committee of his alarm in recorded testimony. He said: “You’re the commander-in-chief and there is an attack on the US Capitol. And there’s nothing? No call? Zero?”

The committee heard that Trump expressed sympathy for his supporters, even as they chanted, “Hang Mike Pence”.

Cassidy Hutchinson, a White House aide at the time, recounted a conversation between Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, and Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel. “Mark responded something to the effect of, ‘You heard, Pat, he thinks Mike deserves it, he doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.’”

Several witnesses expressed alarm at a tweet Trump sent at 2.24pm, when White House officials believed Pence’s life was in danger: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.”

Hutchinson said she was “disgusted” by the tweet, while Pottinger said he decided at that moment to resign. Matthews described Trump’s actions as “indefensible”.

Those around Trump continued to push him to call his supporters off, including Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives.

Text messages showed Donald Trump Jr, the former president’s son, telling Meadows: “He’s got to condem [sic] this shit. Asap.”

Trump ultimately released a video shortly after 4pm telling the rioters to go home, adding: “We love you, you’re very special.”

The committee played previously unseen footage of an infuriated Trump filming a speech on January 7 condemning the violence. He repeatedly interrupted the recording because he did not want to say his supporters had broken the law or that he had lost the election to Joe Biden.

“I don’t want to say the election is over,” Trump said at the time. He later hit the lectern in frustration.

The hearings have revealed how Trump was told by many of his closest advisers that he had lost the election but continued to press the justice department and individual states to halt the processing of results.

When he failed, he encouraged his supporters to protest in Washington, DC on January 6, the date Congress officially certified the outcome.

The hearings have damaged the former president’s approval ratings and boosted the prospects of those who might challenge him for the Republican nomination in 2024.

There are gaps in the committee’s evidence pertaining to what happened on January 6 due to missing text messages sent by Secret Service officers.

The service deleted those messages just weeks after the riot due to what it said was a “system migration process”. Only one text has been retrieved and shared with the committee, aides said.

Cheney released a joint statement with Bennie Thompson, Democratic chair of the committee, on Wednesday urging the Secret Service to recover the lost data and warning laws may have been broken.

Elaine Luria, a Democratic member of the committee, said on Thursday that the panel expected members of the Secret Service to testify in the coming weeks. More hearings are expected to take place in September.

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