11 min read

How Trump lit the flame of January 6th

The January 6th committee lays out its case against Donald Trump.
How Trump lit the flame of January 6th

by Gabe Fleisher

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, July 13, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 118 days away. Election Day 2024 is 846 days away.

In this morning’s newsletter: A recap of yesterday’s January 6th committee hearing. It is a longer piece than usual, and not in the familiar format, but I think it’s important to review the significant new evidence presented yesterday in its totality. Here goes...

“A sitting president asking for civil war”: How Trump lit the flame of January 6th

There is a phrase Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney — the House January 6th committee vice chair and, by now, former President Donald Trump’s foremost critic within the Republican Party — is fond of using.

She first debuted a version of it in a Fox News interview on the night of January 6th itself, then repeated it again six days later while announcing her plans to vote for Trump’s impeachment, and finally deployed it one last time on June 6th of this year, at the January 6th committee’s initial public hearing.

Like most of the language America has been accustomed to hearing from Cheney over the past five weeks, it is simple, direct, and biting in its indictment of her archrival.

“President Trump summoned the mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” her phrasing goes. “Everything that followed was his doing,” she once added.

Cheney did not repeat those favorite words again on Tuesday, at the committee’s seventh public hearing, but they were ringing in my head throughout the proceedings.

Up until 1 p.m. on Tuesday, the panel had scrutinized and presented on several elements of Trump’s multi-part plan to stay in power after the 2020 election: his pressure of state legislators, of members of Congress, of Vice President Mike Pence, of the Justice Department.

But they had yet to get to the heart of Cheney’s central allegation, Trump’s role in fomenting the most vivid and shocking scene of his presidency: the storming of the United States Capitol, the “American carnage” that he was impeached over and that Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) said Tuesday will be his legacy.

In political parlance, you might say that the previous hearings focused strictly on either the “inside game” (probing Trump’s efforts to pressure government officials) or the “outside game” (showing footage of the rioters).

On Tuesday, they arrived at how the “inside” and “outside” efforts interacted, how the meetings and decisions made inside the Oval Office, the country’s seat of executive power, led to a mob that gathered outside and then ransacked the nation’s legislative headquarters.

(Photo by Brett Davis; January 6, 2021)

The committee explained that it was Trump — and no one else — who effectively took his signature Sharpie pen and circled January 6th on the calendar for his supporters.

Most of Trump’s advisers urged him to concede after the Electoral College made his loss official on December 14, 2020. But Trump pushed on, surrounding himself with outside allies — like Rudy Giuliani, Michael Flynn, and Sidney Powell — who supported his false election claims. Flynn and Powell met with Trump on December 18, a gathering which has been dubbed the “craziest meeting of the Trump presidency,” not an easy moniker to receive.

During the meeting, Flynn and Powell pressed the president to take dramatic steps to stay in power, including seizing voting machines from across the country. “I don’t understand why we even have to tell you why that’s a bad idea for the country,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone was shown saying Tuesday.

Profanity and even physical threats of violence flew around the room during the hours-long session: Giuliani called Trump’s official advisers “a bunch of pussies,” deputy White House counsel Eric Herschmann told Flynn to “come over” to him or “sit your effing ass down.”

By their own admission, Trump’s allies had little evidence of voter fraud — “We can do all the investigations we want later,” one wrote — but they were desperate to keep Trump in the White House.

“During this period, I perceived his goal with all this to keep Trump in office,” Cassidy Hutchinson told the committee of White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Once he recognized there was far from enough fraud to bring about that outcome, Hutchinson said, Meadows and company began to “explore constitutional loopholes” to achieve their goal.

That was how talk of January 6th entered the fore, the last day with a possible “loophole” that might allow Trump to hang on, by pressuring lawmakers or the vice president to reject certification of President Biden’s lawful victory.

Trump himself introduced the date to his supporters. Hours after the December 18th meeting disbanded, the president addressed his tens of millions of followers on Twitter and announced a “big protest in D.C. on January 6th.” He added: “Be there, will be wild!”

Later, on the 6th, Trump made the reasons for the gathering crystal clear, telling his assembled supporters to march to the Capitol to give “weak” members of Congress “the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.” In other words, to pressure them to vote in favor of overturning the election.

