Peering at Trump’s 8-hour riot gap
WASHINGTON — A lot is known about the few hours that shook American democracy to the core. The defeated president’s incendiary speech, the march by an angry crowd to the U.S. Capitol, the breaking in, the beating of cops, the “hang Mike Pence” threats, the lawmakers running for their lives, the shooting death of rioter Ashli Babbitt. All of that chaos unfolded over about eight hours on one day: Jan. 6, 2021.
But for all that is known about the day, piecing together the words and actions of Donald Trump over that time has proved no easy task, even though a president’s movements and communications are closely monitored.
There’s a gap in the official White House phone notations given to the House committee investigating Jan. 6 — from about 11 a.m. to about 7 p.m., according to two people familiar with the congressional investigation into the riot. Details may still turn up; the former president was known to use various cell phones and often bypassed the White House switchboard, placing calls directly.
And over the past four-plus months a lot has surfaced about what Trump did do and say on Jan. 6 — in texts, tweets, videos, calls and other conversations.
The following account is based on testimony, timelines and eyewitness reporting gathered by The Associated Press and The Washington Post and CBS News, and from officials and people familiar with the events who spoke to The AP on condition of anonymity.
SORE AT HIS NO. 2
Trump entered the Oval Office at 11:08 a.m. By that time, about 400 pro-Trump demonstrators had already massed at the Capitol. Trump placed a call to Vice President Mike Pence — their only conversation of the day. It didn’t go well: Trump wanted Pence to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory, and he was very unhappy the vice president wouldn’t do it.
At 11:38 a.m., the president left the White House to address his rally on the Ellipse, a big grassy oval behind the White House, about a mile or so from the Capitol. It was bitter cold, but that didn’t keep the crowd away. Trump was up on stage by 11:57 and addressed his supporters until about 1:15 p.m.
Among Trump’s challenging final words: “We fight. We fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country any more. My fellow Americans, for our movement, for our children, and for our beloved country. So we’re going to, we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. And we’re going to the Capitol.”
‘THEY’RE THROWING METAL POLES’
Growing crowds were migrating to the Capitol. Almost immediately after Trump concluded, a Capitol Police officer called for backup.
“They’re throwing metal poles at us,” the officer said in a panicked voice. “Multiple law-enforcement injuries.”
Would Trump himself head for the Capitol, as he’d suggested in his speech? It was unclear at first, but his motorcade turned to head back to the White House.
At 1:21 p.m., Trump met with his valet at the White House, logs say. At the Capitol, meanwhile, then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund begged for help from the National Guard as the crowd started to swell around the west side of the building and became increasingly violent.
By then the TV networks had picked up the melee and were broadcasting live as the mob broke through metal police barricades and advanced toward the doors of the building where lawmakers were gathered to certify the presidential election results. The surreal images soon filled television screens throughout the West Wing, where staffers watched, stunned.
By 2 p.m. the U.S. Capitol was locked down. At 2:11, Pence was evacuated. At 2:15, congressional leaders were evacuated. At 2:43, demonstrator Babbitt was shot trying to enter the House chamber through a window broken by the mob.
No official record has surfaced yet of what Trump was doing during this time. It’s unusual for such an official gap to exist — a president’s every move and contact is noted, especially in the White House. The next entry in Trump’s daily diary is not until 4:03 p.m., when he went out to the Rose Garden to tape a public address after frantic urging.
But during this time Trump was hardly idle. He was in touch with lawmakers and he was, according to aides, watching the violence unfold on national television. And he was tweeting.
At 2:28, he tweeted not about the violence but to show his pique at his vice president:
“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”
At some point, Trump also talked to lawmakers. Republican Kevin McCarthy told a California radio station that he had spoken to the president.
“I was the first person to call him,” McCarthy said. “I told him to go on national TV, tell these people to stop it. He said he didn’t know what was happening.”
California Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler said McCarthy relayed that conversation to her. By her account, when McCarthy told Trump it was his own supporters breaking into the building, Trump responded: “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”
Trump also talked to Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan and Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, among other GOP lawmakers. Tuberville later said he spoke to the president while the Senate was being evacuated. Utah Sen. Mike Lee said Trump accidentally called him when he was trying to reach Tuberville.
Others, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, tried but failed to get through to the president.
‘IT HAS GONE TOO FAR’
At 3:14 p.m. a Trump tweet at last made a sideways reference to the havoc. “I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order — respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!”
At some point, he sequestered himself in the dining room off the Oval Office to watch the violence play out on TV, rewinding and re-watching some parts, according to former aides. Unable to get through by other means, allies including his former chief of staff and communications director resorted to tweeting at him to try to get through. Chief of staff Mark Meadows was getting a flurry of texts from lawmakers, from Fox News personalities and even Trump’s own children.
“Hey, Mark, protestors are literally storming the Capitol. Breaking windows on doors. Rushing in. Is Trump going to say something?” reads one text.
“We are all helpless,” says another.
As the violence continued, the president’s elder son texted Meadows:
“He’s got to condemn this s*** Asap,” Donald Trump Jr. texted.
Meadows responded: “I’m pushing it hard. I agree.”
Trump Jr. texted again and again, urging that his father act:
“We need an Oval address. He has to lead now. It has gone too far and gotten out of hand.”
‘REMEMBER THIS DAY FOREVER!’
At 4:08 p.m. Trump went out to the Rose Garden. At 4:17 p.m. he released a scripted, pre-recorded video, which included a call for “peace” and “law and order” and finally told his supporters “you have to go home now.”
But they didn’t. Things were still wildly out of control. In fact, the Capitol building was not secured until 5:34 p.m.
At 6:01, Trump’s message was back to indignant: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long,” he wrote. “Remember this day forever!”
At 6:27, he went back to the residence, and started calling his lawyers.
Congress did not resume counting electoral votes until 8 p.m. They finished at 3:40 a.m. and certified Biden as the winner.
Associated Press Writers Jill Colvin in New York, Nomaan Merchant, Zeke Miller, Lisa Mascaro, Mary Clare Jalonick and Mike Balsamo contributed to this report.