President Donald Trump’s decision to ignore defense officials and encourage rioters during the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, undermined both his standing as commander-in-chief and American democracy, former administration officials testified on Thursday night.
“Our national security was harmed in a different way by the sixth of January, and that is that it emboldened our enemies by helping give them ammunition to feed a narrative that our system of government doesn’t work, and that the United States is in decline,” said former Deputy National Security Advisor Matthew Pottinger.
“I heard from a lot of friends in Europe, in Asia, allies and supporters that they were concerned about the health of our democracy.”
At least four individuals died in the violence on Capitol Hill that day, and hundreds of Capitol Police officers suffered injuries as thousands of Trump supporters attempted to disrupt certification of the 2020 president election results by lawmakers.
Thursday’s primetime event — the eighth public hearing held by the committee — focused on the hours between Trump’s speech rallying his supporters in the early afternoon on Jan. 6 and his social media video in the early evening telling them to return home.
Trump has repeatedly insisted that he did not encourage the crowd to violence and made efforts to send National Guard troops to help secure Capitol Hill from the thousands of rioters.
But committee members said they have found no evidence to support those claims that he contacted the military during those hours. White House phone logs and other records have a three-hour gap. Senior officials who testified to the panel said they never saw any such action from the commander-in-chief.
“We have confirmed in numerous interviews with senior law enforcement, military leaders, Vice President Pence and his staff, and DC government officials — none of them heard from President Trump that day,” said Rep. Elanie Luria, D-Va., one of the members of the special House committee investigating the attempted insurrection.
“He did not call to issue orders. He did not call to offer assistance … the president didn’t make any efforts to quell the attack.”
Pottinger said as the day unfolded, he had hoped that the president would intervene to calm or quell the violence. Instead, as Trump issued a mid-afternoon tweet appearing to support it, Pottinger said he made the decision to resign his administration job.
“I simply didn’t want to be associated with the events that were unfolding at the Capitol,” he said.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, in recorded testimony, said that Trump did not contact him during the attack, but Pence did. Several thousand National Guard troops were eventually deployed to help clear the halls of Congress, but only after lengthy conversation among government officials.
“[Vice President] Mike Pence was very animated, very direct: ‘Get the military down here, put down this situation,’” he said.
In contrast, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows contacted Milley amid the attack to discuss “politics, politics, politics,” Milley said, and concerns that Pence was being seen as overriding Trump’s wishes.
The committee also showed video of Senate leaders — including then Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. — speaking directly with then acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller to plan their return to the Senate chamber, instead of working with the White House on security.
Earlier in the day, a group of seven former senior military officials in an op-ed for the New York Times blasted Trump for failing to act as commander-in-chief during one of the country’s darkest moments.
“The president’s dereliction of duty on Jan. 6 tested the integrity of this historic principle as never before, endangering American lives and our democracy,” they wrote.
“The lesson of that day is clear. Our democracy is not a given. To preserve it, Americans must demand nothing less from their leaders than an unassailable commitment to country over party — and to their oaths above all.”
House Republican leaders have decried the committee’s work as politically motivated showboating. Two Republicans are on the panel — Reps. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill. — but both have been shunned by their caucus for their involvement.
“Donald Trump’s conduct on January 6th was a supreme violation of his oath of office and a complete dereliction of his duty to our nation,” said Kinzinger, an Air National Guardsman, on Thursday. “It is a stain on our history. It is a dishonor to all those who have sacrificed in and died in service of our democracy.”
Committee officials said they plan on holding additional hearings this fall, as more witnesses with behind-the-scenes information about Trump’s role in the attack continue to come forward.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.