The committee combed the depths of social media to show how Trump’s “will be wild” tweet reverberated and brought people to the capital: activist groups switched existing rally permits to the 6th, right-wing media figures like Alex Jones went into overdrive promoting the date.

“Some of the online rhetoric turned openly homicidal and white nationalist,” Raskin noted, showing one Trump supporter who wrote they were “ready to die for my beliefs” and another who spoke of police officers “laying on the ground in a pool of their own blood.”

“DJT has invited us,” another said.

It was as if Trump “was speaking directly to extremist organizations and giving them directives,” an anonymous former Twitter employee — their voice obscured — told the committee’s audience. “We had not seen that sort of direct communication before, and that concerned me.”

(Photo by Brett Davis; January 6, 2021)

Nothing that happened afterward was spontaneous, the committee sought to show.

Trump “invited” his supporters to Washington. Far-right groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers picked up the baton and mobilized their members to attend. As the panel has shown previously, members of those groups scoped out the Capitol on the morning of the 6th, planning an “invasion.” When the time came, their members were at the front of the pack, charging in.

The then-president’s decision on the 6th to send his supporters to the Capitol grounds in the first place was also planned, the committee proved on Tuesday. The panel showed a draft tweet in which the president was to announce a “march to the Capitol.” Trump saw, but did not publish, the message.

Instead, planning for the eventual march was more secretive — but it was very much discussed behind the scenes. “POTUS is going to just call for it unexpectedly,” one organizer told another.

During his rally speech, Trump repeatedly went off-script to encourage the procession. “A single scripted reference in the speech to Mike Pence became eight,” Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) said Tuesday. “A single scripted reference to rallygoers marching to the Capitol became four.”

The mob had been summoned and assembled, now the flame of eventual attack had been lit as well.

As the committee has established, Trump knew some rallygoers were armed when he pointed them to the Capitol. In fact, they’ve shown, he wanted to go with them and may have even ordered a Secret Service agent to drive him there, and may have lunged for the steering wheel when the agent refused.

Just as nothing that happened was unplanned, it was also not unwarned of.

The committee made clear that it viewed Trump as ultimately culpable, but its members also showed just how many institutions had foreknowledge that January 6th could get violent — and yet Trump continued on with his rally, and law enforcement officials were woefully unprepared for the riot that predictably ensued.

Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) warned House Republicans, asking leadership “to come up with a safety plan for members.” The anonymous employee warned the higher-ups at Twitter, telling them “people were going to die.” The D.C. homeland security chief admitted that his team saw several “red flags” go up.

When one January 6th rally organizer expressed concern about some of the far-right speakers being chosen to speak at the event, a Trump campaign aide told her: “He likes the crazies,” referring to the president.

Every warning went unheeded.

(Photo by Brett Davis; January 6, 2021)

When the riot did break out on the 6th, Trump did little to disband the violence.

“He did not call the military,” Cheney said Tuesday. “His Secretary of Defense received no order. He did not call his attorney general. He did not talk to the Department of Homeland Security.”

When he did eventually send a tweet telling his supporters to “go home,” at least one rioter listened immediately. “We literally left right after that came out,” Stephen Ayres — who has pleaded guilty to illegally entering the Capitol on the 6th — testified to the committee, referring to Trump’s missive.

“As soon as that came out, everybody started talking about it and it seemed like it started to disperse,” Ayres said, underlining Trump’s power not only to assemble the mob but break it up if he had waned to.

In the committee’s telling, all roads lead back to one man only: Trump’s refusal to concede, Trump’s invitation to the capital, Trump’s ad-libbed words at the rally, Trump’s decision not to intervene.

Trump summoned the mob, he assembled it, and he lit the flame of the attack.

Responding to some attempts to blame the allies who surrounded Trump, Cheney dismissed those defenses: “President Trump is a 76-year-old man,” she said. “He is not an impressionable child.”

Part of the power of the January 6th committee is its use — almost exclusively — of Republican narrators: Cheney, Cipollone, former Attorney General Bill Barr, reams of other Trump allies and advisers, even an actual Capitol rioter.

At least one of those Republican officials privately seemed to agree that Trump was to blame. “A sitting president asking for civil war,” Brad Parscale, the former president’s 2020 campaign manager, wrote in a text message to a colleague on the night of the 6th.

Trump’s “rhetoric killed someone,” Parscale continued, adding: “This week I feel guilty for helping him win.” In total, five deaths would be linked to the Capitol riot, along with hundreds of injuries, many of them sustained by police officers.

Inherent in the committee’s work is the message that Trump’s threat has yet to pass, and it has maybe even gotten stronger.

Trump continues even to meddle in the panel’s inquiry: Cheney alleged on Tuesday that the ex-president recently called one of the committee’s witnesses, a perceived attempt at intimidation that she said had been referred to the Justice Department.

Instead of apologizing or seeking remorse, to the nation or to his supporters, Trump has “only expanded his big lie” since January 6th, Raskin said.

Just yesterday, he took to his Twitter clone, known as Truth Social, and alleged that the 2020 election was the real “big lie.” As Raskin said, “he asserts the insurrection was the real election, and the election was the real insurrection.”

There are some signs that the committee’s work is yielding progress: the Justice Department is now discussing Trump’s conduct more openly, some Republicans are abandoning him for greener, less controversial pastures like Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL).

A New York Times poll released this week found that Trump’s support in a hypothetical 2024 Republican presidential primary had shrunk to 49%, compared to 25% for DeSantis. That does represent a loosening of Trump’s grip on the party — but in a crowded primary field, 49% would be more than enough to win.

More glaringly, Republicans voters were asked in the same poll if Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election “threatened American democracy” or were simply him “exercising his right to contest the election.” 75% chose the latter.

The flame remains alit.

(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

More news you should know

INFLATION: “Surging prices for gas, food and rent catapulted U.S. inflation to a new four-decade peak in June, further pressuring households and likely sealing the case for another large interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve, with higher borrowing costs to follow.” Associated Press

GUNS: “The Senate on Tuesday narrowly confirmed Steven M. Dettelbach to run the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, giving the agency responsible for marshaling the federal response to gun violence its first permanent leader in seven years.” New York Times

ABORTION: “A Baton Rouge judge has temporarily blocked Louisiana's trigger law outlawing abortion, opening the door for the state's three abortion clinics to reopen.” The Daily Advertiser

  • “Acknowledging that the law on abortion in Arizona is ‘murky,’ a federal judge on Monday issued an order halting enforcement of a 2021 statute that grants human rights to fetuses.” Arizona Republic

What’s going on in Washington today

All times Eastern.

President Biden is in Israel. Earlier this morning, he:

  • Delivered remarks upon his arrival.
  • Received a briefing on the Iron Dome and Iron Beam, two Israeli missile defense systems funded by the United States.
  • Participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial.

The Senate will convene at 10:30 a.m. and vote to:

  • Confirm the nomination of Michael Barr to be Vice Chair for Supervision of the Federal Reserve board of governors.
  • Advance the nomination of Owen Hernstadt to be a member of the Export-Import Bank board of directors.

The chamber will also receive a classified briefing from Biden officials at 4 p.m. on the semiconductor chip shortage, amid threats from Republican leadership to block a bipartisan bill to address the issue.

The House will convene at 10 a.m. and begin debate on:

Congressional leaders from both parties will hold a ceremony at 11 a.m. to unveil a statue of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall. Each state has two statues in the hall; Bethune will be one of Florida’s, replacing a Confederate general who had previously represented the state.

  • Bethune — a civil rights activist, educator, and adviser to FDR — will be the first Black woman to represent a state in the Statuary Hall.

Two congressional committees will hold hearings on abortion access after the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade. The Senate HELP and House Oversight sessions will both convene at 10 a.m.

The Supreme Court is out until October.

Links to watch for yourself: Biden remarksBiden defense briefingSenate sessionHouse sessionSenate HELP hearingHouse Oversight hearing

That’s it for today. If you enjoy Wake Up To Politics, it’s always appreciated if you donate to support the newsletter or buy some merch. Or if you tell your friends and family to sign up at wakeuptopolitics.com.

If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to email me: my inbox is always open.

Thanks for waking up to politics! Have a great day.

— Gabe